Is the US to blame for Africa's woes?

Some people in the US seem to think so. And they have plenty of things to point to, from the flow of weapons to Africa to harmful trade practices to burdensome debt. There's no shortage of analysis about what the US and other wealthy nations do wrong for Africa.

I've had the chance to talk with Africans from every corner of the continent about these matters. They've been human rights or peace advocates at UN meetings or immigrants working in a wide array of jobs in the US and Europe. When I bring up the role of the US and the West in Africa's problems, I get the same response over and over. It can be paraphrased as "we're capable of messing up our countries all on our own, thank you very much."

Africans tell me that corruption and greed are what devastate their countries. They also cite the ignorance and bigotry that ill-intentioned leaders use to divide and conquer nations. While they welcome efforts to change international sources of injustice, they see the causes of and solutions to Africa's problems as lying first and foremost with Africans.

Those conversations come to mind whenever I hear Americans or other Westerners discuss the need for debt relief or other policy changes for Africa. While some people understand that Africa's struggles are complex, others are so focused on the outside role that you'd think that what Africans do doesn't matter.

Meanwhile, within Africa, people and organizations like the thousands listed in the UN's Directory of African NGOs are working to make change from within. They may address US or Western policy, or they may not. Basically, we're not always the star of the show.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011: For a much more thorough and eloquent examination of the issues I raise, and a look at the role of outside influence and interest in political uprisings, please check out "A classy revolution: Why we cared" by Ivo Vegter for South Africa's The Daily Maverick

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    # by Emily Berg - July 29, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    The focus should NEVER be taken off of empowering a community that you are working with. If an American NGO can manage to become part of a community that they are at first new to, then do we still call them foreign? Many organizations will go to Africa, do a project, take pictures, leave and not return. No community is created and the organization that did not return will not learn how the community that they were trying to 'help' fared when they left.

    If you want to help someone, you have to let them help you too! Be willing to learn and engage yourself! Of course you are not "the star of the show." That should never be a reason to empower a group of people. We should help because we want someone else to be the star and see that they improved their own quality of life.

    This is a main focus for us at Bank-On-Rain and I wrote a bit about it in one of our latest blog posts, God Is Watching. (You have to read it to find out why!)

    Emily Berg for Bank-On-Rain
    Follow us on twitter @BANKONRAIN @EmilyBerg

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    # by Tracy Moavero - July 29, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    Thanks for your input, Emily. Yes, NGOs sometimes show up, research, interview people, etc., then disappear back to where they came from. I've heard complaints from people from Africa and from various war-torn countries about "poverty tourism" and "war tourism."

    I agree about the kind of partnership that's needed. I've always loved the quote from Australian indigenous activist Lilla Watson: "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”