The White Savior Industrial Complex & Sexual Harassment of African Female Aid Workers

The following was originally posted on this blog in March 2012 about an incident that happened in 2010. Since then there has been no further developments in my case against Oxfam GB who have maintained that they acted appropriately and that no assault occurred.  I have  neither the time nor the money to pursue legal action even while I still struggle with the physical, emotional  and professional fall out of the assault that I experienced. Meanwhile, I continue to hear stories of sexual harassment and exploitation of female workers in African country offices of major international aid agencies including Oxfam. I have heard enough such stories to warrant a fuller investigation of the phenomena. Are international organizations  ignoring sexual harassment  and assault of local hires?  Are male managers in African INGO offices getting away with behavior that would not be tolerated or go unpunished in head office?  If you have been or if you know anyone who has been a victim of such harassment please write confidentially to me at Comments are welcome.


October 2009.  I’m the new country director for Oxfam GB in Nigeria.

August 2010. I’ve been with Oxfam GB 10 months. I finally go to Oxford for Orientation. Its my first time in the UK.  Almost 60 CD’s from all over the world are in Oxford. There is a 3 day CD convention after the week of orientation.

I’m in the hotel lounge with the other CD’s from English West Africa talking shop. Our line manager joins us. He just arrived. We’re talking shop, programs and development. He refers to a document he wants me to see several times. It’s in his room he says. ‘I’ll pick it up on my way up to my room.’

It occurs to me going to his room may be a bad idea for all those reasons your momma ever told you. I dismiss the thought. We’re professionals. He’s my boss. He has never shown any inappropriate interest in me. Or vice versa. If I were a man I would go without hesitation. I go.

In his room he brings out the document, it’s a concept map. I don’t sit down; we discuss it briefly. I don’t want to stay long. A woman’s ability is always in doubt.  I don’t want my work to be devalued by rumors I may have been closer to the boss than appropriate. If I were a man I would stay. I go.

I walk towards the door. Turn to say good night. He grabs me. Pushes his tongue in my mouth. Pulls me back into the room, pushes me onto the bed. Grabs and fiddles with my belt buckle with one hand. My heart is pounding. My head is reeling. I clasp my teeth shut. Try to push him away. ‘No, no, no!’ Not strong enough but the space I create between us gives room for his hands to unbuckle my belt.

So I pull him closer. Relax. Play dead for a minute. For a split second it occurs to me that giving in would be easier. Let him have his way. Keep my job. Keep good working relationships. He’s lying on top of me. His smell fills my nostrils. This is not what I want. I rally all my strength and push him off.

‘How are we supposed to work together after this? I met your wife! What have you done? Why?” I rush out of the room. Downstairs. Sit in the cold outside. Smoke a cigarette. Try to compose myself. My thoughts race frantically. Not again. Not now. I thought I had outgrown this. I worry about my job. Not myself. Not yet.

I’m a Nigerian. Lived and worked in Nigeria all my adult life. It’s hard enough to report and prove a rape. An attempted rape? I don’t even think about it. My job is at risk. How do I protect my job? If I report how will I work with the West Africa team? Almost 90% of senior staff are male. I’m the only female CD in the English speaking countries. Only one female CD in the French speaking countries. Only 2 women on the regional management team.

Eventually I calm down and go to sleep. I see him at breakfast the next day. I shudder, I gag, I can’t eat. I note my reaction with some surprise and curiosity. I avoid him for the rest of the day. For the rest of the trip. I hear Oxfam GB has a head shrink for staff. I go see the shrink the next day. He calls in HR. I tell her my story.

‘Do you want to file a formal complaint?’ she asks.

‘I’m worried it will affect my working relationships in West Africa.’

‘Have you spoken to him? Told him how you feel?’

Huh? Lady I can barely look at him without a violent reaction.

‘Did you tell him ‘no’?

Huh? Didn’t I say that already?

‘Does he know his action was not welcome?’

Huh? Are you suggesting I led him on?

‘We handled a complaint recently. Two employees that had an affair that went bad.’

Huh? Are you suggesting this is an affair gone bad?

Is this a preview of a formal hearing?

‘Look. I don’t know what I want to do right now but I want you to know in case he tries to victimize me.’

’You should talk to him. Tell him how you feel.’

But I can’t. Not yet.

In September I finally call him and follow up with an email. He takes my call but ignores my email. I go to regional office in October, try to act normal. I’m still communicating with HR in Oxford, still looking for a way past this. Still worried, still confused, still devastated. I still have flash backs.

On the 23rd  of November he arrives Abuja from Dakar after closing hours, hands me a letter terminating my contract. I have two days to clear out of the office. Transitions plans already in place. Reason given? An online ad to fill the positions of the troublesome program staff. One was sacked the other resigned rather than answer a query. But the ads weren’t authorized by me and I withdrew them.

