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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Helping Africa to help itself


Systemic risks are factors that threaten not only individual countries themselves but also the whole global system. Africa is the scene of numerous systemic risks that must be overcome for the sake of both Africa's own development, and global security and prosperity. Infectious diseases like AIDS, disputes surrounding the distribution of natural resources, and the problems of heavily indebted countries can be cited as examples of systemic risks.

It was with these considerations in mind that African countries and developed nations jointly drew up the New Partnership for African Development. The NEPAD partners have already more or less agreed on and begun to implement several strategies to achieve the goals of this partnership, including cooperating on conflict resolution, resolving the problems of heavily indebted countries, increasing official development assistance, adopting an international strategy on human welfare, improving access to pharmaceutical products to counter infectious diseases, securing fair trading conditions for developing countries within the World Trade Organization, improving the investment climate in Africa and cooperating on United Nations reform.

These strategies, of course, must be carried through and, perhaps, intensified. But we must also look at the other side of the coin. We must see Africa not only as a continent of problems to be solved but also as a land of good examples.

In the 21st century, we are likely to face global problems stemming from population increase and constraints on natural resources. In this era the most important task for all human beings is symbiosis -- coexistence between nature and mankind -- and Africa presents us with a model in which nature and mankind have achieved a certain symbiosis and do coexist together.

Nature cannot be regarded solely as an object of exploitation; it should be considered a partner with which human beings must work together. Africa should not be viewed solely as a continent filled with conflict, poverty and infectious diseases. We have to change the image of this continent. As long as Africa is the object of an achievement-oriented global partnership strategy, developed countries will regard Africa as a continent of problems. But we have to see the other side of African life, which provides inspiration for the challenges we face in the coming decades.

The real global problem that the rich, developed nations must reflect upon more deeply is the basic assumption underlying the industrial revolution and technological development. The assumption has been that achievement-oriented human life produces progress and development. This assumption has given us progress and prosperity. In this process, however, we have lost touch with nature, damaged the global environment and exploited natural resources to such an extent that we now face the danger of destroying the basic global ecological system on which we depend.

Life in African villages could serve as a guiding torch with which to reorient our strategy for progress and development. This guiding torch could light our way toward the symbiosis of man and nature. We have to kill animals to feed ourselves, and by doing so, we convert the dead into the living.

Catching an appropriate quantity of whales in a proper manner is far better suited to the ecological balance of nature than simply protecting the species by banning the killing. Nature's wisdom is sometimes superior to human wisdom. Many Africans know this axiom instinctively. We in the modern world should learn more from African traditions.

A similar paradox can be found in the problems surrounding African democratization. Ethnic conflicts and tribal disputes have disrupted the political process in Africa and hindered effective democratization, but the other side of the coin is that globalization and democratization -- especially democratization -- have in fact led to a strengthening of tribal and ethnic identity. Group and ethic identity have been reinforced by the political process of democratization. This tells us that ethnic conflicts and tribal disputes are symptoms of the search for new identities and byproducts of political emancipation, rather than the causes of political conflicts.

The places where democracy is viable as an institution are not always the places where democracy has long been established as a social norm in traditional village life. The individualism that is the basis of modern democracy requires a clear concept of self-identity.

The process of establishing self-identity, whether on an individual or a tribal and national scale, sometimes destroys democratic traditions that have been nurtured through a long history. The paradox of democracy in Africa is that apparent democratization in many parts of the continent is in fact destroying the bed of democratic tradition. Here again we have to respect African culture and tradition.

The question of identity in Africa requires further reflection. In Africa, people generally have plural identities: individual, village, tribe or race, national, regional, continental (being African) and intellectual. This is why the concept of floating identity has sometimes applied to the African mentality. An African who belongs to a certain tribe, is educated in a European nation or educational institution, and lives and works in an African country can have four or even five strong "symbols" with which he or she identifies himself or herself apart from being an African.

This question of floating identity is in fact closely related to the problem of political identity that is becoming increasingly prominent in Europe and some other developed nations as globalization and regional integration progress. In this sense, how to cope with floating identity is not simply an African problem but a global problem, and the rest of the world can share and even learn a great deal with and from Africans.

These issues boil down to the ultimate question of African identity. Who are Africans? Many Africans consider themselves members of a certain tribe, village, region, or -- sometimes -- country, but perhaps more specifically they have a strong identity as Africans. The most effective way to reinforce this identity is to strengthen regional cooperation among African countries, as well as so-called South-South cooperation -- that is, cooperation between African and other developing countries. This will enable Africans to find their real identity as Africans, to understand the significance of being African and to reinforce the spirit of self-reliance in Africa.

Recamp (renforcement des capacites africaines de maintien de la paix) and other similar initiatives to train African forces to cope with internal conflicts on the continent can be seen as one of those attempts to strengthen the African spirit of self-reliance.

We should also encourage international dialogue and action with African people on the global ecological balance and symbiosis between man and nature. This process can be a precious opportunity for other countries, particularly countries like Japan, to join hands with Africans in seeking resolutions to the various "problems" the continent faces while at the same time cherishing the valuable traditions of African life and culture.

Finally, in such endeavors, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the roles to be played by nonprofit and nongovernment organizations in African development, because to have direct contacts with people in localities and to work together with them is an essential part of sharing traditional as well as modern values.

Kazuo Ogoura, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of the Japan Foundation. He has served as Japanese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Vietnam (1994-95), South Korea (1997-99) and France (1999-2002).


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