What can we learn from tradition and conflict?

This article is an English translation of an article previously published in Dutch on July 2nd 2016. With special thanks to Michiel Doorn who helped me with the translation.

Those that know me are aware that, already for five years, I have been traveling between Ghana and the Netherlands. In Ghana, I work with the Dagomba tribe in the North. The Dagomba are generally traditional people and religion is important in their lives, as it is in many other areas of Africa.  Most Dagomba are practicing Muslims. However, the type of Islam and the way of practicing it is totally different from what we know in the West.

The images about Islam in Europe and the United States are mainly based on the Arabic/North African Islam. The Arabic type of Islam is influential in global economy because of the dominant position that part of the world has as a supplier of oil. The global economy is based on oil and the largest suppliers are in countries that are Arab Muslim. As such the influence in OPEC (and thus, in the global economy) is large.

Most immigrants in Europe come from North Africa. For example, in the Netherlands many immigrants are from Morocco and also from Turkey. In Germany, there is a large community with Turkish roots. In France, many immigrants are from Algeria and Lebanon. The first immigrants came two, even three generations ago and their children have grown up as Dutch, Germans or French. And they are Muslim, although not always practicing their religion. However, a Turk is not a Moroccan, just as a Belgian is not a Dutchman.

In this article I refer to Spiral Dynamics, a model for social development, which acknowledges that there are different realities (worldviews or vMemes) that can exist at the same time and next to each other. Spiral Dynamics brings a sharp view on the complexity and nuances of reality. The great value of Spiral Dynamics, to me, is that it brings a refreshing perspective on societal issues and, by doing so,it shows new possibilities to resolve tensions and conflict. It gives access to alternative solutions for familiar and new issues.

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Religion in general – both Islam and Christianity – are according to Spiral Dynamics an expression that primarily manifests in the Blue value system (Authoritarian vMeme). A commonly used synonym for the word ‘value system’ is worldview. Holy writings and rules for the way one should live add structure and form to the manifestation of a belief in a higher truth.

The content of the books and rules differ between religions, but to me the essence isn’t so much different at all. What they have in common is the conviction that we are part of something that is larger and more intelligent than us, human beings, and that we have to submit to, and relate with that higher intelligence. Rules and agreements help us in doing this.

The origin of religion, however, has its roots in another value system. The consciousness that we are part of a larger whole, even if it is only the planet Earth we are living on, has its origin in the Purple value system. This value system also is called “the tribal order” (Tribal mythic vMeme). Essence of the tribal order is – according to me – that we are all connected with another and that we can achieve much more together than as individuals. Family and group are important, often more important than the individual. There is a certain unity and connection; within the group and as a group with the Earth. The most commonly known example of the purple value system are the Aboriginals in Australia. Also with the Dagomba tribe from Northern Ghana this value system is predominantly present, especially in rural areas. More on this further in the article.

Where the Blue value system brings structure and language to an experience of belief, has the Purple value system much more a mystical relationship with that of which we are part of and related in. Both are oriented on the group as a collective. However, some questions remain unanswered; “Where is the individual in the group?” and “Who am I as an individual within the group?” These questions have their origin in another value system, more oriented on the individual.

The tribal value system (Purple) and the structure oriented value system (Blue) are related with another through a value system that answers the two questions in the previous paragraph. This connecting value system is Red, “Power Gods”. The Red value system emphasizes self-expression and manifestation of self (the individual). Decisiveness is the word that I find most summarizing for the Red value system. One could say that the collective consciousness of connection from the tribal order (Purple) manifests through expression of the individual (Red). The authoritarian Bblue) value system brings a framework for ‘healthy’ manifestation by the individual and in the group. Healthy manifestation means here that it serves the larger whole; in this case the group.

There is a certain hierarchy, but not a linear hierarchy. When one lives in a collective (family, group, company, community, society) the question “What is my position in the group?” automatically arises. This is not a question that will be resolved with a definite answer. Because there is constant movement and dynamics in the group, the ‘I-question’ will also constantly return. And, because there is constant change/movement in the group and as a group, does the answer to the I-question also change over time. That is why it is important to ask the question again and again as if it was a new question.DNA spiraal vMemesAt the same time there are certain things that seem to be less influenced by this continuous dynamics of change or does there seem to be a great consent on certain specific matters. In that case it is very valuable to make certain agreements to prevent us from spending our time and energy on something that is stable and commonly accepted. It makes life more easy, decreases the level of tensions/conflict within the group and creates space for other topics that are equally important. The Red value system finds peace in structure and, at the same time, it looks for the boundaries and sometimes stretches/crosses those boundaries. This is a natural (evolutionary) process and part of the individual human need to develop and manifest.

