A new breed of legal support

The future of the NGO sector in Tanzania

2017-03-24 15:25:08

By Paul Kibuuka

IN order to streamline the legal framework for the registration of NGOs in Tanzania, the Tanzanian Parliament enacted material amendments to the Non-Governmental Organisations Act, 2002 (the “NGO Act”) in 2005.

The amendments sought to remove deficiencies in the NGO Act, while also empowering the Government of Tanzania to monitor NGO operations and sources of funds.

Indeed, the NGO Act--itself a subject of heavy criticism by the NGO community in the country for being top-down and non-participatory--affirms the National NGO Policy which was approved by the Government sixteen years ago, in 2001, to encourage partnerships that complement its efforts to provide economic and social services to the community.

It’s been more than a decade since the Government approved the National NGO Policy and the Tanzanian Parliament amended the NGO Act, but there is still a major question within the NGO community over the future of NGOs in Tanzania. 

NGOs in Tanzania are so varied in size, composition, objectives and strategy that the question over their future is rather a bit general to elicit a sensible, concise answer.

However, on second thought, NGOs will need to truly stand alongside the poorest, most food-insecure, and most vulnerable Tanzanians, whilst offering them genuine emotional involvement in their lives – and not just handouts that only last until the money runs out and the aid workers return home.

Most folks might think of NGOs as basically conduits to transfer money from wealthy people to poor people. This is especially so in light of the fund-raising and marketing campaigns that normally feature images of emaciated children, and the act of putting money into charity collection boxes at shopping malls, airports, hotels and other public places, which perhaps indicates that the key part of the equation is the money.

However, out of my experience through volunteering with and providing legal and regulatory advice to NGOs in Tanzania, it’s obvious that more important than the money, is genuine emotional involvement in the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable Tanzanians such as children in care homes, homeless youths, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, to name but a few.

Indisputably, Tanzania is a country known the world over as an “oasis of peace” (Hofmeier 1997) on the troubled African continent, but where it is poverty and not conflict that is the major political issue. Which is why, if poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to grow at a strong pace economically, as some have done for the past 10 years, slowly the problems will become less connected with absolute shortages of money.

While we can anticipate access to basic healthcare and education and other traditional indicators of economic and social development to continue to improve, the same cannot be said for conflict.

Writing in the “Salon” news website, Michael Linda, argues that “the world has become much more peaceful in recent decades and is getting more peaceful all the time.” Nevertheless, there are dark clouds on the horizon as scarcity of resources could ostensibly undermine the progress that’s been made.

Hence, the future challenge for NGOs in Tanzania will be to figure out new threats to the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable Tanzanians that stem from an age of increasing global resource scarcity, unequal distribution, and increasingly volatile economies, markets and climatic conditions.

It goes without saying that NGOs are an integral part of civil society. Although the concept of civil society remains a politically sensitive issue, there will be a need for a vibrant, strong, and principled civil society to interact extensively with the Government and to walk alongside the unemployed poor, middle-class jobless, and the most vulnerable Tanzanians, if NGOs are to remain relevant and effective.

While some NGO managers have promoted the professionalization and expansion of NGO funding bases, there will be a need for NGOs to stay true to the practice of volunteering – itself a new concept in Tanzania. Which is not to say in the future NGOs will be unprofessional; on the contrary, such NGOs’ impact assessments will be much sought after.

Volunteering, particularly of professionals e.g. lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants, teachers, psychiatrists, etc. working in established organisations, not only brings the money, but also the skills, resources, and the networks.

The unemployed, especially graduates, will increasingly take volunteering opportunities in NGOs. However, most of them will volunteer as a way of acquiring job experience, which has become the norm for employment in our job market.

Moreover, NGOs will seek synergy with the private-sector by viewing business as a development partner, through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) philanthropy and through direct business operations. Partnerships will be turned into rigorous collaborations for bringing economic, social and environmental benefits to our communities. 

Finally, even if NGO funding  declines and priorities change, the demand for human development solutions is not going to wane, and NGOs that offer quality services will remain germane and valuable in Tanzania. The bottom line, however, is that the need for NGOs isn’t vanishing, although some NGOs might.

Paul Kibuuka is the managing partner of Isidora & Company Advocates. Email: Twitter: isidoralaw

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