The Sherwood Way: Since Africa is the region with the most international cooperation of the world, which is its importance for the development in the continent?
Sérgio Calundungo (SC): I think that more than asking about the importance of international cooperation, it is asking what it should be. And why do I say «should be»? Because, as we know, even if for a long time Africa has been the region in the world with the most international cooperation, it is important to understand that this cooperation waxed and waned in its own content. That is to say, for a long time, it was considered an instrument in the hands of the former colonial powers, Western powers, to support some countries. It was rather an instrument of international relations for the defence of the interests of those countries that support us. This was for a long time the dominant trend.
Of course, not all the cooperation that was done with Africa was like this, but for a long time it was more an interested cooperation, not necessarily a disinterested one.
So, I assess that international cooperation would have a very important role to play in helping Africa to get out of the drama in which it finds itself. But unfortunately, for the reason I mentioned, it has always been mainly an instrument of affirmation of some countries over others or, also, a large part of the resources of international cooperation has been used as an instrument of foreign relations of affirmation of Western peoples over African peoples. As a result, in many cases, solidarity and a sense of cooperation have not taken place as desired.
TSW: As Skinner said in 1996, «By giving too much help, we delay the acquisition of effective behaviors and perpetuate the need for help»… Chinua Achebe of Nigeria and Wangari Maathai from Kenya also said the same thing in the past…
SC: Unfortunately, this is very true. For a long time, the historical mistake was to think that all the resources sent to Africa through what were considered institutions as cooperation mechanisms were really helpful. I think it would be interesting to ask the question: who helped whom? Because many resources directed to Africa, through the cooperation mechanism, ended up going back to the donor countries through the imposition of hiring teams and consultants from the country that provided the donation.
Obviously, I do not think Africa was being helped. What they did is to take money out of the left pocket to put it into the right one So it was not necessarily helpful. If we look at the flows of capital that left countries like ours, illicitly, to feed Western economies and compare them with the flows of resources that came to Africa, we see that more money probably left certain African countries for Europe in other ways, such as the burden of debt and mineral resources, than the one that came through aid.
So I sort of understand and comprehend the critical way in which people like Shiwashbeb, Hangar, Matari, and many other African thinkers have been looking at aid. The big question is: if we do the maths and look at the capital flows that circulated beyond humanitarian help, it is fair to ask «who helped whom?»
I will give a very concrete example of Angola: Angola is an exporter of petrol, a very important product for its economy… it is a very important country in terms of its relations with the world, with a country like, for example, Norway. And I remember that some years ago, the vice-chancellor – I don’t know if that’s the title given to that position in Norway – made a public statement saying that what the Norwegian state petroleum company was taking in profits from Angola was more than what Norway was giving in aid to the whole of Africa. So this is just another example of how capital flows evolved. So it is fair to say who helps whom.
We have examples of cases in which, within the aid package, expatriate officials came with a great desire to help and collaborate, but also people who did not have the necessary skills or competencies. But in a certain way, there was a predisposition and preference of the donor countries that, with the programs and projects, there were people related to their origin countries.
Therefore, it was more a way of giving opportunities to their fellow citizens, without considering how much these people were well equipped to help. The same goes for the purchase of materials, vehicles, as in many cooperation contracts there are clauses stipulating that the vehicle must be purchased or the equipment must be acquired in certain countries and not in others. Without mentioning the aid conditionalities that many countries have historically attached to the aid they provide to certain countries according to the political positioning of their leaders. Let us remember that in the context of the Cold War, the political position was more in favour of the socialist bloc, led by the former Soviet Union, or the Western bloc, led by countries such as the United States and many European powers.
TSW: Help us clarify a bit, we are sure that there is cooperation and cooperation… Which one is still necessary?
SC: I like the fact that African languages allow us to go to the root of the meaning, the etymological meaning of the word. I understand that cooperation is when two or more people decide to collaborate because they have a common goal. For me, cooperation only makes sense if the person who donates, no matter what side of the world they are from, does so with the awareness that it is not «coming to help A or B», I come moved by a feeling that believes that another world is possible.
It is possible for those who are in Europe, for those who are in Africa and any part of the world, whether in Asia or Latin America, and that is what moves us. That is, helping to prevent that child in Angola or anywhere in Africa from starving to death is an act of humanity. This must be the meaning of cooperation.