As a source of self-manifestation and individual creativity, the Red value system is very powerful. In the Netherlands there is also fear of this value system. That is understandable, because too much force and self-expression can lead to “unhealthy” forms of expression and even (extreme) force or violence.

The image in Europe of Islam is strongly influenced by violent organizations such as Daesh (often referred to as ISIS) and Boko Haram in northern Africa, as well as by the assault of Al Qaida on the World Trade Center in New York. These are forms of unhealthy Red (Power Gods). However, the expression of George Bush, Jr. “Either you are with us or you are against us” and the declarations by Geert Wilders in the Netherlands area also forms of unhealthy Red.

From the perspective of Spiral Dynamics the clash between the West and groups such as Daesh, Al Qaida and Boko Haram is not so much a clash between Islam and the “free” West. It is a conflict between unhealthy Red against unhealthy Red.  I may write more on this topic in another paper. Now, I want to emphasize and clear up that the picture of Islam as a violent religion is not entirely wrong but definitely very limited.

Islam has a rich history in arts, science and literature. The modern astronomy has its origins in the work by the Moghul in India. The Moghul are Muslims that have lived and ruled over large parts of India for many years. Their knowledge of the stars has been far more advanced than in the Western world. At a time where people in Europe still believed that the Sun was turning around the Earth there were star watchtowers all over India and one could find very detailed and accurate maps of the universe and of the dynamics in our solar system.

The most traditional scientists in Islam were Sufi. Great writers and poets as Hazrad Imrad Khan were Sufi, as were many mathematicians, astrologists and other scientists. The essence of Sufism is –according to me – that science and mysticism are combined. From the deep understanding that reality is far more complex and larger than we humans can comprehend the Sufi aims for connection with reality by research, arts, conversation and meditation. The asking of questions is much more important than the answer and by repetitive asking the same question, again and again, our understanding of reality evolves. At the same time our understanding always is limited to a concept that only comes close to reality; it is not reality, but our understanding of it. This deep consciousness is a characteristic of a Sufi.

Sufi experience a different worldview than the other forms of Islam I described above. In Spiral Dynamics I would describe Sufism as Yellow (FlexFlow) and Turquoise (Wholeview) value systems. These value systems contain a very high level of complexity, and are in general far positioned from the purple, red and blue value systems of Spiral Dynamics. Sufi, in general, have more in common with the carriers of the Rose Cross from Christianity and the Kabbalists in Judaism than with the other forms of Islam. In Sufi temples one can find holy writings of all world religions, such as the Bible, the Kabbalah and Hindu writings, next to the Koran.

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Although I was born as a Jew and predominantly am trained in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, Muslims that are familiar with Sufism consider me to be a Sufi. I even got married in the Sufi temple in Katwijk (with a self-designed ceremony based on my own spiritual practice) because the regents of the temple considered my view on life and spirituality as that of a Sufi.

As I mentioned before, a large majority of the Dagomba are Muslim. However, the form of Islam practiced by the Dagomba is different from all forms that I know of. Instead of local traditions having been replaced by Islam, Islam was integrated into the local traditions. As with many African tribes, community comes first in traditional Dagomba life: the Purple value system still is dominant with the traditional Dagomba with whom I work and live.

Dagomba key belief is that we are all family and, thus, connected. This is within the tribe, but extends beyond the boundaries of the own community.  In many cases, people are actually related to each other. A man may have a maximum of four wives, as long as he can offer them a good existence. Large families are the norm. What I find especially fascinating is the mixed marriages where one parent is Muslim and the other Christian. In these unions, the children have  a fair amount of freedom to make their own choice as far as belief and religion. Even the choice of the individual church or mosque is pretty much up to the children. Consequently, it can occur that within one family, parents and children may visit more than ten different churches or mosques.

During my first visits to the community that had invited me to come to Ghana, I had taken the time to talk with my hosts about my own spiritual practice, which is mainly grounded in Buddhism/Hinduism/Taoism. During these dialogues we found remarkably many similarities in regard to unity and connection. And we also agreed on the need for self-reflection as part of personal and spiritual growth. I also addressed that I am a born Jew and that that identity is important to me as well. I asked if that would or could be a problem for collaboration. The reaction was genuine surprise.

