NGO-isation of Bangladesh


NGO or Non Governmental Organization is defined as a non-profit, voluntary citizens' group that is organized on a local, national or international level and independent from states, national and international governmental organizations. Necessity of NGO emerges in localities of developing and least developed countries, where inhabitants are missed out from government facilities and are in dire conditions. Source of funds of NGOs are local, national and/or international donations.

NGOs conforming to such conditions and local framework are definitely playing a vital role in alleviating people from poverty. Such initiatives by NGOs are recognized and lauded worldwide. But after attaining recognition, often in least developed or developing countries, the NGOs seem to gain leverage over the respective governments, and subsequently the NGOs develop in to pressure groups and tools for covert imperialism. In most developing countries, which are heavily dependent on NGOs for social development, the NGOs tend to depoliticize, transnationalize the local political communication and civil engagements. Bangladesh, a South Asian neighbor of India, and a key strategic partner of China, has fallen in to the domain of NGO-isation.

Bangladesh after independence in 1971 suffered serious crises in terms of economic, social and humanitarian degrees. The subsequent governments due to lack of funds and sometimes stalled economic progress had to rely heavily on social, humanitarian and economic development of rural and remote areas of Bangladesh on the NGOs. The NGOs on their part received huge donations from abroad. However, due to lack of monitoring, the NGOs developed a strong foothold in Bangladesh and spread their range and array of activities.  Currently, 2554 (including local and international) NGOs are registered under Bangladesh government. A total of 233 foreign Non-government organizations (NGO) of 27 countries have been operational in the country. Number of  NGOs from USA is the highest (70), while NGOs from UK, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, France, Sweden, Germany and some Middle Eastern countries like Qatar, Kuwait are also working in Bangladesh.

The activities of NGOs in Bangladesh have not always been left out from controversies, including interference in state machineries. BRAC, recognized as the world’s largest NGO initiated by Sir Fazle Abed, has grown in to a “parallel” state, which according to critics: simply accountable to no one. BRAC is notably associated with rural education, rural healthcare, micro-credit and agro business in Bangladesh, quite remarkable for an NGO. The NGO's stunning growth is in part to do with the failure of Bangladeshi administrations to provide services for the millions of rural poor. However BRAC has also proved to be good at making money. In the 1980s, it stepped in to fill the gap for the growth of small enterprises; the task local banks were unwilling to take. It now generates around 70% of its own income through a large array of BRAC-branded enterprises. It is even accused of linking its business projects with its micro finance activities for lenders, often forcing their borrowers to take services from them and sometimes undermining small NGOs. BRAC is recipient of Foreign Governments’ donations as well, thus coming under the contact of influential Western governments, who are often accused of meddling in developing countries’ affairs by means of NGOs.

In another case, world’s attention was grabbed when Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus was forcibly removed from his famed micro-credit NGO Grameen Bank. This event unfolded in serious diplomatic tussle with US and Bangladesh, especially drawing the name of the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in to the foray of the drama, who is a personal friend of Dr. Yunus. Bangladeshi Prime Minister even accused US government for influencing the of blocking World Bank fund for building a much coveted mega structure for removing Dr. Yunus from his post. Bangladeshi Prime Minister even went on to claim that Hillary Clinton strongly lobbied to her to reinstate Dr. Yunus to the post of Chairman of Grameen Bank. The reason for such rage of Bangladeshi Prime Minister on Dr. Yunus is pointed to his failed venture in Bangladeshi politics during the Army backed administration in 2007-08, when it was strongly believed that Dr. Yunus will come in to national politics to sideline two women national leaders, dubbed as the “Minus Two” theory. It is often alleged that NGOs, backed by Tuesday Club 9a group of ambassadors/diplomats of influential Western countries), ventured in to the formation of the then army backed government. According to newspaper editor Nurul Kabir, the Tuesday Club was primarily responsible for the military takeover by the Bangladesh Army in January 2007. Micro-credit is itself a controversial tool of fighting poverty, where the borrowers are pushed in to an unending cycle of debt.

