It is still a white man’s burden, a black leader’s story


For over a decade and half that I have been practically involved in both humanitarian and development work in Africa, I am still convinced that addressing African poverty and other problems such as humanitarian is more of a concern to West than African leaders.



This is because African leaders have played more of a victim to problems for which they should have assumed responsibility and helped addressed.

Very few African leaders stepped up to the podium to address poverty problem thus far. In most cases, African leaders rarely worry about their people dying of easily preventable causes. In fact, people who die have not been a concern to African government policies.

Funds have been re-allocated from development projects to institutions that keep leaders in power because the main concern is how they will win the next election than who is going to die next of whatever cause. The death of their people is not even anything they worry about than their retention of power.

When their people die of hunger, disease and other causes, they call on the international community for help.
In doing so, they have abrogated life-saving and livelihoods of their people to Western countries who annually commit so much money towards these causes.

While a lot has been said and written about how the West attach political and financial interests to their funds towards African development, it must also be said that African leaders have not stepped up their game to address the same problems, in equal measure as the West.

In fact, African countries have done more damage to their people than the damage caused by the ideological interests of Western funds on the African economies.

When an African leader access national funds, their first objective is to personalise the funds and save them into offshore accounts, often Western bank accounts. Every dollar that goes to the African leader, it either finds itself in their pockets or in their offshore account. It is however, part of the same money that the West uses to lend to African governments, at an interest, as part of the poverty reduction funds.

While in the West, narratives have changed with different political administrations to another, certain dynamics have remained constant.

One of them is that Western governments make tremendous efforts to commit certain amounts of funds towards addressing humanitarian needs and poverty reduction in Africa while no African government does the same for their own countries.

In some African countries governments commit more money towards military spending than development because they assume that western donor money will fund development projects.

In some countries, Western donors have provided more funding for development projects than what come from the national governments.

The European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA), for instance, have historically committed billions of dollars towards Africa, some of which have landed in the hands of African politicians, local non governmental organisations and the rest has returned back to Western countries, but at least it passes through the African soil and has saved lives. Many African governments have raised concern on both accountability and honesty of donations towards Africa from the West, but the West does not owe African countries that kind of explanation because they do not vote in their home countries.

Firstly, it must be understood that western countries do not owe African countries anything for both poverty reduction and humanitarian response. And even though, they still allocate billions of dollars and they have every reason to attach their funds to their interests because they do not owe Africa anything.

Secondly, he who pays for poverty reduction and humanitarian response bears the power to construct the poverty narrative.

Over the past many decades, African academics have complained about the African poverty story being told from a western perspective.

And they have used that to argue that such narratives undermine national or local views on how Africa should understand and address its poverty. But then without investing in these two areas, there is no way Africans would be able to construct the poverty reduction narrative unless they provide their own resources to do so.

The African poverty and the humanitarian narrative are thus left to the EU or USA junior officers who are well funded to travel to Africa to listen to Africans as they tell their stories needed to construct the western narrative of African poverty which is largely influenced by western interests. We can surely not blame them if ideas are imposed because in the first place, we do not invest in understanding ourselves. We wait to challenge, even without evidence, what has been constructed, and in most cases we do so when it does not chime with our political agendas.

For as long as our leaders do not feel threatened by prevailing development and humanitarian agendas, they will never question these even when they are detrimental to the present and future development prospects of our nations.

●Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa