PCDForum Column #47,  Release Date April 15, 1993

by Paul Wangoola

Many African NGOs are concluding that Africa's survival depends on delinking from the white dominated global market economy to create an African family economy based on local, national, and pan-African self-reliance. Beginning with the plunder of the slave trade and colonialism and extending through the post-independence era of "aid," investment, and structural adjustment, Africa's linkage to the global economy has been a vehicle for imposing development models of the North. These models have only contributed to the plunder of Africa's resource base and the marginalization and impoverishment of Africa's people.

Each hope of reform within this context has proven to be a mirage. Each has been the basis for the intensification of our dispossession and deprivation.

We have been at a perpetual disadvantage in an economic system in which power is monopolized by a few in the North and used to appropriate the natural resources, technology, knowledge, skills and labor of Africans for a pittance. This appropriation prepared the way for our forced dependence on parasitic Western investment, aid, technology and management.

Consequently, African NGOs are now working to define a new vision of the African future. This vision is rooted in a rediscovery of our own rich civilization, history, cultures, philosophy, science, technology and value systems. It is informed by the peoples' knowledge and dependent on Africa's own resource base. Ours is a vision of a continent that is assertive and non-apologetic in reclaiming Africa's heritage and resources to the benefit of our people. We ask others to respect this as our historical right, as we affirm the same rights for other peoples. It is only through a commitment to such a vision that the full energies of the people can be unleashed and their potential realized.

Many Africans have long resisted the market economy system by holding onto their traditional economic forms. This has included the pooling of labor and natural resources within ethnic and kinship organizations such as families and clans. The tradition of mutual aid has been vital to meet basic needs and to pursue political and cultural struggles. Harambee emerged in Kenya and Zenzele in Zimbabwe. Both demonstrated the resilience of the peoples' culture.

Some African NGOs seek to support this culturally mandated delinking process by conducting campaigns against the compulsive consumerism necessitated by the Western production model and fueled through advertising. We expose the dangers posed to African people by many Northern medicines, cosmetics, processed foods, drinks, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers and encourage them to produce and consume traditional African products instead. We are conscientizing the African peoples to the struggles of other peoples throughout the South, and even in the North itself, against this fascist economic-socio-cultural system. We see these as immediate steps. We continue to work towards the implementation of longer term strategies to regain African popular socio-economic, political and cultural integrity and sovereignty, and to restore our control over our natural resources and labor.

Our vision is an African Family Economy in which Africans will use African resources, science, knowledge, skills, technology and values. Under African ownership, control, and direction, these resources will meet the peoples' needs. Community welfare will take precedence over individual benefit. Already thousands of community-based organizations and NGOs are at work to put this African Family Economy on the ground. The realization of our vision is a task for African NGOs. But it is not enough to be headed by an African for an NGO to be African. African NGOs are the ones that have emerged out of the African peoples' historical struggles and experiences and from whose needs and aspirations their vision, philosophy, principles and programs are derived. They are NGOs whose policy, leadership and day-to-day running are in African hands. Further, they are NGOs whose membership and leadership are freed or are committed to freeing themselves from the Western ideological leadership and expertise and are building a base for financial autonomy.

While striving to regain our own freedom and identity we recognize the ideals of genuine inter-dependence between the peoples of the world. We seek solidarity with those in the South, North, East and West who are engaged in their own societies in the universal struggle for the rights of all people to social justice and self-determination. They share our cause and best support us by working for the empowerment of the disempowered in their own countries. Together we may evolve and share new models of people-centered development rooted in the needs, experience and aspirations of our respective peoples.

Paul Wangoola is secretary-general of the African Association for Literacy & Adult Education (AALAE), P.O. Box 50768, Nairobi, Kenya and a contributing editor of the PCDForum. This column was produced and distributed by the PCDForum based on his report of a strategic reflection hosted by ORAP in Zimbabwe in 1991 for African NGO leaders.

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