Africa, who are you? What is Africa today in a world of global capitalism and a rapidly growing global crisis? What is the heart of this continent, this cradle of civilization? And who are the African youth of today, especially in the context of vast uprisings of entire generations all around the globe? Joshua Konkankoh Ngwa runs a project for youth and agriculture in Cameroon called “Better World.” His life is dedicated to the youth of Africa – restoring their roots to their ancestry and at the same time linking them to the global transformation humanity is in. The questions noted above are part of his daily work, living in the tension of western solutions and African reality. “We are not allowed to lose our youth to the western dream as this is a total myth,” was the sentence that initiated this interview. I asked him to deepen his view on the wrong dream of the West.
I think we live in one world. This interconnectedness is important for the sustainability we are talking about. I am not talking about making the world uniform, but respecting people’s cultural roots. If we don’t know where we are coming from we will not make our way into the future, because we are not rooted. African cultures are rooted in their tradition. It is the link with the land they are coming from, and the link to their ancestors. They come from the land and they go back to the land. We have to stay connected. We exercise an important rite of passage, for every young person to understand who he or she is as an African.
But what happened in the world of today is that through the educational systems our cultures have been raped by the Western society. There is no respect for human dignity. Once you are raped you are traumatized. And this is where the educational and economic systems have stifled the young people in Africa and have left them totally confused. They are living on this myth of taking a flight to Eldorado in the west. That’s what they see and what they believe is the only way out. But it isn’t the only way out! In the rite of passage the elders tell the youth, as in my own case, that you must always put your hands into the soil because there are going to be seeds, and this is where your future comes from. And many African youth today are uprooted; they have lost this inner connection to their heritage. So it is this holy comfort in the West that makes young people believe they had to fly in a balloon, but in fact it’s all a dream. To bring back reality I have been working with young people and the students of the Western culture who find themselves in the city to reconnect them. Because they came from the villages, from the farm, the culture, the songs and the dance and they need to get back into this rhythm to find a part of themselves.
Globalization is not connecting; it is disintegrating the world. When you have technologies that willfully leave out parts of the continent or whole continents than in fact we are talking about a better world defined through concepts of Europe or America. If you imagine that there are all these low cost technologies developed for rural communities which you actually don’t find in the communities but only in the West, how then will the rural areas be linked up to the 21st century? We are talking about tools of education, tools of cultural connection, tools that can enable understanding, reconciliation, forgiveness. But none of these tools are available for the youth. Multinationals and western governments have raped our continent. How can the young people who no longer have a voice in their society develop their future? I believe that the future is the youth. But all the concepts that we are developing which do not integrate the youth and the environment are not sustainable.
Another concept I don’t believe in, which is important to understand when looking at globalization and Africa, is this linking of pockets of Africa to the West. Africa is not allowed to communicate within itself. We do not dialogue within Africa. The artificial boundaries remain very tight, artificial Berlin Walls, which are being reinforced constantly. I can easily travel to the UK, but I cannot cross the border to Nigeria, neither can I cross to Chad. The progressive projects in Africa hardly know each other. People need to be able to maintain their authentic, free self-determination. The youth urgently need to have this self-determination. But instead everything is being forced upon them. And that’s why the education system isn’t working. Why should a young person in Africa understand the investment of 10 – 15 years to get a PhD in European history or even biomedical science, which does in the end never apply in their village?
I believe in the transition movement we witness today because we have some of the elements, which can bring all this together. The ecovillages that I have visited are some shining examples of interconnectedness. And the four keys of sustainability give meaning to the post-21st century, if only they can be applied. I believe in the 21st century; I say it is a golden age. The 21st century provides the tools and solutions; there has probably never been a more promising time to live. In the end, hope and confidence are like a mountain. The higher you get, the more you see and you can bring back home to your people.
Joshua, earlier you said African cultures have been raped by the West and the youth are left totally confused and in chaos. They don’t know where to go. What brings healing to them?
I have seen healing happen Johannes, through the first work camps that we organized; we had young people from Japan and France come. Just how a young person from a different country totally embraces the other, this is incredible. This has meaning to me – that both the young people in the West and in Africa have the same yearnings. There is something missing in their lives. Just bringing people from different backgrounds together – it brakes down the barriers. And forgiveness can occur. The young people don’t have the same hatred; they don’t even care about the errors that their elders committed. Whether the Europeans colonized Africa – they don’t care! They just want to be able to connect and contribute to the building of this new Earth. There is a new world order that is about to emerge, but it lacks the connections.
You were speaking about the wrong dream that young people follow, Eldorado in the West. What do you think is the real dream that can reconnect them with their power and the real being that lies within them?
We need to learn about our roots again. Having gone through a rite of passage myself, getting wisdom from the elders, listening to the land and learning to listen to what the ancestors are saying was decisive in my life, and it is decisive for young people.
Each time a young person is well connected to this roots there is a natural growth, this person begins to grow and flower. Because the world is about confidence and learning to build confidence. There is a call for us to embrace the challenges. But too many young people are not embracing the challenges and tasks that they are given. They are eroded by the underworld, by drugs and prostitution. Hunger is a big issue for example. Many are hungry but they don’t believe in the farming system. They don’t believe and so they don’t farm. They don’t care anymore! It is this silent death that is continuously weakening Africa. This way Africa can never contribute – and we know how much Africa has to contribute to a sustainable world.
