GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Sustainable development as self-reliance: Qatar Charity in Niger
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper provides a case study of a Gulf-based, Islamic charity engaged in long-term development projects in West Africa. Its self-proclaimed Islamic nature and founding outside of an OECD member country make Qatar Charity significantly different from “mainstream” development actors: multilateral and bilateral agencies and secular non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in the OECD member states. The question of what exactly distinguishes Gulf-based and other non-mainstream organizations from those of the mainstream variety remains a relatively open question. What, if anything, is different about non-mainstream, Gulf-based or Islamic development? This question is a driving force behind the current study, which confronts a contemporary example of the critical analysis of mainstream development, Duffield’s biopolitics of international development, with a non-mainstream development actor: Qatar Charity, a non-secular, international Islamic NGO based in the Gulf and implementing microcredit interventions in the West African nation of Niger.

Active in 42 countries, Qatar Charity, founded in 1992 and based in the State of Qatar, began operations in Niger in early 2008 (Qatar Charity 2007). The organization currently operates field offices in Sudan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Niger, but also funds projects in Ghana, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali (Qatar Charity 2007). Qatar Charity describes itself as an “Islamic institution” and performs a significant portion of its fundraising through individual zakat donations from mostly Qatar-based Muslims (Qatar Charity 2007).

This paper finds that, although its interest-free loans avoidance of interest and espousal of Islamic principles appear to distance it from mainstream development efforts, Qatar Charity’s interventions in Niger’s Dosso Region strongly reflect important trends in the biopolitics of mainstream INGO development interventions as articulated by Mark Duffield. In particular, the organization supports “the biopolitical distinction between insured and non-insured peoples” by promoting sustainable development as self-reliance (Duffield 2007:69). Sustainable development as practiced by this and other INGOs consigns Niger’s non-insured populations to living “within the limits of their own powers of self-reliance,” far removed from the regimes of social protection afforded insured, developed nation residents (Duffield 2007:69, 2008; Green and Hulme 2005). These development projects reveal the biopolitical ability to exclude certain groups from the benefits of biopower.

Qatar Charity exhibits Duffield’s concept of sustainable development as self-reliance through its emphasis on the associative form of social organization and its emphasis on changing existing economic behaviors and orientations. However, a key weakness in Duffield’s analysis is its lack of attention to the role of local contestations, negotiations and appropriations of such interventions. The women’s union members’ success in attracting, evaluating and instrumentalizing potential INGO projects demonstrates their aptitude as political actors, despite being subjectified as vulnerable subjects. This contradiction highlights the tension between “global governance and the governed” (Branch 2007:285).

This paper concludes that, despite its status as a non-mainstream, Islamic and Gulf-based development actor, Qatar Charity’s microcredit interventions in Niger’s Dosso region strongly reflect much of the internal logics of mainstream development programs. This finding suggests that the presumed ideological differences between mainstream and Gulf-based charities are overblown. In the case of Qatar Charity, this Gulf-based charity’s policies and practices share the ideological framework of mainstream development.