BY B. CAROLINE KOUASSIAMAN
You know how when you sleep under a mosquito net there are still some mosquitos that will find their way inside - persistent, despite your best attempts at protection? Then there are the other mosquitos still swarming around, waiting for you when you come out. Despite the current beautiful discourse around shifting power and decolonization in the philanthropic and international development sector, issues like colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia have incredible staying power - just like those mosquitoes.
They are hanging around in the area, perhaps not close enough for their warning hum to be heard, but they are there. Most of the time, it’s not the overt expressions or actions, but rather the “did that just happen?!” microaggressions in meetings, the subtle silencing of voices, the shifting of contributions that challenge the status quo to “offline” or “bilateral” discussions, the ignoring of certain people’s comments in the shared document, the assumptions of who is an expert in a given subject.
In 2020, I was the relatively new Executive Director of Initiative Sankofa d’Afrique de l’Ouest (ISDAO), a West African activist-led fund, based and operating in West Africa. And I was faced with a situation that I was absolutely not ready for: I found myself forced to risk my career, and my organization, to speak truth to power.
The year before, in 2019, we had embarked upon a series of engagements to establish a partnership with a powerful Global North organisation for a future project. We were excited to be a part of the development process and to extensively contribute our ideas and knowledge, especially as future partners in the implementation of the vision.
Along the way, there were some issues around the coordination and leadership of this process, particularly connected to the individual holding this role. In hindsight, the mosquitoes were there - there were plenty of red flags.
In 2020, shortly after one particularly tense and prolonged consortium call, a few of us began exchanging WhatsApp messages, which quickly led to organizing. We had reached our breaking point – as we say in Côte D’Ivoire, “aujourd’hui c’est aujourd’hui”.
This is an excerpt from “Aujourd’hui, c’est aujourd’hui: Navigating power and speaking up as a West African activist-led fund, a contribution to Speaking Back, Speaking Black.
This magazine, AiD’s final project and parting gift, tells the story of modern philanthropy, and its potential, through an exclusively African, Afrodescendent and Black lens.
Download the magazine below to read Caroline's full article.
Cover image rights: AiD & Amir Khadar