To celebrate the first day of Africa Week at Yale, the Yale African Student Association brought Ugandan retired farmer, marathon runner and prominent journalist Andrew Mwenda to share with Yale students his critical views on the state of Western aid in Africa.
Ugandan journalist Mwenda spoke to approximately 30 students on Monday about Western aid and involvement in Africa, and offered heavy criticism of the role America and other Western nations have played in the continent. The event was organized by YASA president Brian Mwiti as part of a series of events celebrating Africa Week, an event organized by YASA and UNICEF that began on campus last Friday and will conclude this Friday.
To begin his talk, Mwenda discussed the state of affairs in Libya following the murder of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on Oct. 21. Mwenda spoke critically about Western involvement in the crisis, asserting that Gaddafi alone could not have inflicted the level of damage on Libya that Western media have portrayed. Instead, Mwenda accused the United States and its allies of causing the destruction.
“[The United States] does this because then they can come in with reconstruction and then [their] entrepreneurial interests are served,” Mwenda said.
After implicating the U.S. in the destruction in Libya, Mwenda critiqued the ways in which Western nations have provided aid to Africa. He criticized the West, and particularly America, for trying to force their systems of government on African nations in exchange for aid — without thinking through the regional consequences of these actions.
“When push comes to shove, the West has interests,” Mwenda said in an interview with the News before his talk. “I don’t buy into the idea of Western ‘altruism,’ especially when it comes to its geostrategic and economic interests.”
Western aid and influence in Africa began with its early colonization in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mwenda said. The three “C’s” of Christianity, commerce and civilization have historically justified Western influence in the area, he said, but have typically brought “brutality, exploitation and dictatorship.”
In more recent years, Mwenda said that many of Africa’s changes in political structure during the early 1990s occurred because both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to withdraw aid from African nations as the Cold War drew to an end. This aid had provided citizens with basic needs such as food and education, Mwenda said, and people across Africa revolted when it was pulled away.
A controversial figure in his native country, Mwenda was charged with sedition by the Ugandan government for publicly criticizing the country’s president on a radio program and was arrested for four days. He won a International Press Freedom Award from New York-based nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists in 2008. While Mwenda took a largely antagonistic view of American and the West, he insisted that he identifies as an “honorary American” critiquing the nation’s policies.
“I am Anglo-Saxon in every way except my skin,” Mwenda said in the interview with the News. “I am a product of the Western world. I listened to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan speak when I was 6, 7 years old. When I was 10, I was reading Socrates and Aristotle. My entire training as a human being is Western.”
Most of the audience agreed with Mwenda’s controversial points about the detrimental role of Western aid in Africa, though at least one student expressed skepticism about the practical application of Mwenda’s ideas.
“I agreed with most of what he had to say, but it’s worrisome to think about how his ideas would be implemented,” Seyi Adeyinka ’15 said. “Does it really make sense to remove aid immediately?”
Julia Buzan ’11 said that most of what Mwenda said about aid made sense, but added that he discussed aid in a simplistic sense — grouping many types into one.
Africa Week at Yale will continue with events including an open rehearsal by African dance group Konjo Tuesday, and a multicultural fashion show Friday.