From the Salzburg Global Seminar: TrustAfrica officer takes part in Q&A about the MENA session and her work

January 24th, 2023

 By: Oscar Tollast

The international criminal justice program officer at TrustAfrica hopes to start including more programs in North African countries after attending a session at Salzburg Global.

Jeanne Elone attended the session, ‘Getting Transition Right: A Rights-based Approach towards Diversity & Inclusivity’ to focus on four key countries in the midst of transition in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Ms Elone, who has coordinated research on North Africa, examining the role of civil society in the political transformations that shook the region in 2011, attended and participated at the session held in co-operation with the  Arab Human Rights Fund.

Discussions centered on Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, as participants looked at ways to improve diversity and inclusion in the region.

Ms Elone has lived in Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, France, and the United States, working on a range of issues from political parties and democratization to human rights and development finance.

In an extended Q&A with Salzburg Global, she reviews what she’s been able to take away from the session, the parallels she’s been able to draw with events in sub-Saharan Africa, and the extent of TrustAfrica’s work in the continent.

What interested you about the topic of diversity and inclusivity in the MENA region?

I think that diversity and inclusion are also a big issue in our societies, not only in Africa though, but across the world. I think when you have societies where political institutions may not be very stable, diversity and inclusion issues can threaten to topple governments and then people suffer even more.

So I think that although diversity and inclusivity are issues across the board, they are particularly an issue in the MENA region, but also in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in post-conflict countries which is where I work now. I came to the conference because the topic interested me and also because TrustAfrica wants to work more with the North African region, but a lot of the cultural and historical differences make it hard to bridge those divides between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa.

I wanted to learn more about what’s going on there, try to find parallels, which I tried to do in my presentation and I hope that continuing the work that I do I can start to include programs in those North African countries.

What have you made of the discussions that have taken place?

I think the discussions have been very helpful. I think it also shows that in many ways, post-conflict settings are universal. Everyone’s dealing with the same issues.

How do you reconcile groups that have committed crimes against one another? How do you bring people to the table when the wounds are still fresh? How do you deal with a government that is guilty but it’s the only government that has the experience of governing in this country, so you can’t really get rid of them all at once, so you have to work with them, and how do you negotiate that compromise, especially when you’re talking about human rights principles.

I think that the North African and Middle East region has that in a particular sense, but so does sub-Saharan countries. I think that we can learn a lot from one another.

What do you feel you can take away from this session and will it be able to influence your work at all?

I think that listening to people talk about the issues in their countries makes me feel in one way that I know so little about the region, but makes me feel, ‘Oh, that sounds familiar’.

It makes me feel like it won’t be so hard to create those linkages and I think that listening to civil society groups at different levels of engagement, different levels of capacity, is also really interesting because it shows me that sub-Saharan Africa is not the only place you have civil society groups that are super fragmented versus super together and they know what they want.

I see the same thing in the MENA region and they have this Arab identity that is supposed to unify them but the diversity among them is something to recognize and it makes me think that these divisions within regions, although they reflect some type of history, they may not be absolute.

For those uninitiated with TrustAfrica, could you explain what it is?

TrustAfrica is an African foundation in Dakar, Senegal. It started in 2006. Originally we were the Special Initiative for Africa. We became independent in 2006 and headquartered in Dakar. We work on three main issues: governance, equitable development and African philanthropy.

The governance work has country programmes in Zimbabwe and Liberia. It also works on elicit financial flows and my own programme, which is on International Criminal Justice.

Our equitable development arm works on research into the investment climate in Africa. We also do research and advocacy work around higher education, trying to make higher education institutions respond better to the market, and train people better for employment, and we work on early education. In the African philanthropy sector, I think you’re going to ask me questions later!

Could you further elaborate on your roles and responsibilities within the foundation?

Our programme on International Criminal Justice was born from a meeting of several foundations already funding around international criminal justice in Africa who faced challenges related to the politicised discourse around Africa and the International Criminal Court.This seems amazing since the discourse has only gotten worse since 2011.

