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The missionary position: NGOs and development in Africa

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This article traces the evolution of development non–governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa, and suggests that their role represents a continuation of the work of their precursors, the missionaries and voluntary organizations that cooperated in Europe’s colonization and control of Africa. The authors maintain that the work of the NGOs today contributes marginally to the relief of poverty in Africa, and significantly undermines the struggle of the African people to emancipate themselves from economic, social and political oppression. Development NGOs have, unwittingly or otherwise, become a part of the neo–liberal system that has resulted in widespread impoverishment and the loss of the authority of African states to determine their own agenda. NGOs could, and some do, play a role in supporting an emancipatory agenda in Africa, but it involves breaking with the ‘missionary position’ by disengaging from their paternalistic role in development.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Director of Fahamu, in Africa. 2: University of Lincoln

Publication date: July 1, 2002


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