The debate on what the role of NGOs in Africa should be is still open. While many have been dedicated to humanitarian aid as we know it, there are other organizations that have taken a different direction. In Angola, there are NGOs that promote sustainable development, directly supporting people in vulnerable situations. It is these Angolan organizations that are calling for a reflection on the approach to humanitarian aid. What does the continent really need from international cooperation? We spoke with Carlos Cambuta, Director General of ADRA in Angola, about this issue.
The Sherwood Way (TSW): Since Africa is the region of the world with the most international cooperation, what is its importance for the development of the continent?
Carlos Cambuta(C.C.): Africa is a continent with great potential; it is, in fact, the cradle of humanity. However, it faces many challenges, including the need to empower its people to exploit its natural resources and transparently use them to develop the continent. International cooperation is important to help Africa overcome these challenges and achieve sustainable development.
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 of Kenya have also said the same thing in the past…
C.C.: Regarding development cooperation, my view is that it is fundamental. No country develops without really establishing partnerships with other countries. Here is a need for other African countries; to join efforts to be able to share experiences and knowledge among themselves; not only among African countries but also with other countries in the world. I think this understanding should be the main point to develop more partnerships and cooperation.
TSW: Help us clarify a bit, we are sure that there is cooperation and cooperation… Which one is still necessary?
C.C.: One challenge that emerges in the field of development cooperation is the question of dependency. That is, those who have financial resources or more, tend to dominate the agenda, to dominate their interests. That is why, as I said before, there is a need for African countries to invest in science, technology, in short, to invest in education so that they have human resources with the capacity not only to exploit the resources at their disposal, but also to make the best decisions without being trapped in dependency. Because dependence certainly has its limitations that are not advisable. African countries must continue to work in this spirit of promoting development from endogenous resources, with exogenous resources being important in complementing local efforts.
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 for the continent of the work on human rights, the fight against corruption, extractive, and governance, something that ends up being associated more with the type of cooperation in middle-income countries like Latin America. We don’t know if this separation helps.
C.C.: I would like to say that there is a great need to deepen the debate on the role of non-governmental organizations. Precisely the role of civil society organizations has been developing and evolving in time and space. At least in Angola, today not all organizations are focused on humanitarian aid. They are more focused on promoting sustainable development, for example. ADRA, although it has actions of direct support to people in situations of hunger, poverty, and social vulnerability in its strategy, its approach has to do precisely with the empowerment of people; because they understand that it is through empowerment that these people will be able to respond to their problems.
So there is a great need to deepen the debate on the role of civil society organizations. Indeed, in Africa, it is true that humanitarian aid is important, but we must understand that this type of aid does not contribute to the promotion of development because it keeps people in a situation of dependency.
Another important point to highlight is that in Africa, in general, low visibility is given to good local development practices. It is easier to reach the outside world with what does not work well than with what works very well. I believe that in Africa there are good experiences and these can even influence the world. In Angola, for example, some communities where families had no possibility of developing any economic activity, are now developing economic activity. We are talking about families that before did not even have the resources to develop agriculture on half a hectare; today they already have 3, 4, 5 hectares. Therefore, they already live depending on their resources, without depending on external help. I think this is a good practice that the international community itself also needs to understand.
TSW: How do we relate this to the reflection on localization and decolonization of aid?
C.C.: It is important to understand that the concept of aid should be focused on empowerment. This is what Paulo Freire, one of the greatest pedagogues, emphasized: people need to reinvent themselves and develop their consciousness to be able to respond effectively to their problems. And I think it is in this logic that we should interpret the idea of aid: in terms of technical, methodological, and support assistance, not humanitarian aid. But it is to understand that there is a whole need to provide means that allow the institutional subject to respond to its problems.
TSW: How do you think an NGO in the global North that wants to get serious about thinking about decolonizing its work should start?
C.C.: In education, in the empowerment of communities, and the development of the culture of citizenship. Through the promotion of a series of civic education actions that allow citizens to have skills and knowledge to be able to explore the resources at their disposal, to be able to dialogue with their superiors, in this case, governments, and in that way, to know where they should allocate the resources they have. Therefore, Africa’s problem is not a lack of financial resources. Africa’s problem has to do exactly with the need to have critical human capital about its context and to raise the level of African awareness of the need to promote development based on local resources and to understand development cooperation in the logic of complementing what African countries need and not so much in the sense of dependence from the international community.
How can we continue to promote South-South cooperation? Brazilian social movements are collaborating with others in Mozambique or Angola? What can we learn from these experiences?
C.C.: Brazil has been a reference because it has its agenda and seeks to share this agenda with Portuguese-speaking countries. Something that the other African countries, particularly the Portuguese-speaking ones, can learn is to understand the need to develop an agenda with short, medium, and long-term objectives, and that this agenda should be implemented with the commitment of all civil society organizations that is an agenda that brings together a consensus on structural issues.