Editor’s Choice

Editor’s choice

In May 2019, tensions between Iran and the United States dramatically escalated following the imposition of US sanctions. Across the Persian Gulf a number of tankers were attacked, whilst others were seized, including a British oil tanker detained for “violating international maritime rules”. Amidst this escalation of tensions, international news outlets carried stories suggesting that Iran told its proxies to prepare for war. Referring to Iran’s long-standing relationships with groups across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Palestine, these stories played on the idea of a complex web of often – although not exclusively – sectarian networks that cut across sovereign borders and help Tehran to achieve its geopolitical aims. Yet the reality of relations between Iran and local groups is far more complex, determined by a range of factors. This Editor’s Choice focuses on issue 9:4: Transnational religious networks and the geopolitics of the Muslim World, which is our annual Richardson Institute special issue. 

In ‘Transnational identity claims, roles and strategic foreign policy narratives in the Middle East’, Edward Wastnidge explores how identity claims are inherent in the transnational appeal of these two regional powers. Focusing on Yemen, Vincent Durac’s ‘The Limits of the Sectarian Narrative in Yemen’ starts by critically contextualising the notion of sectarianism in relation to politics and conflict in the Middle East. Simon Fuchs’ ‘Faded Networks: The Overestimated Saudi Legacy of anti-Shi‘I Sectarianism in Pakistan’ seeks to debunk some of the arguments surrounding the extent and depth of the Saudi influence on anti-Shi’i sectarian discourses in Pakistan.

-Dr Matthew Johnson

India’s endgame in Kashmir

Idreas Khandy 04/08/19

If there is one region in South Asia that has stubbornly refused to recognise the hegemony of the Indian state since its emergence in 1947 it has been Kashmir. The region has been involved in a nationalist struggle against the Indian state at least from 1953; the struggle has taken both violent and non-violent forms. Every time the Indian state declares a victory in Kashmir, the sentiment of freedom in Kashmir manages to make the Indian state and its functionaries face the uncomfortable reality.

Democracy be damned:

Historically, India has managed to keep all criticism over Kashmir at bay due to the cacophony of being the ‘world’s largest democracy’. For decades, the Indian state through blatant disregard for procedure, legislation, and the rule of law, sought to complete the assimilation of Kashmir into India. The spirit of democracy was sacrificed in Kashmir by the same Congress party, which these days has donned the costume of resistance against parochialism in mainland India. Congress put the ‘our way or highway’ model of governance into practice in Kashmir. Elections were systematically rigged; it is not a mere accusation as the current Home Minister stated this fact, albeit in a different context in the Indian parliament recently. For decades Congress micro-managed Kashmir through a series of pliant client politicians, who were installed in positions of power through rigged elections and they did India’s bidding without question. However, just managing Kashmir was never the intention of the Congress ruled Indian State, it was willing to play the long game and normalise the presence of India in Kashmir. To that end, Congress-led India diligently worked to dilute Kashmir’s autonomous position and through constitutional trickery succeeded in wrapping its militarily sustained presence in Kashmir in legal robes. This plan has largely succeeded in subsuming the territory of Kashmir under the aegis of India’s legal, economic, and military jurisdiction. However, the pretense of taking a moral high ground and taking Kashmir to UN for arbitration in 1947 by India’s first Prime Minister Nehru continues to haunt the Indian state, particularly the Congress Party. The far-right Hindu nationalist BJP, which came back to power in May 2019 has sought to portray the Congress Party as the root of all ills in India, and of course itself as the panacea.

            BJP believes in a ham-fisted approach and speaks plainly about it. The party does not doubt the sincerity of the Congress party’s stand on Kashmir, which also believes Kashmir is an integral part of India, but totally disagrees with the velvet glove approach that Congress had used for decades in Kashmir. What BJP is essentially saying to Congress is: “You had your shot at Kashmir, and your approach did not work; now it is our turn to do what you failed to achieve”. The party has consistently maintained that it will abrogate Articles 370 and 35A to pave the way for total integration of Kashmir with India. These articles of the Indian constitution provide legal cover to India’s presence in Kashmir and also allows the latter to retain its autonomy, much of which has been eroded. In a perfect world, these articles could have become the bedrock of thriving federalism in South Asia, but in reality, have been used as backdoors to bulldoze a defiant population into submission.

Off comes the glove:

The stated intention to do away with these articles was part of BJP’s election manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019. After coming to power in the parliamentary elections in 2014, the BJP in Kashmir joined hands with the regional pro-India electoral party PDP (People’s Democratic Party) in 2015. BJP had previously accused PDP of harbouring separatist tendencies and labelled it soft separatist. Joining hands with BJP has proved disastrous for PDP, but for the former, it was the opening it needed in Kashmir. Being a partner in the government in Kashmir allowed unprecedented access to BJP in the region as the state machinery was literally at its disposal since it was in power in New Delhi as well. BJP for the first time held public rallies and conducted mass recruitment drives across Kashmir. PDP was the expendable partner in the coalition from day one and two years into the tenure of the coalition, BJP pulled its support and imposed a President’s rule in Kashmir, which is a euphemism for a government that is remote-controlled by the centre, in this case by BJP. Two months later, in August 2018, the BJP appointed its own man as Kashmir’s Governor, who has since managed Kashmir in close coordination with New Delhi and an assortment of security and intelligence agencies.