But in 2011 they held this conference because everybody was concerned that African countries were threatening to withdraw from the Rome Statute, and at this conference, the MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the Oak Foundation, Trust Africa and a few other groups got together and decided that they needed to create a program that would be aimed at improving the discourse around international criminal justice, which I will shorten to ICJ in the future, in Africa.

So, that’s where my project came in. Our goal is to advance accountability and justice in Africa by trying to identify groups that may not be on the radar yet by bigger funders and also to bring groups that may have dissenting opinions so – tabled together – try and forge a common strategy on how to advance ICJ that’s less adversarial and more cooperative.

What are some of the challenges in bringing greater accountability in Africa?

[There are] several challenges. Accountability and justice is contingent on the idea that your government is responsive and as we know a lot of African governments are not responsive, and their legitimacy is also questionable.

This is why the International Criminal Court has come to play such a big role in Africa because in many post-conflict settings, either governments are too weak or unwilling to respond to the justice needs of their populations. That’s how African cases have ended up in the International Criminal Court.

There are three ways to go before the ICC: self-referrals, UN Security Council referrals, or the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC refers the country. Most of the African cases before the ICC are all self-referrals and the really controversial ones are the cases where the UN Security Council has come in, like in Libya, or where the Office of the Prosecutor has taken it upon themselves to initiate prosecutions, as in the Kenyan case.

Although, the Kenyan case is also the result of failure over 12 months for the Kenyan government to address the impunity issues themselves. With Kofi Annan as head of the negotiation process [and] after the power-sharing deal, they agreed to a 12-month timeframe to establish national prosecutions, and after three failed attempts to establish a special tribunal, they agreed to have their case go before the ICC.

Now, the fact that we have the president and vice-president saying that the ICC is illegitimate, it’s very ironic because four years ago the vice president was saying, ‘Don’t be vague, go to the Hague.’

Moving on to the programme of African Philanthropy, how would you say that program operates?

TrustAfrica has been a bit of a pioneer in the field of African philanthropy for several reasons. As early as the early 2000, some of the thinkers and creative minds behind the founding of TrustAfrica had a meeting around African philanthropy because – to give you a bit of history – TrustAfrica was founded by African intellectuals and programme officers who had served in major foundations working in Africa over the past 25 years.

Working as foundation programme officers they realised that there was a gap in the funding landscape in Africa that most of the funding was being decided outside and that it would be good to have an African-led funding organisation, and that’s how TrustAfrica came about. So our engagement with philanthropy is really longstanding.

Since TrustAfrica was established in 2006, we’ve made it a priority to kind of commission research and to lead thinking around African philanthropy.* We established the African grant makers’ network which is about active grant making organisations in Africa coming together and talking about their work, how to improve their work, talking about sustainability so that they have resources for the future.

In general, the goal of African philanthropy is to be less dependent on foreign funding and to fund our own development, with all of the challenges that entails.

Is grant-making an example of a new form of African giving in contrast with a dependency on foreign funding?

Giving and philanthropy and charitable acts are fundamental to African society. From the moment you’re born to when you die, everything is about bringing the community together to share resources and to help people when they’re in need.

When a child is born, the community can come together to name them, to pay for their baptism, to pay for the hospital fees. When you die there’s a burial society that can come together to fund that, so the idea of giving is not alien to Africa. On the contrary, it’s very innate to the African experience. Those are traditional forms of giving.

New forms of giving, there’s a huge range. We’ve had really rich Africans. In the last 10 years, Africans have risen into the ranks of the top 50 wealthiest people on the planet, which was unheard of, and they’re giving. We have the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, we have a lot of mobile tech foundations, we have Tony Elumelu – these are really wealthy people setting up their own foundations, and this is all in the last 10 years.

Additionally, you have crowdsourcing which is being used by Africans to fund their own disaster relief in a way that’s unheard of. I think what TrustAfrica is trying to do is bring together all of that knowledge and all of that experience and say, how are we doing it? How can we do it better? How can these rich Africans who have made money, how can we help them invest their money in ways that will be different? How can we avoid some of the mistakes that philanthropists in the West have made and how can we make African philanthropy more effective?

