. . . for my kids. . . and good friends

a softer, gentler mantra

Stay hungry! -- for new experiences,

Stay angry! -- about injustice.

It led me in 2005 to the Centre for Development Studies overlooking the massive sweep of Swansea Bay, to take a master's degreee in Social Development. I emerged transmogrified; changed from an irreverent, questing former BBC journalist to an ardent advocate of "participatory development".

*    move slowly,

*    sit,

*    listen!

Not a bad approach, if you want to understand the world and make a few improvements! And as a modus operandi it works well, alongside the shock doctrine of stay-hungry!

A bunch of development experts, with some money to lavish on a poor community went into a small village, somewhere in Africa (apologies for the stereo-types here). They were very diligent with their needs assessments and impact studies, analysing whether they should be trying to create income-generating projects.

Or perhaps the money should go on education, the route to a better future for all; or clean water, to free-up all that time spent collecting drinking water; or a health centre, or some kind of vehicle to get produce to market, or advancing gender equality -- educate the women and you educate the children.

Then somebody had a revolutionary idea (nothing about arming child soldiers to fight generational discrimination!) Simply, why not ask the people who they were trying to "develop" what they would like done with this money for them!! No-one had tried this before; at least not in any systematic way.

And you know what the 'people' said they wanted?  Somewhere safe to keep their stuff when they were out working, hunting, visiting or whatever!  Without such security, there was no point in them trying to build up savings or plan for the future.  So they were condemned to day-to-day subsistence -- for them it was the only rational choice.

They knew and understood their own problem. They knew the answer. And they knew it would make more difference to their lives than anything else the money could bring. This is the logic (and respect) that underpins participatory development; and I am forever deeply indebted to Robert Chamber of IDS at Sussex for being prepared to take me through it all, again and again.

It is so important to how I now view the world. Not just as an approach to development (in Wadi Rum for example, where I have learned so much more than I have 'taught' anybody).  Also, as an approach to everyday interactions. 

Move slowly (looking, watching, trying to see the wider picture); sit (to show respect, as opposed to standing and pointing and dominating); and listen (it's the only way to learn).  

And beyond inducting me into a softer, gentler way of life, the Africa story shifted my politics significantly. Much to my discomfort, I came to realise that rights and democracy (even the effective version) are not so much use if there is no rule of law (ie somewhere or somebody to keep you and your stuff safe)!

It's the foundation we in the West just take for granted when we storm our way into other cultures telling them how they must behave, and think and govern themselves.

Yes, thought and understanding can lead you towards some pretty uncomfortable, even contradictory conclusions. Blinkered, pig-headed, zealous certainty can avoid such discomfort but take us straight to the hell we created recently for so many (Mr Bliar).

Last Updated on Friday, 04 January 2013 15:57  

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