Aid and Development: Power with a Capital P

The Guardian recently posted an interview with Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina. You may know his name from the popular satirical essay “How to Write About Africa” or his commentary on the new laws in Nigeria and Uganda targeting LGBTI groups, but if you’re unfamiliar, he’s an opinionated, outspoken, and often controversial figure (especially when it comes to development in Africa).

In the interview, Wainaina speaks about stereotypes in development and the failure to align aid with the reality of Africa. He talks about the imbalanced, unsustainable power relationships between the West, African governments, and civil society. He calls for a restructuring of these relationships, and says it must come from Africans. I’d like to hear more about his ideas on exactly what it takes for Africans to shift power in an effective way, but he didn’t go into details in this interview. Also, according to Wainaina, it’s within the political sphere that change can happen and because civil society has “become anti-politics,” it’s missing the mark

His blunt criticisms and his definition of the word community – someone utterly powerless upon which power is being imposed – made me laugh. If you work in development I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s some truth to everything he said, but as with most generalizations, they don’t apply to all aid, civil society organizations, or African governments. I can think of many counterexamples.

Click here to watch the video and share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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