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Sunil Bastian
Articles

(1997) Development NGOs and Ethnic Conflict, some conceptual challenges. Nethra, Vol.1, No.3, April-June, ICES.

This paper is concerned with the politics of „development NGOs. in the context of a protracted struggle in Sri Lanka for self governance by the Sri Lankan Tamil minority. This is what is meant whenever the term „ethnic conflict. is used in this paper. By „development NGOs. we mean those organisations of the fast growing NGO sector whose primary concern has been production and distribution of resources and social development. Generally these organisations have the objective of improving the lot of the poorer sections of the population through their projects.

Before we begin the substantial discussion it is necessary to say a few words about how we understand the term „NGOs. and point out the limitations in the perspectives dominant at present.Basically organisations that are identified by the term „NGOs. form a section of the voluntary action in society. In Sri Lanka there is a long history for this type of activities. Some of the organisations that are today identified by the term „NGOs. originated in the last century. What is new about the usage of the term „NGOs.is the recent tendency among governments and international aid agencies to look towards some of these organisations as a possible means of achieving various objectives. Initially these objectives were very much related to production and distribution of resources and social development. In recent times political objectives such as democracy and „good governance. have been put on the agenda.

The prominence given to „NGOs. has expanded several fold since the demise of the Soviet block and subsequent dominance of liberalism in politics as well as economics. Neoliberalism has spearheaded an attack on the state in various spheres. In the areas of production and distribution of resources this is being done with the emphasis on markets and private capital. Promotion of „NGOs. in many other areas such as social development, human rights, gender, etc is the other plank. As stated in a recent study on „NGO., „Much of the interest in NGOs has been generated by disappointment in the past performance of the state. This poor performance has had economic and political dimensions. There have been economic concerns about the inefficiencies created by the state.s interventions in the economy, including its implementation in development programmes. Equally, there have been political concerns that many states have not been accountable to society, and indeed have been more interested in controlling and moulding society to suit their own interests, than in responding to the needs of that society..2 Thus the present emphasis on „NGOs. is not simply a continuation of older traditions of voluntary social action. A section of this voluntary action has been given a new meaning in this new phase of capitalist development dominated by neo-liberalism.

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