Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth


Ah, no, those are bongos.

Nope a gongo is not a percussion instrument. It is a paramount example of the oxymoron. A gongo is a government organized (GO) and funded nongovernmental organization (NGO.) GONGO.

The Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation is a gongo. So is Nashi, a Russian youth group, and the Sudanese Human Rights Organization. Kyrgyzstan's Association of Non-commercial and Nongovernmental Organizations is also a gongo, as is Chongryon, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. Gongos are sprouting everywhere; they're in China, Cuba, France, Tunisia and even the United States.

Gongos are government-organized nongovernmental organizations. Behind this contradictory and almost laughable tongue twister lies an important and growing global trend that deserves more scrutiny: Governments are funding and controlling nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), often stealthily.

Some gongos are benign, others irrelevant. But many, including those I mentioned, are dangerous. Some act as the thuggish arm of repressive governments. Others use the practices of democracy to subtly undermine democracy at home. Abroad, the gongos of repressive regimes lobby the United Nations and other international institutions, often posing as representatives of citizen groups with lofty aims when, in fact, they are nothing but agents of the governments that fund them. Some governments embed their gongos deep in the societies of other countries and use them to advance their interests abroad...

For decades, "civil society" groups in a variety of countries have stridently defended Cuba's human rights record at U.N. conferences and have regularly joined the efforts aimed at watering down resolutions concerning Cuba's well-documented violations. Bolivarian Circles, citizen groups that support Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, are sprouting throughout Latin America, the United States and Canada. Their funding? Take a guess. Iran, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy governments in the Middle East are known to be generous -- and often the sole -- benefactors of NGOs that advance their religious agenda worldwide.

But the most dangerous gongos grow at home, not abroad. They have become the tool of choice for undemocratic governments to manage their domestic politics while appearing democratic. In many countries of the former Soviet Union, government-backed NGOs are crowding out and muddling the voices of the country's legitimate civil society. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the Association of Non-commercial and Nongovernmental Organizations is an enthusiastic fan of former president Askar Akayev. It ran a national petition drive in 2003 asking Akayev, who had been in power since 1991, to run for reelection. Likewise, the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation is a harsh critic of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader who has spent much of the past 18 years under house arrest. The federation is run by the wives of the Burmese military junta's top generals.

Democratic governments have their own gongos, too. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a private nonprofit organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. It is also a gongo funded by the U.S. government. In several countries, receiving money from the NED is considered a crime. President Vladimir Putin's government has denounced foreign-funded support for political reform by groups such as the NED as subversive and anti-Russian. A Chinese newspaper called U.S.-backed democracy promotion "self-serving, coercive and immoral."[WaPo:Moises Naim]

As global connectivity grows information, misinformation and propaganda look to be catching up to the traditional kinetic approach to conflict, resistance and subversion. Tyrants can rely less on tanks and guns to bolster their rule and more on "ambassadors of goodwill" and "concerned citizens" both abroad and at home.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

Perhaps we need "gongocide" as well as "quangocide"...

Jay@Soob said...

Heh. For some reason the term "gongocide" sounds like it might entail the mass killing of circus clowns.

That aside, yes, but I think the elements surrounding gongo's and gongocide carry a much darker tune than that of quango.