In a student-moderated discussion, faculty examined the political and social ramifications of aid and development in Africa Wednesday.
Snacking on plantains and samosas, the students asked the faculty panel about whether the aid foreign countries provide to Africa is useful. The roundtable discussion was hosted by DukeAFRICA and the African Conversations Club.
“Aid is more than just a technical issue. It is a subject with an entire political context,” said Bruce Hall, assistant professor of history in the African and African American studies department. “We think about frustration on both ends of the spectrum—both in the West and in Africa.”
Other faculty participants included Fred Boadu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering who attended university and taught in Ghana, and David Toole, senior director of research and new initiatives in the Divinity School.
“We reached out to faculty with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives,” said sophomore Lily Zerihun, an organizer of the event. “We wanted to attract an interdisciplinary group where people from different backgrounds could come together to discuss the same issue.”
The panelists noted that aid generally comes in the form of either loans or grants, but is linked to business instead of altruism, as seen in the competition between the United States and China in African countries.
“There is no reason that African countries have to choose between American aid and Chinese aid,” Hall said. “This isn’t the Cold War, and the African countries should not to negotiate any divide. In fact, I think that Chinese interest in Africa is a positive thing, more or less.”
Toole said it is important to engage local populations in foreign aid, where local leaders must decide what type of aid is best for their countries. Corruption and nationalism can, however, negatively impact the success of aid.
“Africa is not short of talented people, but what Africa is short on are strong institutions. Building these institutions will help drive Africa’s future,” Toole said. “You have to engage Africans in their own futures, and I think that the West has gotten better at that over the years.”
The emigration of educated Africans to highly developed countries—known as the “brain drain”—continues to hinder the continent’s development. Toole observed that the 1,500 doctors working in the Duke hospital are more than the entire country of Uganda employs.
“I’m from Nigeria, and I understand that there are a lot of smart people in Africa,” said sophomore Okechi Boms, who also helped organize the event. “There just are not a lot of resources available. We need to talk to African leaders and citizens and see what they want, rather than just giving them what we think is best.”
Although students seek to address issues of poverty through programs like DukeEngage, a simple answer may not be readily available, said senior Nkeiruka Umeh, chief of staff of DukeAFRICA.
“I think that there is no solution to poverty,” Umeh said. “Discussions like these are important in that they remind us that aid is more complicated than we think it is.”