Alliance@PND

Through an agreement with UK-based Alliance magazine, PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.

Working together to make the difference

Working together to make the difference

For several years, rising injustice and social inequality have been the catalyst for social movements that aim to raise collective awareness and organize peaceful protests for fairer living conditions. At the same time, there's a multitude of foundations and philanthropic organizations dedicated to improving the living conditions of populations across the world. Too often, however, the activities of these two groups run along separate tracks. Can they be brought together?

In Africa, the last decade has seen the emergence of new forms of social expression that have highlighted the social and political demands of ordinary citizens for real change in systems of governance. Through Internet platforms, a number of social movements have been created by young people who are indignant at and frustrated by their living conditions.

In countries like Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tunisia, Egypt, Chad, Togo, The Gambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso, social movements are playing a growing role in the awakening of people's consciousness and the democratization of political systems. Non-violent actions and campaigns by citizens have led to the dismissal from office of presidents and the holding of elections. The resulting synergies are fueling national and pan-African mobilization and enabling people's voices to be heard at the highest levels of government. Generally speaking, their actions are not aimed at overthrowing a political party or securing the trust of a sponsor; instead, they are conceived, organized, and carried out to solve a specific local or national problem. The impact of these movements is even greater because of the freedom of action and independent spirit of their members, their recognition of real problems in their communities, the flexibility and adaptability of their organizing methods, and the networking that characterizes their actions. Social movements such as Y'en a Marre ("That's Enough") in Senegal and LUCHA ("Struggle for Change") in the DRC have succeeded in providing access to drinking water, electricity, and essential products through non-violent action because their aims matched peoples' aspirations.

Across Africa, these movements are working to organize and mobilize more and more people to join the battle for change in Africa by Africans. For instance, in July 2018 in Dakar, Senegal, more than thirty African social movements from some twenty African countries, including LUCHA, Y'en a Marre, and Burkina Faso-based Balai Citoyen, created the "Afrikki" collective, which today is working to build solidarity between country-based movements and  boost their efforts to transform society at the national, regional, and pan-African levels. Members of the collective are sharing their experiences and best practices developed over years of organizing (often in repressive environments and with limited resources). In November 2019, members of movements from the Congo and Senegal attended a gathering organized by the Southern Movement Assembly, a coalition of movements from the southern U.S. and members of Afrikki. Afrikki has also put in place a fund to assist activists in personal danger and facilitate exchanges between social movements. As a result, African youth organized in movements are bringing about real change in their countries and making a difference in building the future of Africa.

In contrast, philanthropic organizations follow the guidelines dictated by their trustees, which sometimes means that they fail to adapt to the contexts and needs of the countries in which they work. In the DRC, for example, there are foundations and NGOs that build public toilets in villages that don't have a school. They carry out multi-million dollar projects that have little impact on the communities that are the intended beneficiaries of those projects.

If philanthropic institutions are serious about making the changes that are needed, they should back these indigenous efforts without imposing restrictions on social movements or overly defining their programs. Their support should be unconditional, allowing the change sought by these movements to be driven by local communities. It is only Africans who can change their own continent.

Ghislain Muhiwa (muhiwa.k.ghislain@gmail.com) is a LUCHA activist and social sciences researcher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This article was translated from French by Laura McCaffrey.