The CIDA Debate: Why Africa Doesn't Want Charity

12/21/2012 05:29 EST | Updated 02/20/2013 05:12 EST
Jacada Travel

In the continent that I was born in -- Africa -- Canadians are making such a passionate impact in changing what has often been described as the "dark continent" for generations. As I contemplate moving back to Ethiopia as a Canadian myself -- I also wonder what my contributions would be to the country I left behind a generation ago.

These days, Africans are more occupied with trade and economical opportunities rather than handouts as often advocated by the NDP. Even though handouts may have been the best solution in the short term, in the long term, they have provided dependency and corruption for decades. In short-term objections, Canadians have raised millions and helped in time of immediate need such as famine.

In the passionate exchange on the role of the Government of Canada via CIDA in Africa between the NDP MP and the Minister of International Cooperation, I side with Julian Fantino in what I think is best for Africa.

Hélène Laverdière stated:

"Economic growth is essential for sustainable poverty reduction. But not all economic growth is sustainable or leads to sustainable poverty reduction. The private sector can contribute to international development, but we are deeply concerned by the approach the Conservative government is taking to its public-private partnerships. CIDA's focus should be creating the best conditions for development for local communities, not for Canadian industry. It matters who is in the driver's seat. Unlike Minister Fantino, we do not think extractive industries are the most appropriate partners for our aid agency."

The Minister stated:

"Our Conservative government is focused on delivering tangible results for those most in need around the world....This means using any and all legitimate tools, and all partners available to us to meet this critical objective, including the private sector. We do not subsidize private sector companies as Laverdière led your readers to believe. We do not subsidize NGOs for that matter. We are an outcomes-driven agency and we will work with all legitimate partners who can help free people from the ill effects of poverty."

There are many things the Conservatives are doing that are not perfect with world affairs -- but their perspective on CIDA's role in Africa and its work is not one of them. They seem to have perfected what the new generations of Africans want for their continent. The NDP is advocating the status quo that has provided the same solution and results in the past.

There is nothing wrong with trying to take a different route in our destination in finding a solution. Africans want to be empowered to be the agents of change -- not the recipients of charity that rarely makes an impact.

Beyond the work of CIDA -- as far as charities are concerned -- the most eloquent and result-driven efforts are not necessarilyy done by CIDA and its money, but by charities run by such groups as The Stephen Lewis Foundation and Free The Children.

For instance -- the Stephen Lewis Foundation, founded by the onetime Ontario NDP Leader Stephen Lewis, has taken the cause of his HIV advocacy in Africa to Canadians and he has raised millions. His Grandmothers Campaign has managed to raise $16.5 million and via this fortune, he has been able to direct the money to "community level / grassroots organizations that provide grandmothers and the children in their care with supports that include food, educational supplies, uniforms and school fees, medical care, HIV counseling and testing, adequate housing and bedding, counseling and support groups and home visits."

These are wonderful results advocated by the private sector instead of governments and we should help promote them as one of the better solutions. In the long term -- I hope charities will be history of the past not our future. As an Ethiopian -- I have always felt uncomfortable seeing "destitute Africans" in North American charity commercials to help raise money that are having little impact.

How long are we supposed to be the poster children of charity organizations?

The NDP critic stated how the "the private sector can contribute to international development, but we are deeply concerned by the approach the Conservative government is taking to its public-private partnerships." While the NDP means well and advocates passionately for what is supposed to be a short-term solution, I think the Conservatives are talking long term and in the long-term destination of Africa, I hope charity will not be part of the African renaissance journey.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame once wrote how "many [Western leaders]still believe they can solve the problems of the poor with sentimentality and promises of massive infusions of aid...We who live in, and lead, the world's poorest nations are convinced that the leaders of the rich world and multilateral institutions have a heart for the poor. But they also need to have a mind for the poor." Indeed.

Africans want to be recipients of partnerships and investments rather than charity handouts.

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