Mukoma Wa Ngugi*
Helping Africa has become a self-perpetuating for profit non-profit business. It has become what Teju Cole calls the white savior industrial complex. This does raise the questions, are there ways in which help can actually be useful? Where help can actually do more good than harm and offer more than miracle water?
Here below, are ten ways, and I invite you to think of your own, through which Westerners can contribute to what Nelson Mandela in the struggle against apartheid referred to as a ‘profound and irreversible change’.
1. Oppose unequal trade. For every dollar given in foreign aid, two dollars are lost through unequal trade. Instead, support concrete efforts that promote equal trade such as an end to US and European farm subsidies that unfairly depress farm markets at the expense of African farmers and their families. Africa needs equal trade not foreign aid.
2. Take responsibility for your governments. Oppose policies that will do more harm than good: for example, the US African Command Center (Africom) which will lead to the militarization of US foreign policy in Africa. Or, European and American anti-terror policies that have eroded citizen rights in African countries instead of enhancing security. Instead, support NGO’s and other organizations that are working at changing US/Western foreign policies toward Africa such as Africa Action and Trans Africa Forum.
3. Oppose NGO’s that will do more harm than good. For example, the Bill Gates initiative, the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa will lead to loss of bio-diversity in addition to opening up African agriculture to GMO seeds. Instead, support efforts that call for the depolitization of food and water distribution in African countries and organizations that promote democratic approaches to food such as Food First.
4. Support African grassroot organizations that are opposed to national policies that hurt the poor e.g. Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shackdwellers movement in South Africa. These organizations grow organically from the communities they serve and identify and cope with the problems in ways that the celebrity endorsed NGO cannnot.
5. Call for technological (scientific, internet, medical etc) democracy within and among nations.
6. Internationalize curriculum from early to university education in Western countries. This means that from an early age to adulthood, the Westerner will have an international consciousness and therefore be able to make decisions, whether it is in voting for elected officials or on which policies to support, that are informed.
7. Read what Africans read. Educate yourself on the history of the issues Africa is facing today. For example, to understand unequal trade today, read the historical book, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, by Walter Rodney. To understand the complexity of women’s oppression, read essays by African women such as ‘Feminism with a small “f”’ by Buchi Emechata , or novels such as, ‘Woman at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi and ‘Maps’ by Nurrudin Farah.
8. To access African voices on current political events, read African Independent media such as Pambazuka News and Africa Focus and consider making a financial donation. African independent media is in dire need of funding.
9. Support democracies with content. Call for African governments to complement the vote with economic, political and cultural equality.
10. Empathy in place of pity. Pity is outward and requires nothing beyond the occasional donation to an NGO. Empathy on the other hand leads to solidarity, to the realization that our fates are intertwined. If your need for security causes someone else’s insecurity, and your being fed leads to someone else’s hunger, the solution is not to be found in pity but in empathetic action – action that brings about irreversible people centered changes in the West and in Africa as well.
* Mukoma wa Ngugi is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of Nairobi Heat (Melville, 2011). Please visit www.mukomawangugi.com for more information.