Another way to distinguish the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) from the rest of the global south: the composition of the outbound flight when you board at the major hub in North America or Europe.
On a flight to Mumbai or Beijing, the moment you step onboard you feel like you’ve already arrived. 80% plus of the passengers are Indian or Chinese respectively, a mix of business professionals and families in transit related to their global lifestyles and livelihoods. Last week I boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Kampala and it was totally the opposite. 80% white faces with a few Ugandan nationals interspersed. Just in my row there are Italian aid workers and American missionaries, on their missions of diverse kinds.
I’m not well placed to make judgments about either approach. I came into develop through church-funded international projects. On this day I’m a development worker on the way to facilitate a participatory action research (PAR) peacebuilding training. How am I different than any other outsider in view on this flight?
There is some definite merit in my focus on participation, on local knowledge and local folks to make the change. Hopefully that perspective will get wrapped into the approach of the local NGOs and leaders I am working with so that they bring out the best in their students and communities in terms of taking charge of their own processes of development.
Still, I have to look at this plane view a bit grimly and see the persisting inequality and the cognitive injustice of all these ideas, secular and spiritual, flying into a place with a history longer than any of our cultural homes in the north. So let me set the intention to carry ideas home from this trip and, when I can, bring my African colleagues to Empyrean in Tennessee to teach, share and train from their experience and perspective.
Our systems of justice and development are far, far from sufficient. Let us continue to question our motives and our effectiveness and push always for something which better embodies the end result we want to see, rather than reproducing the old forms in new spaces, with new names, though still equally recognizable by who’s on the ‘bus’ and who’s not.
Felix is the founder and director of Empyrean Research. Based in Tennessee, he travels widely with his work for Empyrean.
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