It’s fair to say that I came to Uganda understanding very little, or rather knowing very little, about Africa at all. I applied and took this internship based on the revival of an old dream of working in development (rooted in the immigration process and a need to understand my own heritage), the opportunity to learn from a comparative experience, and wanderlust. What little I knew drew from my own experience in India, stories from the East African-South Asian diaspora community, and voracious reading.
It’s also fair to say I’ve learned a lot in the last 2.5 months. And have a lot left to learn in the next 3 weeks.
In a recent article from Guernica Magazine, Laura Seay, in evaluating Obama’s Africa policy, describes today’s Africa: “Africa today–especially urban Africa–is an incredibly vibrant place in which life is rapidly changing across socioeconomic strata….Africans are escaping poverty by the millions by starting businesses, hiring competent workers, and innovating at every level.”
That is the Kampala I see. I’m not saying that poverty, HIV/AIDS, food security, etc. are not relevant issues anymore. They are. And we are still working on them. But maybe it’s time the Western World accepts the African continent as an opportunity rather than a charity case. After all, others are: “”The specter of China looms large in the discussion of foreign powers’ policies toward Africa; with a focus on infrastructure development, business investment, and cooperation rather than coercion, the Chinese alternative to the old Western aid model has thus far proved far more attractive to many African governments.” The whole article is worth reading.
One of the reasons why working at ILI-ACLE has been an inspiring experience is its emphasis on capacity-building, not aid. Strengthen your institutions, empower your talent, and take advantage of the opportunities that are there to spur development. Through this experience, I have met some incredible individuals, from the private sector, government, and civil society. I learned from their wealth of experience and knowledge, challenged my former beliefs and misconceptions, and have been able to engage in exchanging ideas — a pretty scary but awesome experience for a recent university graduate, still navigating law school!
And finally, on the topic of capacity-building, it looks like what ILI-ACLE is trying to do with regards to law, an institution in West Africa is doing in economics and management. The African School of Economics (more info here: http://www.africanschoolofeconomics.com/) is set to open its doors in 2014. Pretty cool! I’m looking forward see how this institution will develop. (via Marginal Revolution.)