Saturday, May 3, 2008

A View From The South

Looking back at the previous series of articles, its clear that international commentators are again focusing on Africa's "shortcomings". But are they, shortcomings that is? Its no secret that the continent has been the whipping boy for an assortment of raiders ranging from slavers to colonial powers, international agencies and multinational corporations. We all know how it goes: those that covet resources find a pliable co-conspirator, put financial and military muscle behind the candidate that ensures election to office, obtain sweetheart deals carefully disguised as aid or investment, maintain legitimacy through a combination of aggressive litigation and pervasive public relations exercises. If that's not enough, there's no shortage of latter day pirates that are willingly stepping into fray to strip their own people of what little they have left.

So, a veritable cancer ward of decay and decrepitude...on the surface at least. Yet in all of this squalor and tawdry politics, there remains an indomitable spirit amongst common people. Why don't they revolt or migrate in large numbers, particularly in view of their desperate circumstances? Can it be that they possess knowledge not readily accessible by others? On a certain level this stoicism speaks of great reserves, the ability to withstand unbelievable odds. Question is, why would you want to? Unless, you knew something non-Africans don't...Ubuntu, the pan-continental principle of togetherness.

Ubuntu has as it's core philosophy the principle: "I am what I am through others". Contrast this approach of "I belong therefore I am", with the western ethos of "I think therefore I am". Strip away all the external factors such as politics, economics and sociology; and this is what its going to come to in the great debate to determine our progress as a species. Resolving the confrontation between these two fundamental principles will reveal much about our willingness to succeed. The third world is playing it's role in this great drama, just as the first world is. The trick is not to get bogged down in the detail, but to resolve the big question. Can we come up with an alternative to our failing global system?

Its no coincidence that the faultlines are appearing in the third world. Crop production is up 7% on last year , yet food prices have doubled. Man's most basic ability, to feed himself, is controlled by corporate interests. Our environment is spinning out of control and excessive military force has replaced diplomacy. You don't have to be a critical thinker or geo-political pundit to know that we're in trouble on this third rock from the sun. So, the irony wouldn't be lost on us that we are making a return to the place where life for homo sapiens began...Africa.

Here on this blighted land we are coming full circle to face ourselves, and our report card doesn't look good. Our erstwhile philosophy of Ubuntu had been subordinated to material progress, and in the process we had lost our way. We have the intellectual and scientific means to cure our malaise, but it will be for nought if we don't reignite our inter-personal understanding. From this common understanding all is possible, our challenges will unify us and inspire a new order. It is so simple, yet that is the curse of it too. Can we teach ourselves that we don't actually own any of it, but are rather custodians of what our planet endows us with? The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the land and oceans that provide it.

We repeatedly give up when facing what we perceive to be this complex, insurmountable problem; when all we have to do is ask a simple question. Am I measuring my fellow humans by their hearts or their wallets? When we consider how monetary resources have been made paramount, we also need to acknowledge how that has relegated our ability to understand and value each other. It's no accident that monetarism is being confronted by humanism in Africa, and that this abused land holds the key to the future. When we look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into us too. In that moment we find the wisdom to change, and the eternal process continues.

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