Africa’s time to shine: from understudy to lead actor
Ercília Mata Ubisse (Mozambique, South Africa) is an International Development Practitioner. She is Executive Director at ELIM Serviços Lda, one of the only wholly Mozambican and woman-owned development research firms in the country.
I am a Development Practitioner, seeking to flip the script. Mozambique, like many African countries, has been donor-dependent for most of its post-colonial existence. But as the Portuguese exited stage left, we welcomed in a new brand of colonialism dressed up as humanitarian aid. Being named ‘beneficiaries’ meant our perspectives were collected but never acknowledged as programmes were unilaterally designed, managed and measured in our name to meet the primary objectives of those who fund them. As one of the country's only Mozambican woman-owned development research outfits, we have watched with frustration the ring-fencing of senior development jobs reserved for (mostly male) “international experts” whose competitive advantage was a Western education and sometimes semi-fluency in Portuguese. This is common across the board: whether hiring for a project position or contracting a partner, local candidates are considered assistants to the action; preferably with no speaking parts. And just as our voices are muted at project design, our names rarely appear in the credits and we seldom share in the accolades from our work. Enter COVID-19: taking centre stage, it is becoming the unlikely hero of Global South economies as previously muted local actors are finally given the space to shine. Travel restrictions have forced greater reliance on research development businesses like ours to deliver development interventions, making our contributions undeniable and granting us the independence to implement based on our local realities. The scene is set for Africa’s qualified and experienced experts to take centre-stage. We can and will craft development strategies that will deliver real impact to our communities, shaped by our social norms and definitions of quality. Africa, it’s time to step into the limelight.