‘As we fight to end poverty, we also fight to rebuild our African narratives’ – Interview with Coumba Toure


Tarisai Jangara


In Africa, storytelling is deeply ingrained in our culture and holds immense value. It has always been a vital part of our lives, bringing families and communities together. I have cherished memories of gathering around the fire, sharing stories, laughter, and delicious roasted maize and nuts. It was during these moments that we felt a strong bond and a sense of belonging. So, when I heard about the storytelling session at the WINGS Forum 2023, I could not contain my excitement. This was not just any ordinary session, but the African Philanthropy night, organised by the Africa Philanthropy Network (APN) members. What made it even more special was the presence of Coumba Toure, a renowned storyteller who had captivated me with her words at the African Philanthropy Conference earlier this year in Senegal at the Africa Philanthropy Conference. Coumba’s ability to bring forth the essence of African values, particularly the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ – the interconnectedness and shared spirit of humanity, made her the perfect choice for the African Philanthropy night.

The event exceeded all my expectations. The room itself was a testament to the vibrant African spirit, adorned with traditional decorations like grass huts, spears, and traditional mats, accompanied by music that resonated with our heritage. The decorations, instantly took me back to the days of storytelling in my grandmother’s hut. It was a nostalgic experience that reconnected me with my roots. As Coumba shared stories about African Philanthropy, I found myself completely engrossed. Time seemed to fly by, and I wished the session would never end. Through her stories, I felt that the theme of the #WINGSForum2023, ‘transforming philanthropy,’ was beautifully exemplified. She reminded us of the power of narratives and how they can shape our understanding and actions.

As Coumba concluded her stories, I felt I needed to hear more. This interview became a deliberate effort to ensure that I could hear more from Coumba.

Tarisai Jangara: I was really intrigued by your stories Coumba and I had a few follow up questions. How did you feel when you entered the room which was beautifully decorated in an authentically African style?

Coumba Toure: Stepping into that room made me incredibly happy; the room was truly beautiful. I believe that beauty is something we strive for. We desire justice, peace, and beautiful surroundings because we often get lost in our struggles, pain, and anger. We tend to forget what we are truly fighting for. Having beautiful things that are also African is important because we have learned to separate beauty from Africa. When people become successful or design spaces, they try to distance themselves as much as possible from Africa because the narratives and stories we hear associate Africa with poverty and difficulties. There is a correlation here. As we fight to end poverty, we also fight to rebuild our African narratives.

TJ: Given what you are saying, how then can we challenge the existing narratives that portray Africa negatively?

CT: I believe that by sharing our stories, we can shift perceptions. People form their thoughts and opinions based on their life experiences and the stories they hear. As human beings, we cannot experience everything, so much of what we know is based on the stories we hear. In philanthropy, stories about African philanthropy are not widely known. Only a few people are aware of the structured philanthropy models we have on the continent. I share these stories not for others to copy or revert to them, but for people to know that they exist and understand the principles they are based on. By doing so, we can create new things that are born from those models. If people have never heard of different philanthropy models, all they know is the dominant narrative of western philanthropy, particularly the U.S model. Even Africans are striving to develop the same model, forgetting that better solutions can be found in the diversity of approaches.

TJ: As you place a lot of emphasis on storytelling, do you think the African Philanthropy night made a difference?

CT: I hope that it made a difference. I spoke from my knowledge and in a way that I know best, and that was all I could do. Many people approached me and said they were touched by what I shared. Africans who felt touched could connect because what I said was not foreign to them; it made sense. Maybe it was not something that had been articulated around them before. I am glad that I could provide them with memories of African Philanthropy, stories, and words to work from. Even people outside Africa approached me to say they were moved by my stories. I hope that beyond being moved, it will inspire them to act. I spoke not to evoke certain emotions but to encourage action. My message is that we can do better by listening more to the stories of African Philanthropy from those who hold our communities together. We can do more to support the women who bear the burden of helping our communities. I recognize that individuals already do a lot to support these communities, and those who give the most are often not the ones who have the most. It is an injustice to let them carry this burden while others who have more resources, whether it’s money, time, or knowledge, keep them without utilizing them. I hope that those who listened will be inspired by the efforts of our mothers and people and strive to match them.

TJ: Coming to the overall conference, did you have any significant realizations from the sessions you attended?

CT: I had wonderful interactions with people, heard inspiring speeches, and engaged in great conversations. One important takeaway is that our formal philanthropic institutions can involve young people more. We should pay more attention to children, considering that our continent has a significant youth population. I also learned about Artificial Intelligence and how scientists are creating things they cannot fully control. As Africans, we need to learn and understand AI so that we can participate in its governance and ensure it doesn’t harm us.

Tarisai Jangara, Member Engagement and Communications Manager, African Philanthropy Network (APN). 

Tagged in: #WINGSForum2023

Comments (0)

Keith Kasanda

1. "This interview highlights the crucial connection between poverty alleviation and reshaping African narratives. It reminds us that addressing poverty goes beyond providing immediate aid, but also involves challenging stereotypes and empowering communities to tell their own stories." 2. "The interview with Coumba Toure sheds light on the importance of reclaiming the African narrative. It educates us about the power of storytelling in combating poverty and creating lasting change. By amplifying diverse voices and perspectives, we can challenge misconceptions and foster a more inclusive and equitable society." 3. "I appreciate how this interview emphasizes the need for holistic approaches to poverty eradication in Africa. It educates us about the importance of not only addressing economic factors but also challenging systemic barriers and empowering marginalized communities to rewrite their own narratives." 4. "This interview serves as a reminder that education plays a vital role in ending poverty and reshaping African narratives. By investing in quality education, we can equip individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to overcome poverty and contribute positively to their communities." 5. "I found this interview to be highly informative in terms of understanding the multifaceted nature of poverty and the importance of cultural representation. It educates us about the need to support initiatives that promote African voices and narratives, as they contribute to a more accurate and empowering portrayal of the continent." 6. "The interview with Coumba Toure provides valuable insights into the intersectionality of poverty and African narratives. It educates us about the power of community-led initiatives, storytelling, and cultural revitalization in combating poverty and creating sustainable change." "Thank you for shedding light on the important work being done to combat poverty and reshape the African narrative. Your dedication and passion are inspiring, and I believe that through collective efforts, we can create a brighter future for all. Keep up the amazing work!"

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