McMahon's new book delves into impacts of NGOs

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McMahon’s new book delves into impacts of NGOs

Patrice McMahon
Patrice McMahon

A new book by Nebraska’s Patrice McMahon takes a hard look at how non-governmental organizations operate in war-torn areas.

And, conclusions in “The NGO Game: Post-Conflict Peacebuilding in the Balkans and Beyond,” are less than encouraging. Even though the United States and other Western governments increasingly rely on NGOs to promote democracy, peace and human rights, McMahon describes a boom and bust cycle where NGOs spring up overnight and disappear almost as quickly. In their wake, they leave the populace disappointed and cynical about international peace-building efforts.

McMahon will talk about “The NGO Game” at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at Indigo Bridge bookstore, 701 P St. in Lincoln. She also discusses it on 1869, the Cornell University Press podcast.

Cover of Patrice McMahon's new book, "The NGO Game: Post-Conflict Peacebuilding in the Balkans and Beyond."

Her book, which has received enthusiastic reviews from experts on the Balkans and international security, is based upon more than a decade of fieldwork in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as visits to Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia. Although other scholars have analyzed the effectiveness of NGOs in international relations, “The NGO Game” may be the first book-length examination of the organizations, which began to proliferate after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union disintegrated. As conflicts turned more sectarian and ethnic in the 1990s, state actors increasingly turned to private organizations for conflict resolution and peacebuilding — often with little more than anecdotal evidence of their effectiveness.

On the ground, the country is flooded by international organizations that are often motivated by the desire for prestige and revenue as well as good intentions to help. And when money and international attention begins to wane, many groups move on to the next crisis elsewhere in the world, leaving local groups and workers in the lurch, she said.

“The first time I went to Bosnia (in 2000), I was wowed by the number of NGOs and the work they were doing,” McMahon said. “The second time, it was still exciting, but they weren’t doing as much. During subsequent visits, they were disappearing and I realized there was another part to the story.”

Although growth in the number of NGOs has slowed in recent years, they remain an important part of the international relations landscape, McMahon said. For example, during the Indigo Bridge event, she will discuss whether the boom-and-bust cycle of NGOs contributed to exaggerated rape statistics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

McMahon is an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

“The NGO Game: Post-Conflict Peacebuilding in the Balkans and Beyond” was published in June by Cornell University Press. It has 224 pages and lists for $24.95 in paperback and $89.95 in hardcover. Learn more about the book.

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