CRPF personnel patrol a street as situation in Kashmir continues to be tense and uncertain, in Srinagar.
CPRF Patrol (PTI Photos)

Under the Governor’s rule, the counter-insurgency grid went into hyperdrive after a suicide attack on a convoy on the 14th of February 2019 killed 44 paramilitary troopers. The attack almost led to another war between India and Pakistan as both flexed their respective war machines, much to the discomfort of the entire region, especially the people of Kashmir. Within a week of the attack, India rushed 10000 more troops and began its crackdown on individuals and organisations with the minutest of affinity for the Kashmiri nationalist movement. To facilitate the movement of troops, civilian traffic on the main motorway of Kashmir was suspended for two days in a week, the traffic restrictions lasted for 45 days. The frequency of the, what the Indian state terms as ‘area domination exercises’ or ‘Cordon And Search Operations’ (CASO) also increased drastically as checkpoints were erected across Kashmir’s main roads, in which youth suspected of being sympathisers of the armed insurgents are routinely arrested, and many are subjected to torture in custody. According to a report jointly released in June earlier this year by JKCCS (Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society) and APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons), the Indian state uses torture as an instrument of control in Kashmir. Local media is similarly being bullied to toe the official narrative as the state has withheld advertisements, which is the main source of income for the media outlets. At the same time, media outlets willing to peddle the Indian state’s narrative are being rewarded with the ad money, this shows that the propaganda model proposed by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent is clearly at work in Kashmir. The Indian state also barred Amnesty International from releasing a report in Kashmir, the organisation had planned to release a report entitled “Tyranny of a ‘Lawless Law’: Detention without Charge or Trial under the J&K PSA”. The report details how the much-criticised PSA (Public Safety Act) is used to detain even minors without trial or charges, many of whom are beaten and given electric shocks in custody. The Indian state has also used it investigating agency NIA (National Investigation Agency) to conduct raids across Kashmir under the pretext of cracking down on terrorism and their sources of funding. The agency even framed a photojournalist of being a ‘stone-pelter’ and has since earned the same notoriety that is attached by political activists from the Middle East to the Mukhabarat (Secret Intelligence Services of the dictatorships in the region).

Tourists prepare to leave Srinagar (Associated Press)

The Endgame

            Weeks after coming back to power in New Delhi, the BJP revealed the first step of its grand plan to fully ‘integrate’ Kashmir into Indian polity. On 5th June, the incumbent Home Minister and right-hand man of Modi, Amit Shah announced a plan to redraw the size of the constituencies in Kashmir. The objective is to increase the number of seats for Kashmir’s constituent assembly that currently stands at 89. Of these 89 seats, 46 are in Kashmir province of the state owing to its largest population, 37 are in Jammu province, and Ladakh province, the least populous region of the state has 4 seats. The plan has drawn criticism from the unionist politicians in Kashmir as it is widely speculated that BJP will seek to redraw the boundaries of constituencies along sectarian and caste lines. By increasing the number of seats in the Jammu province, which was not Hindu majority until 1947, the BJP hopes to increase its tally of seats in the next elections and capture the state’s assembly. Even though the BJP appointed Governor termed the talk of delimitation a rumour, things suggest otherwise. Since the announcement, New Delhi has deployed more paramilitary troops in Kashmir. In late June, a batch of 40,000 paramilitary troops was deployed in Kashmir under the pretext of safeguarding the Amarnath Yatra (an annual Hindu pilgrimage). Armed insurgents in Kashmir have repeatedly denied any such plans, and instead made statements welcoming the pilgrims. Nevertheless, pro-Government media outlets such as the Zee News have promoted the BJP government’s assertions of ‘terror threat to pilgrimage’ verbatim.

            Random searches of people and restrictions on vehicular movement have become a routine in Kashmir now. The Amarnath Yatra has been unprecedentedly politicised by the BJP Govt. to demonstrate its commitment to Hindutva and rising strong Hindu India. An example of this commitment this year was the blatant display of India state’s sovereign power when restrictions were again imposed on the movement of civilian traffic, this time to facilitate the movement of pilgrims on the main motorway of Kashmir. The pilgrimage this year had been progressing smoothly, as it has for decades until the Indian State on Monday, 2nd of August, issued an order advising tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to leave Kashmir immediately. Furthermore, 38000 additional troops have been deployed in Kashmir over the past couple of weeks again under the pretext of ‘perceived terror threat’.

Apart from citing intelligence reports of a possible terror attack, the Indian Govt. has remained tight-lipped, which has created panic and chaos in Kashmir as people brace for the worst. The developing situation has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and led many Western countries to upgrade their travel advisories concerning Kashmir. As per one report, satellite phones have been allotted to the local police and civil administration, which is an ominous sign that a total communications blockade may be on the cards. The orders have triggered a chain reaction of sorts as colleges have asked students to evacuate the campus accommodation, and hospital staff has been asked to remain on standby. The chaos and uncertainty aided by the rumours that the administration has done nothing to address have forced the people to go on a buying spree and stock up on essentials, as they fear trouble. A shortage of essentials is already being reported. Furthermore, since Kashmir depends on essential items that are imported from India the situation is expected to worsen as the uncertainty and chaos are allowed to spiral out of control, and no transportation company would be willing to take the risk of sending its trucks to Kashmir. Shortage of supplies will eventually trigger protests in Kashmir and the paramilitary troops deployed will be called to quell a so-called ‘Pakistan sponsored unrest’. Protestors will be tackled with lethal force since the Indian state, and its Army believes protestors are ‘terrorists without guns’ and ‘stone-pelters today, terrorists tomorrow’.

