New York – On Saturday March 23, 2019, the sound of water flooded the streets of the upper east side, New York City, as Face Africa hosted its 10th annual WASH gala. The gala, held at Guastavino’s NYC, brought together key change-makers in the African diaspora to raise funds and awareness for an alarming human rights crisis facing the African continent – challenges with access to clean and safe drinking water.
As the pristine halls of Guastavino’s filled up with hundreds of guests, one thing that remained as clear as potable water was the power of a united African diaspora working toward the development of the continent. Under the theme “The Sound of Water”, the WASH gala reinforced that power with focus on using the collective voice of the African diaspora to drive government and individual action in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water for All.
The UN named the theme of World Water Day 2019, commemorated on March 22 as; “Leaving no one behind”. This theme is a monumental step in acknowledging that access to clean and safe drinking water is often skewed by race, sex, gender, age, disability, socio-economic status, etc. A significant number of those without access to potable water and WASH services – 350 million to be precise – are people in sub-Saharan Africa, where Face Africa currently focuses its efforts.
Founded 10 years ago by Liberia native, Saran Kaba-Jones, Face Africa has since served and impacted an estimated 150,000 people in Liberia and Nigeria, with over 100 community water projects implemented. Although, there is still much work to be done.
As the gala, hosted by Zimbabwe native and TV Host, Makho Ndlovu commenced, African excellence could be seen and felt all around the room. Not only from the event’s honorees like the Bada** Boz herself, Ghana native, Bozoma Saint John, legendary Ivoirian football player and philanthropist, Didier Drogba, Nigerian singer, Mr. Eazi, South Africa’s Nomzamo Mbatha, or even Keynote Speaker, Kenya’s own Caroline Wanga – excellence was felt from the ambitious volunteers working the event, to the wealth of attendees hailing from all around Africa. Though inspired to be in the presence of such talented and inspiring people, a recurring thought this author had was what could be achieved on the African continent if the same passion and force felt in that room could be transferred there.
It seems this author was not the only one thinking on those lines, as speeches from the night’s honorees seemed to mirror those thoughts. In her Keynote address, Caroline Wanga said to the audience; “I know there are a bunch of people out there that aren’t doing what they need to do to help with what’s happening in our continent as regards to water, but what I also know in my heart is, we’re not doing everything we can do in the world either”.
Cryptic, her words, but they carried truth. In that beautifully decorated hall situated in a wealthy part of New York City, African natives arrived on the red carpet hosted by Liberia native, Shoana Cachelle, adorned in their best formal fashions, brightest red-carpet smiles, and most perfected rattan chair poses; all in the name raising awareness for a cause most of them are, or should be no strangers to. Does a Liberian, Nigerian, Ghanaian, or any African for that matter, need to be reminded that access to potable water in their respective nations is limited? Probably not. So, when Wanga stated that ‘a bunch’ of Africans in the diaspora are not doing what needs to be done on the continent in regard to water, or other infrastructural development, it should have struck a nerve.
Africans Developing Africa
In truth, as magnificent as those halls of Guastavino’s were, and as well organized as the event was, African natives should not need to spend thousands of dollars to enter a space, only to be told things we should already have in the back of our minds. Getting dressed up for a fancy ball only to be reminded that as a little girl, I had to walk a mile to the river to fetch water feels like a betrayal to that little girl.
With many talented Africans exposed to the comforts and opportunities of the diaspora, some often yield to the western culture of aid-based support to the African continent, rather than corporate investment. On another hand, some succumb to Western ideologies about the continent and proceed as such with their investments, or lack thereof. Although, as Wanga stated throughout her keynote address, who we are as Africans is non-negotiable. We are bold, fierce, relentless, and we are resilient.
She went on to say; “We know who we are, and people believe in who we are… I don’t want us to operate from a place of victimhood.”
Operating from a place of victimhood tells the story of Africa as a place in need of help, or aid, rather than investment in the people and their ideas. Likewise, victimhood tells a single African story that Africans need to be saved from themselves, or by Western influence and education. Additionally, it gives the illusion that there are no influential Africans on the continent investing their money, minds, hands, and feet every day toward the growth of the continent. People like Nigeria’s Tony Elemelu, Liberia’s Mahmud Johnson, or Ghana’s Grace Amey-Obeng. As Africans in the diaspora, operating from a place of victimhood reinforces the notion that African excellence cannot exist without Western impact/influence. We are not victims. We are survivors.
Regulations in the Aid Sector
As the way forward for diaspora influence on the African continent seems to shift toward the path of NGOs/NPOs, accountability then becomes crucial, so as to not perpetuate the economic violence that currently plagues the continent. While Face Africa’s efforts in the WASH sector are truly commendable, again, there is much more to be done.
In an editorial by the Koloqua Dialogues on the parallels of White-owned NGOs operating on the continent as compared to African-owned NGOs, it was revealed that when left unregulated, the aid sector can propagate the same ills they are established to protect. In wake of the article, Face Africa’s CEO Saran Kaba-Jones acknowledged the need for a regulated aid sector in Liberia, saying;
“Something like this is needed… Not sure enough resources are being devoted to the oversight and monitoring of NGOs. I see it in the WASH sector with over 100 organizations working in WASH, yet, access to water is still a huge challenge.”
The truth is, this grim reality of the African aid sector is not limited to WASH alone. In Liberia, millions of donations are received by various organizations annually in health, education, etc. However, each of those sectors remain disproportionally devastated and still in need of investment and/or aid.
With events like the Face Africa WASH Gala, which brought together a great wealth of Africans in the diaspora for an irrefutably important cause; it is important that Africans in the diaspora look beyond the fancy dresses and suits, and bring from the backs of our minds any repressed realities of being an African. Who we are is non-negotiable.
Africans in the diaspora have been blessed with opportunities to learn from more infrastructurally sound countries, so that those key learnings can be applied to the continent from an African perspective, not the West’s. Who we are is non-negotiable.
Operating in agency, and not victimhood as Africans shifts the focus from aid, to investment. Give a man/woman a fish, or teach a man/woman to fish – same principle. Who we are is non-negotiable.
As Face Africa now enters its 11th year of operations, their task in Liberia and Nigeria is not any simpler. They need immense financial support from the diaspora, granted they work collaboratively to strengthen the WASH sector in those countries.
As Africans in the diaspora, it is imperative to look past the fancy dresses/suits at the galas we attend, and truly do what needs to be done for the continent. Only Africans can provide the continent with the intricate development it requires. As the sound of water flooded the streets of New York City, so must its waves flow us back to the continent to dance in the rhythm of the ancestors.