TrustAfrica’s 10th Anniversary

January 24th, 2023

Looking back, Looking ahead: African Philanthropy for Socio-Economic and Political Justice in the 21st Century

On the 6th of June in 2006 TrustAfrica officially began operations as an independent foundation in Dakar, Senegal. The launch of TrustAfrica was a culmination of processes that dates back to 1999 when discussions that eventually led to the idea of TrustAfrica started within Ford Foundation. Most notable in this period was the creation in 2001 of the Special Initiative for Africa (SIA) within Ford Foundation tasked with leading the consultations and processes leading up to the establishment of TrustAfrica as an independent African foundation based on the continent. 2016 marks ten years of TrustAfrica’s existence. It’s a befitting moment to recall the journey the institution has travelled, reflect on the experience gathered over the years and indeed, look ahead to the future as the organization enters yet another chapter in its existence.


TrustAfrica was officially launched in June 2006 as a pan African foundation with a mission to address some of the continent’s most pressing challenges. TrustAfrica was established with the belief that the most enduring solutions to Africa’s challenges will come from initiatives led by Africans themselves and informed by an objective appreciation of the continent’s social, economic and political context. TrustAfrica sought to re-affirm confidence in the agency of Africans in seeking solutions to the continent’s most endemic problems and indeed, propose an alternative approach to the then predominant externally conceived and driven models that did not place Africans at the center of problem-solving and decision making. In articulating this position, TrustAfrica sought to challenge dominant attitudes of doubt and cynicism with regards to African initiatives and contested the pessimism that generally characterized views on Africa at that time. Hence the name TrustAfrica – literally a supplication to believe in Africa. 

Fittingly, a commitment to “African agency” and “African initiatives” became TrustAfrica’s mantra from the beginning. In the words of the founding executive director when launching the institution, the organization was going to “help Africans work together to set their own priorities and chart their own course”. To advance this agenda of “locally grown solutions”, TrustAfrica recognized from the onset the need to cultivate and mobilize domestic resources and progressively reduce dependency on external donors. In this regard, TrustAfrica has had a major focus, on building knowledge and understanding of African philanthropy and how the practices and traditions of philanthropy in African societies can be nurtured and harnessed at a strategic level to innovatively resource contemporary development. Equally, TrustAfrica sought to model a truly African institution by insisting on an “African led and African based” organization that would harness progressive African values and advance an African agenda. We particularly recognized that social solidarity was the defining tenet of African Philanthropy and sought to make this core to our approach in shaping philanthropy and development on the continent. In essence, TrustAfrica aspired to become both an expression and a catalyst of African agency.


As TrustAfrica turns 10, we recall the circumstances in which the organization was founded and assumed its mandate. The turn of the century was a period characterised by uncertainty. Poverty, disease and conflict seemed to define images of the continent. Due primarily to the impact of HIV/AIDS life expectancy in Africa was far lower than any other developing region of the world. According to WHO figures for year 2000, of the 54 countries with life expectancy lower that 50 years, 52 where in Africa. All of the bottom 10 countries were in sub-Saharan Africa with life expectancy ranging from 26 years to 34 years.

On top of this, it was a mere 5 years from the horrific Rwanda genocide that had killed around one million people in 100 days. As discussions on the founding of TrustAfrica were taking place violent conflict was laying waste many parts of the continent including Liberia, Sierra Leone, DRC, Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Ivory Coast and Chad which were all embroiled in destructive civil wars. It was indeed a time when many were giving up on Africa and beginning to look at the continent as a basket case for charity. Africa’s seemingly intractable problems evoked a great deal of pessimism, which was aptly expressed in the May 2000 issue of The Economist which described Africa as, “The hopeless continent”. 

Proclaiming hope in the face of such cynicism was nothing less than an act of audacious courage and faith. Indeed, as “hopeless” as the situation appeared, there were enough positive trends on the continent to justify the hope. The last shackle of colonialism had broken with the liberation of South Africa in 1994. Electoral democracy was taking root in many parts of the continent and the number of governments in power through elections was higher than at any other time in history. More of Africa’s young people were getting educated. And perhaps, most important of all, African civil society was emerging, better organized and boldly insisting on a voice in shaping the future of the continent. 

Equally, demands for accountability and equity were growing. At the continental and sub-regional levels momentum was building for greater integration, shared visioning and openness to peer review. In our view, history also vindicated optimism – Africa had triumphed before against worse odds.

Our Journey So far

TrustAfrica remembers the process to setting priorities for its own work. In particular, the series of initial SIA convenings that explored issues of peace and conflict, regional integration and citizenship and identity. These convenings brought together African activists scholars, business leaders, public officials and other partners to help shape what eventually evolved into TrustAfrica’s program of work focused mainly on three issues: governance; equitable development and African philanthropy. 

TrustAfrica’s Governance work has focused on strengthening democracy, justice and public accountability. This work is anchored in a strong belief that for Africa to be stable and prosperous citizens must have a voice and actively participate in processes that shape the future of the continent. Our work has included promoting democratic elections, strengthening constitutionalism and the rule of law, upholding basic human rights and fighting against the culture of impunity. Our efforts have strengthened civil society advocacy for improved governance and accountabiltiy processes across the contient, and contributed to ensuring that victims and survivors are at the centre of international criminal justice processes.