The situation has all the signs of a manufactured crisis.

The situation has all the signs of a manufactured crisis. At the time of writing, no reports of protests in Kashmir have surfaced; however, Indian media has already branded the situation as ‘turmoil’ and the Government’s assertion of ‘terror threat’ is being reported in a matter of fact fashion. Amidst all this chaos, Indian media is fuelling dangerous speculations of the planned trifurcation of Kashmir, abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. While the BJP has for long advocated the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomous position, it finally may have a viable plan to make it happen and sustain it.

The endgame of BJP is to radically change the demography of Kashmir, by bloodletting if necessary. By restructuring the composition of Kashmir’s constituent assembly, the BJP aims first to capture the power in Kashmir. The second step will be to use the fig leaf of ‘democratically elected government’ to finalise the incorporation of Kashmir into India and nullify the former’s constitution, thus annihilating Kashmir’s relatively autonomous position. However, such a move will not go uncontested; therefore, the endgame necessarily involves a third, messy, step –population transfer. The ideological fountains of the BJP, i.e. the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak) and the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) have for long believed that only a demographic change in Kashmir will integrate it with India. Such opinions were voiced in whispers for years, not any anymore. BJP politician and the disgraced Harvard academic Subramanium Swamy has publicly advocated that the abrogation of Article 370 must be followed by a settlement of 1 million armed ex-servicemen in Kashmir. Until now, this plan seemed nothing but a right-wing fantasy; however, the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections have changed everything. BJP become the first political party in India to win a simple majority since 1984. Right-wing Hindutva sentiment has become commonplace, and mob lynchings of people suspected of consuming beef have only gathered momentum. Average internet users to journalists who appear on state-run TV seem to be perfectly okay with the idea of changing the demographics of Kashmir, and if need be by genocide. Such a move will confirm the apprehensions of the people that India is pursuing an Israeli policy in Kashmir.

Why now?

But why the urgency? Two developments of significance have happened in the past few weeks. The first being, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to America and his meeting with Donald Trump, which has been hailed as a win-win by Pakistan media. For years, Modi led Government had sustained a narrative within India that Modi robust outreach programme has effectively made Pakistan an outcast in the international diplomatic circles. Donald Trump’s claim that Modi requested him to mediate between India and Pakistan must have come as a rude shock to the Modi support base. Modi support base, i.e. the committed foot soldiers of Hindutva have also been supportive of Trump and took his Islamophobia as common ground between them. Trump did not stop there, a week later, he reiterated his willingness to mediate between the two countries on the Kashmir issue; it should surprise no one that he thinks it is an issue that involves just the Indian and the Pakistani state. Trump’s public statements have ruffled the feathers of the Indian state to the extent that Modi administration had to climb down from its previous position. Modi administration had until now categorically denied the disputed status of Kashmir, and maintained that there is nothing to discuss with Pakistan. However, Trump’s theatrics have deflated much of the machoism, which is evident from the statement of India’s External Affairs Minister that “any discussion on Kashmir will only be with Pakistan”.

The second factor, which to some extent explains the urgency, is the tanking Indian economy. The Modi administration has made tall claims of making India’s economy larger than ever since it came to power. However, recent figures suggest that India’s economy has entered doldrums and is headed into a proper recession. The opposition, at least whatever is left of it, has panned Modi for the falling growth in key economic sectors and called his newly appointed Finance Minister incompetent as the economy has slipped down to the seventh position. The Modi administration, on its part, has not done enough to alleviate the economic tremors. The Finance Minister has said that India is keeping its head well above water

Lastly, the Modi administration has not shied away from fanning the flames of hyper-nationalism to distract public attention from its shortcomings, scandals, and policy failures. What better distraction than Kashmir? It ticks all the boxes of the Hindutva imaginary. Returning Kashmir to its ‘glorious Hindu past’ is after all the first step in resurrecting Akhand Bharat –Greater India extending from Nepal to Afghanistan. At the time of writing, New Delhi has ordered the house arrest of electoral politicians in Kashmir, two of whom have been the former Chief Ministers of Kashmir, the mobile internet services have been snapped, and an indefinite curfew has been imposed. What happens in Kashmir in the next few days/weeks/months has the potential to quickly get out of hand should New Delhi choose to go ahead with its adventurism.

Idreas Khandy is a PhD candidate at Lancaster University’s Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion

Non-Governmental Organisations: An attempt at clarity.

For an academic trying to write with clarity on development and non-governmental organisations, acronyms are the enemy. Or rather, as many in the sector would no doubt have it, FAATTWWCODANGO, AATE.

