Card Stories: Educated Angry African

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IMG_4848Here’s the truth. I am not by nature an angry person. But I am educated. And I am African Yes, from the whooole continent! I am at once from Alexandria. And from Nairobi. And Kinsasa. And Durban. Most of the time, I am level-headed and informed by years of Western-style education. I may be a member of the continent’s far-flung, highly-educated Diaspora. But to the subject of this post, the Educated Angry African (EAA) card applies to the collective of African intellectuals passionate about contributing to the development of the continent.

When we talk about the Development Industrial Complex (DIC), we seldom think about the complexion of the professionals that graduate into this field and carry out various developmental directives in countries far from their origin (read brown people countries). For a continent with over 1 billion people, it is alarming how few brown people I come across that actually occupy positions of true professional influence in the DIC. Brown people are often relegated to low-level support roles – drivers, translators, facilitators, errand boys, and the rare, tokenized Program Director or Country Director. There are few significant roles at the World Bank occupied by Africans in the World Bank. Most of the high-level positions in the Africa Division surprisingly aren’t held by Africans.

So it comes as no surprise that the calm, civilized, and educated African gets angry every once in a while when the DIC decides to act like, well, a dick. The inclusion of the EAA card wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek nod to brown people, it was a nod at recognizing the frustration of many of us who don’t feel included in the decision-making process at major DIC organizations. Most often our educated views, inputs, and contributions are ignored, sidelined, or not even sought out by the very organizations that pride themselves on “local capacity building” as a central pillar in their mission statements.

We are often left with no recourse but to write angry op-eds in Guardian’s DevPro’s Network blog or go on Twitter rants to voice our displeasure about the state of the DIC.

If “local capacity building” isn’t about clearing a way for us to parlay our education and experience into leadership roles solving the very problems international DICs purport to exist to solve, then what is development? It certainly isn’t hiring highly paid expat consultants to write program proposals. Nor is it about importing cheap labor dressed as gap year volunteers. It is one thing having your educated opinion overlooked by the DIC, it’s a whole other level of insult watching your own community ululating at the arrival of the latest summer intern/volunteer, who’ll command more respect and reverence than you, just because of their complexion.

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