With our Equitable Development program we have worked towards promoting economic and social policies that lead to more inclusive and equitable economic growth. Our work has championed pro-poor development strategies and policies including strengthening small and medium sized enterprises and working to promote commitment to Africa’s agenda for agricultural transformation, CAADP and enhance small holder agriculture, with a particular focus on women farmers. We have also supported initiatives to promote transparency, accountability and equity in natural resource governance, culminating in the adoption of the Africa Mining Vision which provides a blue print for improved governance of Africa’s mineral resources. TrustAfrica’s work in this area has extended to promoting domestic resource mobilization through fair taxation and curbing illicit financial flows. We have also worked to mobilize African leaders around an agenda to transform the higher education sector in line with Africa’s needs as well as promote early learning innovations. 

In the African Philanthropy program we have worked towards strengthening and broadening knowledge and understanding of the context, narratives, practice, and potential of African philanthropy to advance social justice in Africa. We have been engaged in processes of nurturing and growing African philanthropy as an attempt to reduce dependency on external resources and chart a more sustainable path to development. We view African philanthropy as an essential part of African agency that should be mobilized towards the realization of Africa’s transformation. TrustAfrica played an instrumental role in the founding of the African Philanthropy Network, which provides as crucial platform to nurture and document African philanthropy. In the process we produced a number of seminal knowledge products such as Giving to Help and Helping to Give: The Context and Politics of African Philanthropy.

In ten years of existence TrustAfrica’s footprint has expanded across the continent.

• Awarded 513 grants worth US$23,710,000.00 spread across the three program areas as follows: African Philanthropy 16 (3%), Democracy 226 (44%) and Equitable Development 271 (53%).

• Convened African stakeholders in 41 convenings across the continent on issues of democratisation, transitional justice, constitutionalism, agriculture development, higher education, illicit financial flows, and philanthropy.

• Produced five books in the areas of African Philanthropy, Agriculture, Governance of the Public Sphere, Investment climate and more recently on Zimbabwe.

In addition to the above, we have also made significant contributions to various debates on African transformation through journal papers, conference presentations and magazine articles. Our convenings provided civil society based actors, policy makers, and academics with important platforms for engagement, reflection, learning, networking and exploring opportunities for collaboration. Organizationally, TrustAfrica has grown from 5 staff at the Dakar office in 2006 to 22 staff spread across the continent including Abuja, Monrovia, Harare, and Yaoundé.

Looking Ahead

As we mark TrustAfrica’s 10 years anniversary we are also unveiling the organization’s new strategy for 2016 – 2020. Our goal under the new strategy is to advance political economic and social justice in Africa by tackling a number of priority thematic issues. 

A lot has changed in the African political, economic and social context since 10 years ago. While the continent has made signifcant progress in reducing the overall level of violent conflict, the resurgence of violence in countries like Burundi, Central Africa Republic and South Sudan point to continuing fragility and the need to invest in building enduring peace. Terrorism and violent extremism have also emerged as a major challenge across the Sahel region, and especially in places like Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and Libya. To address this challenge, TrustAfrica works to advance local accountabilty mechanisms to combat the culture of impunity which is at the root of cyclical violence. We are encouraged by the progress made at the continental level to advance post-conflict accountability mechanisms through the African Transitiional Justice Policy Framework and expanded mandate of the African Court on Humans and Peoples’ Rights. While tremendous progress has been made in reversing the scourge of HIV/AIDS across the continent, the devastation from the recent Ebola epidemic exposed the weakness of health systems and the continent’s poor capacity to respond to such emergencies. 

On the economic development front, the “hopeless continent” narrative has been replaced with a focus on “Africa rising”. While significantly more optimistic, this narrative at times over simplifies Africa’s trajectory and overlooks the deep contradictions hidden beneath rising GDP. The fruits of economic growth have largely been concentrated in the hands of a few local and international corporate and political elites resulting in growing inequality. Tax dodging and illicit financial flows by multinational corporations have also limited benefits accruing to African economies. In many instances growth, especially from the extractive sector, has come at the expense of the environment with serious consequences for local communities. 

These fundamental issues which found expression in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the African Mining Vision, the African Union’s Transitional Justice Policy Framework as well as the Sustainable Development Goals will be a major focus for the next phase of TrustAfrica’s programming. 

Goal and Objectives

TrustAfrica will roll out a series of activities to celebrate and mark the organization’s 10 years anniversary with the following specific objectives:

1. Appreciate past and existing donors who have made the organization’s work possible.

2. Introduce the organization to new funders for potential future partnerships.

3. Reach out to the wider public including the African diaspora and make a case for support for TrustAfrica’s work.

4. Reconnect with TrustAfrica’s friends, associates and allies.

5. Reflect on TrustAfrica’s journey and evolution over the last decade and share our experience.

6. Showcase TrustAfrica’s current work and future plans

7. Look towards the next 10 years and explore the evolving African political economic and social context and possible trajectories and priorities for African philanthropy.

Download the full activity plan here.

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