It is vital that academic work is as accessible as possible to those who haven’t had the fortune or privilege to dedicate several years of their life to esoteric study… after all, if academics can’t make their point to those who haven’t studied their subjects, what indeed is the point of ‘experts’ in political science, sociology or philosophy? What recourse can we have to complain about, for example, the sidelining of political economy experts in the Brexit debate if those same experts struggle to hold a normal and useful conversation on the subject with someone who simply wants to understand their options?

Similarly, it is vital that the processes of aid, development and charity are made as accessible as possible to the private donors and taxpayers who fund these projects that save and improve lives. Often, though, academic work on aid and development hits the casual reader with a double whammy: The over-complicated language of academia coupled with the industry-specific acronyms of the aid industry.

“…this is a deficiency on the part of the writer who can’t make their point clearly, or the organisation deliberately obfuscating their mandatory public reports.”

In my line of work and in studying for a PhD focusing on aid/development, I hear a lot of people talking about aid, development and charity. The most common thing I hear is ‘There’s no point giving money to these organisations, they just spend it all on wages and parties’. The second most common is ‘I tried to find out where my money was being spent, I found an end of year report or academic article, and I didn’t understand what it was on about’. This isn’t a deficiency on the part of the reader who finds they can’t access the work; rather, this is a deficiency on the part of the writer who can’t make their point clearly, or the organisation deliberately obfuscating their mandatory public reports.

This article is my attempt to try to address this by creating a guideline to the typologies of aid and development… hopefully this will provide some small solution to the access issue so many have when trying to figure out what happens in the aid/development sector.

What actually is an NGO?

There are some acronyms we’re not going to be able to get away from using. NGO is one of them. An NGO is an organisation that isn’t tied to a government, and as such is a ‘private’ organisation. This covers a huge and varied architecture of organisations, from massive global entities like Oxfam and ActionAid to a tiny group of three staff looking to fund the building of a well in a remote village. Essentially, the key attributes of a non governmental organisation are that it must be:

1) Not part of a government.
2) Not for profit (this doesn’t mean it can’t hold a turnover higher than its expenditure, but rather that this excess shouldn’t be used to line the pockets of owners and shareholders).
3) Not a criminal organisation.

Both public and private donors employ non-governmental organisations to deliver projects*, as well as to promote specific causes and raise awareness of certain issues. Foundations such as the Gates Foundation, and government agencies such as UK’s development agency (the Department for International Development), for example, rely upon the NGO sector to deliver projects. This takes the form of either direct solicitation, discussion, or requests for proposals.

Direct solicitation is used when the donor already knows which NGO they believe is best suited to the required work. For example, the donor may have an existing relationship with an NGO. This is an intuitive process: Emma is a well-priced and reliable carpenter who built your shed, so you contact Emma directly when you want a new kitchen installed.

Discussion involves multiple NGOs discussing the work in terms of interest and capacity, followed up by invitations to submit proposals. You ask Emma, Raj, Maryam and Steve how much work and for what price a new kitchen should go for, and then you ask them to submit their bids.

Finally, requests for proposals are issued either publicly for open bids or privately for targeted bids- you post on a local Facebook community discussion page asking for quotes and references from local carpenters, or you target it more specifically and post on a local Facebook carpentry page.

*these projects can range from aid projects such as humanitarian responses to natural disasters to development projects such as installing and maintaining a wireless internet network in a rural community… You should always be able to find out what kind of projects a specific organisation is doing, usually by looking at their reports or requesting the information directly.

Types of Non-Governmental Organisations

Lewis (2009) states that “NGOs are a diverse groups of organisations that defy generalisation, ranging from small informal groups to large formal agencies”. The term ‘NGO’ describes private organisations that operate outside of direct government control, although they can operate under the aegis of public direction. The World Bank defines NGOs as ‘private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services or undertake community development’ (World Bank 1994). When we are talking NGOs in development, aid and the charity sector then, we are discussing groups that work to support, protect and/or promote the welfare and rights of individuals and communities.

There are definitions of NGO that demand an NGO must be secular, or that they must be specifically working towards the empowerment of marginalised groups. I disagree with these restrictions as NGOs can, for example, be religious in nature but operate in the same manner as their secular equivalents. It is essential, however, to establish clear categories of NGO, as the work that the NGO sector undertakes is so varied and wide-ranging.

There is a seemingly inexhaustible trove of categories and acronyms used to describe various types of NGO. NGOs can, for example, be divided by category according to orientation (eg charitable, service, participatory, empowerment) and/or scope (local, community based, national, international). Similarly, NGOs can be defined by various acronyms, for example BINGO (business friendly international NGO), DONGO (donor organised NGO), ENGO (environmental NGO), GONGO (government-operated NGO), INGO (international NGO), MANGO (market advocacy NGO) and QUANGO (quasi-autonomous NGO).

It should be clear that this is confusing, irritating, and, when used in academic and/or policy papers, massively off-putting to the reader.

It should be clear that this is confusing, irritating, and, when used in academic and/or policy papers, massively off-putting to the reader… and it cannot be stressed enough that these readers constitute once of the primary potential sources of funding for aid and development projects.

For the purposes of my work, I categorise NGOs in general discussion according to scale and primary purpose, with more specific categorisation when discussing an individual NGO or when it is necessary to provide clarity for a specific section.

