THE COURAGE TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS; Pierre Pradervand Sociologist
Pierre Pradervand spent close to 11 years in Africa in the fields of research , program administration, and communications. A Swiss sociologist, he was one of the first Western population specialists to oppose the narrow Malthusian approach to population control which was the hallmark of the '60s and early '70s , and to argue for a broader "development" approach -- a view not generally accepted. In 1975, with the backing of the Canadian International Research Center, he founded Famille et Developpement, a popular African development magazine. "F et D," as it came to be known, emerged as something of a journalistic phenomenon in the Third World. Highly respected for its integrity, this grassroots educational periodical became one of the best-selling international magazines in subsaharan Africa.mSkip to next paragraph
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He is now back in his native Switzerland and, as of 1981, will serve as a consultant to the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the field of public education on Third World issues.m
The following exchange took place with Henrietta Buckmaster, editor of the Home Forum page.m
The first half appeared yesterday on this page.m
The Brandt Commission has stressed that in the 20 years ahead of us global issues will come to a head for mankind. One of the most important issues is learning how to respect each other -- everywhere. Is that too idealistic a statement?
Ultimately it has to be the basis of any dialogue between the North and South. Talking together is one of the most traditional of African virtues. It's based on mutual respect, and the basis of respect is love. It may be trite to speak in this way, but it doesn't alter the truth.
How is one going to say that in public? And can Africa face the enormous economic pressures, the investments, the power that the Western countries have in terms of money and technology and greed? How can "Northern" countries deal with people of other cultures as their genuine equals -- not technologically their equal, at this time, but equal on the basis of their shared humanity?
I think what is needed is a gigantic, unprecedented effort of mutual education. And this includes the Soviet countries, and North America, because in the last 20 years, technology and only technology has brought the peoples of the world into close contact, but on a terribly unequal basis. In Gambia, for example, it's been estimated that out of every $100 spent by tourists -- and tourism could have been a great resource -- $83 is returned to Europe. The airlines are operated by foreign companies, the hotels belong to foreign countries. So do the top personnel.Most of the food and drink comes from abroad. What prospers most is prostitution.
But for an educational effort to have any impact, people have to wantm to be educated. Do you think there exists in the West a real widespread desire to better understand other cultures and people?
Well, many people appear to be quite undisturbed by their ignorance. And this is one of the major obstacles to international understanding today -- our indifference and selfsatisfied egocentrism. We are not even interested in getting to know other cultures and people, let alone appreciate and love them.
What activates development?
Real development is not the result of material inputs but of mental attitudes. I just received a few days ago a remarkable letter from a European friend who has been totally integrated into the life of a West African village. He lives in a hut, eats local food, has adopted local customs, lives off agriculture -- I have yet to come across another such example of cultural integration. He is attempting to introduce new agricultural techniques with very modest help from a few friends at home. He was writing that the main development problem in his region was overcoming the mentalitym of dependency. Peasants have come to expect everything from the state or aid agencies. So, clearly, the main problem is a mental one -- getting people to realize and believe that they can change their destinies, whatever the difficulties. Unquestionably the greatest failure in the field of development in the past 20 years has been the almost total lack of active popular participation in decisionmaking. In such a context, whether a country is formally democratic or not makes little difference. The mechanics of material aid will fail as long as the nonmaterial aspects -- call them mental, spiritual, whatever -- are not given the overriding importance that belongs to them.
What form of aid do you feel is acceptable?
Do you know the proverb "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for always"? Yet I am not really sure most Western or Soviet politicians are at all eager for that form of aid based on stimulating self-help! Yet this form of aid is the only one that can work in the long run, because it avoids the aggressive paternalism of traditional aid and can lead to authentic selfgovernment, which is the hallmark of real democracy.