Canada and Africa: Prospects for Internationalism and Common Cause

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In Canada, we relate to governments and constituencies in a variety of often contradictory ways as well: as contractors, fundraisers, researchers, educators, advocates, and campaigners. We are all dependent, albeit to varying degrees, on the aid establishment, and its development model for funding, and for our own public identity and authority.

We are challenged from many directions. As we seek continued inclusion in the official development project through our funding relationships with official donors, we too are asked to harmonize and align our efforts for what the OECD calls greater “aid effectiveness”. And we are confronted with the ways in which, even in the name of strengthening African civil society, Northern NGOs are often the agents of legitimization and reproduction of the very relations of power that we seek to transform. We run the risk of being quite effective in roles that are neither helpful nor desirable: as legitimizers (in the North as well as the South) of flawed and ultimately destructive models of development; as facilitators of consent with structures of global governance that are undemocratic; as agents of discipline and conditionality toward our civil society ‘partners’ on the continent, and as usurpers of the voice and authority of indigenous African associations and social movements.

So we have some dilemmas: How do we support civil society actors in Africa to build cultures of citizenship and democratic participation when the policies and relationships of the aid regime reproduce and reinforce African governments’ primary accountabilities to debt creditors and aid donors? And when the global institutions that control so much of the policy agenda and space within which African citizens are asserting their aspirations are themselves anti-democratic?

How do we support democratic development within an aid framework of “good governance” that to date has had a restrictive focus on strengthening institutions without adequate consideration of the effects of poverty, inequality, and discrimination on political participation and representation?

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