Primary Purpose

In terms of primary purpose, I use World Bank typology, which divides NGOs into two distinct categories: Operational NGOs and Advocacy NGOs.

Operational NGOs ‘design and implement the development-related projects.’ These are the NGOs involved in service delivery, response, infrastructure development, and so on. The nature of this work can be extremely diverse; for example, NGOs can deliver services directly with their own staff, or by working with local community based organisations by delivering resources, training and supervision. However, the link that categorises operational NGOs is that they implement projects, through whatever means.

The main purpose of Advocacy NGOs, in contrast, is to ‘promote a specific cause… [they] make efforts to raise awareness and knowledge by doing various activities like lobbying, press work and activist events’ (World Bank 1994). This ‘promotion’ of causes involves three main foci: Research, mobilisation and advocacy. Typically, Advocacy NGOs will work with communities to raise awareness of their chosen issue, and to identify where advocacy is required, as well as conducting research into the issue in order to enhance understanding. Advocacy NGOs will then seek to raise public awareness of the issue, and provide members and partners with the tools to conduct advocacy; this provision of tools is often characterised as the strengthening of ‘grassroots’ organisations. Finally, the Advocacy NGO will bring the issue to the attention of policymakers, nationally or internationally depending on the scope and reach of the organisation, and seek to enact change.

Summary: Operational NGOs work in service delivery and response, whereas Advocacy NGOs work in awareness, research and activism.

It is by no means the case that these primary purposes are mutually exclusive; in fact, it often the crossover between activities which leads to the incompatibility between NGO work and state sovereignty that is an increasing point of discussion for policy makers. NGOs will often work in both operations (implementation) and advocacy. However, the stark definitions are certainly useful for the characterisation and categorisation of NGOs in the first instance.


My second category is that of scale; whether the NGO works on a local, national or international level. Different states have a different way of categorising NGOs working in their territory. I have chosen to use the example of NGO categories required when registering to work in Uganda, as Uganda is so often cited as the poster state for NGO work.

District-based NGOs ‘operate in areas not exceeding one district’ (Uganda National NGO Forum 2018) and represent what are often categorised as ‘local NGOs’.

The NGO world is full of these inconsistencies and gaps in database auditing, which poses a clear danger to the ability of the sector to market itself with any efficiency and clarity.

National NGOs operate in more than one district; note that a national NGO does not need to be present in the whole state. For example, an NGO may be regional, working in advocacy for issues pertaining to a particular reason (such as on behalf of the Acholi in the North) or in refugee camps spread around the state. An example of a national NGO in Uganda is InterAid Uganda: InterAid works with support from United Nations Refugee Agency and the Ugandan state to support and protect urban refugees in Uganda. InterAid is registered with the Ugandan NGO Board, is based in Kampala, and works exclusively within Uganda. It’s also worth noting that InterAid’s website is no longer active, although it is still listed as an United Nations Refugee Agency partner. The NGO world is full of these inconsistencies and gaps in database auditing, which poses a clear danger to the ability of the sector to market itself with any efficiency and clarity.

Networks and umbrellas: These are composed as registered associations, in which multiple NGOs are registered as members. This gives donors or INGOs (see below…) seeking local partners more opportunity to connect with the right NGO, and gives the NGOs a degree of legitimacy and profile. An example of this is the Uganda NGO Forum.

International NGOs (INGOs) are NGOs which operate in multiple states, regionally and/or globally. INGOs such as World Vision, CARE and Oxfam have operating budgets of over a billion US dollars a year and a presence in 120, 87 and 95 states respectively. INGOs form partnerships with national and district NGOs in which the national and district NGOs are given access to INGO resources and capital in order to carry out operations and advocacy.

INGOs are characterised by a number of attributes aside from where they operate that set them apart from other NGOs, although these attributes are of course linked to their size and scope. INGOs often have multiple autonomous branches in multiple states, but these autonomous branches work together under the same aegis: for example, while Oxfam GB and Oxfam NOVIB are autonomous organisations with their own operations and governance, they also operate as part of a ‘confederation’ as Oxfam International.

As long as the INGO maintains a positive relationship with donors, then, they are able to operate in a sphere essentially above that in which other NGOs are able to operate.

The size and scope of INGOs also means that they have relatively large budgets and staff numbers, essentially meaning that they have the capacity to achieve more than national or local NGOs. By virtue of having more capacity, INGOs are therefore able to garner more funding as donors regard them as having more legitimacy. As such, INGOs are likely to be solicited by donors, thus giving them more funding, more capacity, and more legitimacy. As long as the INGO maintains a positive relationship with donors, then, they are able to operate in a sphere essentially above that in which other NGOs are able to operate.

The budgets and staff that INGOs are able to sustain also allows for greater organisational capacity, which means that they are able to sustain dedicated operations staff. This further enhances the capacity and legitimacy of INGOs to donors, especially when one considers that the national branches of INGOs are able to access staff from other branches of the international confederation.

The upshot of this increased capacity and legitimacy is that INGOs have more voice and power in terms of having genuine impact on decision makers and, therefore, policy.

Summary: INGOs are bigger, with more staff, more money and more connections.

