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


a simple point

Africa is not ours to save. It is the height of arrogance to assume otherwise.

That said, there's a big difference:
  • between saving someone and empowering her.
  • between aiding someone and enabling him.
  • between creating dependency and establishing ownership.
It's that simple. But making it happen is oh, so complicated.

Tomorrow I'll think about how we can empower, enable, and establish positive connections between those who want to help within and outside of Africa while balancing the need for expertise with the need to move away from the "save Africa" paradigm. What do you think are some good ways to do so?


Blogger Saira said...

More emphasis on technical schools/colleges in the region. I'm not quite sure how it works in the US, but in Canada there are a number of colleges which focus entirely on practical application. Instead of say putting money into dozens of electrical water pumps which will probably decay into oblivion within a couple of years, establish a program to teach irrigation techniques and how to build basic mechanical or electrical machinery using materials on hand. The focus being on re-used scrap metal and components from the tons of electronics dumped on the continent.

Teaching seems like such a trivial concept yet after teaching software application development in Ghana, it was quite obvious there's far too much theory being taught and someone with a bachelors in computer science may at the most be able to use the MS Office Suite. I know most people will start pointing out institutions which are already doing something similar yet they are nowhere as prolific as they need to be and tend to be entirely based in urban areas.

I'm thinking of working on a virtual classroom in the next year or so, pulling tech. volunteers from the industry primarily for teaching small focused tasks in the IT sector. Currently looking into established projects with similar aims which can be built upon. A hybrid of MITs open source course ware and the Khan Academy for example. Also a setup in which the feedback loop is strongly defined. Addressing more of whats being asked for and going in with that aim.

Last but not least, you probably have no clue who I am. :) I've been reading your blog for awhile and am going to be heading back into the ICT dev. sector in August at Columbia U. so getting back into the flow of things. Great piece on the 1 million T-Shirts btw.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 9:13:00 AM

Anonymous Cynic McYnical said...

I will leave you to explain how we actually empower people. I will attempt to explain how we change the saviors into enablers.

It is my experience that most people who want to "save Africa" would actually be equally happy empowering Africans. The problem seems to be the way advocates sell the idea to activists. We take the easy way out by appealing to heartstrings and general human empathy (as a commenter yesterday explained quite well.)

It's a lot harder to sell empowerment. I wouldn't say every organization either fails or succeeds. It's a continuum. And even when we sell activists on "saving Africa," I would say the discussions with policymakers and with civil society is more about empowerment.

Obviously, to sell activists on empowering and enabling, we need programs that do so. Right now, we have fewer success stories in U.S.-based foreign aid that we can highlight. But we can highlight USAID food aid and development assistance.

Whoops. I just eased the blame on us advocates until you development people figure out what to do about empowerment.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 9:56:00 AM

Blogger Dana Gold said...

Empowering Africa by giving the tools of our first world economy is essential...and giving them to the young at a youngest age possible is part of the challenge.

Infinite Family is doing that through our innovative use of technology to connect video mentors from around the world with children challenged by HIV/AIDS and poverty in South Africa. Our volunteer mentors meet with children growing up alone once a week for face-to-face video conversations on our secure internet platform. The children learn tech skills (email, blogs, video conferencing, whiteboard, powerpoint, scanning, calendar, etc) while having the adult attention and guidance that they lack.

In addition, the children gain english language, communication, problem solving and life skills.

Mentors are given extensive training in the history, culture and current situation in South Africa so that they understand the milieu in which the children live. They gain an appreciation for the culture and the challenges inherent in living in a developing country. But most of all, the children of Infinite Family (Net Buddies as we call them)change the adults perspectives on the future of Africa.

The children are bright, hopeful and seeking guidance to make their dreams for themselves, their families, their communities and their country a reality.

To learn more about our intelligent investment in the future of Africa through one-on-one interaction, please visit our website at www.infinitefamily.org.

Infinite Family. Infinite Possibilities!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 11:52:00 AM

Blogger Alex Engwete said...

About 3 weeks ago or so, I crashed an informal meeting between two Congolese (one from the Ministry of the Environment and the other from an international NGO working in the DRC) and two Americans from a government agency at the conference room of the NGO Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) in Georgetown. Both Congolese were educated at the Université de Kisangani, my alma mater. I was so impressed by their intelligence and the quality of the initiatives they were taking in the Congo that I voiced my admiration. Dr Solange Bandiaky, a Senegalese who’s RRI Africa Program Coordinator and who had facilitated the meeting, concurred and said that what always impresses her at international meetings is the high academic and technical quality of representatives that Congo fields… This means that the brainpower is readily available in the DRC. But the country is faced with 2 serious problems: 1) Congolese cadres hate the countryside and flock to Kinshasa or other provincial capitals; and 2) there’s a steady brain drain depleting the country of its critical human resources (thousands of Congolese physicians work for example in South Africa)… I think this is the situation in most African countries; a situation that could worsen with the new change in immigration policy introduced in France (and other European countries) which had been denounced by President Wade of Senegal. While tightening entry into the country for candidates to immigration, France has at the same time put this requirement: Africans who have “bac plus 3” (that is, a high-school diploma plus 3 years in college) could easily be allowed into the country. This would only exacerbate this brain drain… As long as this problem is not addressed by making Africa (and especially the rural areas) more attractive, we might as well forget about “development.”

