A KEY ELEMENT IN SONGHAI’S NEW BEGINNING DRIVE:
The disheartening socio-economic situation today, I think, will get worse if we continue to navigate with the present psychological infrastructure or mindset. This present social compass or worldview is no longer pointing to the “True North”. We must know that this mechanistic worldview or paradigm that was developed and adopted slowly since the beginning of the Enlightenment period, is not much helpful to us today. This world view has led to the proliferation of fragmented, piecemeal solutions and symptomatic therapies that hardly work.
We would have thought that the degrading quality of our individual lives and our communities should have constituted a wake-up call and pushed us to challenge the models of development, production, and consumption we have adopted so far.
But unfortunately, even though we are faced with the present existential crises, our political, economic and academic institutions, instead of restructuring themselves to cope with the complexity and depth of these crises, perpetuate operational structures increasingly ineffective or even disconnected from reality. More often, they are reluctant to mount new reforms and strategies to address these challenges. They would rather retreat to comfort zones of abstract knowledge.
To a large extent, we in Africa have succumbed to a logic of poverty or underdevelopment, simply because we are no longer capable of generating the appropriate social vision and the corresponding and appropriate institutions and human resources that will enable us to face these crises in an effective manner. Passive consumerism, shallow and piecemeal solutions, and the quick adoption of other peoples’ experiences, solutions, systems of production, and values have become easy and cheap substitutes for the hard and difficult task of building appropriate human experiences and structures in line with the challenges of our time and people.
Indeed, when a community is no longer able to internally generate the appropriate and endogenous vision and the corresponding human capacities and structures to adequately face its challenges in a sustained manner, that community has run into a logic of poverty or under development. Africa is squarely in a logic of poverty that must be reversed. This is the Songhai mission.
We must therefore engage ourselves in a project of a “New Beginning.”
An African renaissance movement…. African Re-genesis. This blueprint of this new beginning for the African continent must be based on an endogenous worldview anchored in the deep and fundamental insights on the socio-economic and scientific realities of the continent. That is why we believe that this initiative will not effectively take off without a radically reconstructed human resource base that is equipped with a transformative developmental philosophy, technical and human capacities that can strike an answering chord to the current multi-dimensional challenges on the continent.
In other words, if we become capable of developing an endogenous societal paradigm that will enable us to continually unleash appropriate internal capacities and building the appropriate environments or structures, we will effectively be able to face and meet our needs and desires, despite the internal and external constraints and challenges that may come our way. It is only then that we will be solidly engaged on the trajectory of an authentic development process.
We need a new road map, a new compass.
We need a paradigm shift to navigate better.
Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions popularized the term “paradigm shift.”  A paradigm is a set of beliefs, images, concepts, and structures that govern the way we think about something. Kuhn (1922–1996) said that paradigm change becomes necessary when the previous paradigm becomes so full of holes and patchwork “fixes” that a complete overhaul is necessary. The shift in thinking which might have felt threatening at one time now appears as the only way forward and as a real lifeline. I strongly believe that we are at one of these critical junctures again. Might we be willing to adopt a new set of beliefs, values, and systems that could change (and maybe even save) humanity and our world?
Another way of expressing this this idea is “story framing”: harnessing the power of stories. A framing story “gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.” While we all have stories that answer those questions on a personal level, a “framing story” dictates the general beliefs of a culture, nation, religion, and even humanity as a whole. Africa urgently needs a saving “FRAMING STORY” A new socio-economic narrative.
Where will the building blocks of this new “framing story come from.
We must build the new African model from the insight we are now getting from modern science and the wisdom and spiritual foundations of our culture.
Effectively, the modern sciences, including neurosciences, cognitive and biological sciences quantum physics etc., are now providing us with fundamentally different and refreshing frameworks about our own human dynamics, as well as those of our planet.
From these sources, a new paradigm, a new framing story is emerging. This new paradigm has a completely new and different technological, organizational, and socio-economic orientation. This paradigm is challenging us to learn and operate from the basic principles of the functioning of our planet and human history.
We believe that by seeing our problems from this new world view, we will be in a better position to design and re-engineer our way out of the current crisis. This new paradigm must be appropriated and deployed by a critical mass of our people if we are really committed to creating, designing, and inventing organizations, industries and economic activities that will solve our present-day problems. We must be all committed to this mission of raising a critical mass of young people that will be totally retooled for this new African society.
It is therefore comforting to note that more and more people, especially young people like you are sounding the alarm that we have reached a point in history that calls for dynamics and orientations that are deeper and broader than any attempts we have seen so far. Today’s challenges require a radical shift not just in our vision of the world and how we think, but in every sphere of our lives – from the way we see ourselves and relate to each other; from our relationship with the environment to our intellectual, cultural, spiritual, scientific, technical, and business orientations; from our production systems to the ways, we exchange and consume our products and services.
A NEW SOCIAL ORDER TO EMERGE FROM THE NEW PARADIGM
A new Psychological Infrastructure needed.
As we said above, our growing list of global crises together with our inability to address them effectively, constitutes a strong evidence that our world’s dominant framing story is failing.”
The New Framing Story of our African Renaissance project must therefore clearly and convincingly convey the idea that the solutions to our problems today can no longer be found in our present-day attitudes and logic. We see this initiative as a “not easy but necessary” mission aimed at developing new mental and operational energies and frameworks that are based on what we now know about how our modern world works.
Insights from our lost spiritual and cultural heritage must be appropriated in this process.