It was explained to me that according to Dagomba belief, Jews and Muslims are brothers, because we have the same forefather Abraham. To them, my being a Jew was more of an advantage than a disadvantage. Today, five years after these initial conversations, I can only confirm that the Dagomba practice what they preach. They have treated me as an equal, in spite of the differences which remains evident. This is new to me, as I live in an area of Amsterdam where I can be scolded or even spat upon when people (immigrants) find out I’m Jewish. I am always astonished how someone who doesn’t know me can hate me, just because of my race or origin. I prefer to focus on my Moroccan baker who always gives me a cookie or an extra croissant and my Turkish green grocer who remains friendly at all times and works around the clock.

So, for the Dagomba we are all brothers and sisters, even if we have another skin color and different ideas about religion. What is much more important to the people I interact with is that one maintains his/her practice seriously and actively works on remaining in contact with the Divine. The people I work with pray five times per day (starting at four am) if Muslim; if Christian they go to an “all night mass” at least twice a week. They are intensively involved with their practice but not dogmatic towards other religious forms.

The dogmatism of Islam that we are familiar in the West comes from the Red value system. The violence that we directly associate with it is an unhealthy manifestation of the Red value system. Holy scriptures (Blue) such as Bible, Quran or Torah are intended to help people develop a healthy expression of Red. Prayer, contemplation, discourse, and self-reflection are ways to achieve that. They help Red to find meaning and sets boundaries for healthy expression. But if one is stuck in Red, for whatever reason, it breeds dogmatism and destruction. We see this with Daesh, even so Christianity also has an intense comparable history all the way up to the present.

Dagomba tradition, rooted in Purple, has a strong sense of hospitality and kindness. In addition, the idea around individual property is rather ambiguous. This is in part because the group is considered more important than the individual, and also the sense of individuality — what we would call Ego — is much less pronounced than in the West. Spiral Dynamics holds that the Ego only begins to manifest itself in the Red value system. I see similarities with Hinduism and more mystical approaches such as Sufism or Kaballahism (in Judaism), because here, the construct  of “individuality” is considered absurd, because we receive everything from the Earth, God(s), Allah, Jaweh and all is offered to us. To us all, and for us all. The Divine doesn’t consider exclusivity, which is a human construct. Sometimes that construct may be healthy, sometimes it is not.

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An important difference between the Purple mystic and mystic movements such as Sufism and Kabbalahism (Turquoise values) is that in the latter the individual (Ego) is strongly developed. A paramount practice for such mystics is to develop a strong personality, not for individual gain, but to be of service to the Divine. As such,  these mystics see themselves as servants of the Divine with the task to let he Divine manifest itself through them. Whereas in Purple/Red the individual personality is beginning to develop itself, in Turquoise it is integrated and transformed. This means that choices can be made differently and that there is a difference between the interpretations of boundaries.

Dagomba Purple is rather boundless, and for me personally sometimes too boundless. There are expressions and duties that are sometimes difficult for me, and there are customs that can be peculiar and heartwarming at the same time. I am learning that it is not so much these customs that cause tension, but my judgments about them.

Take helpfulness, for example. In the tradition of the Dagomba it is matter of course to do something for somebody who you don’t personally know, as long as it concerns a request from a brother or sister of the one asking. I was asked by a Dagomba friend if I could help his sister with an invitational letter for a visa, and if I could help with a place for her to sleep that would be inexpensive. At first, I felt quite tense about this request.  Officially inviting someone I do not know? What if this person has plans to stick around or has plans that I don’t know about? My name would be tied to this person. I had many thoughts about risks I could encounter and the responsibility I might have if something went wrong.

I did write the letter and also chose to accept her as a guest in my house instead of making reservations in a hotel. My main reason for doing so was that during my first two trips to Ghana I was treated with similar hospitality. I was happy to return a favor and could hence learn more about the Dagomba and their tradition during our conversations and experience what it was like to step into the role of such a host, myself. Of course all went well and we had a good time together. My hospitality allowed her the possibility to prepare for her marriage with her fiancé who lives in Spain. Without my letter and invitation, she would never had been able to enter Europe.

This gesture increased my status in the community and made my life in Ghana a lot easier. Still, I would not do this for everybody, but it proves that hospitality is rewarded with hospitality, and, as a Dagomba would say — goodness is returned with goodness. I offered my house op for one week and in Tamale I lived a couple of months in her house, because she “Just couldn’t do enough to pay me back for what I did for her.” I think that is a little exaggerated (no payback is needed), but it makes me wonder how we Europeans treat people in Africa; how mistrust and fear governs us, even myself.

