Egypt’s Thundering Wave & Questions for Development Aid

I’ve been high on Egypt. Watching the Al Jazeera live coverage, I’ve experienced waves of chills up my spine, tears, and jubilation all weekend. Despite the obvious challenges ahead in that country and the region and despite my friend’s constant reminder that it’s my own country’s foreign aid that had propped up Mubarak over the decades, I’m soaring as this tremendous moment in Egyptian history demonstrates that the greatest power lies in the people.

I highly recommend this recent episode of Al Jazeera’s People & Power series, in which a reporter is embedded with a group from the April 6th Youth Movement. From their site, “As Elizabeth Jones reveals, they have spent a long time planning and organising for these momentous days, taking lessons from other revolutions about how to mobilise popular support.”

Surely other aid bloggers will be quick to discuss the political and economic implications of the changes in Egypt. But as I watch the coverage of Egypt, I can’t help but engage in that age-old, “big-D” question: What is development for?

As this People & Power episode reinforces to me, challenging the bonds of poverty and oppression is about extending to people the feeling that they matter. The events in Tahrir Square and elsewhere remind me that real “D”evelopment comes when people awaken from fear and they can look forward to a future in which they feel secure, valued, and honored.

And that, ultimately, this must come from within.

As aid workers, do we question the sources of power in “D”evelopment enough in our day-to-day work? Do we acknowledge and challenge the policies and practices that marginalize and demotivate people, especially local activists? In all of the seemingly mundane acts of planning, coordinating and monitoring development projects, do we acknowledge the deep and profound difference between social change and delivering services? And if the development industry, as a whole, remains divorced from this, are we missing the whole point?

So as we all celebrate the power of collective action, the victory over suffering, and the triumph of the human spirit, I share a call to action @tmsuge wrote on @Solar_Sister’s blog last year from which I draw inspiration,

Sea change is not delivered by a great trickle, it arrives in a thundering wave. Let’s get to building that wave.


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