Does the wealthy white world try to remake Africa in its own image? In the development community it has been fashionable to promote what’s known as good governance in the nations to whom we give aid money. That means requiring greater transparency and accountability in government departments, and it has not been a great success, despite decades of well-meaning projects.
The failure of good governance efforts does not surprise the development economist Tim Kelsall. He points out how hypocritical we are: when Europe and North America went through their years of industrialization there wasn’t much in the way of good governance around. Nor has a lack of transparency and accountability prevented the rapid development of China. The greatest leaps forward in reducing poverty in recent years have been made in China, where there is plenty of corruption, nepotism and state intervention.
Kelsall suggests a different approach, which he describes as “working with the grain”, in developing societies. He thinks donor countries might see greater success if they paid more attention to existing power structures, trying to work with them, rather than imposing the rules and systems we in the West evolved over hundreds of years.
With this sensible advice in mind, Network for Africa is training traditional clan leaders in Northern Uganda. We rely on the fact that they are the most influential and respected people in their community. Whatever we may feel about power inherited without merit is beside the point: we find we make progress in reaching people with information about health – especially on difficult subjects such as mental health – if they hear it from the individuals they already look up to.
For this reason, our team of volunteer psychotherapists, Barbara and Shelly, have just completed a refresher course with clan leaders in Patongo, where we have been working since 2008. The clan leaders have learned about basic trauma counselling skills, as well as identifying post-traumatic stress disorder. These skills are much needed in their society, which is tackling the legacy of twenty years of war, and life in internally displaced people’s camps. Depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, childhood trauma and sexual and gender-based violence are all enormous local problems.
The leaders themselves asked us for more training in conflict resolution to help them deal with the land disputes and domestic arguments they are regularly called on to resolve. They also wanted to add to their leadership skills.
While they were in Patongo, Barbara and Shelly brought in clan leaders from two nearby areas where Network for Africa hopes to replicate our successful model of peer counselling. The authority the clan leaders command will help us win local trust and credibility, and will reinforce the importance of our health messages. To help us continue this ground-breaking work, please click on the arrow to the right to donate.
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