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Failure of Western training methods – a hypothesis for future learning

I saw once a documentary about a refugee camp in Africa. It showed that spontaneous refugees were treated differently from those who followed and grouped around their tribal leaders. I thought no wonder why Western methods fail. If they only function under the condition of recognizing and upholding traditional and hierarchical rankings within African tribes, then these societies will continue to exclude all those individuals who do not fit into any of these world wide accepted categories of administrative practices when it comes to relief measures.

Whether NGOs from Europe or relief teams of the United Nations, the problem is not merely UN soldiers involved in raping girls and women they supposed to protect, but also what negative reinforcement of traditional forms of organization leave African societies speechless and static when it comes to meet contemporary challenges openly and realistically.

In listening to what Koffi Annan says often to the world about poverty reduction, then the way he names the issue is still an integral part of a skillful diplomacy at world level. It reflects what it takes to convince national politicians in the Western world to take more seriously into consideration the needs of the developing world. A notification thereof is that current aid is not enough. Despite of all the pledges there has not been made enough progress. Besides that, most aid contains an element of favoritism linked to good behavior. Such an award system is linked to what the West sees as development chances in terms of lucrative contracts for its own industry. That approach based on self interest rules out fair trade agreements and participation of the developing world under the condition of equality. The shortcomings in any approach to poverty in the world and to every other human crisis in Africa, Asia and Latin America are well known and documented, but hardly understood in terms of a failure to attain responsible governance at world level.

To return to the outset of this conversation about world organizations responding to refugee crisis of different origins but in Africa mainly linked to tribal conflicts, it has to be stated that modern war fare is often masked by tribal categories when in fact it is about military clashes of opposing camps. The fact that ‘spontaneous refugees’ (those who left on their own accord and not in an orderly fashion according to the rites of tribes) had to wait at the fringe of the refugee camp for more than twenty days because they were not recognized by the administration of the refugee camp, that says a lot about failures of relief measures. The view prevails that the camp administration can only function if prime recognition is given to traditional power i.e. the authority of the tribal leader is upheld, and this not even but especially in moments of crisis and despite obvious needs for immediate responses. It is known in the West that crisis provokes a reaffirmation of hierarchical principles; in the developing world with tribal power used equally by corrupt political leaders and military dictatorships to keep their grip on power firm such reaffirmation means no lessons are learned since the sources of the crisis are not named. 

Once the administration of these camps wishes to deal only with tribal leaders as a way to retain a semi autonomous way of organizing the refugee crisis an inhuman selection and system of privileges is established und used immediately to get things done only in a certain, equally highly conformist way. Perhaps those on the ground would say the situation is always more complex than in ‘theory’. Maybe further experiences and other observations can contradict this hypothesis but right now the fact is that such an approach plays directly into the hands of those who have power not merely out of practical reasons but because of traditions.

The real question behind my remarks is whether or not this can be linked to a system of recognition which results not merely out of traditional forms of organization, but as well derives its insights in the way things are done out of so-called ‘magical beliefs’. These forms have been described by Frazer in ‘The Golden Bough’ and interestingly enough was used as main source of knowledge when Sigmund Freud wrote his ‘Totem and Taboo’.

Politically speaking, traditional power based on magical beliefs would mean a system by which an entire population can be held under sway. Although a crisis hits all by making everyone into refugees fleeing violence and hunger, significantly it allows as well for such discrimination that those who refuse to follow the traditional lines but take their lives into their own hands can be declared immediately into outsiders. The fact that Western relief organizations cannot help them in a non-bureaucratic way says a lot about how cumbersome are sometimes very obstinate personalities asserting that only their way will work and if left out, they threaten to make everything else impossible. Control would mean all people have to remain under the sway of the tribal chiefs and in turn they make sure that they surround themselves with such magical beliefs that their power is uphold whether natural or man made disasters strike.

If this the case, then greater reconsideration has to be given as to what survival both under 'normal' and more so in 'crisis' means, for if there is a continuity in the way traditional powers are upheld, then unresolved conflicts will perpetuate themselves despite any acute crisis or more so strengthen themselves on hand of what has been caused by this shortcoming of power: war leading to tribal conflicts with genocide like in Rwanda the terrible outcome.

Sound development policy would have to face the fact that people are forced to stay under the sway of power and thereby are prevented from developing by themselves autonomous forms by which they can live adapted, culturally and socially speaking, to modern conditions.