Another strong cause for concern is the involvement of NGOs in activities in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is rife with separatist movement, in spite of the peace accord signed in 1997. The Bangalee and Pahari (Tribal people) people often lock in to clashes, sometimes leading to vandalizing and arson and bloodshed. Renegade Pahari settlers want an independent state breaking away from Bangladesh. NGOs working in CHT always voice concern in unison about the alleged denial of rights of the Pahari settlers. The Bangladeshi government is highly concerned about the intelligence report that points to some NGOs associated with subversive activities in CHT.  The zone is also a haven for separatist groups of Myanmar, and international concern was raised when Bangladesh Police arrested a French NGO worker for reportedly accused of "suspicious activities”, as the media claimed that he was working for fleeing Rohingya people.

Many NGOs working in Bangladesh and based in Middle East are accused of funding extremist terrorists in Bangladesh, on one occasion an Islamist leader, who had received funds from NGOs for his activities had contacts with a Western Embassy.

On the other hand, prominent NGO personalities often take advantage of the right to free speech and come up with highly controversial and polarizing remarks hurting religious sentiments of the people of Bangladesh who are always sensitive to question when it comes to religion, and the most recent case still remains unsettled. Nevertheless the NGO community was quick to come behind the person at the center of the controversy, demanding her and her organization’s safety.

As the NGOs in Bangladesh flourished successfully in economic development, spreading of education, the focus shifted in to restructuring the social and ethnic values of Bangladesh. Certain projects taken up by some NGOs are seriously undermining the ethno-religious and cultural values of Bangladesh in the name of spreading Western liberalism. Apart from defending “free thinking” bloggers in the name of free speech, who regularly defames a religion practiced by majority, Western governments are covertly encouraging certain customs, which are not consistent with the values of traditional Bangladeshi society and damaging to the institution of family. The LGBT movement in Bangladesh started in 1999, when a man named Rengyu described as a "middle aged foreign educated guy from an indigenous tribe", opened first online group for Bangladeshi gay people, called Gay Bangladesh. However, the existence of LGBT movement by the active assistance of the Western government came in to lime light, when a former official of US embassy in Bangladesh was killed for his leading role in taking LGBT movement forward in Bangladesh. He also worked for USAid, the leading US based NGO in Bangladesh. The UN Population Fund and Non-Government Organizations have put pressure on Bangladesh on 2013 to address issues such as gay rights and sexuality education, which Bangladesh has rejected, stating that such moves are against the norms of Bangladeshi ethno-religious values. In September 2014, At the International Conference on Population Development, Bangladesh, and Bangladesh refused the idea of providing rights to the lesbian and gay community. Bangladesh's Permanent Representative to the UN Abdul Momen had similar comments in regards to the situation as he did last year at the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population conference. He was even quoted in saying that like other Muslim or even Christian countries, Bangladesh does not support it because it does not support their values. Nevertheless the Western media corporations are vouching periodically to Bangladesh to come out of its values to integrate LGBT in Bangladesh society. This periodic persuasion is tantamount to imposing pressures on a sovereign country.  It is also noteworthy that a large cross section of people in Bangladesh are against such kind Western liberalism that undermines their religious values and ultimately give the extremists an upper hand for playing in Bangladesh, who are interestingly grew up in Bangladesh, by the blessings of NGOs. Continuous persuasion of such sorts is openly pitting Bangladesh against the NGOs. The NGOs have secured their backs by Western funding; publicity wing is secured by Western Media and a loyal supporter base in Bangladesh to vouch for them in Bangladesh.

Amid growing controversies about the scot free activities of some NGOs, the Bangladeshi government came up with Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Law 2016, which regulates the work and activities of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on October 5, 2016. Different NGOs in Bangladesh voiced concerns over the law, fearing repercussions and muzzling of voices. The Library of Congress published an article, terming the law “controversial”.  Human Rights Watch fears about possible “choking” of Civil Society voices.

NGOs backed by West, donning the role of Civil Society, played a dubious role in the overthrowing of Military Government in 1991 in Bangladesh through mass mobilization and reshaping the subsequent political spectrum in Bangladesh, which with the passage of time has become more confrontational and authoritarian in nature, a legacy Bangladesh still continues to bear. The Civil Society, more often a pseudo-political arm (individuals those are members of Civil Society are often members/administrators of different NGOs) of the NGOs becomes active, when Bangladesh falls in to political crisis. The symptom of its activeness will be visible soon when Bangladesh heads in to election in late 2018 or early 2019, as the major political parties in Bangladesh are still locked in verbal war over polls time government. One cannot ignore the roles NGOs played in Arab Spring, nor in the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. Will Bangladesh be another field of NGO branded “Color revolution” or any NGO branded “Bangla Spring”?