Guest Blog: Why are all these white folks deciding what Africa needs?

This guest post from Kunle Oguneye, president of the Seattle chapter of The African Network was originally posted in Humanosphere and is reposted here with permission.

One glaring omission which prevails in the global health and development community in the Greater Seattle region is the absence of Africans or Indians or Chinese or Vietnamese.  Those of us who live in the poverty-stricken regions of the world have no input in the so-called solutions to eradicate malaria or to fight global-poverty.

I find it quite disturbing that the so-called beneficiaries are not consulted when seeking solutions to the challenges that we face on a daily basis.  I would not be so concerned about this, but for the fact that some of the policies and activities of well-intentioned advocates may actually be detrimental to the poor communities of this world.  Why does the global development community assume that we Africans don’t know what works in addressing poverty?  Why do they assume that we do not have the answers?  Why does a white man or woman visit Africa and immediately prescribe a solution based on their three-week visit?

Many of us in the African immigrant community have seen poverty first-hand.  Many of us have watched our relatives and friends pull themselves out of poverty or further fall into poverty.  We understand what solutions can and do work.  We understand that technology can help, but only to a point.  We understand that you cannot address a society’s problems without boots on the ground.  We understand that no program will be successful without the buy-in of the community.

Another glaring omission in the debate around global development is the absence of the business community.  Communities thrive around business.  All the efforts to provide a village with bed nets and anti-malaria drugs will ultimately fail, if those villagers do not have the means to purchase those items once the initial donations run out.  We must be encouraging businesses to engage with the developing world.

We need to stop presenting the image of Africans and indeed the developing world as helpless lost souls who need help from the benevolent white man or woman in order to survive.

If the community is really sincere about development, then they should ask the people of that community what works.  Help them acquire the necessary infrastructure, provide relevant educational opportunities and then get out of the way.

Kunle Oguneye

  • nancybacon

    Thank you, Kunle, for making an excellent point. If we understand poverty to be embedded within a society, it will take some variation of social change to shift the equilibrium that allows that poverty to persist. The only people who have the knowledge and right to change a society are those people who live within it. I am hopeful that we can tap into our diverse immigrant populations, use technology, and expand exchanges that allow these local people to have a voice in on-going dialogue about poverty alleviation.