BRIGHTON, UK, Aug 09 (IPS) – The writer is Professor at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Co-Director of the Humanitarian Learning Center, Brighton, UK. An article published in April 2020 by the World Economic Forum warning that Africa was facing a Covid-19 time bomb was widely shared among the humanitarian sector, with growing concern.
Some predicted a perfect storm in terms of violence against children while others spoke of the potential for a pandemic of hunger in the Sahel. But none of these catastrophic scenarios were confirmed during the first or second wave of the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
There are currently concerns about an increase in third wave cases, but so far the continent has experienced a much lower death rate than Europe.
Yet despite the many innovations developed by Africans during the pandemic, it has not been recognized that the African agency has played a role in controlling the number of deaths and deaths from Covid-19.
Instead, this lower death rate was attributed to fate, natural setting, or demographics. This is another example of the humanitarian sector acting as a willing accomplice to racial stereotypes.
Instead of challenging an over-simplified or ‘one-story’ narrative (to use Chimamanda Adichie’s words), he chose to share on an attention grabbing headline to describe how Covid-19 impacted Africa sub-Saharan.
It highlights the glaring gap in the stories of African ingenuity and innovation – despite the number of examples that exist. These have been highlighted in the range of responses to Covid-19 seen across the continent.
For example, an ongoing project on African resilience revealed that villagers in Côte d’Ivoire have faced the heavy impact of the pandemic on agricultural production and trade by borrowing money from micro-institutions. finance, building on their personal connections and reputation.
By mobilizing their social capital, villagers were able to promote confidence and hope as bankable commodities in rural agriculture.
This innovation challenges the traditional relationship between microfinance institutions and villagers, and continues to redefine lending procedures even after confinement. But this kind of social innovation and community resilience is hardly reported by the media and the humanitarian world.
For too long, the humanitarian sector has helped reinforce a vision of Africa as a rural continent beset by civil war, state corruption and suffering from the effects of climate change.
This narrative does not allow any recognition of how the continent is changing under the impact of trends such as high population growth and urbanization, digitalization and economic progress.
The emergence of a middle class in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania illustrates the continent’s potential for economic growth and innovation. The failure of the humanitarian sector in general to recognize these trends has important ramifications for the type and nature of the work undertaken.
The importance of recognizing and dealing with African agency and diversity are fundamental issues for the humanitarian sector, particularly at a time when localization and the humanitarian-development nexus are presented as the main paradigm and policies to address efficiency and legitimacy of sectors.
The predominance of localization in humanitarian work is based on a simplified understanding of what “the local” is and who “the local” is, which can lead to problematic reactions.
Other research on humanitarian protection in DRC has shown that many organizations working in eastern DRC would classify Lingala-speaking people in Kinshasa (2,400 km away) as locals and hire them as local experts, even when ‘they do not speak Swahili and have little understanding of the local population. the context.
Those who are hired must ‘speak the North’, that is, use the jargon and standards developed by international organizations (Sphere, Core Humanitarian Standards), or guidelines and processes ( cluster, response cycles and humanitarian response plans, Humanitarian Needs Insights).
As a result, the participation of “affected communities” is superficially sought as an “add-on” rather than essential for a better understanding of local contexts.
The challenges for the sector are to go beyond creating single story narratives and instead prioritize space for African agency and diversity. Of course, funding and political barriers complicate matters.
Justifying aid spending to national audiences means that donors have a low tolerance for financial and reputational risk. As such, aid continues to be delivered on the basis of what agencies and donors want to give rather than what people say they need and want.
In such a supply-driven relationship, the paternalistic attitudes that donors are most familiar with deride any attempt to allow localization.
We need a better way forward, focusing on transdisciplinarity, decoloniality and strengthening partnerships between humanitarian workers and researchers on the one hand, and collaboration between Global North and practitioners and researchers on the other.
To move away from a narrow and unique narrative of Africa, humanitarian and research relations must, at their most fundamental level, shift from functional and ad hoc collaborations to more equitable partnerships.
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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service