Weekly reflection: Living with differences
It is until I join the International Winter School on Pluralism and Development, at the International institute for studies on Race, Reconciliation and Justice, at University of Free State, Bloemfontein, in South Africa; that I am deeply connecting with pluralism and development. I am glad to see a diversity of cultures who believe in the power of pluralism for sustainable peace and human development.
I left Uganda on 14th July 2012, just a day before Isis- WICCE, run its 8th international cross cultural exchange institute on women conflict, peace and human security; since its relocation from Geneva, to Kampala in 1994; to join a vibrant and knowledgeable group of 21 women and men from different background, race and age; from South Africa, India, the Netherlands, Indonesia and Uganda; for a one month conversation and project development on Pluralism and development. This is the 9th institute of its kind since its initiation by Dr. Caroline Suransky and others, supported by HIVOS. Like Isis- WICCE’s institutes, the pluralism institute rotates among the four countries that have since showed interest in the topic.
Today is the last day of the first week and I believe it would be great to share with you my insights of this institute, which I believe has similarities with Isis – WICCE institute in many ways. It all started with a brief introduction of the faculty facilitators; I already mentioned Caroline. Others include; Professor Henk Manschot, Professor Sitharamam Kakarala (we refer to him as Ram), Mr JC Van der Merwe – whom we call JC. Although this was not gender balanced in selection; I believe it will get balanced as we go along, with more visiting facilitators. The introduction of participants was more elaborated, which creatively enabled new learning about one another. I shared a table with Anan from Indonesia. The deep conversation we held (for only 15 minutes), opened me to new learning about sexuality. I learned about the existence of 32 types of sexuality- wow I did not know this….I needed to know more and indeed Anan did help me understand many aspect of sexuality. Just to warn you …in his words “do not judge sexuality by what you see … a man or a woman…it is not what sex you have but how you interpret ‘yourself’…” This was cool to learn. I know it is new to most of us at Isis- WICCE. There is more to share on this, keep your questions for our internal learning.
The first day was full of discoveries and some scares too. People, we know very little about the planet and its people. Dr. Caroline introduced the concepts of Stereo type and Prejudices, and shared briefly how these concepts prompted her to initiate the institute due to her own experiences. The excise was about each of the countries, on behalf of our societies to say what is perceived of the participating countries. It was the most shocking thing to hear how others perceive Uganda! Friends Indonesia knows very little about Uganda…all their people know about Uganda is “we are cannibal”…eeeh don’t hit the roof guys, the only aspect they know of Uganda is Idi Amin, and we all know the film….., therefore stay put. The young Dutch here perceived Uganda as a country with low education. This was a bit of a surprise to me given that there is so much going on between these two countries - from our perspective. Could this be from the fundraising perspective where Development Corporation prioritises education?! Well my conclusion is that we need to do a lot of profiling Uganda both at individual and national level. Definitely we are not doing much of this as a country, other than engaging in our daily politics!. For those who are on face book try to integrate your topics to include the environment you leave in; could this help? Your guess is my guess.
Surprisingly, when we moved to analysing the 2 key issues of national concerns in each country, in relation to pluralism and diversity, it was interesting to see similarities among the countries despite the stereotyping we had about each other. The most common issues shared include; we are all colonized apart from the Netherlands which was only conquered by the germans and spain; ethnicity which is termed differently in the different counties (caste, race) is a major challenge; sexuality, language and religion were also mentioned as areas that need redress. During the deliberations, we all agreed that this is happening because we are still struggling on how best to embrace pluralism in our daily well being and connecting to each other. We observed that this has resulted into not being tolerant to one another, oppressing one another and of course the perpetual violence we inflict on one another as humans. The conversations also made me realize how little we know about the diversities within the issues. For example the Uganda team, in our presentation on the issue of LGBTIs, much as we were able to show the “negative” connectivity towards LGBTIs in Uganda, we were quick to go back into prejudices when we discussed our hope on the issue; that “LGBTIs do their things in private.” The language of “their thing” confirmed the perception one country had about Uganda as sexist, making some participants to approach me asking what we meant by “their thing.” However, the good news is that by the time we leave as Ugandan we shall have learned more about LGBTIs. Given that the project topics (Reconciliation, Identity, Pluralism effects and Human and sustainable development), I believe, we will interrogate our thinking and diversify our analysis on the topic.