The meaning of cooperation should not be that machine that moves the interests of countries. In other words, if I manage to help several children who are dying of hunger in Africa, I position my country in the international arena, and I position my country in a privileged position among others. In the relationship with the country that is receiving the aid.
And I think this is what should come out, I think we should go back to the ideological meaning of the word cooperate. That is, they are people who come together because they have a common goal and for this goal to be common, it has to be more or less consensual. So, we should overcome the idea that if you have resources, you give, and the other person who has nothing only has to receive. Here there has to be a different view of what cooperation is.
TSW: The news coming out of Africa has to do with wars and famine, and the work of NGOs is eminently humanitarian… We wonder about the importance of the continent of work on human rights, the fight against corruption, extractive, and governance, something that ends up being associated more with the kind of cooperation in middle-income countries like Latin America. We don’t know if this separation helps.
SC: I think that many of the visions that we have need to be changed. The first change, in the way we look at Africa, is the typical change that is very common that we see in the press, how the image of cooperation is treated and, above all, that of Africa when it faces some dramas. It is very common to hear or see a big news headline saying «hunger drama» and to see starving children, young people and starving women waiting for the international cooperation agent -usually Western-, who comes with the t-shirt and the brand of the institution he represents giving aid. But sometimes, they forget to quote some fundamental facts, and I am going to quote some of them.
For example, Malawi was an extremely poor country when Mozambique faced war. For many of the refugees, the first destination for people living in the affected areas was Malawi. When Angola faced war, the first destination, and the destination where the majority of Angolans went, was not to Europe, but to neighbouring countries. Despite the difficulties in these countries, these Africans were welcomed and integrated into the families living in the nearest villages. This is the basis of what is an African principle «ubuntu» which is the principle of solidarity very typical in Africa.
This is not portrayed in the media, what is portrayed is when the organization comes thousands of kilometres away to support. When there is an armed confrontation, we portray the refugee camps, but we don’t portray the vicissitudes of the people and the audacity they have to go out on their own, because sometimes the organizations are not there, in the areas of conflict. Even in safe areas where they can receive humanitarian assistance, humanitarian assistance has its limitations.
That is to say, every day there are examples of courage, and bravery, of those we consider beneficiaries and it does not appear when we report in our cooperation reports. We celebrate successes on the basis of the resources we put in, that is, to give the impression that sometimes it is not intended to inform a Western public that generously gives its contribution. We forget to breathe in courage and to portray this side which I would not say is «positive», but it is a side that represents courage and a sense of solidarity. That is to say, the idea of that image where Africans are standing with their hand open waiting for European support is not true. This is the first line.
There is a second line which is, and here I would like to say that, rather than feeding the hungry or healing wounds, it is necessary to ask why they are hungry and why they are wounded. For a long time, African conflicts have also been portrayed as conflicts that begin and end purely and simply in the African geographic space, and this is not true.
I will give an example: when Angola had a conflict, one of the sides of the conflict depended on diamonds coming out of Angola. At that time, and still today, half of Africa did not have the purchasing power for diamonds that Belgium has. In other words, it was our resources that were going abroad and fed this war. Whoever talks about oil, talks about diamonds, talks about a series of resources. In other words, the non-African side of the conflicts does not appear, it should not seem strange to portray ethnic and tribal conflicts, but the major arms producers that supply our conflicts are not in Africa.
Therefore, there is an unseen side of the equation here and then there is the issue of corruption, which is a very serious drama in Africa. Unfortunately, we are a country or we are a continent where many countries or many citizens of these countries face the drama of corruption. But I say that there is no corruption without corrupters and many of these leaders of corruption who feed them and make them stay in power also have an invisible hand here, they have a great deal of support from other peoples and, above all, from other countries that are more powerful or considered more powerful in the international arena.
So, for a long time, Africa was co-governed, that is, colonialism gave rise to what many Africans called new forms of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and these had a big presence in African dramas. Of course, their presence is not portrayed. Adam Smith spoke of the invisible hand of the market in cooperation, perhaps we should speak of the invisible hand of many of the phenomena such as corruption, bad governance, and conflicts that, unfortunately, have long plagued and still plague our continent.