Professor John H. Stanfield explains to Investor’s Mag that the greatest tragedy of our era is how much we trivialize being developed. “Everything is better than who and what they are if it has a Western brand name be it a fashion, a professional, a degree, an accent, a lover, you name it”, says the founding Director of the non-aligned think tank ASARPI: Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas. ASARPI strives to be the world’s leading knowledge centre for discussion, design, and implementation of well being policies in Africa and in the African Diaspora.
Featured in Investor’s Mag, 20th Edition, March 22 – June 22
Could you talk to us about your futuristic Pan-African think tank,The Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas (ASARPI)?
The Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas and in Mauritius minus the word Institute, is a nonaligned and therefore non-partisan think tank meant to offer neutral ground for exploring best practice public policy ideas to be recommended to governments, businesses, and civil societies leaders in Africa and elsewhere in the world, especially in Asia. ASARPi stems from a think tank perspective derived from the historical role of American philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundations which over 120 years became venues outside of government and civil society bringing together experts for impartial discussions about resolving problems in society and recommending feasible strategies to leaders in government, civil society, and business.
We do this work through topical small scale multiple stakeholder study practice groups drawn from governments, business, civil society, and representatives from impacted grass root communities. So we are not a pie-in-the-sky academic institution. We involve impacted ordinary citizens and residents as well as government, civil society, and business high-level policy making leaders who come together to explore best practices to address an issue such as preventing domestic violence and innovative entrepreneurial models to address the employment of poor people with high competency skills but no access to employment markets. These groups meet for so many months or years with the requirement that representatives must report back to their offices or communities as a conscious raising process. This results in those involved coming to own the engagement process and eventually a policy advocacy report where there is consensus learned over time about what can be done. No one is surprised, no one has been left out.
We just launched our new website and through it, we will be offering not only study-practice group Webinars but also general public awareness workshops in areas such as effective entrepreneurship, Africanizing the Digital Age, anti-gender violence prevention, cultural diversity and inclusion in business, government, and in nonprofit sectors, restorative justice and peacemaking, and good governance. We also host lectures and classes offered by accredited universities around the world, especially those in the United States, and have our own e-publications platform.
You reject terminologies such as “underdeveloped” or “developing” to define a country. Why?
Actually, it is the other way around! I used to reject “underdevelopment and developing” descriptions of nations. It is easy to do that when you are a progressive thinking westerner who has never deeply lived in non-western parts of the world since, after all, all nations and individuals, institutions, and communities within them are underdeveloped and developing. But the more I live outside the United States, which is such a deeply privileged nation with serious inequality problems, needless to say, the more I realize that one of the greatest divides in the world is between those nations which and indeed own means of production, consumer services, quality education, health, and climate and those which are left out in the cold. And, how being left behind impacts your daily life and services access. I feel that difference increasingly distinctly wherever I am living outside the States, including in Western Europe but especially in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe,and Latin America.
One of the greatest tragedies of our era is how much we trivialize being developed to mean the extent to which a privileged few have access to mass consumerism to see the latest American movie or wear the latest American, British or French fashion or to send one’s loved one to an elite western boarding school or university or buy a fancy car or have a house with an “American kitchen.” Meanwhile, what is really happening on the ground in nations left behind is ineffectual consumer services well out-dated such as banking services, bribery rather than professionalism in getting basic public services from hospital care to police and sewage services and obsolete vocational training leading to soaring youth unemployment. The rush to join the latest technological craze such as digitalization is consumed by profit-making elites while traditional values concerns such as guiding and disciplining children and taking care of the older are marginalized if not totally ignored.
“One of the greatest tragedies of our era is how much we trivialize being developed to mean the extent to which a privileged few have access to mass consumerism…”Professor John H. Stanfield | Founding Director | ASARPI
The tossing away of traditional values while running after the latest technological craze with bribery for services so rampant is the reason why developing countries may continue to proclaim modernity while things continue to fall apart with the deepening indifference of those on top who can fly internationally elsewhere for quality of life services while those majority back home they rarely see except through the front or side window of a vehicle, deepen in their misery no matter what the official measures of development claim and are proclaimed. I should emphasize, I am not idealizing well-developed countries like my homeland USA. We have corruption and plenty of it, becoming increasingly brazen in public. But at least there are publicly sanctioned laws and an active media which restricts and prosecutes most readily those caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
What can you say about the psychological aspects of underdevelopment which seem to be characteristic in African countries?
This is a very complex and paradoxical query. The structure of colonial domination cannot be created or sustained as enduring dehumanization of the colonized without the effective internalization of mental and emotional senses of inferiority and incapacity on the part of the colonized, said well by Franz Fanon decades ago. Not just in Africa but elsewhere in the world, this is what the historical power and privilege of White Supremacy has done in well-establishing senses of massive inferiority in the Non-West making Non-Westerners think they and their cultures, values, institutions, and nations are underdeveloped and thus inherently less than those of the West. Everything is better than who and what they are if it has a Western brand name be it a fashion, a professional, a degree, an accent, a lover, you name it. It is better to escape and get a passport to somewhere West than to stay at home, which is a source of shame and condemnation.
