Localizing Humanitarian Action in Africa Report

Phezo Dizolele, M., Kurtzer, J. and Abdullah, H. F.
Publication language
Date published
07 Jul 2022
Research, reports and studies
Local capacity
Centre for Strategic and International Studies

The international humanitarian community is increasingly focusing on the need for local and national actors to lead humanitarian response and recovery efforts in conflict-affected or disaster-prone regions, especially in the Global South. Local and national actors responding to crises remain severely underfunded, particularly in Africa, where civil society organizations (CSOs) receive insufficient funding from African and international actors alike. African funders reportedly directed 9 percent of large gifts to African CSOs between 2010 and 2019, while non-African philanthropists provided 14 percent of their funding to these groups.

The United States is the world’s largest foreign assistance donor, having contributed $35.5 billion in overseas development assistance (ODA) in 2020. Much of this aid goes to sub-Saharan Africa, including $8.5 billion to 47 countries and 8 regional programs in 2020. Yet national and local organizations receive little of this funding directly. At the same time, Washington has repeatedly signaled a commitment to the “localization” of humanitarian aid, or the shift of decisionmaking power, program implementation, and resources to local and national actors. Yet localized humanitarian assistance in Africa has failed to materialize.

Bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles, as well as geostrategic calculations, pose a challenge to localization efforts. African voices are excluded from the decisionmaking landscape—in donor discussions and localization efforts themselves—resulting in a gap in cultural competency. The conversation on localization in Africa cannot be limited to the African continent; it must occur in donor capitals, with African voices leading the dialogue. To achieve sustainable localization, the U.S. and African policy landscapes should resolve bureaucratic obstacles and shift an exclusionary aid paradigm to one that is inclusive and builds on existing successes.