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Sustainable Development in Senegalese Ecovillages!

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What Ecovillage Means in Senegal

Senegal Yoff, Senegal  |  Dec 29, 2008
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Much of this is copied from my notes so quotes and many phrasings can be attributed to our Tufts professor, Marian Zeitlin (M.Z.)!

The goal of the recent proliferation of Ecovillage Movements has been to create ecovillages and sustainable communities which, by their own nebulous definitions, are meant to achieve a state such that they are sustainable on their own. Oh, how this folds in on itself! Do we perpetually insist on defining terms with the defined word used in the explanation? In my Permaculture course, Bill Mollison gave a much more satisfying definition of sustainability, which I can share with you in the future. He also shared with us a long tirade about the majority of people who rally around the term "sustainability" and don`t actually have any idea about its meaning!

She essentially began with a graph, which she referred to as the "World Model Standard Run." A google search turned up this carbon copy. The graph basically depicts the ideas of carrying capacity, "overshoot" (such the technical term that it is!), and consumption. What she had to say about it was merely that "There was no big bang; When we passed carrying capacity, there was no boom (because we had fossil fuels). We didn`t realize we were headed for disaster." She did, to her credit, leave room for some self-questioning: "Is it true? Do we know? But there is a possibility we`re in some deep trouble."

We talked about how Africa is huge (We were informed that the land mass of Africa would fit the combined land masses of Argentina, U.S., New Zealand, India, China, and Europe, perhaps more, but this needs further substantiation. She showed us an image of this, but it couldn`t have been to scale; I think it was just intended to convey the idea!). Also, another student mentioned that U.S. maps during the cold war magnified the U.S. and the Soviet Union to emphasize their conflict so Africa doesn`t look so big (also needs some background research - anyone up for the challenge?). Anyhow, in spite of (perhaps because of, but I`m skeptical!) its largeness, Africa has been rather isolated (although when the Sahara was still habitable 10,000 years ago...Here, she made a sideways reference, sort of, to the fact that agriculture made it uninhabitable by about the time of 4,500 years ago. Gee, imagine that! Fertile Crescent turning to "totalitarian agriculture" and depleting/gobbling up the resources of the planet! More research needed here, as well!) and so has changed at a different, less dramatic pace with the onslaught of colonization and the Industrial Revolution. Of course, most of Africa is somehow defined by its relationship to such forces, but the rate at which its many "Leaver" tribes have declined in prominence has been much slower than elsewhere around the globe (take the Americas for a counter-example!).

Speaking of the confluences of what many have simplified into dichotomies of East and West, South and North, those disparate dispersions of that "one right way to live" across the globe, we discussed a South African ecovillage, Tlholego, which I was surprised I had never heard of before (then again, when I stumbled on Pun Pun, I was equally shocked it hadn`t come up sooner). Tlholego was supposedly built on a European model, which means the guiding principle was "Let`s look to the past," but because it was styling itself also after European fashions, they didn`t do this very well. Yes, it`s in South Africa, and they have mixed indigenous tribes with disgruntled city-dwellers, blacks and whites, but they`ve also based much of their ecological efforts on science, overlooking the potential of existing techniques (hence reducing the cost and time inputs of research) and even intuition/instinct.

This brings me very nicely to this astonishing moment from our class. M.Z., our professor, mentioned that the BBC website has reconstructed how the British and Irish lived 2,000 years ago, taking painstaking efforts to explain and illustrate the methods, the materials, and the details of everyday life. But right here in Senegal, people live (exactly or almost exactly) the same today

!In Senegal, GENSEN (Global Ecovillage Network-Senegal), they have approved 45 low footprint villages in 10 regions (2 zones with 7 regions: nord = Dakar, Thiés, Diourbel, St. Louis, Fatiak; sud = Kolda, Casamance), with 31, 500 population, much of which longs to return to "the golden age." Out of this 31,500, perhaps 315 can say what an "ecovillage" is. Around this point, M.Z. stated, "GENSEN believes that the colonial (system) leaves them in unnecessary conflict," referring I believe to villages and ancient traditions and the "Western"/"Taker" way. (A note on terminology: I`ve spent a lot of time preoccupied with the right and wrong words, but it seems so clear to me at this moment that it doesn`t matter that much. We are not supposed to have a vocabulary to explain monstrosity (monster cultures and all they engender) because we aren`t supposed to have monstrosity. But out of hundreds of thousands, all we needed was one. And we got that one. And now we`re stuck explaining how one devoured the majority of hundreds. - Though of course some declined on their own.)

