A holistic approach to bullshit: How NGOs and the media have failed Malawians

About two decades ago, as a cub reporter at one of the two print media giants, I was a newsroom resource of little consequence and so my editors placed me on call to periodically travel the country with several NGOs, covering their projects and documenting the success stories (only success stories) for the newspaper’s features page.

It was during these numerous sojourns that a new catch phrase happened: holistic approach.

While this phrase did not seem to have particular ownership and proprietorship among the NGO sector, it was generally used to define the NGOs’ rounded and inclusive approach to human life – from health, education to sanitation. 

For purposes of clarity, the quasi-dictionary on my laptop defines a holistic approach as taking care of something totally in all aspects.

“As an example, when we are saying holistic living it means a complete and vast understanding of all the aspect of our life and way of living, it covers everything that enable us to live healthy and happy.

“…it includes the status of our body, mind and spiritual well-being, it is not restricted to find out the disease if there is any and cure it. It is taken as all the component of a being are interdependent and affect others in less or more way to get overall health and to create and maintain a healthy and blissful state of our body, mind, and spirit.”

What I understood the NGOs to mean was that, in their unflinching quest to cast out the demons of poverty, they were keen on ensuring that all aspects of a person’s needs were addressed – hence, holistic. As in whole. 

Like I alluded to earlier, that was many years ago. 

I was a tired, mostly hungry, impatient, rash, underpaid, underappreciated and overworked young cub reporter. 

So, once the tour of duty was completed and I had drunk away the particular NGO’s ‘allowance’, I sat down on the computer to compose a flowery feature to impress my benefactors, who in turn, would use the article to impress their sponsors. 

It was a win-win situation. They eat, I eat. We all eat. No crime was committed here.

Of course, my judgement was partially impaired and heavily compromised and, in all honesty, the articles neither represented the situation on the ground nor did they try to examine the underlying problems. 

As I have moved up the ranks in the newsroom – sub-editing and then editing – this tradition has continued to exist and grow and has become a sub-culture in its own right. Reporters knocking off on Thursday for the weekend will ask you if you have any chipondamtengo assignment for the weekend. 

And then the chipondamtengo stories start flooding in on Sunday and Monday.

While one feels a moral obligation to curb this vice, how does one stop a lowly-paid junior from trying to make ends meet? Regardless of the means?

But I do realise now that this folly of thought is one of the major problems that has allowed this malaise to become the rule rather than the exception.

As journalists, we have been amiss in our duties as gatekeepers; in holding those in position in the NGO sector to account. 

We have been complicit in this crime and, over time, we seem to have forgotten who we serve between the people and the paymaster.

I wish we showed the same enthusiasm and hunger in investigating the NGOs as we do with government instead of parroting verbatim off their little red book.

For starters, while reports of massive corruption and cases of Cashgate in the NGO sector are common knowledge, they usually go unreported by the media. And even if these cases are reported, it is not with the same enthusiasm as is done with katangale wa boma. 

That aside, one has yet to see the NGO sector being held to account for the many problems that they have brought to the rural masses or the lack of accountability for their projects.

We remember truly well how DCs in Ntchisi and Rumphi in the past years raised concerns on how the NGOs in their areas congested their resources in certain areas while in other areas in the same district there were no NGOs for miles on end.

It makes one wonder what kind of impact the NGOs seek to impact when they seem so grossly out-of-touch with the reality on the ground.

Which brings me to the final point.

What impact can the NGO sector point to in Malawi since they entered the fray versus the billions of dollars that have been spent on eradicating poverty?

Because, if I remember pretty well, the global poverty index says Malawi is poorer today than she was 20 years ago. 

While it is government’s core duty to work towards alleviating poverty, one notes that most of the NGOs say that their mission is to complement government’s efforts. And, in all fairness, when these efforts come to nought, both government and non-governmental organisations should bear the brunt. 

And both parties should be weighed on the same scale.

Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :

Sharing is caring!

