Natural Resources Bingo


Bingo is a game of chance popular across the world. More exotically, it is also the name of the gorilla drummer in the psychedelic ‘Banana Splits’ band from the eponymous US TV series and movie.[1] Bingo is also an acronym for Big International Non Governmental Organisation. This article is about this last kind of bingo; less fun than the other two, certainly, but still worthy of examination. 

Bingos typically have their headquarters in a major city of a developed state; New York, Washington and London are popular, as are Berlin, Bonn and Geneva. They are funded by governments, commercial corporations and the philanthropic foundations of billionaires such as Bill Gates and George Soros.

Most bingos were founded for a specific purpose; like protecting wildlife or the environment, providing medical services to the world’s poorest, helping developing countries in times of famine or working for greater transparency in financial markets. Their founders, owners and leaders are almost universally well-educated white Europeans and Americans, as are the overwhelming majority of their senior staff.

Whether bingos are vehicles for human progress or agents of western hegemonic neo-imperialism is a matter for each person to decide for themselves. On the one hand, the steady eradication of malaria, copiously funded by the deeply committed billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates,[2] seems an undeniable good. But on the other, even bingos themselves sometimes concede that their operations reflect the imperatives of their funders as filtered through their own western and northern perspectives.

This means that people in developing states are often the recipients of top-down planning informed by first world priorities. Local people, and even governments, are frequently required to suppress their own local economic and social priorities and instead to serve as cheerleaders for Bingos and their funders.   

Meanwhile, as public opinion in countries like the US and UK shifts, bingos move with the times. Causes like wildlife protection and financial transparency are no longer sufficient of themselves to sustain bingos. The new overweening public theme in developed states is of course the environment, so today bingos are increasingly presenting their operations through an environmental prism.

The WWF, for example, founded as the World Wildlife Fund and now known in the UK and some countries as the Worldwide Fund for Nature, has long moved away from its founding purpose of protecting exotic animals. The awkward partial name change, which doesn’t fit its famous acronym, came a generation ago after a WWF helicopter was used to shoot poachers in Zimbabwe.[3] In 2019, it emerged that the WWF’s ‘African animals-over-African people’ conservation was still alive and well in the Democratic Republic of Congo.[4]  The western media has broadly responded with a ‘not that terribly interested’.

Meanwhile, on the basis that animals live in the environment, the WWF’s self-presentation is increasingly that of an environmental organisation. At present, for example, one of its main campaigns is against deep-sea mining.[5] The founders of the WWF had in mind gorillas and antelope; fish did not appear on the agenda, except perhaps as lunch. Rather, the new campaign comes because environmental causes are popular and this new emphasis enables the WWF to present itself as an environmental organisation rather than one concerned first and foremost with shooting Africans to protect gorillas.

Similarly, Global Witness, founded and until recently operated as a financial transparency organisation, has recently re-focussed itself as an environmental one. This is largely to do with the fact that the transparency it campaigned for has mainly been integrated into legislation in the largest trading nations; thanks in no small part to its own efforts.

One thing bingos never do is shut up shop once the specific purpose they were founded for has been achieved. Instead, they seek growth and new relevance by re-purposing themselves in line with the zeitgeist. Global Witness has accordingly entered the already-crowded environmental Bingo market. Its campaigns today are primarily around against deforestation and fossil fuels.[6] [7]

But wait! In its original guise of improving transparency in order to helping develop countries trade their natural resources, Global Witness was a driving force behind the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).[8] The purpose of the initiative is essentially Global Witness’ original one: to help developing countries trade their fossil fuel assets. One of Global Witness’ three founder-owners has in effect a permanent place on the EITI board. But now Global Witness campaigns against that very fossil fuel extraction. Indeed, the EITI’s ‘civil society’ board members are today mainly drawn from NGOs whose specific aim is to prevent the fossil fuel extraction and trading the organisation ostensibly exists to serve.[9]

This unsubtle shift of perspective upon fossil fuel extraction reflects the interests of the bingos, but not the developing nations they purport to seek to help. African countries, for example, are now routinely told by bingos to “keep it in the ground”[10] and forego large fossil fuel receipts which are often their main potential income. Meanwhile, developed countries where the Bingos are based, like the UK and US, actually subsidise the extraction of their own fossil fuels.[11]

Bingos and their funders are essentially seeking power over the economic policies of developing states on the basis of; ‘do as I say, not as I do’.[12]  An oft-employed term across bingo world in this context is; “the resource curse”.[13] [14] This neo-imperialistic concept is rooted in the idea that while fossil fuels continue to be primary drivers of prosperity in those developed nations lucky enough to have them under their soil, developing countries are unable to manage them. A vast asset to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Norway is a ‘curse’ to black Africans.

The present western climate discourse, as evidenced at gatherings like COP26,[15] does not in any respect offer resource-rich developing states, like many in Africa, replacement income in return for the loss of fossil extraction income bingos wish to thrust upon them. Instead, most funding is offered in the form of loans to pay for climate mitigation efforts, rather than grants to help countries adapt their economies to a post-fossil fuel order. Why is this? It is, quite simply, because such mitigation projects offer profits to the mainly western corporation who will carry them out. And with loans, the money comes home again.[16]

The new bingo message to developing countries, then, is;

‘Our developed states are prosperous, and yours are poor, because fossil fuels drove an industrial revolution here. Fossil fuels remain important assets to us. But to you, developing countries, fossil fuels are a curse. You must not allow the exploitation of your natural resources; and of course we will not be providing replacement income’.

Africans are as concerned as bingo folk about climate change. But far and away the foremost concerns of Africans are jobs and prosperity.[17] These can only come with economic growth and investment from other countries; relying on the modest largesse of ‘donors’ who actually want most of the money back anyway will never work. This much is obvious to bingos, but it does not suit their own interests.

Fossil fuel use will end one day; but when navigating the route to a future with new energy sources it is not in the interests of the citizens of developing states to take another hit on behalf of developed ones. Nor is it in their interests to cede control over their economic policies to bingos and their funders.  

When it comes to bingos, people in developing countries might want to consider being open to two fat ladies (the number 88), furry psychedelic drummers and investor nations with a mutual interest in helping drive economic growth through inward investment.  They would be well advised, however, to keep a weather eye out for those self-interested corporate bingos after their sovereignty.


















Dr.Stuart Joyce
Dr.Stuart Joyce
Dr ES Joyce researches on and writes about Africa. He has travelled widely there, meeting many leaders and senior figures across the continent. He has written and commentated for the international media.


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