Paris – France : Imagine Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, the great provocateur who offered to send election observers to Florida after the 2000 disaster, asking one of his aid agencies to come to France and bring back neglected children for care. They hire a private plane and fly into the country, round up 103 kids and set to fly them back to Zimbabwe to adoptive families and all this without going through the French authorities. This in a nutshell is what the Arche de Zoé, Zoé’s Ark, just did in Chad.
The Chadians have arrested 17 people, nine of them with the French charity (one who confused her role as a reporter with that as an aid worker), two independent reporters and the other five the crew with the Spanish plane and are charging them with kidnapping and fraud. They risk 20 years at hard labor.
Zoé’s Ark claim the children are orphans from Darfur and that the French government knew what they were doing. Even if this were true, which the Chadians say it is not, does that give them the right to go into another country and take away kids without passing through the proper channels?
Chadian President Idriss Deby accused the group of wanting to sell the kids to pedophiles in Europe and use them for organ trafficking which is a ridiculous accusation. But is he wrong to call this “straight forward kidnapping”?
How does one interpret the attitude of the French Socialist Party which criticizes the government for being “inclined to let the Chadian Justice system handle the affair”? How dare the Chadians carry out their justice in their country! Not to mention that adoption is illegal in Sudan and Chad where the extended family has always played the role of taking care of children who lose their parents.
Although the French Army flew the group in with two tons of supplies and the private plane landed on a French run base, Paris denies they cautioned the action. President Sarkozy and several of his junior ministers have denounced Zoé’s Ark for the affair and other NGOs have criticized the group fearing it will have negative repercussions on their own activities.
Beyond the French compulsion to take other people’s children (nearly 4000 foreign children were adopted in France last year alone), the case raises the role of NGOs in general, do-gooders who all too often do wrong.
I myself came across these sorts of problems several times in my travels. One example is in early 2003 in the Upper Ubangui region of DRC where an NGO offered families a hoe, an ax and shovel if they could prove they had land to till. Families immediately went out and burned down the forest to get land. For kilometers upon kilometers, what was pristine virgin tropical forest became a lunar landscape.
Another example is Mali where an NGO came to educate youth on safe sex and distribute free condoms. In this strongly Islamic country where Aids is low and premarital sex rare, the religious leaders were furious. They accused the charity of inciting the youth to debauchery and had them removed from the country.
Or what about the Swiss Ngo which set up a radio in Rwanda after the genocide with the goal of reconciliation through news and music? They broadcast letters received from Rwandans whom they thought were trying to find family. Many of the letters were in fact from Hutu extremists who were warning Tutsi survivors they were coming back to get them. The radio was shut down but the damage was done.
These are just a couple of dozens of stories I could tell on NGO mischief. It is well known that the goal of many NGOs comes down to funding to keep it going, that is its own Rasion d’être is to continue. What is less well know is how so many NGOs come in like cowboys with little or no knowledge of the country they are going to and make matters worse.
But Zoé’s Ark has a wider political angle. Chad does not want a French led European Union Peace Keeping mission in Eastern Chad and North East Central African Republic to protect aid workers and civilians set to begin within a month. The fact that France is the former colonial power and has always maintained a strong military presence in the country does not help.
President Sarkozy says he is looking for a “face-saving solution” to the crisis. What about one where former colonial powers respect the sovereignty of independent nations and what about do-gooders perhaps working more in their own countries where neglected kids are in no short supply?