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
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
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
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.