Islam has not replaced the original traditions with the Dagomba. Instead ways were found to integrate Islam into the older traditions. Certain Purple values (family sharing, kindness) are still more important. Traditional Dagomba already do a lot for each other and during Ramadan they do even more. Also certain specific rituals have found their way into the mosque. Seen from a Spiral Dynamics perspective, that seems to be a healthy development of the Purple value system toward Red and Blue value systems.

Not all Dagomba are as traditional as the people I live and work with. As a result of Western influences (merchandise, developmental aid, investments) the tradition is under pressure. Additionally, there is a natural evolution, where Purple develops toward Red, according to Spiral Dynamics. Justifiably so, this is worrisome. Tamale is the third city in Ghana with all the characteristics of a large city. It could be that the evolution from Purple to Red/Blue is going too fast than is required for healthy Red/Blue to develop.

Instead of sharing with their community, young people more often choose for their own satisfaction. They rather spend five Cedi (the Ghanaian currency) for their phone or a soda, than helping with the hospital bill of someone who is in need. The pressure to earn money is increasing because basic needs, such as water and a place to stay, are not free anymore and people have to buy food because they can’t grow it themselves anymore. Land that used to be common and shared by the chiefs and elders now has to be leased.

Life is getting more expensive. People that don’t have very much now are confronted with being poor, because the richness of the land is not accessible to them anymore. Families are separated because the man has to move to the city to find work to sustain his family. But jobs are scarce and there is much unemployment, especially under young people.  What greatly bothers me is that the departure of the man to make money Western style, seriously undermines the position of the woman. The family is also a community; the woman has a position and a function. But if the husband is gone and is not protecting or supporting her, she loosed her status in the family as well as in the community. Where Westerners are propagating gender equality, the adoption of our way of life is actually bringing the opposite.

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Poverty and high youth unemployment are a dangerous combination for any society, also for the traditional community of the Dagomba. These people live in a reality that we see as something from the past, yet they are confronted with all kinds of matters that are alien to their approach to life and to their worldview. As a result of chemicals and introduction of industries, the soil is losing nutrients, rivers are getting polluted and people have to change their way of life against their will or even leave their houses. Every year it is becoming more difficult to practice arable farming, in North Ghana harvests fail due to lack of water and because chemicals and fertilizers reduce the soil quality. Slowly, the Savannah is turning into desert.

Some farmers have reached out to me, almost in desperation, because they want to stop using chemicals but don’t know how. They realize they are poisoning the land and, thus, themselves, but what really drives their need to change is that the introduction of modern agricultural techniques doesn’t bring them additional income in the long run. Whatever money they earn extra, immediately has to be spent on new seeds and chemicals that often cost more than what they did have or earn.  Additionally, they do not own the land anymore, but are tenants for a third party that dictates the price of their products as well as the way they should farm.

Mali and Cameroon are not far from Northern Ghana and — even though my Dagomba friends say it will never happen — I am very worried about the susceptibility of the young people to the messages from Boko Haram (and Daesh). The number of people that want to get to Europe, and is actually attempting the voyage, is increasing. This is not because they want to leave. On the contrary, they hope to save their communities by going to Europe to work. In my opinion, Europe is handling this issue completely wrong. In spite of any good intentions, Europe is making the situation worse by not supporting long-term solutions. As such, Europe is part of the problem and is aiding the violence, i.e.. Boko Haram.

Two years ago, Umar Mohammed, a leader in the Dagomba community in Tamale asked me if I would help to save his community and help the people to connect to our Western lifestyles, but in a way that honors the traditions of community, family and sharing.  I accepted the challenge wholeheartedly, because I am convinced that the West can learn much from the traditions of the Dagomba to help solve certain issues in the Netherlands and Europe. Now, two years later we have, in our own way and with our own cash, developed a way of cooperation and making a living in Ghana, that immutably benefits over 1,500 families. We built on local tradition while I used my Western experience as innovator/change manager. In future papers, I will share how we did this.

