A German development worker teaches South African young people in an agricultural school (archive picture)
Photo: imago stock & people
White helpers handing out relief supplies - that is a common picture in Africa.
What is noticed much less often: Most of the support comes from those affected and their networks themselves. Meals are shared with neighbors, things are pooled for funerals and weddings, relatives send money for sick relatives.
This became particularly clear during the corona pandemic: the white helpers often disappeared in the slums, instead the residents organized food rations for the particularly needy, financial support or joint lessons for the school children.
The Africa Philanthropy Network (APN) wants to make this self-help more visible and, above all, more effective.
One goal of the organization: to reduce the continent's dependence on donors from the Global North.
In order to achieve this, the director of Stigmata Tenga also wants to give rich Africans a hand in their wallets.
Africa needs help from rich countries - that is the common perception.
How do people react when they hear about African philanthropy?
The reactions are really mixed. It's also true: there was and is a lot of help and money from the Global North for Africa. But there have always been very strong traditional structures for self-help. Philanthropy at the community level is deeply rooted. And ironically, these structures have even grown because of the money from the Global North - because outside help has widened the gap between rich and poor. Because it was not designed to support grassroots movements - we know that this is where changes are most likely to be initiated. Instead, the Global North supported organizations and people who were already privileged and not in need. But many of the wealthier on the continent now want to give something back to their communities.In Africa we believe: I exist because you exist. No neighbor should go to bed hungry when I have something to eat. By sharing, we preserve our dignity. So there is a very strong culture of giving. That is philanthropy in Africa.
During the pandemic, some large donors from the north, such as Great Britain, cut their aid funds. At the same time there was a lot of solidarity and help among each other within the poorer areas like the slums. Has the pandemic given local self-help a boost?
The experts from the Global North were able to quickly book a flight back to their home country. But the local people stayed. There was nowhere to go. You stayed and mastered the challenges yourself. And when they did that, they started taking care of the neighbors and others in the area. In the past, this self-help was often undermined by the way international aid was received. Because development aid to the Global South is being provided without any real interest or understanding of what it is actually supposed to achieve in the end. It did not help the local people to solve their problems themselves, but rather took away their own initiative.
So do those affected know better what is needed?
Yes, understanding the context is very important. Development aid often comes in the millions but doesn't reach the right people. It is not uncommon for it to get stuck in government channels or large, often international, organizations. It's like just painting over the real problems. The huge sums of money do not match the manageable results achieved. We don't deal with the root causes. We're not saying we don't want a partnership with the Global North. But we should first use our own resources and then get external partners on board. Local residents know their problems best and how to address them. We have denied them that for many decades because the development workers have always come there as experts who already knewwhat people need instead of asking them themselves. But when the local people play their skills together, they are a strong force.
How can you make better use of this power?
Our job is to help people on the continent to structure giving better.
Because the people in Africa like to give and they give a lot.
But unfortunately it is not structured.
It is meant well, but has little effect.
So we have to take care of making it more effective.
For example, people give something to the beggars on the street when they ask for money or food.
But nobody questions whether this really helps those affected strategically.
Whether it removes the barriers that stand in their way.
We want to create a platform for targeted giving.
What exactly is that supposed to look like?
First we have to tell the stories of successful donors and establish them as role models so that others can follow them.
We need to emphasize more how those affected can help one another.
And we have to mobilize and network the actors better.
There are now so many groups of like-minded people on the continent who care about individual fields such as people with disabilities, women's rights or LGBTIQ.
They're popping up like mushrooms.
We have to bring them together and create a movement in solidarity.
There are many very rich people in Africa.
Is it hard to convince them to share their wealth?
We just did a survey to find out who the rich are and what they are up to. The first results show that they do not support civil society to achieve development outcomes. Instead, they fund a lot of politicians. They support government causes because it helps them accumulate even more wealth. For example, they finance educational projects if it goes down well with the government. They support individual politicians in the hope that they will later show their appreciation. There haven't been many millionaires in Africa who have donated directly to development projects. But what is also true: So far, civil society has not dealt with how to get to these millionaires. You didn't ask her. And if you don't ask, you won't get anything.We now want to change that and find ways of getting their money in order to finance development.
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