"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


good news from Goma

My dad sent over this AP article about rape in the Congo this weekend. It's a little bit of the same story we've all heard a thousand times: violent gang rape of women and girls happens on an unprecedented scale in the eastern Congo.

This article is a little different though, because, almost without realizing it, the author focused in part on local solutions to the problem. She talked to my good friend E (C & E are the friends at whose home I stay when I'm in Goma) about their radio campaign encouraging women to come forward for treatment. The story also quotes a Congolese lawyer who's working on an American Bar Association-funded project to bring perpetrators to justice. (I had a tiny part in getting that set up by helping the ABA connect with reputable local groups and am beyond thrilled that they're having success in prosecuting crimes.)

Why do these programs work? I'd argue it's because they're community-based solutions. Although they involve critical financial partnerships with international donors, the programs are conceived and developed entirely by or in conjunction with local experts. These locals speak the languages, know the culture, know what will work, know what didn't work in the past, and know how to get things done. They also won't leave when the funding dries up or the project duration ends. This is their community, and there are plenty of Congolese who know exactly what needs to be done to end the war against women.

The view that outsiders know best permeates the international devleopment circus and the failure of its solutions is a testament to how wrong-headed such thinking is. Why? Because it ignores the capabilities of the very people those failed "solutions" are intended to help. As Alanna over at Blood and Milk puts it, this approach is based in misguided thinking:
Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before. Even if it’s your old clothes, technology they can’t use, or a school building with no teacher.

But poor people don’t have nothing. They have families, friends – social ties. They have responsibilities. They have possessions, however meager. They have lives, no matter what those lives look like to Westerners.
Poor people don't have nothing. That's for sure. Some of them even have law degrees and MBA's and PhD's in agricultural economics. All they need is a little support and a chance to change things. I'm excited that even the AP reporters are seeing the fruits of community-based solutions to the Congo's problems, and hopeful that we'll see more stories like this.

(HT to Wronging Rights, I think. I read about Alanna's post in several different places.)


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