In summary, in this paper I want to share four insights:

  1. Islam is much more versatile and diverse than most Westerners think. Our perspective on Islam is limited, supported by fear and strongly based on one (unhealthy) expression. Most Muslims do not support this expression of Islam and the violence of Daesh, Al Qaida and Boko Haram affects more Muslims than it does westerners.
  2. There is no battle between Islamic and western values. It is a clash between two manifestations of the same worldview; the Power Gods, a.k.a. the (unhealthy) Red value system. According to Spiral Dynamics. Bombing people with drones is just as violent as cutting people’s throats. The viewpoint of “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” is unhealthy red, as the belief that blowing up people that have different beliefs will be rewarded in the afterlife.
  3. The “Free West” is part of this conflict and more instigator than victim. Through Daesh, Boko Haram and Al Qaida we are confronted with unhealthy Red. However, our reaction to the influx of “illegal refugees” and the rise of Geert Wilders, Donald Trump and like public characters is a manifestation of the same unhealthy Red in our societies.
  4. It is easier to blame someone else than to look at one’s own unhealthy manifestations. While this may be a relatively normal human trait, it won’t solve anything. Perhaps we need to change our ways of thinking and acting if we want to work towards diminishing conflict between our societies and world views and solve the problems in our own civilization.

 

Alain Volz – Tamale – July 2016

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Leap into Life – Dipaliya

Story of an emerging Social Economy that combines tradition with innovation

To boldly go where no man has ever gone before …

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In this article I will describe the journey Umar Mohammed and I are travelling as Leap into Life Dipaliya and how my journey started. Those who know the Startrek series recognize the first sentence written here above. Though we haven’t left planet Earth – on the contrary, we are more closely connecting with Her – is what we do quite different from what is commonly known and different from our own previous experiences. We are on a journey to the unknown and exploring new territories like captain Kirk and his crew on Starship Enterprise.

The territory that we are exploring is best described by the following question:

“How can we live together in a world where everything is connected; what does it mean for the way we share resources and earn our living; and how do we make best use of the richness in local diversities to survive as a whole?”

Nature survives through diversity and yet Human has created a world of universal ruling patterns despite local differences. Despite differences in cultures, traditions and life conditions we have created a global economy that is dominated by one single principle; increase of growth. We copy-paste predominantly Western principles in different cultures or we integrate local differences into the ruling unified mindset. This is against Nature in general and against our nature as a species. It denies differences that are there to be valued and appreciated. This doesn’t serve the so called ‘developing countries’ nor does it serve the ‘developed West’. Most of the challenges we face as a species haven’t been resolved; tensions within and between communities/cultures are increasing and the planet Earth we are living on is protesting loudly against what human has is doing to Her.

On global scale our current ways of thinking and acting have surpassed their peak of success and are in decline. We can fight and resist to it – trying to preserve what we have obtained/achieved – but finding new ways to collaborate, live and do business together are much more effective for survival and growth.

We ask questions in order to find answers, but maybe the questions we are asking are not the right ones. The answers that come to us might be misinterpreted due to our limited understanding of reality, but we are not open to even question our own mindset and understanding of reality. Something that doesn’t ‘fit in the box’ simply is labelled as irrelevant or false.

We are too easily satisfied with ourselves, we become more and more self-oriented, and we call something “innovation” where it is actually not much more than something new that comes from the same (old) level of understanding that makes us fail. We do not ‘learn from the future’ (e.g. the promise of climate change) and keep repeating mistakes from the past.

Buddhists say that the cause of all suffering is separation. In general we have become separated from the Divine laws of the universe (our protecting Father); we have become separated from the Natural laws on planet Earth (our nurturing Mother); we have become separated from our own Human nature (our identity as a species); and we have become separated of each other on individual and collective level. It is causing conflict, hunger, poverty, pollution and death.

I strongly believe we need to reconnect, and to reconnect we need to ‘reinvent’ ourselves; not only by reconsidering our ways of handling, but also by finding new ways to live together. With Leap into Life we are trying to find new pathways – just like captain Kirk and his crew were exploring the galaxy – with an open mind (heart and will), trying to make best use of the diversity of our crew and the different qualities they hold.

We are not the only ones doing this and our journey most certainly is not the only way things should be done or the only solution for the issues we face as a collective. But we do believe our path is one that is making a difference and has significance beyond our local scale of operation. Otto Scharmer & Katrin Kaufer’s book “Leading from the emerging future” holds some interesting other examples.

The journey is much more important to us than the destiny because we trust in destination, intention and effort. This might sound abstract, but actually it is not. The issues we are dealing with are quite real and undeniable. People with lack of food and without perspective of a better future; community members dying at young age; land that is deteriorating and turning into dessert; increase of violence and crime; and a growing amount of people leaving their homes to find a better future elsewhere.

