Decolonizing Philanthropy in Africa: The Why and The How

Philanthropy in Africa has evolved over time and we are now at the Post Anglo-Saxon era. We are moving past philanthropy that has generally been defined and dictated only by the actions and practices of Northern countries. Philanthropy that targets project-based funding is significantly declining and this has subsequently offered space for more sustainable forms of giving.

Although the culture of giving is ingrained deep within African people, it has not been referred to as philanthropy in the past. Particularly in areas with high impoverishment or marginalization, members of those communities have often pooled resources together to tackle their challenges for the collective betterment of their livelihoods.  These values lie at the epicenter of African philanthropy. In their paper Navigating the Role of Philanthropy in Africa, Murisa and Mahomed outline some of the practices of pooling resources involved in African philanthropy which include but are not limited to, assembling assets for production, rotating savings, communal development of welfare activities as well as capital creation. All these provide a social, economic, and political safety net for members in their respective communities.

It would be remiss of me to say that African philanthropy came about as a result of the decline of western philanthropy as we have established that the culture of giving existed far before the term African philanthropy was coined. However, the decline of aid in Africa has certainly encouraged in-depth studying as well as the legitimization of African philosophy. This process has been popularly and rather accurately referred to as the decolonization of philanthropy of Africa.

In order to successfully transition to philanthropy dictated by Africans there are certain things we have to consider:

  • It is imperative that in addition to being legitimized, African philanthropy is also being legally institutionalized. And that these African-based institutions follow a more holistic model that puts those most affected at the center – thus becoming grassroots focused institutions if you will. Protecting the agency of these individuals will not only yield impassioned leaders and participators but also foster trust, a core component of the kind of philanthropy we are trying to encourage. This would ultimately create genuine and sustainable institutions.
  • It is important to mention that, while the notion of solidarity underpins African philanthropy, Africa is a wildly diverse continent with thousands of distinct communities. And, it is for this reason why ensuring that there is a consistent understanding and motivation for African philanthropy is particularly important. We have to be on the same page always.
  • There is also a need to remember that there is no decolonization without agitation. Agents of African philanthropy need to constantly be critical of themselves; constantly question whose money they are receiving and whether the conditions uplift or undermine the movement instead of being complicit. Institutions also have to be ready to adopt this pooling together of resources at a community level as a form of resistance. The more resources we have on our own, the easier decolonization will be.

We are currently at an exciting time where there is a real opportunity to propel African philanthropy to an essential part of African development, but first we have to ensure that it is truly those that are most affected that have the reigns. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, we can find comfort in the fact that we are headed in the right direction.

By Stigmata Tenga, Africa Philanthropy Network

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