Avoiding neocolonialism in public-private collaborations in private sector development

After completion of a 3-year program on private sector development and experience sharing with public and private sectors institutions in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the Netherlands-African Business Council (NABC) decided to organize a meeting asking for feedback on the collaboration. “As the local partner of NABC, we felt that our opinion mattered the most. You did not come down here to tell us what we needed to do. We appreciated the ownership role we had. This allows us to continue the work done with you. We appreciated the teamwork and effort”, these were the words of one our partner organizations in Mali.

This is the best compliment you can receive from a partner at the end of a project. As the matter of fact, the feeling was mutual. We were not only happy about the program results, but more importantly about the impact this collaboration had on the people who will have to continue the work on the ground. When we started this collaboration, NABC had a role to strengthen local institutions in 3 Sahel countries. When we kicked off the program, we jointly decided on the type of relationship to have. It was one of equal partners. I think that African organisations have just as much to teach western organisations, as vice versa. Therefore, we need to respect and recognize each other’s expertise and added value.

NABC tries to avoid a neocolonial approach in its collaboration with African partners. The mistakes made by most western organisations is to think for Africans and decide what is suitable for them. How you engage from the beginning is crucial for the partnership and the long-term impact of this joint collaboration. In most of our programs, we make sure to involve local experts and work as a team with them. Our local colleagues/partners play an important on the content production. They are recognized local actors who are likely to easily engage or plan meetings with the targeted local stakeholders.

Africa has more and more a well-educated population on various fields. EU-African knowledge sharing initiatives should be seen as a mutual benefit. However, most African countries do not really invest in knowledge production. Most studies or programs are being funded by western countries. One can argue that the partner that pays decides on the terms of collaboration, and what is expected to be done. This is where a tension can be experienced. I am not sure how this will change as long as African knowledge will not be funded by Africans. Unless western partners aiming to contribute to a sustainable knowledge development in Africa move away from the donor role to become more a partner while letting African partners be the drivers of these collaborations. The western partners have a lot to offer to empower their African partners. This is of a great added value for the expected results of these partnerships, but more important for the continuity of the work at the end of the partnerships.

To conclude, collaboration on EU-African knowledge production will be decolonized when partnerships are engaged from an equal level. Knowledge sharing should be central in the collaboration and ownership of the knowledge should be stronger at the local level.