The discussions of the two days were crowned with the many activities on Campus, as South Africa was celebrating the legend Madiba’s 94th Birthday on our third day, with a conversation between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Professor Mark Solms; chaired by Professor Pumla Madikizela; on the theme Transformation in Action. Prof. Mark made my day, when he indeed shared his practical transformation action, where he asked himself what had transformed on his farm in the 18 years of democracy in South Africa; and consciously practiced pluralism by taking every step to change his relationship with the Africans on his firm. It is a long story which needs another day…remind me to share during programme reflection. Well Mark took a step to understand the history of his ancestors, the firm he inherited, and its relationship with the “indigenous” people - if I may call them so. He used the findings to transform the lives of those who worked in his firm. Today they are partners in business! As a result, he is no longer feels guilty, uncomfortable or scared. And the African partners are no longer timid and for once enjoying their inherent basic rights; as I learn from Mark’s conversation.
In his conversation he mentioned many perspectives which I believe if we all took them seriously as societies we would definitely live in harmony despite our diversities. Let me share some of his reflections;
- Emotions stop us to think and only act, at a time when we are very vulnerable
- You cannot solve a problem without understanding what is wrong, and therefore one has to look at the “history” in a mutual way
- Self interest is the best development
- Greed and fear force us as individuals not to respect others’ rights
- We just need to take up our responsibility at individual level to start the ball rolling
Of course theoretically I had some knowledge about some of the above reflections but practically, I had not known how one could go about it. Prof. Mark’s experience was a critical learning for me…it takes one with serious determination to correct the wrong, because it is expensive physically and emotional too. But it is as empowering as Mark shared. The new perspective in his firm has not only made him human in his own eyes and those who worked on the firm, but has enhances his finances…it is such a fulfilling story. Without knowing much about him and this story I still salute his efforts.
The engagement between Prof Mark and the Archbishop definitely revealed the fact that South Africa has a lot to do to address the existing differences especially after the attained democracy; however, the country is in the right direction. The citizens are conscious about their glooming differences, and the entire young and the old are ready to see the total transformation occur.
Prof. Mark concluded with a very powerful statement which I would like to share with you for your further reflections;
“The fact that what works is what is good is not an accident.”
I wish we had more time to reflect on the above conversation, to deepen the analysis within our own spaces (as winter scholars). This did not happen, however all was not lost, we moved into deeper understanding of the term pluralism, and its connection to identity, and how our identities are affected by the environments we live in. It was interesting to see interconnectedness of identity surfaces in every aspect of our lives even when it is a personal and private phenomenon. Wow this is a complex issue in itself. It was very clear that from the explanations and discussions that from being human to becoming human we must deal with our different feelings. This it tough!
When we turned the conversation to human development and capability approach we engaged with some two theorists that provide some basic principles to being human, for example being human is being capable and vulnerable at the same time…just think about it from your own experiences; it makes a lot of sense. Another principle is that each person is a member of a moral community called humanity. These are just some of the principles. Another topic we have tackled is sustainable human development. There are quite a range of perspectives but the bottom line is that we all must think of the planet we live on and work hard to protect it. This was just the introduction I am sure I will learn more on these topics and share more.
As I conclude the busy week, let me share how the weekend faired. The week ended with a cross cultural visit to the museum about the Anglo war, where the Afrikans fought the British colonialists. As we drove across the city we crossed suburbs that evidently depicted diversities in terms of rights and access to basics. When we reached the museum, was yet another history to take note. JC explained to us how Afrikans had recently started engaging in aspects of their suffering in the hands of the British and even death that took place. This raised yet another outcry by the Africans, why they were not mentioned in the discussions when they too fought the war and died. Not to open new chapters even before concluding apartheid scenario, this is the most resent! The government to me took a positive stand to close the museum and address the historical gaps. I just hope the process will come to a positive conclusion if it is taken further. This raises more questions to me. Where do you start reconciliation in a world full of violence and inequalities? It is a huge dilemma from my perspective, but well it has to be done. The so many issues that are so intertwined depict the long journey South Africa has to bridge the diversity gaps and prejudices to embrace pluralism. Is this not a dilemma for us in Uganda too; and the world at large?
The Saturday was crowned by one of us Dot taking us to a club…….mmmmm. Pluralism was indeed at play. The space looked like the united states of the world. Every colour was there if I may use the term colour. Oh dear I do not remember the name of the pub, but all of us wined, cocacolered, intermingled and danced to the bits. I wondered why BAD people make us see each other differently and from a negative perspective. But I want to assure you I could not last for long since it is about 20 years since I visited a pub! I was one of the first lot to resign to bed! But it was fun and indeed pluralism was in Action.
Wait for the next reflection next Sunday!
My name is Ruth Ochieng, a Ugandan and feminist working for a women’s organisation called Isis – WICCE, best in Uganda, but international in its perspective. I am currently attending the Winter International school in South Africa. I took time to share with my colleagues back in my office about my first week reflection of the institute