Is this influx of wealthy Africans and greater use of crowdsourcing reasons why a philanthropic sector is beginning to emerge in the continent?

I think the philanthropic sector is emerging because of the rapid economic growth in Africa over the last 10-15 years, which has created these millionaires, and because of technology, that makes crowdsourcing possible.

I also think that Africans’ opinions of themselves have changed a lot, and I’m talking about sub-Saharan Africa. TrustAfrica itself was founded in 2006 and I remember when it was first founded, people were talking about the title of an Economist magazine that was ‘Africa: the hopeless continent’.

In the last two years, we’ve seen Africa rising. The gambit between saying it’s hopeless and its rising within seven years shows that something has changed, and maybe TrustAfrica was a bit of a pioneer and we were on the cutting edge in 2006, but we’re now part of a wave of Africans who are coming back wanting to invest in Africa, not only for the profit, but also for social change and they can see that they can do it maybe better than people are already doing it.

What effect do these TrustAfrica-backed philanthropic measures have?

The research on philanthropy in Africa can help in many ways. It can make grant-makers that are already operating in Africa be more effective. It can also help influence the agendas of foreign funders, because if they see African foundations being creative and having impact, then they can be inspired to kind of let their programming be more based on African knowledge and African context, more than an imported narrative like the Washington consensus.

Clearly not all funders are imposing their agenda that strictly, but there’s still an idea that the technical experts may be outside this continent and that’s why we need them to tell us how to do our development. I think that African funders based here will increasingly set the tone and set the agenda.

Haiti’s not in Africa, but the whole campaign around cell phones when the earthquakes happened in Haiti, I think there was a lot of solidarity that people could tap into in the developing world. So far we’ve been relegated to the people who receive. We get the aid money, we beg, but actually there’s a lot of altruism and people with resources ready to give. They just don’t know how.

TrustAfrica says it is committed to generating and testing new ideas. Could you provide us with an example?

Well, philanthropy, I think, is one of those new ideas that we tested and I think now is growing a lot. I think that in my own work in International Criminal Justice, a lot of media attention to issues that become contentious – puts people in two camps – and I think that TrustAfrica’s strength is kind of bringing opposing sides together and that’s how you come up with a new idea.

For a very precise example, I can talk about our work in Uganda where most of the people funding in Uganda fund pro-ICC mechanisms or they like to document the experiences of victims. This is a conflict that’s gone on for 30 years. Victims are tired of being documented. Some victims can even tell you that this is the sixth round of PhD students they’ve met who want to know when the atrocities took place, how it happened, and how they’re suffering.

Our project is trying to bring the victims and the different communities together to have a concerted action with their government to be in solidarity and to kind of engage the government on more than just what happened in the past, but also what it means to be a government in a post-conflict setting, that you’re responsible for ensuring the safety of your citizens, no matter if they’re from the side that might have been responsible for the atrocities or the side that has been mostly victimized. I think that’s a new approach and I think that’s a result of the way we work.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing the continent and how is TrustAfrica working to confront these?

I think the politicisation of different debates is a big problem in Africa. I think African people have always been manipulated by their political and economic elites. I don’t think this has changed, but I think it remains a huge problem.

TrustAfrica tries to bridge those divides by bringing stakeholders from the level of policymakers all the way down to grassroots. In terms of development challenges, still infrastructure, education, access to clean water, health – but those are things that there are systematic funders that do that.

TrustAfrica is better positioned to kind of bring people to the table who might not meet otherwise to forge new partnerships, new collaborations. We work with international funders who want to have an impact in Africa, but don’t necessarily know how to do that.

I think that they come to TrustAfrica because they recognize we’ve been successful where we’ve worked and because we bring a lot of knowledge and experience, and because we’re in touch of what’s going on because we’re located in Africa and we work with Africans.

*TrustAfrica and Amalion publishing have launched a new book, ‘Giving to Help, Helping to Give: The Context and Politics of African Philanthropy’. For more information, please visit TrustAfrica’s official website.


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