Farewell, Counterpart

by Nathan Hamm on 5/3/2006 · 19 comments

Counterpart International is the latest NGO to get its walking papers from the Uzbek government.

Counterpart International is accused of regular violations of the acting legislation and its own charter. The authorities maintain that Counterpart International officials founded and headed local non-government organizations, circulated printed materials without license, and withheld financial documents from state power structures. In other words, the accusations are fairly standard. As with other foreign non-government organizations, formality of a trial will follow now and the mission will be closed.

Ironically, the latest news release on CI’s website is about delivering medical supplies in partnership with the Uzbek government and commemorating ten years of work in Uzbekistan. Here is what Uzbekistan’s government is shutting down.

Since 1997, Counterpart has shipped almost $80 million worth of medical equipment and supplies, furniture, clothing, shoes and computer equipment to Uzbekistan. These goods have filled hospitals and local clinics, provided office furniture for government offices, and clothed children in state-run orphanages and schools. Over $57 million worth of goods delivered have been distributed to the needy through Uzbek government agencies.

It is worth noting that Counterpart’s policy has been to be highly cooperative with the Uzbek government. They, for example, have provided requested financial information to the Uzbek government, against the advice of US government officials who saw it as overly intrusive. It appears that even cooperation and openness is no guarantee against expulsion.

Related: Here is a good post on the Uzbek government’s strategies for the expulsion of foreign NGOs.

UDPATE: I forgot to mention that Ferghana.ru also has a long story on the closure of ABA/CEELI.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 19 comments }

Peter May 3, 2006 at 1:55 pm

Counterpart International was particularly active in Andijon by the sound of things. It would not take much for the Uzbek government to assume that they were in some kind of cahoots with the local NGOs implicated in the May events. What the Counterpart press release quoted above also fails to mention is that they were active in training local NGOs in developing Internet and e-mail skills. There seems to be little scope for mixing NGO work in the healthcare sector and IT training for local NGOs in Uzbekistan. So you have to wonder why the Counterpart people would imagine they would not get into trouble for it.

Nathan May 3, 2006 at 3:35 pm

There’s actually plenty of reason to mix IT training with NGO work in any sector. It’s at least as (if not more) useful as teaching English to people in a healthcare NGO (something I did in much simpler times).

For whatever it’s worth, Counterpart only works with registered NGOs and had in fact recently quit working with local NGOs until some issues could be worked out with the Uzbek government. (I should note I’m being intentionally vague because I don’t have explicit approval to give out all the details at the moment.) They also, apparently, were quite trusted by a ministry under whom they managed a large program. I think that sadly the simplest explanation lies not in their activities but in that they are large and Western.

Laurence May 3, 2006 at 7:14 pm

It was my impression that Counterpart was some sort of USAID pass-through. I would be interested to learn more from Nathan about what the organization really is. Does it have a specific and narrow mission, or does it do whatever USAID is willing to fund through an NGO? I’ve never really figured out whether it is just a Potemkin organization or a real NGO like the Red Cross or IREX…

Nathan May 3, 2006 at 7:20 pm

They do pretty much only health and humanitarian stuff now. They used to do more than that including NGO development.

Tashkent resident May 3, 2006 at 7:35 pm

Nathan’s right. It has little to do with current activities, but rather what the government fears. Counterpart — in their one remaining “democracy” project — had invited the Ministry of Justice to observe all trainings, and were thus incredibly transparent in a way that could hardly be matched. They went to every extreme to assure the government that they were not working to undermine it in any way.

It’s also worth noting that Counterpart’s work was very peripheral to Andijon — and I’m not even sure the government has alleged a direct connection there.

Regarding internet training, I believe that most of that has occurred in the past couple of years under the aegis of IREX and others. Counterpart does, of course, have a record of working with NGOs, building their capacity, over the past many years.

Dolkun May 3, 2006 at 8:16 pm

Laurence,

I would imagine you could get more information on Counterpart at their web-site.

Uzbek government-controlled press has said organizations funded by USAID are tools of U.S. policy. This needs to be parsed in two. First is the assumption that U.S. assistance policy is sinister.

Second is that government-funded NGOs are equivalent to Uzbek GONGOs. There is a major difference, however. Most western NGOs are independently managed and take on a variety of projects funded by a variety of sources (very few, of course have private funders like Soros, and corporations are typically not going to fund development projects as opposed to charitable projects, particularly in a place like Uzbekistan, where the consequences of “meddling” are clear.) Counterpart and others simply do not have as their mission promoting U.S. government-dictated values.

In some cases, as with Soros suing the U.S. government over harm reduction, they openly clash. But where their interests coincide, they will work together and accept funding, without which they couldn’t work. In the case in question, Counterpart has goals of promoting civil society and rendering humanitarian assistance. The U.S. government does also.