I lose my appeal. Oxfam GB says he acted within Nigerian law. Says there is no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault. What of my report to the shrink? To the HR? What of my email to the accused? He admits I came to his room but denies the events, says I hit on him, that he ‘sent me away’. That my email ‘baffled him.’ They believe him not me. What corroboration is there for his version?

I hear stories from other women that worked in international development. Similar stories. From West Africa. From East Africa. From South Africa. Randy expatriate boss. Getting away with things he wouldn’t even try in his home country. The local women always lose their jobs.  One is still in court 5 years later, her savings exhausted.

I eventually I do make a report to the Thames Valley Police. They believe me, record a crime, investigate, don’t find enough evidence for a trial. They consider extraditing him for questioning. He resigns abruptly.  I feel a bit better but how to fix the bigger problem? What are my chances fighting a cash rich behemoth like Oxfam GB in court?


The Ambassador’s Son

The Ambassador’s Son


He was young, rich and handsome. He had a big ready smile and a glint in his eye. The ladies stopped him on the street to ask for a strand of his hair. They had never seen anything like him in all their life, not even the adults. He gladly obliged and pulled a strand to present to them.


The ladies were fascinated; and he got more than his fair share of dates and sex. Then one day he fell in love. She was the daughter of one of the local ‘royalty’. She was smart, pretty and the heiress to a fortune. And now she was in love with someone the wrong race. Her dad threatened to have her committed. Her mother had to go for a restorative spa to recover from the shock.


They were going to get married. He wrote to his father telling him of his love and his plans. His father, the Old Ambassador, had been recalled home recently; in those days it took 6 weeks for a letter to get ‘home’ and another 6 weeks for the reply to come back.  The two young lovers waited for his reply and planned their happily ever after.




The New Ambassador and his deputy filled the little love nest with their presence. They faced the young lovers clinging together with stern faces.


“You must go home immediately” the New Ambassador said to Him.


“Why? What’s wrong?”


“It’s your father”


A shock ran through the young man. His father must be dead and they wouldn’t tell Him. His father was dead and he hadn’t met the love of His life.  Tears started to roll down His cheeks.


“You must be strong now” the New Ambassador told Him.


That night the young lovers grieved, consoled each other and promised to be together as soon as possible no matter what.


In the morning they went to the Embassy. He was handed an envelope with a first class ticket and some cash in it. A chauffeur drove him to the airport.  Dazed he boarded the flight home. He didn’t eat, watch in flight movies or flirt with the female attendants.


He moved desolately through immigration and customs when he landed and walked outside. Suddenly his heart jumped with joy. There was his father in the arrival hall! He was alive! But just as quickly his heart sank. It must be his mother then. In need of parental reassurance he rushed to embrace his father and walked into a resounding slap that spun him round.


“Give me my passport!” His father, the Old Ambassador bellowed.


“Your passport?” He asked bewildered.


The Old Ambassador snatched away the passport He had just come through immigration with.


“I sent you abroad to get an education not a wife.”


It dawned on Him why He had been summoned home. His heart sank as he watched his father turn away with His passport in hand.   Without His passport He was a ‘nobody’.


The Young Lovers wrote each other regularly for two years, till it dawned on them that they could never see each other again. He couldn’t go back to Her without his passport and the New Ambassador made sure She could never get a visa to come to Him.  Even the protests Her friends held in front of the Embassy couldn’t make the New Ambassador change his mind.




They met at a class reunion twenty years later. He was married with children. She was still single. She didn’t want to have anything to do with him.  Some of their mutual friends told Him how she had had a couple of unsuccessful relationships after she realized they wouldn’t be together and never had much time for men after that. Even her father had tried to get Him back when he saw how She languished.


He was left with a slight but persistent feeling of discomfort after hearing her story; guilt, remorse, compassion, disappointment, regret? He wasn’t sure. He shrugged it off as best he could, and broke into a wide relieved smile as He saw his wife walking towards him across the room.

Nigeria Do You Really Think The Woolwich Murders Make Us Look Any Worse Than We Did After the Aluu Murders?

I find it perverse that many of my Nigerian brethren find it necessary to debate the fact that the media are describing the killers as being of Nigerian descent. So what? They are two psychotic killers! Who gives a flying s*** where they’re from right now or whether the connection to Nigeria however real, imaginary or tenuous actually manages to blacken our black image any further.  Rubbish.

You all forgotten your outrage after the Aluu murders already? Go read a book! We been breeding sociopaths in this dear country of ours for decades. Insisting they were born and raised in England don’t mean jack. The chickens ARE coming home to roost, in more ways than one.

