Last year, an older cousin of mine who is completing his Ph.D. in Agro-Economy paid me a visit. Pleased to see him again after several years, I decided to pick his brain as much as possible. Our conversations were extensive, and covered a variety of issues, familial, academic, and social. At one point, we arrived at a comparison between the stereotypical characteristics of different ethnic groups in our native Guinea.
In his narrative, he asserted that the Fulani (my mother’s ethnic group) are patient nomads who are able to call on the forces of resilience to see an arduous task through, though it may take years to complete. He went on to praise the Soussou for their generosity and sincerity in friendship (though this sincerity may sometimes be expressed in colorful terminology). Finally, he touched upon the Malinke (my father’s ethnic group), stating that Malinke men adore being the protectors and providers for their family and friends, and prefer to be the caretakers.
Of course, these assertions were based on centuries-old assumptions of West African tribal society, and may reflect less on the increasingly interconnected lives of African, and their overlapping cultures. Nonetheless, his last observation gave me much thought. Raised in an age of self-determination, I couldn’t help thinking that empowering others is more effective than taking care of them. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” As I pondered on the direction of the social enterprise movement in Africa, and the international development community in general, one question came to mind: “What is the primary purpose of Social Enterprise in the African context?” Giving? Care-taking? Or empowering?