What the west can learn from Africa

Interview with French Economist Serge Latouche

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VENICE, Italy, OCT. 5, 2000 (ZENIT.org).- Despite its poverty and violence,
Africa works — and in ways that would baffle most Westerners.

That seems to be the view of French economist Serge Latouche, who has
expressed his distrust of Western economic science as the principal
instrument for knowing the world.

He developed his ideas in his 1998 book «L´autre Afrique» («The Other
Africa»), and today he confirmed his thesis at an international congress on
«The Debated Globe,» being held in Venice through Sunday. The congress was
organized by the «Fondamenta» cultural institution.

Latouche took advantage of the occasion to talk about Africa — deemed the
«hopeless continent» by one Western magazine this year — in unconventional

The professor of economics at the University of Paris-Sud-Sceaux sees
Africa as a parable of the failure of the West´s idea of a rational,
technical society.
In the following interview, he analyzes the play between globalization and

–Q: According to official figures from the World Bank, Africa is dying. Do
you have this impression?

–Latouche: When I go to Africa I am amazed by a reality that is
incomprehensible in the light of Western logic: I meet happy people;
well-dressed, well-fed children, popular neighborhoods where the people
live with dignity, despite the poverty and austerity of the surroundings.

The tragedies we hear about — epidemics, genocide — are very real. But
800 million people are able to survive thanks to their capacity for
self-organization. This is due to the wealth of social ties, the famous
African solidarity, which allows people who do not have an official job, to
produce for one another outside the logic of the market, and to find the
necessary goods and services to live and not just survive.

–Q: So the Africans go back to the culture that existed prior to Western

–Latouche: Culture, in the anthropological sense of the term, understood
as that which gives meaning to life, is essential. It completely overlooks
the economy tied to objective data, namely, that which can be calculated,
such as production and consumption.

When a youth leaves his village in Africa, because he can no longer survive
there, and arrives in slum neighborhoods of the metropolis, he immediately
tries to form part of a clan, to have the most extensive relations
possible. Thus he finds a certain mutuality, a life insurance, unemployment

It is the clans that create sport societies, as well as theater and prayer
groups. They are the ones who calculate the dowry of a girl who is to
marry, and organize funerals for those who die. In a word, they take charge
of all the aspects of social life.

Like Latin America, Africa has extraordinary creativity, which is
expressed, among other things, with incredible prophetic flowering: in
fact, a union of prophets was created recently! This creativity, which
sometimes makes us laugh, is also a form of do-it-yourself work in a
situation in which traditional cults no longer function — how can one
believe in animism in the era of Internet?

Therefore, we are faced with a coherent complex, made at an imaginary
level, to which are joined solidarity networks and technical and economic
do-it-yourself works.

–Q: In face of globalization, which flattens everything and makes it
uniform, must we withdraw in defense of our identities?

–Latouche: The Africans have had no choice: At most they would have
preferred to live like us, but given the condition in which they find
themselves, they take recourse to self-organization, whose foundation is
the «cultural setting» to which they belong.

Our situation is very different: We have invented the «megamachine»
[technical-economic system]; uprootedness and the destruction of
traditional culture are a consummate fact.
Those who are excluded among us do not have the possibility of organizing
themselves like the Africans do. What can be done? We must negotiate on
three different fronts: survival, dissidence and resistance. If we do not
negotiate with the world just as it is at present, we shall not survive.
Therefore, we must come to specific agreements.

However, it does not mean that one must be in ideological agreement with
the delirium of the system in which we live, which is already a form of
mental resistance to the brainwashing that is the result of the
globalization of the market.

I am convinced that we are on a meteorite that is traveling at a crazy
speed, without a driver, without breaks, and now runs the risk of not even
having fuel. We must abandon it, before it crashes into the wall.

The alternatives are dissidence, the creation of local exchange networks,
like «the time bank» [a system by which people offer time in exchange for
others´ time: for example, a dressmaker gives two hours in exchange for two
hours from a mason] and associations.

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