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Decolonisation: Facing or obscuring the debate

50 years Medicus Mundi Switzerland: The Changing Role of CSOs in International Health Cooperation and Global Health


Volkshaus Basel
Rebgasse 12-14
4058 Basel

Medicus Mundi Switzerland (MMS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. On this occasion MMS will explore at the jubilee Symposium how the work and the role of Civil Societies in International Health Cooperation and in Global Health have changed and evolved.

Joséphine Strebel for MMS
Image: Joséphine Strebel for MMS

On the background of the decolonisation debate the role of CSO’s (Civil society organizations) will be critically discussed. “Decolonizing global health" is a movement that fights against deeply rooted systems of dominance and power of international, mostly Western organizations and institutions. Criticism of the latter highlights the colonial origins of development cooperation which still shape the approaches, structures and practices followed until today. While many organisations have since long described their work as an equal cooperation with their partners in the Global South rather than «aid», working practices are still too often based on power structures which perpetuate dependencies and prevent the development of local capacity.Many global north aid sector practitioners perceive themselves as operating neutrally, which is not only a fiction, it also reinforces the ‘white saviour’ and ‘white gaze’ mentality that has its roots in colonialism.

Consequently, the decolonization debate in international cooperation is not simply a new debate around power relations: It asks fundamental questions about the foundations of the development sector and its practices.

The decolonization debate brings a new analytical quality to international cooperation in general and to global health in particular. To advance a transformation of the sector that is about nothing less than securing our legitimacy in the future.

As discussions about unequal power dynamics in the international aid system have entered the mainstream, local activists have become increasingly vocal about the ways in which power and resources in the system remain dominated by, and between, certain organisations and relationships largely based in the Global North.


Languages: English