Whenever I work in aid and development and particularly in Africa I am always conscious and cautious of my role in the development of another country where I wasn’t born, don’t speak the language and most likely won’t be living there for the rest of my life.
I am always a guest outside my own country and often the best role I have found as an ‘expert’ in other countries is to listen, learn and find the best ways to empower others and the system so they can empower themselves.
Early in my assignment in South Sudan I was struggling with this a lot. Why am I here? What is my role? What benefit can I bring to the local people that couldn’t come from their own people (and should)? The aid effort in South Sudan is huge – bigger than I have seen anywhere in the world and I am not about to label all of it good or bad aid because with the aid here I don’t know what would happen but could only guess and expect a significant increase in armed conflict, child mortality, etc…
In most of my recent roles in development I have thoroughly enjoyed the role of supporting the local government and connecting them with civil service organisations (CSOs). This is where a clear pathway can be made between people who are on the ground in the communities (CSOs) and those who make the big decisions for them at the highest level (government).
In South Sudan I seem to be not so much supporting the government but being the government. I’ve been asked to make decisions that affect the people on the ground in the communities – hopefully for better but I should not be the influencer on government decisions the government should be listening to the people, not me and then from there maybe I can help out a bit.
There are no easy solutions and I don’t want people to make easy assumptions to blame anyone in this picture – aid agencies, the local government, the people as they are usually the easy targets and stereotypes that are slammed. What I do like is the challenge. My usual role is to look at how do I support the creation and recognition of local CSOs? How does do I clear a pathway for CSOs, local governments, community leaders to access and influence their own government (especially when it is a brittle as this one).
As much as I might complain about the situation here of lack of governance and infrastructure I must overcome it with energy, strategy, thinking and most of learning to face those complaints and turn them into solutions. I love the challenge, the people, the country, the work and if it was all easy (as it feels like sometimes it is on other projects in other countries) then the short-term small gains here will feel like some of the biggest past victories.
As I now only have 6 weeks left in South Sudan it really is a matter of trying to put anything and everything I have been involved with onto a sustainable pathway so any of my efforts don’t die with my departure but are a platform or opportunity for others to gain benefits from. I don’t pretend that my contributions are going to be significant but any efforts need to be translated into attainable ideas and prolonged action.