The humanitarian crisis in the developing world results out of traditional forms of organizational behaviors. This is because vindictive powers follow as a rule the final impounding of people once outside forces have already trespassed beforehand the borders of the tribal rule. Over alienation and other forms of estrangement prompt a new kind of assertiveness to regain the traditional hold over people. The assertion that it has to be traditional is a way to justify and to hide really what is going on. In reality 'sway of power' is based on a mixture of militant repression to the point of outright violence as outcome of abuse of power and holding people in sway out of fear for their lives due to power taking on magical masquerades. Interestingly enough those who go unrecognized by refugee camps are the ones considered to be spontaneous refugees i.e. those who act out of their own accord and do not follow traditional tribal lines. The direct suppression of spontaneity as a way to assert control is not new. The German sociologist Nikolos Luhmann suggested this as best method to retain state control. But in view of how the Western and developing world interact, suppression of spontaneous actions has to be perceived as key to bring about failure for any new attempt to break out of unresolved conflicts and traditional forms used to perpetuate power.

It means relief help can only be effective if it recognizes those holding power even if it means delay in relief efforts leaves countless innocent civilians helpless and exposed to war, extortion and genocide. If that problem exists, the question has to be asked what difference would it make in development policy if resolving this prime problem would be made into a precondition of giving aid? As long policy and practices on the ground adhere to strictly hierarchical principles, then it seems impossible that problems linked to such an organizational principle will be resolved. Rather existing problems shall be reinforced by a set of new ones and thereby burden the lives of the people there even more so. And it should not be reduced to a clash between tradition and modernity.

Of course, enthusiasm for a vision can unite people and make them move forward together, but if repeatedly Western leaders, including Germany’s foreign minister Joschka Fischer can fly to Africa, if only to return completely silenced by what they saw and heard, then no wonder that Europe and North America have not found within their own population a way to initiate a new kind of debate about development aid and policy. Moreover any foreign policy of the European Union and of the United States would remain short sighted, if this problem was not seen as having far reaching impacts upon training methods and ways of educating future aid workers.

Take Afghanistan as an example. Prior to the last federal elections in Germany, the issues faced by this country were not discussed during the election campaign despite Germany troops being there but under restricted conditions to stay in the North where no fighting takes place as compared to other NATO troops who are fighting in the South. So much silence is not good when a major foreign policy option has ramifications upon future involvement of German troops in Afghanistan. It is not really debated because in reality so much money is wasted and remains unaccounted since the general umbrella of ‘war against terrorism’ or more correctly against the Talibans justifies already in the name of 'security' (and not world peace) so much, that it comes never to that: a discussion about what is being really offered to the people of Afghanistan?

The set up of such a hypothesis is in need of a cultural context before a practical learning can take place. In subsequent debates a clear measure shall be what awareness for this problem manifests itself within Europe and more specifically if the self understanding of those engaged in the debate does taken them beyond a certain kind of Eurocentricity. Relating with empathy based on clear analysis to the developing world means throughts have to be expressed free from possible projections upon the other side. There is a need to see what aid and development initiatives manage and to listen to the others in the developing world. Unfortunately those attending the conference and suffering under Aids whether in Africa or elsewhere like the Philippines were not listened to. Neither were those representatives of NGOs working in Zimbabwe. They warned then in 2005 what was happening under Mugabe. No wonder then that they broke down at the end of the conference. They cried out or went silent out of anguish. Afterwards they expressed their exasperation. It showed that they did not really understand what they had witnessed, namely not merely the silence of Western intellectuals, but a much larger cultural crisis in the making. It is indicated by how always international debates are transformed in the process more and more into an internal European and in Strasbourg more into a specific French debate. It appears as if any crisis is only to be used to sharpen one's own intellectual tools for the sake of positioning oneself within the Western world. 

Three important questions were posed to structure in advance of the conference in Strasbourg possible contributions and hence they shall be addressed subsequently:

1. Does culture institute politics?

2. How do developing countries accept Western politics?

3. What are the profound and internal factors which explain the dependency between Western and developing countries?

Answers have to be put into the context of how EU foreign and development policy is being formulated and facilitated through specific programs set up to finance types of projects designed in a certain way.

It will mean certain proposals need to be made to create a base for further discussions, including about intercultural dialogue as method of mediation thought to be a practical prerequisite for the peace process.

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