To hear Africans and other Non-Westerners in America, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany make fun of where they are from or trying to conceal or always criticizing is the psychological victory of underdevelopment since it all starts and ends in the mind and soul. The difference between the psychology of Asian senses of underdevelopment and African is stark. While Asians may migrate to say North America or Europe to learn western knowledge to translate and empower in their ethnic communities or when they return home, too many, certainly not all, Africans are more into internalizing western knowledge as if it is superior to their own while marginalizing, if not shedding their traditional cultures and identities as core foundations of nation building in areas such as education, rule of law, health care, technology, and science-all tending to be western derived while indigenous knowledge is treated by governments as a side show or something for tourists to enjoy.
The ultimate African underdevelopment problem is the mindset that Africans are better off trading outside the continent and using Western currencies than their own and flying to Europe or UAE first and then to an African point of destination; all current hot button issues being addressed these days by progressive Pan Africans though with questionable widespread continental public support let alone understanding or interests.
How different is Mauritius from other African legally decolonized countries you have traveled to?
Mauritius, like other African countries I have traveled to and lived in, is multicultural, stratified, and has its mosaic of prejudices. The difference of course is Mauritius’s demographical geopolitical history as is the case of every other African country with their own histories. Both the mixture and segregation of different Indian, African, European, and other Asian, especially Chinese and Malay, and how they are expressed in politics, government, education,and the economy deserves much more comparative study with other African and Asian countries and island societies in other parts of the world than what has been done so far. It would be a way of demonstrating the complex fit of Mauritius in regional, continental, and global orders rather than separate and exceptional from the rest of humanity. And in such needed comparisons is the chronic imperative for Mauritians concerned with improving the global status of their country to identify culturally compatible best practices to rid their beloved nation of its systemic mosaic of cultural prejudices since they waste human talent, are sources of brain drain, and increasingly will encourage more enlightened investors not to consider Mauritius as a nation to invest in.
“Mauritius has always been euro-centric since its independence, with much economic success. Even the Mauritian consumer behavior tilts more towards European goods and services”Professor John H. Stanfield | Founding Director | ASARPI
Mauritius has always been euro-centric since its independence, with much economic success. Even the Mauritian consumer behavior tilts more towards European goods and services. How do you change that in favor of Africa? This is a burning question ASARPI is attempting to address through developing innovative engagement processes to facilitate effective learning, sharing, and collaborative partnerships between Mauritius and continental African business people. It is only wise and doable to do this. It requires engagement processes that break down cultural stereotypes on both sides and find common grounds for trade and for economic investment, including new collaborative models of workforce and vocational education and entrepreneurial job placement.
We are developing ASARPI Webinars to host such engagement processes bringing together Mauritius and continental African Studies consumer-oriented business people and their global virtual as well as face-to-face markets. We are also launching a hybrid virtual face to face platform to broker for customers and home service providers such as electricians, cleaners, hair stylists, handymen and women looking for each other in Mauritius and South Africa to start with plans to extend throughout Africa.
What do you think of the idea of having a United States of Africa, one that breaks down all geographic barriers with one currency, with one economy, with one parliament, with one president. Is that a myth?
The idea of one African currency, one trade zone, one visa entry make sense these days, and there are a number of Heads of State in Africa behind such sensible movements that we see happening in the Western Hemisphere and in Europe with deepening possibilities in Asia. The implementation of such transcontinental ideas as changing as they are happens to be a piece of cake when it comes to the one Africa idea. That will never happen, given the complexities of the numerous sovereign powers on the continent. The long presence of the African Union with its limited powers and its inabilities to move the continent beyond its colonial masters (especially the French and their unapologetically re-colonized colonies) to authentic post-colonial liberation indicates how much a United States of Africa is a fantasy and even if made true, would probably be ineffectual in reality.
Final words ..
Democracy, economic and social human rights within it, is hard daily value embedded work requiring daily sacrifice and concern for fellow citizens who actually are WE THE PEOPLE. Democracy is on the ropes all over the world and believe it or not, Africans are the only continental peoples most believing in democracy and fighting for it. If Africans would just be focused on developing democracies which do not replicate those of the West, which are merely democracies for a few, and focus on the authenticity of human rights for all, Mauritius and other African nations would become models of emulation in a world in shambles with Western democracies losing respect due to their historical and contemporary atrocities and hypocrisies. This is the hope for Mauritius which has the capacity to rise further as a leading authentic democracy, yes in Africa. That is why ASARPI is here. To assist in making Mauritius an African democracy worthy of following in this balkanized leaderless world. It is the reason why I came here.