Also, for the record, Counterpart was probably doing relatively little in Andijan. It for example, did not set up one of several civil society support centers there (under an earlier USAID-funded project). And in regard to Peter’s post, I don’t recall that any local NGOs were ever implicated in Andijan. The relationship has ben alluded to, like Saddam and 9/11, but never stated, though I may have missed something.

AlPoon May 3, 2006 at 11:16 pm

Counterpart’s go along-get along style might help explain why it recently received a huge USAID-funded civil society grant in Azerbaijan.

Elizabeth May 4, 2006 at 12:28 am

First of all, thanks to Nathan for linking here. I have moved the trackback to the body of the post, hope that’s okay.

To comment on what others have said here, the Uzbekistan government is correct in assuming that the activities of local and foreign NGOs are often working against their interest. That is because their interests are to keep people in such a state of fear, and ignorance about what is going on in the world, and hopelessness as to the possibility of change, that nearly any NGO work is bound to do damage to these interests. Any and all NGO work, whenever implemented successfully, works against the government because the government is so incredibly incompetent. The government, by giving these ridiculous excuses for closing down NGOs, is practically admitting this. While some insulated paranoid souls in the government might believe their own lies, I have no doubt that the others recognize the true purpose.

Counterpart is a real NGO, at least where I’ve seen it, which usually focuses mainly on building civil society in the areas of charity and activism. It is also a tool of US policy, because the US sincerely believes that the more civil society exists, the more it will promote a diversity of views, and the more views there are, the more likely the US view will be there. Because the US believes that its views are clearly the most appealing (in many cases, they are), it trusts Counterpart to just help multiply views. In this sense, Counterpart is indeed just what the Uzbekistan government feared, in the best sense possible.

Note that other NGOs- including Russian ones, Czech ones, etc. have also had a lot of problems. Counterpart is just one of many. It’s not the American / Western connection: it’s the connection with the possibility of positive change.

Rustam May 4, 2006 at 3:22 am

OK!!!!! But can I ask all of You, what now? Why on the face of these closures US State Department is totally silent? If we have seen that cooperation with the Karimov regime does not work, if the carrot is not working, then why are not we using the stick? Are we going to do anything to support the democratic opposition in the upcoming Presidential elections in December of 2007 or sit and try to find answer to the question – who lost Uzbekistan? Are we going to use Kyrgyzstan as a platform and play tough this time or not?
I think these are the questions that we have to answer now, while it is not late.
Personally I think that CI should have made a statement in which they should have specified the results of their work (all the money and help) and then say that they voluntarily closing because their aims totally incompatible with the aims of Karimov’s regime and that their mistake was that they trusted Karimov that he really meant that he wanted a bright future for Uzbekistan and that they believe that it is meaningless to seek for justice in the judicial system of Uzbekistan which has demonstrated times and times again that it is a marionette of Karimov.

Peter May 4, 2006 at 6:31 am

There is common strain among these comments to the effect that the Uzbeks excercised themselves with excessive paranoia in ejecting Counterpart. Which is really why I posed my original question. I remember reading, sadly I don’t remeber where, that there was some grumbling among people in neighbouring Tajikistan that Counterpart were training local pro-democracy NGOs in IT training when this money might have been better invested in other areas. Without necessarily advocating this view, is there not reason for believing that the Uzbek government would have been suspicious of an organisation active in such areas working in the Ferghana Valley?
Obviously, I have no evidence on which to base a suggestion that Counterpart was up to anything it should not have been doing, so I will not make any such claims. My question is merely whether Western NGOs would not be in less of a danger of endangering their often invaluable work in the health sector if they were not also being seen to encourage or in any way support the work of pro-democracy NGOs. Not that there is no need for such work, but there appears to be no realistic opportunity for carrying it out at the present juncture. If the Uzbek government perceives Western NGOs as conditionally linking their welfare activities with political activities, is it surprising that they will be paranoid about it?

Dolkun May 4, 2006 at 7:50 am

At the risk of giving a patronizing answer, Counterpart and other NGOs tend to try to teach people to fish, rather than hand out fish.

Local NGOs with good management capacity, and yes, knowledge of IT, can have a knock-off effect. If you look at Tajikistan, there are local NGOs there running million-plus micro-credit portfolios, training government officials, running complex agriculture development projects, etc.

Specifically in the area of health, NGOs are often better equipped than the government to work in fields ranging from HIV/AIDS to basic health education.

And considering the valley contains roughly one-third of the Uzbek population, Counterpart would have had to actively avoid working there.