If It Leads You To Sin Cut It Off

The elite globally hail Angelina Jolie for her courage and bravery in having an elective double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. I love Angelina Jolie but I’m growing weary of all  the hype.

Like one New York woman pointed out, it doesn’t change anything for working women in a country where medicare and insurance doesn’t cover elective mastectomy or reconstructive surgery.

It changes even less for African women. Only a few elite African women can afford the tests that will forewarn them if they have BRCA1 gene. Fewer still can afford the surgery. Most African women can’t afford treatment for cancer even.

Angelina acknowledges in her op-ed that “Breast cancer … kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.”

So now we are more aware about the gene and about the things we can do to prevent the cancer if we find out we have the gene and we can get even less sleep worrying about not being able to test for the gene or having preventive surgery.

And wondering who to blame; the government, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, the trans Atlantic slave trade, corruption, international finance, Brenton Woods, IMF, the World Bank, development?

Makes you wonder sometimes just how bad your karma must be to be born African, female and economically disadvantaged. And please, do not come charging in with your free tests. We still can’t afford treatment.

I’m happy for Angelina. Like she said “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.” Can I and millions of African women say the same thing?

I’ve worked in development a long time. All we’ve ever done is attack the symptoms, never the causes. If there is one thing I have learnt in my recent and personal health battle is that symptoms will always come back until you deal with the causes.


“Do You Live Lately?” & Other Interesting Discoveries in An Old English Country Pub

“Do you live lately” she asks.

“Huh? Where’s that?” I reply.

“Do you live around here? I seen you around a couple a times.”

The barmaid gives me a pint of Brooklyn, a red ale imported from New York, having let me  taste the Akima Red and is making small talk.

“Oh, ok, yeah.  I’m staying in Westmeston. Just visiting awhile.”

I go back to my corner table with a bemused smile to continue reading the fascinating stories of “Lady Missionaries in Foreign Lands” by Mrs. E.R Pitman. Written in 1886 and published sometime in the early 1900’s its an extraordinary find at the local pub, The Bull which has been a pub since the 16th century by the way. Did I mention that before? I still can’t get over it.  I’m becoming a local at the local. Soon they’ll start calling me by name.  Must remember to go with my business card next time and pin it on the ‘Friends of The Bull’ board. ‘Lesley was here.’

They have an amazing collection of old edition books. Leafing through the books I’m transported to my childhood in my village in Imo state. The books I used to read in my uncle’s library  were the same age and written in the same style. I also come across “The Races of Mankind” written by Robert Brown in 1873. Admittedly a very racist book but instructive of the opinions held in  the days of British imperialism.  Then again so is Pitman’s book but of course they probably didn’t think so.  Great material for my research into 19th century Nigerian life.

While enjoying a coffee earlier (I was there at 11am, opening time, to enjoy the books) I was surprised from my reading to hear a old country gentleman say he had lived in Nigeria! I mean! I quickly introduced myself saying, with some inordinate pride I will admit, to being from Nigeria myself. He introduced himself as Richard. Every time I been in the local pub in Ditchling (population 1,802) I have met someone that has some sort of connection to Nigeria!

First time it was the vicar’s wife, Sally, who lived there with her photographer father in the 60’s as a child, then there was Duncan a cute and dutiful golf professional from Hove visiting his mother that been to Nigeria as a British Airways crew and now Richard! Nigeria is a great country! I can’t imagine anyone will talk about ‘Arewa’ or ‘Oduduwas’ in quite the same way. ‘Biafra’ is memorable only for the terrible suffering of its children during the civil war.

Richard was in Nigeria in the 50’s first as a soldier and then as a worker with the British Bank for West Africa. Of course I chat with him awhile. He had been stationed in Zaria, Gissau, Jos, Kaduna and Lagos and used to fly money to branches all across the country, he even knew Owerri! He had a twinkle in his eye when he told me  he had been a bachelor in  those days and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Oh ho ho and hubba hubba hubba, the local girls must have given him something to smile about in his old age! Sweet.

Walking home at sunset on century old bridle paths I’m overcome by the beauty of life in this quaint little English village and so grateful to be able to enjoy it for a while.  Air planes draw wispy tails in the sky to remind me this is still the 21st century. The only jarring emotion I experience is a pang of envy when a couple of women ride past me … on horses. I mean. I seem more than a few Porsche’s too but its the horses that tickle my green monster. Can you beat that?  I think I must invest in those riding lessons after all.

I think I may be getting my mojo back, which is what this trip is all about anyway.

Life is beautiful!

The Bull - The local pub Ditchling
The Bull – The local pub in Ditchling