Jessica Sewall (Nigeria)

Jessica Sewall (The Women’s Consortium of Nigeria - WOCON): Jessica completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studied abroad in both Ecuador and Chile. In Ecuador, she was a part of a team that conducted a needs assessment and census survey of a small village outside of Quito, with a focus on potable water and sanitation and infrastructure. Jessica worked for the City of Milwaukee on an outreach campaign for work support benefits for low-income families. She then returned to university. At the time of her fellowship, Jessica was studying for a Master’s degree in International Policy and Development at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and a Certificate in Humanitarian and Refugee Emergencies.

Kudirat Abiola

07 Jun

Kudirat Abiola was assassinated in June of 1996. She was the outspoken wife of Nigerian President-elect Chief Moshood Abiola who had won the 1993 presidential election that the military promptly annulled. Kudirat went on to lead rallies and protests against the military regime and lead a pro-democracy campaign, which ultimately resulted in her death.

I was able to attend a 10-year anniversary celebration of Kudirat through a program for women in democracy two days ago with Bunor, a lawyer that works at WOCON. Kudirat’s name is well known, and she remains an extraordinarily empowering example of a fighter for equal rights and democracy throughout Africa. At the conference several women spoke, including the president from the African Women’s Development Fund, and the Minister of Women’s Affairs. What struck me was the passion and anger with which the women spoke, and even in a small room with no more than 30 in the audience there was a great sense of motivation to overturn patriarchal systems, and institute goals of having 30% women in government by 2007 (from the current 6%).

What struck me even more was the lack of credit we give in the United States to people in developing countries in general. Here in this room was a group of highly educated, motivated, well-spoken women with concise ideas about the roots of poverty in Nigeria and Africa in general, espousing suggestions for development, equality, and human rights. Sitting in seminar courses for development in graduate school discussing ideas on how we can assist developing nations achieve economic and political success, it seems that we have been and still are way off the mark.

By spending our time and money on projects we think will improve Africa, we are undermining grassroots efforts within each nation. Instead of empowering active groups already in Nigeria, developed nations in our own ignorance take power away. We spend money on US-based NGO’s and give jobs to development workers, construction companies, and agriculture all based in the United States or Europe. All of that exists here, and instead of focusing our efforts on supporting organizations in developing countries, as does Advocacy Project but few others, it seems as if the developed world has created an international development industry worth billions of dollars that does more to develop itself than developing nations such as Nigeria.

Few Americans probably know the name Kudirat. I did not know her name and feel ashamed of my own education system and my own failure to educate myself. Here in Nigeria exists a strong network of women, men, and African-based development organizations that are working diligently towards progress. They certainly could use our support, but that’s just it: they need our support, not our enlightenment. Perhaps our energy in the development community in the United States could do more justice to the work of those such as Kudirat by focusing on our own enlightenment and education and ask the developing world how they would like us to support them instead of telling them how we think they should develop.

Posted By Jessica Sewall (Nigeria)

Posted Jun 7th, 2006

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