We work hard to achieve results and we have defined ‘results’ in a way that is different from commonly known. And we work from the intention of sharing; everything Umar and I do must benefit others in our communities and everyone who actually contributes doing ‘the work’ must receive their honest share.

Umar and I have had only one dispute; which one of us is captain Kirk? First we were both pointing at the other when someone asked us “who is in charge; who is the captain?” We decided we both are and apply dual leadership. Dual leadership as such is not very new to me. I have been applying it for many years, using Holacracy in the Dutch Center for Human Emergence (CHE-NL) and facilitating leadership teams in the Netherlands. But in this constellation, working on two continents, dealing with extreme differences in personalities and life conditions dual leadership is very new.

Umar and I have our roots in different cultures and both of us are beyond the edge of what is common behavior within our own culture. There are extreme differences between us and at the same time we have a very strong common ground that connects us deeply. This combination works out very positive for us and ‘our people’; we somehow manage to combine our different perspectives and experiences in a creative partnership that leads to concrete results for a larger group of people surrounding us.

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Umar is a very traditional man, born and raised in Tamale and deeply rooted in Dagomba tradition and community. He is a prototype of a communal man, highly respected for his sincerity and contribution to the community. I consider him to be an example of a leader in the ‘old’ and genuine African tradition.

Chief Chikanta in Zambia (a Western educated man who gave up a respectable position in banking for a chief role in rural Zambia because the elders of his tribe decided that he would be the most appropriate successor for the departed chief) once shared with me the difference between good leadership in African tradition and good leadership in Western tradition. You can find the video-interview with Chief Chikanta in one of my older blogs. He said: “In Western tradition leaders are respected for what they achieve in terms of the wealth that they have gained; castles, land and money. In the West a good leader has much more than his people; he gains respect and position by showing his power and wealth. In African tradition, however, a proper leader first takes care of his people and secondly of himself. He is respected by the wellbeing of his community and prosperity he has brought for his people. In African tradition a proper leader has little more than his people, but only little.”

Unfortunately those kinds of leaders are rare to find nowadays, even in Africa. Most African ‘leaders’ seem to copy the Western style of leadership, taking more good care of themselves than for the communities they serve. Chief Chikanta is an example on how it once was, and Umar Mohammed – though he is not formally a chief – is one too. Despite the fact that he is not highly educated, I can see that Umar could have been a relatively wealthy, ‘successful’ businessman in Ghana. He is a talented businessman and trader, but he doesn’t make a whole lot of money, lives a very modest life and spends much of his earnings to help others in his community. For Dipaliya and Leap into Life we have defined success as: “The amount of hearts we touch in a positive way and the amount of families that benefit from our actions.”

Myself I would describe as an individualist. I am sort of a nomad; constantly on a journey, travelling to find my own path in life. Though I have made working with groups my profession and often end up in influential positions within the groups I participate in, I like my privacy and the stillness of solitude. I also hold quite some fear for groups and some patterns in group dynamics. As a matter of speaking, I look for the exits (escapes) while entering the room. This also is one of many reasons I had chosen for a career as external management consultant. I could leave after the job had been done. In terms of Western leadership as described above I have done poorly, primarily due to the choices I have made. I’ve build a reputation as a successful change agent and pioneer, but I never made a lot of money with it. My choices were always led by the quest I was following; a new path to explore or a professional challenge to learn from. In my fantasy I have found in Umar a likeminded soul.

What connects us deeply is a combination of intention, effort and submission. We have the intention to provide a broader group of people a perspective of a future that brings prosperity and peace. We strongly believe in what we do and we are willing to work hard to achieve what we dream of. We are both very serious in our spiritual practice and have chosen to serve a greater cause than our own individual wellbeing. We both have chosen to serve the Divine, though we have different names (Allah, Jaweh, Life, Grace) for it and we apply different spiritual practices.

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The journey we have chosen to travel together hasn’t been easy for us. It has taken us three years before we were able to actually connect and do the work we are doing now together. Though we both speak English we still have to learn a common language. It takes us time and effort to really understand each other. On a daily basis we face issues and challenges that need to be resolved; from cash flow issues to crops failing; from people becoming sick to others challenging the integrity our work. Over the last year both Umar and I have been physically ill for several months in a row. But we continued and seem to be rewarded for our efforts and perseverance.

