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a new song: Stories of empowerment from Africa
by: Hope Chigudu
Published by Weaver Press Ltd, 2002 Distributed by African Books Collective
‘Composing a New Song:
Stories of Empowerment from Africa’ sets out to tell the stories of five
African non-governmental organizations (NGO) and the processes by which
they have been able to successfully empower those communities which they
serve. The focus of each organization differs, but all have in common
the fact that they work within communities often neglected by mainstream
development. These five organizations are using tactics or methods which
differ from the conventional – they are taking African principles and
values and making them work for those people who need help. They are also
very self-aware organizations – each taking into account not only the
issues around which their work surrounds, but also the processes by which
they endeavour to meet their goals. These organizations have been incredibly
reflective, and offer here a view into the realm of NGOs and their management
which one does not often get.
The word ‘empowerment’
represents an excellent idea and goal for development - to give power
back to the people so that they may control their own development and
gain access to their rights. But in many ways it is a term that has been
co-opted by large donor agencies and has been tossed around as a guarantee
of funding and method of right practice. Taken back into the hands of
small, local organizations, some that even shun funding for fear that
it may corrupt their work, empowerment can succeed, and as ‘Composing
a New Song: Stories of Empowerment from Africa’ demonstrates, the principle
does indeed exist in Africa.
Dr Olaseinde Arigbede
of Nigeria, founder of the Coalition for Popular Development Initiatives
in Nigeria (CODOPIN), writes eloquently of his personal and professional
search for an organization unrestrained by the limitations imposed by
donors. He also provides an interesting insight into how empowerment can
really work with the methodology employed by CODOPIN, premised around
the idea that people working for development must not simply be `infallible
bringers of uncommon wisdom,’ but both teachers and learners.
Tomson Dube works
for Zimbabwe’s Organization of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP),
and is Academic Director of Zenzele College (an institution within ORAP).
His essay is an in-depth examination of the processes by which ORAP works.
The organization is different from others in that it takes the concept
of empowerment extremely seriously, placing in the hands of all members
the responsibility to analyse their own particular situations and challenges
in order to jointly make plans to meet their needs. This is then undertaken
via the philosophy of ORAP, which relies on African principles found in
the Ndebele language. Primarily, this is the idea of ‘zenzele,’ which
means "do it yourself," and translates into people standing
on their own.
Patrick Kiirya, Director
of Uganda’s Literacy and Adult Basic Education Organization (LABE), is
the only Ugandan NGO to work on issues surrounding literacy. As an organization
meant to support other NGOs and community based organizations (CBO), LABE
works within all of the realms necessary for them to further their goals
- they collaborate with government on issues surrounding policy, offer
consultancy and support services for smaller organizations in the same
field, and offer participatory courses to those who wish to learn how
to read. They take their objectives further in linking literacy to development.
They do this practically in the courses they offer, making sure that the
course material is not only relevant to the lives of those studying, but
also connects the process of teaching people to read to the very issues
surrounding development in their community.
Emily Sikazwe is Executive
Director of Zambia’s Women for Change (WFC), an organization dedicated
to meeting the needs of rural women. Through their belief that one cannot
know the needs of a community without living in it, WFC has animators
living in the communities in which they work for 2-3 weeks out of every
month. The organization has provided a number of income generating opportunities
for their communities, and in addition, utilizes the knowledge of those
women whom it has trained to subsequently teach other community members.
Putting this power back into the hands of the women has instigated them
to make further demands, not only on WFC, but on local and national government,
demonstrating that with a little assistance, empowering a community to
gain the skills and confidence necessary to make positive changes is indeed
Leila Sheikh, Executive
Director of the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), represents
an organization that has seen incredible shifts in its concentration.
Beginning as an organization meant to use the media to sensitize communities
on gender issues, and also lobby government for women’s rights, TAMWA,
without losing their focus on awareness raising, has also created a Crisis
Centre, in order to provide legal aid and counseling services to women
and children who have survived violence. Evolving from a small collective
that focused on media, the organization transformed into a larger association
that works for women’s rights on all levels.
New Song: Stories of Empowerment from Africa" is an important book
for several reasons. Not only does it document the evolution of these
five successful African organizations, it provides potential frameworks
for other organizations looking to solidify their roles as organizations
that truly wish to empower the communities in which they work. This collection
of essays can thus be regarded as a tool for others in the field of African
development, sharing many first hand experiences and lessons.
* Reviewed by:
Karoline Kemp, Commonwealth of Learning Young Professionals Intern, Fahamu
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