Peter May 4, 2006 at 8:29 am

All this is true, but I cannot help but feel that it only serves to underline the nature of the predicament that NGOs operating in Uzbekistan find themselves in. My misgivings are not directed at training people in IT skills, but of the uses that may sometimes be made of such opportunities.
I would like to know, for example, if the Counterpart Consortium NGO Support
Initiative for Central Asia was active in Uzbekistan, as they were in Tajikistan, in providing grants for local NGO personnel for the provision of email and Internet access, and whether any, some or much of this personnel was active in promoting human rights issues, minority rights and civil society promotion. All these things are desperately badly needed in Uzbekistan, no doubt about it, but think about how this looks to the authorities. It is more than likely that I am a misguided optimist, but how about developing a model of aid that actively avoids political association? Is this actually impossible to do? As one NGO after another is turfed out of Uzbekistan, which looks to be increasingly turning in on itself, should we not be wondering about the future appearance of plans B,C, D and so on?

Dolkun May 4, 2006 at 9:11 am

At this point, even if NGOs wanted to get in tighter with the government, and I imagine most do, they have to answer for things they did several years ago, when Uzbekistan actually officially requested assistance with democratization, human rights, rule of law, and the like, under the strategic framework with the U.S.

Also, I don’t see how giving people internet and e-mail equates to political activity.

Brian May 4, 2006 at 9:54 am

Well, I think it would be helpful to know for what capacity was Counterpart giving IT training. For instance, if Counterpart was involved in delivering Western made medical equipment to hospitals, it may be prudent to train some hospital staff in how to access either the manufacturer (or another organization) through the internet to receive maintenance and technical support. The same thing goes for the agricultural sector, free software has been developed to assist farmers in identifying various parasites and dieseases that afflict their crops.

Laurence May 4, 2006 at 1:17 pm

Maybe someone from Counterpart could post answers to the many questions raised in this discussion? It is kind of hard to advocate transparency for Central Asia when American NGOs don’t answer questions themselves. There are some good books by David Rieff, Alex de Waal, Fiona Terry, and Michael Maren about NGOs funding guerrilla armies and terrorists around the world from Cambodia to Africa under the rubric of “humanitarian relief”–so perhaps sometimes even paranoids have enemies?

Brian May 4, 2006 at 4:20 pm

Inernational NGOs? I know that that some US based NGOs like Save The Children were involved in a bit of propaganda in the past, but I haven’t heard of reputable international NGOs funding armies. I think local NGOs are a different story… after all anyone can start an NGO. A for-profit business can call themselves an “NGO” if they want.

Rustam May 5, 2006 at 1:28 am

Laurence – so what even if the CI did promote American values, championed the cause of democracy and human rights, asked for free and fair elections, is it not the official policy of Dictator Karimov, is he not the one who repeats these goals that he is supposedly seeking in his speeches to the Cabinet of Ministers and joint sessions of the Parliament over and over again? And why do we have to object to the fact that American NGOs, funded by the USAID would try to promote US interests that are compatible with the long-term development of the host nation, why we have to object if German NGO’s would try to promote their way of life, their values, their electoral system?
The issue is not to find dirt in the NGO’s, likes of Mr. Dorkus, because the fundamental causes of the action of Dictator Karimov is far from these. We have SNB which monitors all these NGO’s and their employees as well as those who was unfortunate to come to any contact with them day and night, law on NGO’s and the Criminal Code is strict enough, if Karimov would find them doing anything against the law or as he like to say “anti-constitutional” who is holding his hands to try these cases in the court, on the bases of real evidence and real felonies, not on the bases of these dull administrative charges.
The reason behind this blanket expulsion is the upcoming Presidential elections, the last time with Andijon all the “efforts” of SNB, MVD and Army was undermined by the likes of Bukharbaeva, BBC, DW and NGO sector as a whole, they were the prime cause for information getting out of the borders of the country and most crucially the reporting was done not by wacko fundamentalist, from the start bias against the Mr. Karimov, who has been fighting for years against the menace of Islamic fundamentalism, but by journalists working for respected news organizations, news organizations that we trust and by NGOs supported by ourselves, who’s credibility is unquestionable. This time, they will not tolerate this, accreditation of the few remaining journalists working for foreign news agencies will expire maximum by the end of the year and no NGOs to whom we would trust, this time for sure people will demonstrate as well and when they do no one will be there to tell the story of really how this “terrorist uprising” was dealt with.

Dolkun May 5, 2006 at 5:24 am

Rustam,

Despite your earlier expressing the desire to see me suffer the anguish of the damned, I have to admit, you make a good point.

Karl March 21, 2007 at 8:23 am

As a Former Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan, I can testify that Counterpart did great work there, and offered invitations to Uzbek government officials there on a regular basis to view their operations in Uzbekistan.

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