What Then Can We Do?
issue 232 - June 1992
What then can we do?
We can agree that the Western development model has been damaging -
but what does that mean we should do about it? This page is devoted to ideas for
new thinking, reading and action we can explore if we accept the premise of this NI issue.
Whenever you encounter the word 'development' try and substitute another word or phrase that makes it clearer what is meant. 'Development' can mean anything to anybody, with the result that people with very different agendas (the IMF and the NI, for example) can feel safe under its banner. As an example we looked at the line 'The people, the ideas, the action in the fight for world development' which has appeared on the magazine's front cover since its early years. We concluded that the best substitute word in this case would be 'justice' (the IMF would be unlikely to choose the same translation).
Start questioning the idea of government aid. This is often given with strings, tied to contracts for companies from the donor country. But even when it is not, it almost always encourages a nation to develop in a Western economic direction which may be disastrous for local people. Big dam projects which displace thousands of native people from their traditional lands are only the most naked and spectacular examples. Debt relief and a fairer world trading system are much more important goals than an increased aid programme.
Look critically at the charities you support to see how beholden they are to the traditional development model. The best of them will be promoting 'grass-roots development' - which means giving individuals and small communities more control over their own lives. Independent charities are far more likely to be sensitive to the cultural context they are working in than official aid donors - but they are still bound to be agents of Westernization to some extent.
Start taking green politics seriously. Politicians from the main parties in all Western countries jockey for position as guarantors of economic growth. In a few decades time this obsession with growth will seem like lunacy. We should do all we can to ensure that a radical green programme challenges the politics of the market in all its various guises.
Celebrate diversity. The NI has long campaigned for a One World consciousness which sees people from other cultures and continents as human beings with much the same needs and dreams as our own. The sense of kinship this promotes is invaluable. But we also need to understand and value the difference of other people's cultural roots. This involves developing in two directions at the same time - towards unity and towards diversity (as when Scotland and Wales seek autonomy within European union).
The best place to start following up the ideas in this issue is with a recent book edited by Wolfgang Sachs himself and containing two of the seven essays in this issue. This is The Development Dictionary (Zed Press). Seventeen thinkers from around the world, who were originally inspired and brought together by the philosopher Ivan Illich (himself a contributor), take a highly critical look at different aspects of the development idea.
The Development Dictionary is powerful and persuasive; it is hard to imagine anyone emerging from it with their faith in the standard development model unshaken. But what do we set in its place? Another recent book which contains three of the Wolfgang Sachs essays from this issue aims to start the work of envisioning a new economic model to set against the world market juggernaut. Real-life Economics, edited by Paul Ekins and Manf red Max-Neef (Routledge), is again a wide-ranging anthology of contributions by independent thinkers from around the world. It is often quite technical but the theoretical work here is vital: the hard questions about 'green economics' are finally being addressed.
Two other recent books by Paul Ekins are worth looking out for. A New World Order - grassroots movements for global change (Routledge) offers pen portraits of individuals and groups working so successfully for change that they have been given the Right Livelihood Award (the Alternative Nobel Prize). Wealth Beyond Measure (Gaia) is a laudable attempt to convey the ideas of the new green economics via bite-sized chunks of text and liberal use of graphics and illustrations. Both these books leave you with the sense that an alternative way forward is taking shape - and is already benefiting the lives of people all over the planet.
Thierry Verhelst's No Life Without Roots (Zed) is a persuasive attempt to get people associated with voluntary aid agencies to question the kind of development they are pushing - and to stress both how different and how important are people's various cultural roots.
Cultures and Development, a South-North Network,
174 rue Joseph II, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: (322) 230-4637.
A growing worldwide network of voluntary agencies and interest groups which aims to promote a culture-sensitive approach to development.
AOTEAROA / NEW ZEALAND
International Committee of the National Maori Congress,
contact Aroha Mead, 9 Bourbon Street, Karori, Wellington. Tel: (04) 476-2205.
Set up by the United Tribes of Aotearoa, this aims to develop a Maori foreign policy and has a strong alternative view of development.
Pacific Institute of Resource Management,
P0 Box 10-123 The Terrace, Wellington. Tel: (04) 472-6375.
Centre for research into alternative approaches to environment and development.
Aboriginal Provisional Government,
GPO Box 2025, Brisbane, Queensland 4001. Tel: (07) 839-9322.
One of a few such provisional governments which offer an alternative platform on aboriginal issues.
Action for World Development,
56 Foster Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010. Tel: (02) 212 5275.
An action and education group promoting fair trade and equitable development.
379 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000. Tel: (02) 299 2215.
A small non-denominational church agency with high ideals. Focusses on sustainable development and employs mainly indigenous workers.
Pay the Rent Group,
P0 Box 117, Fitzroy, Vic 3065. Tel: (03) 478-6181.
Aims to get non-Aboriginal groups to pay a proportion of their income as rent' to Aboriginal people.
Grand Council of the Crees,
24 Bayswatch Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario. Tel: (613) 761-1655.
Fighting the huge James Bay Hydro scheme in Northern Quebec.
58 Arthur Street, Ottawa, Ont Ki R 7B9.
Supports a wide range of social-action groups and alternative development projects.
Lonefighters National Committee,
455 12th Street NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1X7.
Fighting the building of a destructive dam in Southern Alberta.
P0 Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC, VO4 1XO.
Newsletter of the radical ecology movement.
Office of the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en People,
P0 Box 229, Hazelton, BC, VOJ 1YO.
Centre of one of the biggest land-claim struggles in northern British Columbia.
56 Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5B1. Tel: (613) 234-6827.
USC's Seeds of Survival Program (see article) works with Ethiopian farmers and scientists to conserve and enhance that country's vital food seed base, thereby also contributing to global food security.
Corner House, Station Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset DT1O 1BB. Tel: (0258) 73476.
Long a doughty campaigner with a Deep Green perspective; this bi-monthly journal's views once seemed marginal but now seem ever more central.
The Ladakh Project,
21 Victoria Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 4ES. Tel: (0272) 731575.
See article for details of their work in Ladakh.
The Old Postern, Dartington, Totnes, Devon TQ9 SEA. Tel: (0803) 865934.
Open college offering the chance to study with key alternative/green thinkers.
6 Charterhouse Buildings LONDON EC1M 7ET
Tel: +44 (0)20 7687 8700. Fax: +44 (0)20 7687 8701
The leading campaigner for the world's threatened native peoples and cultures.
145 Ninth Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.
Advocates of basic-needs development; and supporters of groups in Central America and the Philippines.
48 Grove Street #103, Somerville, Mass 02144. Supports grassroots-development groups in the Middle East, the Philippines and Haiti.
Institute for Social Ecology,
P0 Box 384, Rochester, Vermont 05767.
Runs an excellent summer school on the theory and practice of radical social ecology.
The Ladakh Project,
P0 Box 9475, Berkeley, CA 94709. Tel: (510) 527-3873.
See article for details of this.
P0 Box 31251, San Francisco, CA 941311.
Centre for disseminating ideas about decentralized development and government.