A feminist discourse for change


BY Seabata Makoae

Much has been written on the concept of Aid Decolonization, yet more has yet to be understood within the feminist movement and the general civil society movement on the negative effects of the coloniality of aid in Africa. I have taken this stance on my own volition and subject myself to be singularly liable for the opinions expressed in this article.

For ease of understanding, and to avoid an elitist approach to a complex discourse, I intend to highlight a few areas of contention regarding colonial foreign aid, using the example of the European Union (EU) Delegation in Lesotho in relation to their termination of a contract in which She-Hive Association is a beneficiary. I characterize the action as unjust and illegal, and will show the harmful effects of such are and how it will only serve to further impoverish the very people that it is disguised to empower. In this article, I will lean on and source from feminist theoretical concepts, adding to the ongoing discourse around the decolonization of aid.  Indeed, much has been written and “decolonising aid” has become a buzz word across the feminist movement.  

The Kampala Initiative explains decoloniality as being concerned with the power imbalance, and its related effects, between countries of the Global North and Global South, particularly between former colonial powers and former colonies. It recognizes the coloniality of aid as a multi-faceted post-colonial approach by former colonial powers. It differs from decolonization, which was a process that led to political independence (largely between the 1950s and 1980s), in that decoloniality focuses on the continuing effects of colonial control over countries that are now, technically, politically independent. Those effects include structural inequities embedded in economic, trade and financial systems; migration; diplomacy, conflict and war; social systems, including health and its determinants; as well as cultural influences.  


This narrative solidifies the notion that colonialism is not part of our past history, but our current and continuous lived experience. The decision by the EU in Lesotho to terminate funding for a women-led organization – SheHive Association- is devoid of reason, morality and legality and is exemplary of a colonial approach. The statement issued to the media by She-Hive Association was made on behalf of many other civil society organizations (CSOs), many of which have been silenced by a lingering threat of not receiving any further funding, in case they dare speak out. This is a story of many other CSO’s in Lesotho, who, for fear of the colonial master, have not spoken and are questioning the bravery and unflinching stance of She-Hive in challenging the unequal power distribution and dynamics that are embedded in the contracts that many are not able to co-create and, therefore, lack localized ownership. 

In the context of Lesotho, and indeed that of those in the global south, one will not be accused of exaggerations by noticing that the practices of the EU in Lesotho, and their decision, must be seen as a continuation of imposition of a white saviour complex, with the powerful nations once again deciding what is good and how things must be done and anyone with a different view is marginalised – so as in the example of She-Hive Association.

Themrise Khan added to this discourse by elaborating that;

“the violence of colonisation and subsequent decolonisation is what led to the current wealth and social disparity between former colonisers and the colonised. But today, decolonisation is no longer understood in its historical context as a process of separation from one’s colonisers.”

This claim requires all stakeholders to examine their role in either perpetuating the status quo though silence or facing the colonial power, challenging the powers that be, because colonialization is our present experience and not a thing of the past.  

In other sectors of the CSO and feminist movement, particularly in a report “Time to Decolonise Aid” by Peace Direct, it has been pointed out that the term ‘decolonisation’ has a secondary meaning, referring also to the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies regarding the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. It is, therefore, my view, given that colonization was harmful to Africa and her peoples, that those who bring aid to Africa must be woke to the colonial thoughts and practices that continue the colonial legacy, that could be manifested in their approaches and with remnants of racism that are laced in the languages and employment policies that have a two tier structure of local staff (Blacks) and international staff (white), just as an example. Needless to say here is that the EU Delegation also enjoys diplomatic immunity from prosecution and much of their actions that could have legal ramification will not affect them.

In the midst of all these, there is an unconfessed division within the CSO and feminist movement in Lesotho that is not spoken of but that has remained simmering beneath the surface. In the words of Rafia Zakaria:

“It is the division between the women who write and speak feminism and the women who live it, the women who have voice versus the women who have experience, the ones who make the theories and policies and the ones who bear scars and sutures from the fight. While this dichotomy does not always trace racial divides, it is true that, by and large, the women who are paid to write about feminism, lead feminist organizations, and make feminist policy in the Western world are white and upper middle-class. These are our pundits, our “experts,” who know or at least claim to know what feminism means and how it works.”

It is this very division that must be bridged between CSO’s and Feminists alike, if they will ever be able to challenge the current state of coloniality of aid in Lesotho. The dichotomy is keeping the movement fragmented, while some are being bled dry and their desperation –like ours- used to the benefit of others.

I am sharing this opinion very much aware of the many voices cautioning against angering the powers that be and the lingering possibility of intimidation together with and untold fear from other sections of the CSO’s in Lesotho, yet, I am doing so in the hope of bringing greater awareness to the ways in which power dynamics that are reminiscent of white gaze can reinforce structural violence and power inequalities. In this regard while these are my personal views and experience as an employee of She-Hive Association, I also like to spearhead a wider conversation about the degree to which aid organizations and recipients of aid (framed in the their language as “beneficiaries”)  will need to directly challenge their own perceptions and understanding of decolonized aid and initiate the radical changes necessary to dismantle a powerful system of positionality and privilege which is also classist and perhaps racist. Indeed, the time is now, to decolonise aid.

*Seabata Makoae is a social worker and gender equality activist.