My first visit to Ghana (in 2011) was on invitation by the Dagomba community, represented by Mr. Fuseini Yakubu. It was he who invited me, but I didn’t go because of the invite. I went because in my meditation and prayers “something” told me I had to go. I went with the idea to follow up on a dream that was born in Zambia; to establish a program where Westerners and Africans could learn from each other’s wisdom and experience in a facilitated program.

In 2012 I returned to Ghana with a designed framework to explore what purpose the program should serve and what benefits were expected by people in Ghana. Though I worked with other people, Umar and his wife took me in their house and took care of me while in Tamale. This was because Fuseini had asked him and because it is custom according to Dagomba tradition and hospitality.

The purpose and principles we now use for Leap into Life were born in the 2012 sessions we held with a diverse groups of Ghanaian entrepreneurs and leaders. PP Hammond and Patrick Mang from JCI Ghana and Isaac Ampomah from Concern Health Education Ghana had a significant role in this process. Not only did they participate in the framework I designed, they also invited people from their networks to join the conversations and workshops. The purpose and principles we are currently still using for Leap into Life have grown out of the conversations Fuseini, Isaac, Patrick, PP and I held and in our efforts to start different projects in Ghana. Though they are not involved in the projects we are currently running as Leap into Life, I honor their contribution to where we are now.LiL Purpose and Principles - june 2015

Abdul-Latif Issahaku from MTN Ghana also has played a significant role in the emergence of Leap into Life as it is now. He introduced us with the MTN Foundation and over the years I have had several conversations there. MTN Foundation and I still have contact on a regular base with the objective to find ways to turn a shared ambition (to contribute to communities) into a collaborative relationship.

Most of all Abdul-Latif has been of great support to me on a personal level. Though I am deeply integrated in the Dagomba traditional life, I am still (sort of) a Westerner. Many aspects of Dagomba culture are, though I understand them very well and value them quite highly, still quite different from how and where I grew up. Though I am much less judgmental than most Westerners I also can’t deny that where and how I grew up affects my view and actions. I am confronted with things that are new to me and sometimes cross my boundaries of understanding and/or acceptance. I try to resolve these conflicts within myself, but can’t always. As an educated Dagomba man who has lived and studied in the Netherlands at Nyenrode University, Abdul-Latif is my most valued teacher in my attempts to bridge the two different cultures/traditions.

Mulaika Salisu also has been of great support to the work Umar and I have been doing. Not only has she offered her house in Tamale for me to live in. As a business woman with Dagomba roots she has helped me in finding constructions for governance and financial management.

Other people we need to be grateful for are Kojo and Audrey Biney, Frederick Larby from Ghana Freezone Board Office and Patricia Safo from JCS Capital Investments. Kojo, Audrey and Frederick have been participating in the sessions defining the Leap into Life purpose and principles and contributed to our understanding of what would contribute to the communities we address to work with. Frederick also introduced us with a potential new client for Dipaliya Sheabutter in Ghana. Patricia was my greatest support in moments of serious doubt. Every time I tended to give up, she was the one who ‘pushed’ me back into my faith, telling me not to give up.

LiL Value of diversity - june 2015 The Leap into Life program that I initially designed was meant for corporate employees in the West and community leaders in Ghana. My professional background and network was in corporate and the idea was to help people in multinationals to internalize the sustainability targets of their company by integrating them in their running projects. The program was a nine month journey for Western corporate world with a 10 days visit to Ghana as experiential learning journey. It was designed as a U-process (a facilitation process designed by MIT, the Society of Organizational Learning and the Presencing Institute) and the learning journey was designed as going deep down the bottom of the U. I was very fortunate to have two world class facilitators with African roots willing to participate as co-trainers during the learning journey; Martin Kalunga Banda – director of the Presencing Institute Europe/Africa and Yolanda Hegngi – former global head leadership development at the WorldBank.

During our journey it became clear that Ghanaian community leaders were not served with a 10 days program; that it would not contribute to achieve the objectives we had formulated for Leap into Life Ghana. In Europe I was close to signing a contract with two international companies, but the ‘financial crisis’ led to cost-cutting and overruled the decision to have employees participate in the program.

Instead of working with a program in Ghana I returned to learn what we could do with the team that had been formed in Ghana. We registered Leap into Life Ghana Foundation with the purpose to start projects in the communities as a collective. Over the next few years we tried many different approaches, but none of them grew into solid projects. We tried, failed, tried again and failed again. I kept returning because the “something” telling me I should kept voicing. I also had gained some new Ghanaian friends who told me that I should not give up because I had already achieved so much more than any other in such a short time. I couldn’t see that myself, but I listened. However in 2014 I decided to withdraw from Ghana and went there to make a good closing and to say goodbye to the people I had been working with or who had been supporting us.