A telling moment in class was related to NGOs. Our professor quoted a man from Burkina Faso: "Why won`t they let us work for our own villages?!" The system doesn`t work well now; top-down formal villages cost a lot of money, and there is no interest by imported outsiders in the villages they are imported into. That man won`t want to be there. Besides, villagers are suspicious. Whereas if he`s from the village, this shifts a lot. He has interest, he has the villagers` trust; good things happen.One of the things that she brought up in class that was most mind-boggling for me was the mere notion of "TWO SOCIAL CONTRACTS" (which is how it looks in my notes). It solves all kinds of dilemmas I`ve been dealing with in my head, avoiding having to work them out with others who can only see one trajectory of history that pits tribal law in the primitive "dark ages" and written law as a godsend, a salvation. It cuts out this trajectory by showing how both function entirely by different political means and mechanics they can hardly be thrown together on a clear line. They function in entirely different planes, and the disintegration in tribal law that was succeeded by a long nothingness and followed by written rules such as the Code of Hammurabai (see The Story of B for discussion of tribal law and "Taker" law) explains how these two entirely distinct notions of government and social functioning could be so incompatible and dissimilar, entirely unrelated (think skewed, in terms of geometry!).One such social contract is that which M.Z. placed within the "Global Market System" (though Quinn and I would broaden it to "Taker" culture in its long and winding history): -Primary economic units are government & private organizations. -Employment services and distribution of goods are monetary exchanges. They are regulated to include nepotism. - Everything is (strictly) MONITORED. ...There is a legitimate conflict of interest (in Senegal?) with the realities of life support systems; 29% of the Senegalese population had jobs in 2007; there is much corruption, many are underpaid, many in higher ranks are (untrustworthy?).

The other social contract belongs to African Traditional Societies: -Family, lineage are primary units -Cradle to grave social security is assumed by the hierarchical structure of kinship; friendship obligations; distribution system regulated by the hierarchy. -FAMILY is the strongest force (which cancels out any need for unwieldy governmental structures).What the meaning of ecovillage in Senegal (and Africa in general, it seems) came down to was this: "Northern" ecovillages are trying to create sustainable lifestyles post-Industrial Revolution, whereas "Southern" ecovillages are trying to sustain pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyles (shortest, simplest route to sustainability; we have a handout that defines an ecovillage--and don`t take this for a final word because I`ll be providing multiple definitions until I can distill the clearest and most deserving definition--as "a village that works to preserve its traditions and its natural resources against poverty and degradation, while upgrading the living environment of its inhabitants. An ecovillage is seeking both preservation and modernization in four areas," which areas are 1) sustainable traditions, culture, religion, and values, 2) sustainable environmental conditions, 3) sustainable economics, and 4) sustainable society (the health, education, and safety of the whole ecovillage).). Some of us discussed in class how North & South are merely current popular jargon, that such language oversimplifies the realities and doesn`t capture nuances.

M.Z. asked us if we thought the isolated heritage of much of Africa, and its lagging behind the Industrial Revolution, seemed like a blessing or a disadvantage. It was clear in my head that this was just right, completely as it should be, because that meant more tribes had lost fewer integral components of their belief systems, lifestyles, etc.. But looking around the room and noticing what our professor stressed, it became clear that most people see it as a mixed advantage, which makes plenty of sense also. Moving along, at about this point in the class, she exclaimed, "Look at how the diagrams by the Europeans are trying to discover how to go backwards." And then, "Here is permaculture," showing some garden or one construction project. No, that was not permaculture. I don`t know if permaculture can be encapsulated in one image (I doubt it!). And though in the notes it sounds as though she might have been ridiculing the tendency to think in terms of "going backwards" I`m almost positive she stressed it in such a way as to say this was the goal, the thing people interested in sustainability aspire to. But this makes no sense. It is impossible to imagine we could go backwards, and those who do look nothing less than foolish. We can only go forward. So we go forward, with knowledge of the past, current innovation, and ongoing inventiveness. She did mention the following, which made plenty of sense in this context: "Here in Africa you can still find answers you can`t find elsewhere (`cause they`re still in the original version)."

Yet it apparently doesn`t raise any eyebrows here that the governing mentality is "Think Globally. Act Locally." For education, transportation, and other "modernization" needs, it doesn`t seem to occur to anyone to look anywhere other than to the so-called Western world. So a group might claim to have in its interest the perpetuation of traditions and the urge to circumvent the ugliness of the Industrial Revolution, but the endpoint they want to get to is still the "modern" one, the appealing lifestyle seen on television (soap operas from the Americas being especially popular), just via a route that bypasses all the smog, congestion, and violence. Meaning: It doesn`t matter what inherent violence might lurk within that lifestyle; because it`s glamorous and convenient and healthy and sleek, everyone should strive for this one particular manner of existence. Perhaps the derailing happens in something as simple (and oh so unassuming!) as education. Tribal societies don`t need to have curriculum when learning is so interwoven with daily life and experience. Sorry, it`s kind of driving me crazy. Expect Providence references for a follow-up!

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