Africa from exploitation to resistance

This first session of the joint World Development Movement (WDM) and Pambazuka News’ conference on Africa last Saturday explored the current African social movements. Firoze Manji, editor in chief of Pambazuka News, stated that amidst the media hype on the Arab Springs lies other movements in a different part of the world, and these have been gaining momentum. These movements, he said, are part of the African Awakening.

The second speaker, Njoki Njorge Njehu, is the executive director of the Daughters of Mumbai Global Resource Centre in Kenya and was undeniably my favourite speaker of the day; concise, humorous, witty and, quite simply, inspiring. She introduced herself as someone who has previously educated people around the United States on the World Bank and IMF, stating ‘I’m not here to talk about the World Bank and IMF, though that might be fun.’ (A little joke I may appreciate more than others having spent months on a dissertation that encircled the workings of the World Band and IMF in Sub-Saharan Africa). Njehu then asked the audience to shout out words that came to mind when she said the word ‘Africa’. There was a mixed response. But her point, that our images of Africa are of those that are prevalent in the media, was proven. My favourite response to an audience member was when they called out ‘breadbasket of the world’ to which Njehu replied, ‘You wish.’

Njehu stated that we are at a critical moment in terms of changing the world, and made an interesting point when she said that ‘we have to change what is happening in Africa here, in our own communities’ – and this was a point echoed by Deborah Doane, the director of the WDM in the subsequent Q&A session by saying domestic policies are seeded here and exported elsewhere. Njehu reconfirmed this by saying that the best solidarity we can give to people in Africa is by holding our own governments accountable, concluding her introductory talk with a statement that was received warmly: ‘The revolution is coming.’

Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and Political Science at Syracuse University reiterated what Njehu said; that we need a new discussion about solidarity, ‘not to help Africa but to help ourselves’. He also read out a long list of questions that he said we must ask NGOs in Africa, to know the true extent of their work in the continent. These included:

–          Are annual reports published?

–          Which exchange rates are used?

–          What is the administration cost?

–          What is the attitude towards racism?

–          What are the rights of women?

–          What are the rights of people of different sexuality?

–          Do they support child prostitution?

–          Do they condemn health and welfare?

–          Do they fund private military?

–          Do they carry out essential work that could be done by Africans themselves?

The Q&A session further raised questions of the WDM name, with suggestions that it should be changed to ‘Global Solidarity’ (also supported by Firoze Manji who said it should have been changed ‘long ago’). Doane said that WDM is in a currently in a process of consultation (so watch this space).

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