This silent death of the soul is celebrated in the West; people want to stifle it and that’s why the media continues to play this image of misery. What we see is only the dark side of Africa. The wars, the famine, the desertification; there is a whole booklet of what people are made to believe Africa is. And it is so far away! People talk about it, they like to play it, but nobody is prepared to leave the comfort zone. It’s not part of their challenge to make the better world. Making the better world is too often only their own housekeeping.
The good thing is the reconnection that is already happening. The rural areas don’t want to and don’t have the means to go to the pharmacy. So they use traditional means and spiritual healing. I may sound as if I’m painting a bleak picture. But I also see a lot of hope in Africa. African cultures are not totally dead – they can be revitalized. And this will be Africa’s contribution to the world. The indigenous knowledge has a lot to offer. If combined with science it will bring more holistic approaches to the sustainability that we are talking about. Its not only about believing in our own indigenous system, it’s about sharing, because sharing brings about growth. If shared in a truthful, authentic way, what emerges is vey strong. I have seen it and I believe in it, that is the way to the future. We must connect the youth of the West and the youth in the “developing” countries.
We are working with the term “Terra Nova” as an emerging reference for a new world that is free from fear and violence. I believe we all have a task in the transformation of our world today, and we have a unique task in a healed world. From where do you get your power? What is your task? And what do you think is Africa’s role in “Terra Nova”?
Spiritually, I see my life as a sacrifice to all the people. It is a universal power from which we act, that we have to return to the universe through our actions. Most people today are in such big trouble because they fail to listen to the call to return their powers to the universe through action. Life is the process of meeting with your destiny. Success means to be on the right path, on our “songline” as our ancestors call it.
When I look at Africa as a whole the deforestation through the multinationals is a big threat, as it also is for many places on Earth. Africa has a huge potential to oppose and balance this destruction through the work force of the youth. The majority of the youth don’t actually do anything. Putting them to meaningful work is the future for the world – not only for Africa. We need a healthy environment. And we know how much the agricultural practices, the reforestation practices, can get people involved in this battle for sustainable farming, the battle for a sustainable Earth.
People in the west are still afraid to embrace Africa. Africa is the cradle of civilization, the heart of all civilization. If you open up to Africa you come back changed, and this is a contribution to the world. If you cannot extend the hand of fellowship, how can you sincerely say that you live for love? There are simple signs of showing when people are connected. And this is the spirit of Africa – the open heart, the open door. We cannot only change the environment, but we need to change the human being, too. We say life is free, but life is in chains everywhere today. Africa is like a being with a huge heart, breathing with its full lungs; and despite all the chains you can never kill the African spirit. These chains try to stifle freedom, but they are made by man, as all the walls in the world are man-made. And in the end it will again be people who break these chains.
In our first conversation we spoke about the Terra Nova School and the youth in Africa. You said that all they need is an inspiration that can set their powers free. This image is true not only for Africa, but we see it in South America, Europe, Spain, Portugal. So many youth movements and demonstrations of people who realize they don’t have a future anymore in the existing systems. What humanity needs is a perspective, a vision toward which we can put our powers, a global inspiration that sets us free. So what is this spark that can set African youth free?
Our young people have been interested; that’s why I asked you about the Terra Nova School. This sparks dialogue within them, so I think it is a very good starting point; and this is Terra Nova’s contribution to Africa, if only a way can be found for this to be pursued. It is very important for the youth to be integrated into the global context. This is encouraging them! The question is: how integrative are the Terra Nova concepts? Are these European concepts? Are they even designed with Africa in mind?
It is not a European concept. It is not a concept of a particular culture. No matter if I come from Africa or Europe or South America, there is a human, humane core, and in this core all beings share a very similar dream of how a world looks like that is free from fear. And this has hardly been a matter of research, neither in Europe nor anywhere else. But making this a topic of insight and understanding is at the core of the Terra Nova School and Tamera: to ask from the deepest humane basis, what is the same thing we share as human beings? What are the core needs and longings we have as human beings? How do we restore the water cycles for clean drinking water? How do restore healthy communities? How can we regain trust among human beings? You said African cultures have been raped and traumatized – the same is true for Europe, for the US, when we look at the history of what all these cultures have gone through. We live in a culture of war, generations have gone into war, and there is a imprint left in our soul that always makes us afraid of other human beings. And the work of the Terra Nova School is to provide a framework through which we can break through this trauma again and see who the human being is behind it. And how, in the end, can we help this humane core to rise and build a new world that is free from fear?
Thank you Johannes. You know, for Africans there is no need for forgiveness; what has happened is the past and it has already been forgiven. What is difficult to embrace is the future. So much will happen in this time we are in; things fall into place if we allow them to happen. People’s problem today is mostly that they think more about who they were and what they did in the past than what they could achieve in the future – and this we have to change in our own lives.
Better World Cameroon – www.betterworld-cameroon.com
Tamera Peace Research Center – www.tamera.org