They have more power, so they’re able to be more cost-effective when run ‘properly’. When they’re not run properly, the huge power that an individual can have due to having the name of the global organisation behind them can lead to exploitation and abuse. I recommend Deborah Doane’s recent article as an accessible explanation of this, summarised by the statement “The rich donors of the north have all the money and all the power. Those who are beholden to their services have neither.”

The intricacies, both public/obvious and private/nuanced of the aid and development sector are part of a different conversation, albeit one intrinsically interwoven into the lack of clarity and accessibility that so often marks the sector.

But I digress… The intricacies, both public/obvious and private/nuanced of the aid and development sector are part of a different conversation, albeit one intrinsically interwoven into the lack of clarity and accessibility that so often marks the sector.

Community Based Organisations

There is one last set of actors to add to this typology: Community based organisations.

Community based organisations, also known as grassroots organisations, are fundamentally distinct from other NGOs. Whereas NGOs are set up to help others, through operations or advocacy, CBOs are set up within communities by local resident, and can be both formal and informal organisations. Examples of CBOs include, but are not limited to, farmer associations, youth clubs, cooperatives and women’s groups. The binding characteristic which ties CBOs together is their nature as grassroots, local organisations set up to serve a specific community .

The binding characteristic which ties CBOs together is their nature as grassroots, local organisations set up to serve a specific community.

There are certainly blurred lines when one seeks to make a clear distinction between local NGOs and CBOs; much of the work these organisations undertake will be similar in terms of mechanics and goals. CBOs are often employed as grassroots partners by operations and advocacy NGOs, and successful CBOs may become local or national NGOs as members realise their efforts could, and should, be monetised to further their capacity and exported to others to exact positive change. An example of this is Global Mamas, originally a women’s advocacy CBO in Accra, Ghana and now a network NGO bringing together 350 producers in Ghana, shipping fair trade products internationally and running a volunteer program for overseas volunteers.

The line between CBO and NGO, then, is a difference in capacity. CBOs are voluntary, grassroots organisations, lacking resources, and operating within the boundaries of their community.

CBOs perform a vital role in the aid chain, providing community knowledge and working with NGOs to develop an institutional framework for beneficiary participation. CBOs are also employed to implement sub-projects to strengthen or facilitate NGO projects.

As the registration process for CBOs tends to be very lax, however, there can be a real issue with capacity; an issue I experienced in Ghana when partnering as a research institute with a local CBO, only to find out down the line that they had registered as a CBO but had misrepresented their capacity, were unable to deliver on their promises and were entirely reliant upon our resources.

(The temptation to hyperlink to their website is huge, but I will resist.)

Donors seek to improve the lives of people in developing states, and use their capital and resources to do so. Some of this funding is sent directly to national and local governments as budget support, and some is deployed as project aid through the medium of the non-governmental sector. Donors seek to use the most effective and legitimate bodies to deliver the best support, be it advocacy or operations, to beneficiaries, and as such solicit bids from NGOs, awarding the majority of bids to INGOs due to their relative capacity and legitimacy.

Summary: Most donors prefer to use big organisations to get things done, as they represent a safer and more efficient investment of capital.

International INGOs with large budgets and organisational capacity undertake these projects on behalf of donors, but also act as intermediaries for the effective disbursement of resources, and so in turn deploy the capacity of NGOs to help deliver projects.

Development projects and advocacy are undertaken by INGOs and NGOs in the recipient state, and must be registered to work within the recipient state where it has this capacity.

Summary: The big organisations employ smaller organisations to do a lot of the work, but these organisations have to be officially registered… Compare this to a project management company using private contractors on a building site.

INGOs and NGOs work with CBOs in order to ensure their projects and advocacy are suitably tailored to the needs of the beneficiary; this knowledge is passed ‘up’ the aid chain from beneficiaries, through CBOs, the state, and NGOs, to donors, who can then make better and more effective choices on how to allocate their capital.

Summary: Usually it’s best to use local knowledge, and the more this is done, the more the big organisation learns about how to do things properly in that area.


I am a firm believer in the idea that most people will, if they can afford to do so, help those in need. I am also a firm believer in the idea that you can’t expect people to have any trust at all in a process that is confusing, jargon-filled and exclusionary. It is imperative that the aid and development sectors learn to better market their processes.

Rather than either providing too little information and excluding people entirely, or providing overly jargon-filled information in annual reports that no one can actual understand, there must be a middle way… not patronising, but also not expecting sector-specific knowledge of a range of acronyms and random esoteric terms.

I will certainly have used jargon in this article, without realising I am doing so… the more academic work one does on a subject, the more one seems to disappear up the rear end of that subject and forget how to speak about it in a useful manner. I have tried to demystify some of the processes and jargon, and hopefully this will be useful to some!

I invite and welcome any comments to help me improve this process… the role of academia should be to enhance and inform a subject, not to confuse it and remove it from normal discussion.