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 12:10:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple projects in Sudan where I've seen this happen include an organization called "His Voice For Sudan", who provides the funding and helps along with the construction of orphanages and schools, but hires 100% Sudanese to run it all, and no Westerners actually live there, they just come and go for empowerment and encouragement, perhaps.

My husband worked for Samaritan's Purse, as a manager of construction in the Nuba Mountains (Sudan), rebuilding churches, schools, clinics that had been destroyed during the civil war. Several of his higher-ups were Sudanese, and all of his employees were locals that were hired to complete the builds. He simply paid the people and guided them with his engineering expertise. I found those types of projects to be definitely sustainable and empowering the local people.

Any thoughts on these two organizations?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 12:43:00 PM

Anonymous @booksquirm said...

None of these are popular arguments with development people but with people who have regular jobs I argue:
1. What if it was you? Most of us have had a friend that we’ve tried to help and quickly learned that people need to do things on their own terms; sometimes we’ve been the one fighting off well meaning but hugely unhelpful would-be helpers – mostly we’d rather make our own mistakes than be bossed around by someone who thinks they know better.
2. We haven’t saved ourselves yet. I don’t understand how ‘rich countries’ think we can solve poverty in other countries when we haven’t eradicated it at home. If we’d stop trying to teach for a moment, we have a lot to learn.
3. For change to be positive, it has to be defined by those who stand to benefit most from it. So many social justice movements have had variations of the slogan ‘nothing about us, without us’ yet so much of the anti-poverty stuff is defined and led by people who learned about poverty first of all from books. It’s extremely difficult for someone from a poor background to get into the development industry. How successful would the civil rights movement be if it was near impossible for African Americans to make it into the ranks? In the way that trade unions are led by workers who might hire staff if the organisation gets big enough, so development organisations should be led by the poor, who then hire doctors, engineers, policy writers etc. as needed.

What to do? Move the obstacles we’ve created and don’t make new ones. Focus our efforts on our own politicians, our corporations and our behaviour to change the bad trade deals and de facto monopolies, the funded wars, the debt and the oppressive laws. The rest, people can manage for themselves. Although… I think emergency disaster relief should be free to any country that will accept it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 12:48:00 PM

Anonymous Codrin Arsene said...

1. Actual transfer of knowledge.
2. Responding to the needs of the African people as described by them.
3. Thinking more about the possibility of empowering poor Africans by simply giving them the necessary financial resources - or whatever each and everyone of us could afford (see the aid program following the floods in Zambia for example).
4. Stop being cocky. We simply don't know what's best for Africans or for any peoples. Empowering is a two-way street and we should start by being modest enough to admit what we know is probably insufficient to make poverty history.
5. From time to time we should shut up more and just listen and see what our interlocutor wants/ expects/ desires.

That's should make for a good start in my opinion...

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 4:39:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally someone understands. I may not have the answer, but I know that the answer will come from Africans. I'm from Zimbabwe and I'm in my freshman year at a university in Texas. It always irritates me when my peers tell me they are studying international studies coz they want to save Africa. Africa NEEDS them is what they say. In the media, Africans are usually portrayed as having things done to them rather than being the masters of their own destiny. It gives an impression of a passive people waiting with their hands open for aid.

What holds africans back is lack of opportunity and knowledge. Too many people do not know their rights. Educate Africa,and Africa will solve its own problems. I can see the difference between myself, a college student and my cousins who dropped out of school before they got to high school. Through education, I have realised my rights and seen that I can make a difference. Any one of us can make a difference, but we need the tools and the tools come from basic education.

Thank you for the great blog. I was undeclared until i read this blog and realised the place I am meant to be is in Africa so I need a degree that I can use there:-)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 5:07:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say making a profit is probably one of the best ways to empower. I'm not talking skeevy gold-mining deforestation/exploitation, stuff... I mean whole-hearted foreign direct investment.

Joint ventures. Foreign direct investment. Become part of distribution channels, supplier lines. Add value to the services that can be provided in-country. Teach those working within your company in marketing, manufacturing, distribution... Create a professional work ethic with reasonable security, and make some money in the meantime.

Understandably, business is not always easy in Africa... http://www.doingbusiness.org/economyrankings/. But all of these kids coming out of University with no where to go but NGO's? That's no way to look at the world, from an aid-ops, funding-based perspective.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 5:34:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Anon @ 5:07 - Thanks for reading, and I'm sorry to have missed you at UT! (I graduated from the PhD program last year.) Best of luck with your studies!

Everyone else, thanks for the great thoughts. Working on incorporating many of them into tomorrow's post...

Wednesday, May 05, 2010 9:46:00 PM


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