If our framing story or socio-economic philosophy tells us that the purpose of life is for individuals or nations to accumulate an abundance of possessions and to experience the maximum amount of pleasure during the maximum number of minutes of our short lives, then we will have little reason to manage our consumption. If our framing story tells us that we are in life-and-death competition with each other . . . then we will have little reason to seek reconciliation and collaboration and nonviolent resolutions to our conflicts.
But if our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us . . . then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place.
Insights from the modern sciences and many spiritual traditions reveal a refreshing pattern and principles of the working of our planet…. A pattern of radical connectivity and relatedness.
In the sciences for example, we now see that from a single molecule to a strand of DNA, from a bird in flight to an ocean current to a dancing galaxy, there’s a logic, a meaning, an unfolding pattern to it all. It is difficult therefore to over emphasize the fact that everything is connected. Time and space are not independent of each other and even atoms or sub-atomic particles cannot be considered separately. Just as the various components of the planet – physical, chemical, biological, social, economic and spiritual – are interconnected, so are living entities. They form a network that we have not finished identifying and understanding the roles they are playing within our planet. Much of our genetic information is shared with them.
That is why fragmented and isolated knowledge inherent in the worldview that is dominant now have become forms of ignorance because we have failed to integrate the new insights of a holistic world into a broader vision of reality.
So, above and behind and beyond the sometimes-confusing randomness of life, something is going on here. As a Scientist and a Christian, I believe that creation is “good,” even “very good,” and that it is our vocation to nurture and grow such goodness wherever we can. We are creators participating in getting our world from a less perfect state to a more perfect state continually. And we must not retreat from this responsibility.
A New Story to Replace the Old
It is therefore urgent that in this time of deep crises, new stories (nouvelles imaginaires) that are based on the new insights we now have of the principles and patterns of how our universe runs need to be build and told.
The currently prevailing story—since the Enlightenment, that we live in a material, random universe, that we, too, are primarily physical objects that need principally material things to be fulfilled—has led us to a permanent state of competition, not excluding violence. Whether you look at the story itself or its practical consequences, many people feel it’s radically wrong. And right now, the key change will be the change of the story itself.
Take, for example, the acute inequality that has polarized our society. What drives it is greed. Greed is behind so many destructive processes. We have normalized greed and it has reached unheard-of proportions today, creating an inequality that makes meaningful real democracy impossible.
But what is behind greed itself? It could not exist without the idea that a human being is material and separate from others, including the environment we live in.
Violence, inequality, war, environment degradation, and almost any aspect of society we can think of are rooted in the old story.
In contrast to the old story the new story sees the universe as primarily conscious and the human being as body, mind, and spirit, able to locate and carry out their life’s purpose in a meaningful—indeed, fundamentally benevolent—universe.
Living a New Story
True conversion doesn’t happen just because we change our minds about something. New choices have to be made. Our choices won’t change until we truly believe a more compelling story. And as much as we want it to, the world won’t change until we ourselves become active participants in the expansion of consciousness and the restoration and healing of all things.
If we disbelieve the dominant framing story, we will suddenly find ourselves making new personal decisions—not because we have to, as a duty, but because we want to, because we are now liberated from the cramped possibilities of the old framing story. . . . it will instead become a way of bathing our inner world, a way we seek to be shaped by the new framing story, the new reality, the good news, so that we can be catalysts, bringing transformation to the dominant system.
If we disbelieve the old framing story and believe the good news, we will also work differently.
The African Renaissance: How do we reframe Africa’s story?
Today, Africa is increasingly in the world’s socio-economic arena not just as a charity case, but also a progressively marketplace where business can be made and good money made and African young talents and graduates are the new agents or soldiers of this movement.
But let us pause and ponder: Is this development, in which Africa has come to be regarded as the “last reaming market frontier” of the global economy- an inevitable outcome of globalization- really a cause for celebration? Will it or is it leading to the real rise of the continent as an economic power in the mould of Asia and the West? Is Africa engaging the world and globalization -on its won terms? Or are we seeing another, more -sophisticated -than -1885-Berlin scramble for Africa unfolding before our eyes? It is important to not to get too carried away by the African growth story, but rather to interrogate it on the basis of often overlooked fundamentals. Looking at the multi-dimensional poverty and the inequity on the continent, can you really believe that the end of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa is imminent and that the continent is on the verge of an immediate breakthrough as a major economic player?
The real questions we must be asking about Africa is:
What parameters are we using for measuring the continent and who does the measurement?
Is Africa aspiring to holistic development that encompasses human development as a reflection of real quality of life of Africans or is it focusing on economic growth statistics that do not translate to more jobs for its citizens and better education and healthcare?
Is Africa assessing its own progress against benchmarks it has set for itself, or is its “rise” the received wisdom from global institutions and the ambassadors of global capital seeking new frontier of profit?
Africa needs an endogenous growth model in which it produces goods for its own markets as a first foundation, spreading out regionally from that base, and emerging as an economic power in its own right through competitive advantages. My fear is that the continent has become a market or a playground for globalization and Africans appear to be excited merely to be participating in the wider globalization process. African growth today is not transformative. And only transformative economies and policies can “rise” or emerge.
The continent needs to decide whether it will continue to engage with the world as:
a) a destination market for goods and ideas,
b) a self-sufficient player base on endogenous growth or
c) a dominant actor
I believe that the fundamental reason for Africa’s condition of underdevelopment is the absence of endogenous development worldview. It is about a way of thinking or seeing the world that creates an incentive for real change and progress, and not so much about what actual solutions might be. Actions that are not informed by philosophical or conceptual compass are shallow and often unsustainable.
Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo
Founder, SONGHAI Regional Center