The film tells the story of two freshly graduated friends unemployed, who decide to create an NGO to get a part of the “juicy cake” that are humanitarian organisations. They are advised by a Ugandan expert who has extensive experience in formulating projects designed to obtain international fund. Armed with a camera given by an English girlfriend, the two friends begin their adventure in charity.
On May 9th 2017, Finnish and Maltese cinephiles had the honour of watching N G O, the very first feature length film by the young Congolese-Ugandan filmmaker Arnold Aganze. For this acronym universally standing for Non Governmental Organisation, Aganze sees a scam which has taken over aid projects aimed at poor Africans and from which only paid staffs profit. From then on, NGO stands for Nothing Going On.
Humanitarian aid is not any different from colonialism.
They take photos of children playing in a dusty courtyard and pass them off as orphans. A young girl is dressed in rags in order to make her “presentable” to rich European donors. A project “Popcorn for Hope” was set up, created to empower women and turn them into businesswomen.
The film is a satirical comedy which shows the damage caused by the presence of NGOs in Africa. For Aganze, ex-child soldier who was an object of interest for many NGOs, the continent does not need the perennial presence of organisations that build wells in a village, and once the project is finished, they create another which achieves exactly the same thing as the one before it, presented in different packaging. He says:
“Humanitarian aid is no different from colonialism, humanitarianism is even more oppressive. During the colonialism period, you had Europeans who came with gifts for opportunistic, corrupt and tamed Kings. Today you have Europeans who come to “help” restore what was destroyed by their ancestors. The result is the same: Populations are oppressed and denied the possibility of choosing their own fate.”
Everybody wants to tell Africans what to do
“I shot the film with a budget of less than 3000 € and all the actors were volunteers who accepted to participate without being paid“, says Aganze, whose path was full of rejection because the subject of the production “was not politically correct.” For him,
“Africa must free itself from this pathetic image created by NGOs. Do you know that there is a total of about 12,000 registered NGOs in Uganda? When you visit the villages targeted by this generosity, you find out that access to education is still problematic. These organisations are good for nothing because they do not effect change. European people think they can solve Africa’s problems, everybody wants to tell Africans what they should do. Change has to come from Africans themselves, who have to reject an aid which keeps them in slavery.”
The subject of NGOs is controversial and has had its share of criticism from scientists. In an article published in Quartz Africa, anthropologist Tom Dichter calls them “the aid industry, which do not listen to criticism because otherwise they would have already packed up and left, “because they were not made to last and results on the ground demonstrate they are ineffective. Their sole purpose is to keep money afloat, in spite of evidence of their ineffectiveness.”
Self-development, not dependence.
Gambian artist Sona Jobarteh reacted to this during her stay on Valletta for the occasion of the Malta World Music Festival. She is not as radical as Aganze, but she believes in a humble approach from the European organisations who have to respect the work of local organisations who have knowledge of cultural practices and are more likely to produces effective and longer lasting results.
“I understand Aganze”s point of view, which has its logic because very often, once the NGO in charge of a specific mission leaves the scene, the initial problem reappears, because rapid aid were given for a complicated situation. I see the same situation in Gambia, where people accept aid complacently and totally lack inspiration to change. The fact that the world is interested in the social crises of the continent is laudable and appreciated. However, I think that Africans have to concentrate on self-development rather than dependence.”
Arnold Aganze has made it his mission to disseminate his work as much as possible. Free screenings are available at schools and universities on demand.
Translated from french by Dr Maria Grazia Grech