We are aware that decolonizing international cooperation and international NGOs is a very complex process that requires a great deal of analysis. The researcher and analyst specialized in international development, Themrise N. Khan, had already explained the difficulties involved in the narrative of “decolonization” in the sector, making clear the importance of asking questions (especially the global South) and emphasizing the lack of listening of the global North that leads it to disconnect from the rest of the world.
Certainly is necessary to articulate actions from both donors and receptors. What is needed to facilitate listening to the actors (donors and recipient organizations)? We briefly discussed this with Elisa da Costa, a Swiss-Angolais researcher at the University of Basel (Switzerland), who is clear that decolonization is a complex issue and requires “a critical examination of the historical and structural roots of colonialism and imperialism”.
Creating space for debate
“Creating space for debate on decolonization in international cooperation requires a commitment to challenging dominant narratives and power structures” says da Costa. To achieve this, the participation of diverse voices, including “local communities, grassroots organizations and scholars from the Global South” is really important. However, as da Costa comments, these efforts are not news and change seem to be slow in coming.
In recent years, it has been questioned whether the Global North has colonized this debate. In fact, to discuss this phenomenon, researcher Themrise Khan quotes sociologist Leon Moosavi, who speaks of a “Northcentric” intellectual decolonization of the global North. The North does not seem to listen to what Southern scholars have to say and ignores them, creating a sector narrative that has no “real understanding” of what is happening in the South.
In that sense, da Costa highlights the role of universities and research institutions “in promoting dialogue and debate on decolonization by organizing conferences, workshops and seminars that bring together a range of perspectives”. However, she warns that we must not forget that “universities themselves are part of a global white privileged structure and sometime lack the capacity to have a critical self-view and rethink about their own intrinsic racism, sexism, classism, etc”.
In addition, Moosavi has created a global network of experts and activists called “The Decolonial Critique” in which issues related to coloniality/decoloniality are debated in different sectors, within and beyond the university. Also, there are other projects from the global South such as RINGO (Re-Imagining the Role of International Non-governmental Organisations) in 2020 developed by Rights CoLab and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI).
In a hyper-connected world such as ours, global initiatives can undoubtedly take advantage of new technologies to boost themselves. Da Costa suggests that their use “could have a positive effect on accelerating the decolonization debates “, unlocking alternative and subaltern narratives. She also explains that it is important to communicate in a simpler way, as “sometimes, we academics tend to use extremely difficult terms and phrases to explain simple things”.
A sincere self-reflection to transform oneself
One of the points that Themrise Khan strongly recommends in her article is to start asking questions, specially from the global South. So, do we need cooperation as we know it now? What is it doing for us? What do we really mean by decolonization of cooperation? In this regard, aid receptors countries have a lot to think about. Donor countries, for their part, are no strangers to this self-analysis if they intend to participate in this transformation process.
“One possible starting point could be for these NGOs to acknowledge and confront the power dynamics that are inherent in the international development industry, including their own role in perpetuating them. This may involve a critical self-reflection of their policies, practices, and organizational culture, and a willingness to learn from and collaborate with local partners and communities in the Global South on an equal footing”, says da Costa. If for oneself it is sometimes difficult to recognize one’s own defects, in organizational structures it is even more so.
Finally, da Costa explains that doing self-reflection on anti-racism, anti-sexism, xenophobia, within his own structure is a way to start taking seriously the decolonization. “What does it mean to be an ally? How do we define allyship within the organization? How do we want to add to the global debate and movement of decolonization, and why? I think the why is always important. The interests of the institution should be authentic and aligned with the strategy so that change processes can be implemented sustainably”.