Follow the author (or bombard the author with criticisms & feedback) on Twitter: @GFBowden

Populism and the African Region: Potential Dangers

J.A. Doma

NDC Rally – Image by Jarreth Merz

Populism has taken flight throughout the world today, and despite an aggressive response primarily in the media, the populist movement has surged on. With recent European Parliamentary elections all but highlighting that far-right populist parties had become a mainstay in Europe as IvanKrastev has highlighted in the New York Times, one is compelled to imagine what a populist Europe means for the rest of the world. With the United States (U.S.) all but lost, except for a much-changed outcome in the 2020 presidential election, the global order and balance of power is most certain to be transformed, with the developing world once again being the greatest losers. Some of the consequences of growing populism throughout the world have been identified, for example, Max Bergmann, Carolyn Kenney, and Trevor Sutton have highlighted the dangers of the rise of far-right populism to global democracy and security. In particular, of concern to me is the potential impact of populism on the African region. While the liberals of the international community have failed to respond adequately to rising populist movements, there has been a subtle and quiet convergence of a coalition of the radicals. This coalition is set to upset the way things are done today, all to the detriment of the most disadvantaged regions of the world.

With the United States (U.S.) all but lost… the global order and balance of power is most certain to be transformed

Already, Paul Rogers and Richard Reeve in a report titled Climate Change, Populism and National Security have highlighted that many countries usually consider climate change (in)security in terms of how it directly affects national security. Today, many governments especially of the populist kind, have persistently understated the dangers posed by climate change. From current indications, the world may not be able to deliver on the agreements reached in Paris. Already, many African countries are negatively being impacted by a changing climate, with no African country possessing the resources and the ability to mitigate climate change, Africa’s hope solely rests on global action. However, global action will be difficult to attain when some of the world’s most influential nations are climate change cynics. A coalition of populist nations, driven by skepticism in climate change will greatly undermine efforts against climate change, and the first casualties will be regions who contribute little to no carbon emissions – African countries and other developing nations. Ian Dunlop and David Spratt’s recent climate change report has highlighted the horrors the world might face in the coming three decades if fast action is not taken. This implies that action to tackle populism must equally be implemented rapidly.

While we are able to infer Chinese intentions in the region, we will never be able to tell with all certainty what their objectives are.

Similarly, as populist nations continue to gain ground, and as they begin to adopt protectionist policies in international trade, once again the African region is left at the mercy of poor global economic choices. Sino-African relations today is at an all-time high, and has sparked intense debate on the intentions of the Chinese for Africans. Martin Wolf has argued in a Financial Times essay titled The Looming 100-year US-China conflict,that as America and possibly its allies in Europe continue to antagonize Beijing, the rest of the world is set to have to leave with the consequences. In the face of populism, African countries will find it impossible to resist Chinese advances. While numerous literatures have defended China-Africa engagements as a win-win, numerous others consider Beijing’s encroachment as neo-imperialist in nature. Presently, Trump’s America has greatly reduced aid to developing nations, rhetoric from western populist nations has further dampened the confidence of the global south in the global north, compelling developing states to see China as an increasingly more attractive partner. While we are able to infer Chinese intentions in the region, we will never be able to tell with all certainty what their objectives are. The west has continually served as an important check to Chinese advances in the African region, however, as these countries adopt more nationalistic values, their waning interest in Africa will pave the way for the Chinese to take full control of affairs.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, March 31, 2015

Once consequence of this will probably leave the region financially worse off. Historically, colonialism and imperialism has left the region underdeveloped, and its people in great poverty. If the Chinese were to thread similar paths as Africa’s colonial lords or imperialist partners, the region will further be underdeveloped. Furthermore, one is compelled to contemplate what a Chinese global leadership will imply for Africa’s growing and fragile democracy. The Chinese model has continually been mooted as an alternative path to growth and development for poor countries, in the face of neglect from western states, African nations maybe compelled to do away with democratic values believing that the Beijing system maybe more suitable to their developmental needs.

The political structure of the African region has always sought to emulate western nations, and has indeed made progress albeit gradually.

I am additionally curious as to how current populist trends would affect regional and global integrations. While the African Union (AU) and most especially the United Nations (UN), are not as politically integrated as the European Union (EU), their relevance nonetheless for the world and the African region can not be understated. Britain has begun processes of formally exiting the EU, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally Party has unequivocally vowed to attempt to withdraw France from the European organization, many more governments have hinted on their desire to leave the EU. However, writing in the Washington Post, Chico Harlan has suggested that after watching the strenuous processes Britain has undergone in an attempt to leave the EU, many countries seem to have had a change of heart on taking a similar path. With a possible coalition of radical western nations gradually and silently emerging, united by their nationalistic sentiments, harsh immigration policies, and an aversion to integration, the chances of European disintegration persists. The political structure of the African region has always sought to emulate western nations, and has indeed made progress albeit gradually. With the collapse of the EU and a weakened UN, African states would be left lost and looking to be rescued.

J. A. Doma holds a BA in Politics and International Relations from Lancaster University Ghana. Doma is a scholar of African politics, and is currently a volunteer advocate for the implementation of SDGs in Nigeria. Doma is seeking to pursue an MA around International Relations, Security, Conflict and Peace.