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Follow us in Twitter
20 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Carlos Mbewe
Carlos Mbewe
11 months ago

The issue is that donors do trust NGOs believing they are transparent and committed to using the funding they get for the intended purpose. However, this is not the case as most of them are so corrupt than the government itself. For instance, if you talk of eliminating corruption in the country like Malawi who do we pin first? Its public institutions that’s all. We never mind what is happening to “our” money in civil society organisations or “our” money in the private sector. These two sectors are never publicly audited and trust me they are the ones making Malawians… Read more »

Anne Onemase
Anne Onemase
11 months ago

Been waiting for an article like this. I remember when donors decided to channel funds through NGOs rather than Government. The reasoning behind it was great. But the solution! I am a contractor and would like to take the opportunity to ask NCIC to find a way to look into the shameful activities of NGOs involved in building. Their procurement is eish!! – no words to describe their ignorance and malpractices. Yes, ignorance as well. Government departments will employ qualified people in correct numbers to produce a bid document and conduct a real bid evaluation. Compare with the donkeys that… Read more »

joseph
joseph
11 months ago

Congrants Wongani these are the issues that we should be discussing here on how we can deal with them obviously the NGOs and Media while they are playing a great role, but they have failed at times.eg. on issues of service mobile providers they have portrayed no negative News, yet there are a lot of issues.Maunits pena amangotha zosaoneka bwino, but no single or honest brave journalists who has written any viable article something wrong with our media.For NGOs they just liquidate money most of them they know themselves that they will not enter the kingdom of God unless they… Read more »

Christian Beilke
Christian Beilke
11 months ago

This article makes me really sad and angry. Since 2008 I have been sponsoring a boy, his family and community through an international NGO. There has been Cash Gate, Tractor Gate, Maize Gate, all the corruption happening at the Parastatals. Not a single Kwacha has been recovered. During the biggest hunger crisis, you have a president that tells his own people to eat mice and shut up while he flies his entire family to the US for any minor medical treatment. You have a president that brings the entire country to a standstill whenever he decides to drive from one… Read more »

Causes of poverty
Causes of poverty
11 months ago

I guess you have learned the hardway what the causes of chronic poverty are. It is not the lack of money that makes people poor – rather it is the inability to produce goods/services. And this inability stems from tardiness, lack of motivation and bad behaviour. Next time identify a hardworking, motivated and well behaved African and sponsor him/her and you will be successful. And if all sponsors and NGOs adopted this approach, their success rate would be very high.

kanchenga
kanchenga
11 months ago

Beautiful advice I have one graduating this year two girls at Lilongwe technical one grade 1 and another grade 2 . The pleasure is enormous when they bring excellent results. Our friend should drop this rascal and find a more deserving boy or girl. There many out there. You will get the fulfillment like we do but don’t stop that’s your ministry.

Mwe'ene
Mwe'ene
11 months ago

Indeed. So, the media is only now revealing the collusion, as it were, with NGOs?
This is not revealing, as we can all witness the expensive houses built by NGO Bwanas, in places like Chileka, like they are on first world wages; only for the houses not to be completed, and sold off, when the NGO donors stop the charity donation – Chitsime chimauma nthawi zina!

FallyM-K
FallyM-K
11 months ago

This is a very great and important piece. I agree with you and I have had similar observations. I once worked as an intern conducting evaluations for this other NGO in Mnchinji. Farmers were told to construct fences for empty pieces of land and were given bottles of Fanta so that they lie to us that those fenced pieces of land were vegetable gardens. I was convinced based on the responses I got from the interviews that there were indeed vegetable gardens until I visited a home where hunger was written all over the kids faces. This made me curious… Read more »

Mwe'ene
Mwe'ene
11 months ago
Reply to  FallyM-K

It’s also the culture of lying through out teeth we need to eradicate in this country. Lying to steal, lying to cheat even your partner … Simply put, lying faster than we walk, abale inu.

Kharupa
11 months ago

Yes. NGOs are the biggest curse. A big bull shit

Yoswa
Yoswa
11 months ago

Good article and I agree with you that there has to be a change in the way NGOs, donors, governments, CSOs and communities should work. There has to be very solid Service Level Agreements developed and clear terms agreed and transparently practised by all. I actually disagree with you that it is an NGO or media fault. I thinks the fault is a collective one. Donors included. Also you haven’t provided any examples of the corruption in NGOs. it will be good if you can write another article to expose that. Suffice to say that the impact of NGOs can… Read more »

Khuth'upa
Khuth'upa
11 months ago
Reply to  Yoswa

Even in those areas you say performance has been exemplary, a chunk indeed a very big chunk of the money is still sucked up by the corruption culture in NGOs.

Madala
Madala
11 months ago

I salute you. You are one of a kind. What kind of a world we could make if we were all to accept our mistakes. But, we also have to make these kinds of mistakes in order to learn from them.

National CEO
National CEO
11 months ago

good article

shares
Read previous post:
Government says Malawians should be assured of peace after election case ruling

Government has assured Malawians of peace and unity as the country is waiting for   the Constitutional Court to deliver its...

Close