Dr. Richard Kirby recently interviewed Dr. Efiong Etuk, author and social change expert on Africa.
Efiong, what are your hopes for the role of the African continent in the coming century?
Africa has to be the centerpiece of new world civilization. That is because we are the last custodians of truly humane values which, in some parts of the world, unfortunately, have been relegated to the background in the single-minded pursuit of wealth and consumption. To illustrate: Africa still holds dear such values as love, compassion, unity, brotherhood of man. These, without doubt, going to be Africa's gift to the world -- gifts that are certainly going to move the world forward.
As you know we are going to be working together for an African Academy of Creativity, perhaps it will be more Academy of Writing, perhaps it will be an African Academy of Arts, an African Academy of Spiritual arts. What do you think the genius of Africa can be contributing to creativity in this way?
Africa has a lot of creative ideas to contribute in practically in every domain of human endeavor. Perhaps it would not be too much to say that Africa is the original home of creativity and, as such, that creativity is typically African. The establishment of an African Academy of Creativity will be an intellectual homecoming, in view of the tremendous contributions that Africans have to offer in the realms of music, arts, philosophy, science, technology, social relations, and religion all of which are very critical in the emerging new global civilization. When I say that establishing an African creativity center or academy is like homecoming, I mean that such a facility will only be putting together the ideas by which the people have lived for millions of years.
How do we cope with the fact that Africa contains how many nations, fifty-five nations, and they are nations of so many different kinds - Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt in the North and Ghana and Kenya and so on in the center and South Africa and so on at the base. Is there truly, do you think a pan-African identity that transcends these while respecting individual differences?
Actually, if you look at it from that perspective, Africa is a continent of nearly a thousand, not fifty-five, nations, a thousand tribes. Each tribe has existed as an autonomous nation. It happened around 1885 at the Berlin Conference, when the tribes of Africa were amalgamated for the administrative convenience of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and so on, and so forth. In the process of amalgamating groups of tribes into nations, some uneasy bedfellows were put together. However, in spite of the large number of tribes, Africa has certain core values that transcend ethnic boundaries. Examples are the brotherhood of man and relationship with the environment and Mother Earth. This is what we mean when we speak of African brotherhood.
Our readers would be very interested to hear from you what is the present situation of pan-African activities, any renaissance of pan-African cultural activities that are going on.
Right now we are embarking on a new continental initiative known as "African Renaissance." African Renaissance, I should explain, is a movement unanimously decided upon by all African Heads of States to revive and upgrade traditional African ways of life (culture, music, technology, medicine, arts, etc.) that we have lived by for thousands, possibly millions, of years. We Africans sincerely believe many of our traditional values, cultures, arts, medicine, etc., can inform modern civilization; and the renaissance is about reviving and mainstreaming these cultural treasures in the emerging world culture.
As you look out over the continent of Africa in all its glory and keeping in mind the human predicament what do you think are the outstanding human needs of the citizens of all these African nations today?
The rest of the world thinks that what Africa needs is food, water and electricity. Yes, we need those things for our physical survival. Beyond survival, however, what Africans need most is to live and function as human beings, to rediscover themselves, and the values by which they have lived, to contribute to world civilization and, therefore, to feel and experience themselves part of this universe. Africa and Africans want to be part of the universe and they have the right to feel that way. Roads, food, electricity and so on are only instrumental to this end, not the end by themselves.
I am speaking to you at a conference called the Creative Problem Solving Institute and I know that it has been your hope that you could bring representatives of all the African nations to this conference next year. Would you tell us what is necessary in order that would happen in terms of fundraising and secondly what would you do with these people if you could bring them to this Institute next year.
Right now, my goal is to bring at least two people from each African country to CPSI, (Creative Problem Solving Institute.) That amounts to about one hundred and ten participants from Africa. Here at CPSI, these African creativity leaders would not only learn about creative problem solving but most importantly network themselves together to put their creativity to use for their continent's development. I should add that these are creative people in their own right, whose ingenuity is providing water for their people, building schools for their people, and devising tools and other labor-saving implements for their people. These creative people would come here, not so much to learn creativity but, more importantly, to use CPSI as a forum to plan strategies for genuine bottom up development throughout the continent of Africa beginning, of course, from the grassroots. If that one dream would come through, I am sure Africa would have crossed a major milestone in its development. Again, I wish to emphasize that the type of people I have in mind are those whose work and lives are already helping their people to cope with very difficult situations, whose creativity and ingenuity are helping their people to find hope in life; and we want to bring them together and enable them to plan together not only locally but also continentally.
It sounds to me at if to bring these people to the United States for three weeks like for a week before, a week during, a week after this conference they would need to get their fare, about $2,500.00 each, a $1,000 for the conference fee, another couple of thousand dollars for hotel accommodations and so on. So we are talking about a figure of about half a million dollars at this point.
I think a figure of half a million to .7 of a million would conveniently accommodate the needs of these people. I am pretty sure the airlines, if they could be persuaded, might give them some kind of rebate. However, let's put the figure at between $500,000 and $700,000. I should emphasize that the big multiplier effect in terms of human potential development would more than pay for that expense, if the money could be raised.
Do you have a particular fundraising strategy in mind?
I have a few. One of them is to approach international development agencies and corporations that are doing business in Africa the benefits of which are really not touching the grassroots. I hope to be able to persuade them that this project will have a great multiplier effect both for the continent and for their "bottom line," whatever this happens to be.
So in addition to bringing the entrepreneurs to Buffalo, New York next year, your plan is when they go back to have an all African creativity conference?
Yes, my plan is to enable them while they are here in the United States to plan for an "All Africa Creativity Conference." The reason for this is that communication is sometimes very difficult in Africa. Bringing them here would provide a golden opportunity for them to sit together and develop a plan for promoting creativity, not only at their own level but also in schools, in communities, and in other sectors of the African Society.
Do you have a sense of where and when this conference might take place, this all Africa creative conference?
It could be anywhere in Africa. However, Nigeria and South Africa are strong candidates.
Tell us something about your own educational qualifications and so on.
I have three degrees in Sociology and Social Psychology: Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate. However, my current academic and professional interest is human creativity.
Thank you very much Doctor Etuk.