Enriching Discourse Theory

Cypriot memorials as an example of the workings of the discursive-material knot

Nico Carpentier

One of the issues where Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory has been struggling with, is its relationship with the material. This struggle is not caused by the lack of acknowledgement of the significance of the material in their discourse theory, on the contrary. From the very beginning, discourse theory has made it clear that the material matters, and that it cannot be equated with, or subsumed by, the discursive. Moreover, for Laclau and Mouffe, discourse is not the same as language, a position that opens up considerable opportunities for acknowledging the communicative capacities of objects and bodies. But that is not where the issue is situated. Even though Laclau and Mouffe emphasize the importance of the material, it remains a bit hidden under the theoretical weight of the discourse-theoretical vocabulary, and receives little specific conceptual attention. If the material matters, then there is also a need to have a vocabulary that allows to think through the role of the material. And if the material and the discursive interact, or, in other words, if the material and discursive are knotted or entangled, then there is a need to think through the knot and to develop a theory (or theories) of entanglement.

…new materialism’s acknowledgement of the discursive also has its limits…

One resource that can provide help in enriching discourse theory is new materialism, which has strongly thematized material agency, without ignoring the role of the discursive (or the representational, as it is often called in this field of study). Interestingly, new materialism’s acknowledgement of the discursive also has its limits, in the very same way as discourse theory’s relationship to the material has remained underdeveloped. This is why a non-hierarchical reconciliation of the material and the discursive requires a gentle reworking of both traditions, without moving too far away from their respective comfort zones.

In the search for a more developed theoretical-conceptual vocabulary, there are some obvious candidates. One example is the dislocation, a discourse-theoretical concept that captures the capacity of the material to disrupt a discourse, forcing it into discursive repair or sometimes even destroying it. Arguably, there is also the need for a more positive version of the dislocation, which is the invitation. Materials can extend invitations towards particular discourses, exactly through their material characteristics. This does not imply that invitations cannot be declined; other discourses can still be invoked to generate meanings to materials. One other useful concept that has more stronger roots in new materialism, is the assemblage, which can be used to think about the translation of the ontological principles of the discursive-material knot to the ontic level, where particular discourses and materials become (seen as) part of equally particular assemblages. Finally, the attention for contingency unifies both traditions, and structurally matters to our understanding of entangled discourses and materials, where discourses, materials and their assemblages are fixated through socio-political practices, but never in unchangeable and definitive ways.

One way to illustrate the workings of the discursive-material knot is through the “Iconoclastic Controversies” photography exhibitions, which took place in Cyprus in the autumn of 2015 (Nicosia), the beginning of 2016 (Limassol) and the autumn of 2018 (Brasilia). This video shows a 2-minute report of the Brasilia exhibition, which ran from 17 September to 5 October 2018 at the University of Brasilia:

The “Iconoclastic Controversies” exhibitions included between 20 and 23 photographs of memorials—more specifically: statutes and commemoration sites—related to the Cyprus Problem, and more in particular to the Cypriot Independence War of 1955-59, and the Turkish invasion of 1974. These photographs are investigations of the hegemonic forces of Greek-Cypriot antagonistic nationalism, and of the condensation of this discourse into memorials that celebrate heroism, militarism and nationalism. The materials of these memorials are invested with meanings produced by these particular discourses, and become part of the antagonistic nationalist assemblage. At the same time, the memorials extend an invitation through their materiality—e.g., the display of triumphant male fighters, connected to the Greek-Cypriot nation—to identify with this nationalist discourse.

…these exhibitions also show that this identification is not to be taken for granted

But these exhibitions also show that this identification is not to be taken for granted. First, the invitation can simply be declined, and a different discourse can be used to give meaning to a memorial. For instance, a war hero can become articulated as a war criminal. Second, the practices of everyday life often lead to memorials not being noticed and respected. The photographs show how in some cases, memorials are used as gathering place for sunbathers and swimmers, ideally situated to leave towels behind. In other cases, the ever-expanding tourist industry encroached on memorial sites, hiding them from sight.

The strength of the antagonistic nationalism assemblage is also weakened by the presence of counter-hegemonic memorials, that attempt to dislocate this assemblage by paying tribute to peace-building initiatives, or to peace in general. One photograph in the “Iconoclastic Controversies” exhibitions shows the Kavazoğlu-Misiaoulis statues in Athienou, a Greek-Cypriot village north of Larnaca, one of the four villages in the buffer zone. Beneath the two busts is inscribed a text which summons passers-by to remember the “heroic martyrs of the Greek-Turkish friendship”. These statues not only commemorate the violent deaths of these two labour union activists (the first of whom was Turkish Cypriot and the second one Greek Cypriot), they also show that the antagonism between both communities can be overcome by collaboration. But the photograph, taken after the Kavazoğlu bust was stolen by metal thieves, also symbolizes the vulnerability of these counter-hegemonic memorials in the South Cypriot landscape.

As a series of exhibitions—and an assemblage in its own right—“Iconoclastic Controversies” explicitly reflects on the discursive-material knot, and shows how memorials are part of particular assemblages, but also how these assemblages are contingent and contested. Embedded in one approach toward the development of a theory of entanglement, it is also a call to continue our work on the further development of this theoretical and empirical field, leaving behind the need to privilege one of the knot’s components over the other.

Nico Carpentier is Docent at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism of Charles University in Prague; he also holds part-time positions at Uppsala University and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB – Free University of Brussels).