Authors: Ashura Batungwanayo (University of KwaZulu Natal) and Hayley Martin (University of Cape Town)
DISCLAIMER: This paper draws from our collective experiences, perspectives, and conversations with community builders in Africa who share similar experiences and perspectives.
In our engagement with EA, we noted a distinct emphasis on Existential Risks, notably concerning AI, alongside a focus on animal welfare —issues that carry nuanced significance, differing between Western societies and Africa due to diverse factors in animal husbandry. However, our initial allure lay in EA's focus on Global Health and Development (GH&D). GH&D holds a special significance for us as it directly confronts the realities we, as Africans, encounter daily.
Amidst this, the need for balance arises: acknowledging existential risks while prioritising urgent issues like poverty and education. Our vision extends to an EA Africa initiative that blends bottom-up and top-down approaches for effective, contextually attuned change. However, challenges persist, including navigating a competitive altruistic landscape and balancing immediate impact with long-term prevention. A critical thread is Africa's self-sufficiency, with EA acting as a catalyst for local partnership, co-designed interventions, and self-reliance. The path forward involves forging strategic collaborations, knowledge sharing, and empowerment, all underpinned by a commitment to inclusivity, representation, and comprehensive change.
Global Health and Development's Urgent Call to Address African Realities
The challenges it addresses are not abstract concepts, but tangible issues that our communities and loved ones have grappled with. As university students, we acknowledge the privilege bestowed upon us and feel a profound responsibility to address the issues that plague our homeland. Our identity is intertwined with the principles of Ubuntu, which emphasise our shared humanity and interconnectedness. This cultural ethos, coupled with the weight of the "black tax," the financial responsibilities we bear for our families and communities, amplifies our desire to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of our people. Incorporating the principles of GH&D into our personal cause area is more than a mere pursuit; it's a calling driven by the urgent need to translate our empathy into action. By understanding the nuances of diplomatic engagement and the complexities of GH&D, we can channel our aspirations into effective strategies that uplift our communities while respecting our cultural values.
GH&D resonates deeply with our African identity, our educational privilege, and our unwavering commitment to making a positive impact in the places we call home. While AI Alignment and Animal Welfare remains a critical concern, we acknowledge the complexities in communicating its relevance to African audiences. The messaging around AI Safety and Animal Welfare doesn't inherently speak with the immediate and intersecting challenges we face as a continent, although we recognise its significance in the broader global context (and acknowledge that there are people working on AI Alignment and Animal Advocacy on the continent as well). It's important to note that concentrating solely on existential risks could inadvertently diminish the urgency of current issues, such as poverty and education. Striving for a comprehensive approach that appreciates the distinctive dynamics of African contexts is paramount. It's worth contemplating the establishment of an EA Africa initiative, one that aspires to harmonise both bottom-up and top-down methodologies to address the "real, urgent, and intergenerational" issues that reverberate across our continent. By incorporating this hybrid approach, we can effectively navigate the complexity of Africa's challenges and contribute to a sustainable transformation that resonates deeply within our communities
As a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and an organiser for the EA UCT group, navigating the landscape of altruistic societies has been a unique challenge. In this context, EA UCT finds itself in a competitive environment where distinguishing our focus as a research- and evidence-based movement becomes an intricate endeavour. The prevailing narrative often places an emphasis on tangible, immediate impact, which has occasionally posed hurdles in conveying the nuanced nature of EA's approach. Within this context, we recognise that this prevalent emphasis might not consistently align with the principles of AI safety, where the focus extends to addressing long-term existential risks that may not yield immediate visible outcomes. This discrepancy highlights the need for a more balanced understanding that appreciates both the urgency of current issues and the significance of preventive measures to safeguard our future. It's noteworthy that while EA undeniably demonstrates its capacity to generate meaningful impact, there exists an observable concentration of attention on the Western and Eastern Regions of Africa. This tendency might partly stem from practical considerations, as financial resources often stretch further in these areas due to various factors, making it more cost-effective to address issues and bring about positive change. However, it's essential to acknowledge that this concentration can inadvertently overshadow the equally pressing challenges faced by other regions within the continent. Striking a balance between allocating resources where they can have the greatest immediate impact and ensuring equitable distribution across the diverse landscape of Africa is a complex but necessary endeavour in the pursuit of comprehensive change.
Empowering African Self-Sufficiency
Central to our discourse is the aspiration for Africa to become self-reliant and cease dependency on external interventions. A shift towards capacity building, education, and community empowerment is advanced as a strategy to facilitate sustainable development. EA's role in this paradigm is to facilitate partnerships with local experts, organisations, and community leaders, promoting the co-design of interventions that resonate with local aspirations and values.
It seems that a substantial portion of this article has been subject to critique. It is essential to have open discussions and critiques to improve and make positive changes.
To address the issues mentioned and work towards making EA more inclusive, representative, and impactful in Africa, here are some possible solutions:
- Forge partnerships with organisations and individuals in Africa who have a deep understanding of the local context and challenges. Collaborate closely with local experts and community leaders, following models like J-PAL, to craft impactful interventions. Invest in funding economists from developing countries to pinpoint the most effective resource allocation strategies, adopting a long-term perspective that acknowledges that sustained progress takes time. Recognise that, due to limited personal resources in LMICs, direct giving might have a relatively smaller impact. More is achieved by improving policy. We have more power to sway our government than wealthy nations do. It is also possible that we have more access to areas of our own society where we can research various viewpoints. Keeping in mind that even with evidence-based recommendations, policy implementation can be a bottleneck due to bureaucratic hurdles, political challenges, and limited institutional capacity.
- Knowledge Sharing and Empowerment: Promote knowledge sharing within the EA community about the specific challenges faced by African nations. Continue organising opportunities like the African Forum Post Competition and The African Movement-building Summit in 2022, which facilitated dialogue and engagement around EA-related topics in the African context. Ensure these events are well-publicised to attract a diverse range of participants and speakers from various African nations. Encourage African students and researchers to participate actively and share their insights and experiences, like the Zanzibar Residency Fellowship. Actively seeking out and involve more community builders and contributors from diverse African backgrounds to ensure a broader range of perspectives. Explore the possibility of hosting an EAGx conference in Africa, which could serve as a platform for sharing knowledge, facilitating collaboration, and driving impactful initiatives.
The journey of EA within the African context is an evolving one, marked by growth, collaboration, and the willingness to adapt for greater impact. Open discussions and critiques play a pivotal role in identifying challenges and shaping positive change. The path forward involves fostering partnerships, investing in local expertise, promoting knowledge sharing, and addressing bottlenecks through innovative solutions. By continuously engaging with the unique complexities of Africa, EA can pave the way for transformative and lasting progress that resonates deeply within our communities.