After decades of financial support why does the African problem persist?

Africa has been on the receiving end of philanthropic giving for more than 300 years. Billions of dollars have been invested by well-meaning donors, governments and non-profit agencies into thousands of projects. These projects range from feeding schemes for the poor to massive rebuilding projects of failed governments and economies. For the most part, these have not resulted in a prosperous Africa. Donors are asking, “Why, after decades of support, does the African problem still exist?” “Donor fatigue” and “Africa is a bottomless pit” are common sentiments. After all this giving, why do we still struggle with issues such as corruption, poor education, socio-economic hardship, tribal and territorial wars, and failing governments?

Here are some of the insights we have gained during our three decades of experience working in Africa - what does not work.

Not understanding African culture (worldview matters).

There have been multiple efforts to implement well thought out and proven strategies to African problems, only to be disappointed with the lack of enthusiasm and execution by African role players.

An understanding of the African Worldview is imperative for the successful application of strategies. A worldview may be defined as the “total set of beliefs or assumptions that comprise the mindset of an individual and determine what they believe and how they behave”. If there is a distorted worldview concerning God, self, others, and creation, the execution of programs to Africa will continue to fail. The answer is to develop, teach and practice a Biblical worldview before these new ideas are brought to the table.

Trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

What works in the West or East does not necessarily work in Africa. We cannot copy and paste solutions to this vibrant but also different continent. We must allow Africa to find the right fit for their challenges - this will require a new and unique paradigm.

Giving free fish instead of teaching to fish.

Christians at large (especially in North America) feel an enormous responsibility to help solve the problems of those less fortunate. The Bible commands God’s people to show compassion to the poor. It is what Christians do! 1 John 3:17 weighs heavily on the minds of Christians.

“If any has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

Solving Africa’s problems on her behalf is not the answer. Africa has resources, intellectual capacity and a desire to succeed. The need in Africa is not more aid, but an investment in the development of her people and then allowing them to create a prosperous future.

Applying relief to situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.

When looking at a needy Africa, one can easily make the mistake of offering the apparent solution to the visible problem. But often, these seemingly obvious solutions do not lead to change, and the need soon resurfaces. In addressing the need, it would be better to determine the primary cause and decide what the longterm expected outcome should be. This approach facilitates a more effective route to the desired goal. In most cases, rehabilitation and development are much more suitable actions than short-term relief.

Focusing on projects and products instead of people and processes.

The approach of most western churches, donors, businesses and governments towards Africa is projects and products, not people and processes. African people are highly relational. Solutions to problems are therefore negotiated, and often renegotiated, before implementation. It is not about cost, funding, budgets, operating manuals and such. It is about connecting relationally and sharing your heart. The answer lies in a problem-solving process that is based on inclusion and discourse with Africa.

Broken individuals or broken systems.

Africa has a reputation for blaming foreign (western) systems for its problems. There may be some truth to this idea, but more pertinent is the recruitment of broken individuals to operate those systems. Historically oppressed, uneducated, unemployed and untrained people are placed into leadership positions. Self-centered attitudes, character flaws, and sinful lifestyles add to the problem. Ultimately, the systems fail. For this reason, training is crucial for success. Character, spiritual, leadership, and professional skills development are of utmost importance for the systems to work.