I also visited Umar and his family. Though I had spent much time there as my hosts, we had never spoken of his activities. It was at that time that Umar started sharing with me about his community work for Dipaliya Women’s Association and the challenges he was facing. The Dipaliya groups are traditional women circles and the women tried to earn a small living with Sheabutter making and provide in food with small scale farming. But there were no contracts for Sheabutter and the plots for farming were small or not there. When Umar asked if I wanted to help him I couldn’t refuse. But how could I contribute?

We spoke of the issues Dipaliya and Umar were confronted with; about his reasons to serve as manager for Dipaliya; my explicit and uncommon view on developmental aid, entrepreneurship and what Umar and the communities should NOT expect from me. I learned about Sheabutter, about Dagomba tradition and shared my views and understanding. And since there was sort of nothing there we decided to work from scratch with Umar his deep rooted position in the Dagomba communities and my experience/skills as innovator. We were going to “build a new building” and dreamt of a Cathedral. We were going to use best of both worlds to create something new that could serve both our communities in Africa and in Europe. And we were going to start at the root; in Africa with the neediest people surrounding us.

Sagrada Familia 01

It was quite clear to me that we had to start at the bottom to lay a foundation for the building. We decided that Sheabutter making should be our entry point to revive Dipaliya Womens Association. The women were the neediest and Sheabutter could become the carrying fundament for what we were to build. Sheabutter still is the spine for the new body that we are building.

Though 70% of international aid in Ghana goes to Northern region, the women (and other communities) we work with did not have any benefit of it. We also decided to work from own strength and with own resources and NOT to ask for subsidies, loans or grants. This hasn’t made things easier for us, but at the same time does scarcity bring up the best in our creativity. And, more important, we have always been able to make our own decisions based on what we find right and righteous without an external party deciding for us or having to be accountable to others than each other for spending of our money.

The principle of loans, debt and actually the whole international system of finance is quite contradictory to the Dagomba values of family sharing. The Dagomba values are very intertwined with a local informal economy and the ‘formal economy’ was rather pulling money out of the informal economy than putting money into it. For every Dollar going into Africa, 4 dollars are flowing back to Western countries. By doing so it is weakening the communal values and preventing the tribal order to evolve in a healthy, natural way. The global economy is destroying the local informal economy with all consequences for traditional Dagomba values and traditional life. People become poorer instead of more prosperous, families are separated and individuals become more selfish and greedy.

We were to build an alternative that would help preserve the Family Sharing tradition, strengthen it, and bring it to 21st century standards. This is very much aligned with the discussions in the West on wealth and the future of global economy. Most of the discussions in my own country I find quite limiting, to be honest, and what people in the West call a ‘Sharing Economy’ is not much more than people lending resources to another without real money involved. The used examples of sharing economy like Uber and AirBNB have – in our definition of a sharing economy – nothing to do with sharing. The business-models are from within an old mindset; the only innovative is that technology is being used to make few people earn a lot of money by facilitating others to share their resources. It is ok, but not good enough for us. Umar and I promised each other to do differently, we were to do things; to experiment and learn from our actions instead of to talk about how it should be or could be. So we started with Leap into Life as a real-life action learning process and Dipaliya as the business case to work with. We became the students.

LiL - action learning and sense making

First I tried to find ways to sell Sheabutter in Europe. In a short period I learned a lot about the Sheabutter market; the high complexity of it and how international trade affects the local communities and local market in Ghana. It is quite painful to see and understand how a trader ‘going short’ in the virtual Wall Street economy negatively affects the lives of the people in the communities in the communities we work with. It is very hard to believe or to accept that people in the communities are without food because the price of – for instance – Sheanuts is too high as a consequence of highly complex constructions, designed by bankers, international traders and stock exchange dealers to make profit for a small group of people at the other side of the oceans.

Many people told me that logistics would be the problem, but I learned that I could easily bring a 20ton container Dipaliya Sheabutter to Europe with the network I had. It was selling the Sheabutter in Europe that would be a problem. I had no access to market and business to business clients are interested in refined Sheabutter. Dipaliya produces unrefined, handcrafted Sheabutter and at that time it wasn’t possible for us to refine the Sheabutter without taking uncalculated, high risks.

Our quest to find potential buyers – the Dutch team at that time was with Laurens Berkvens, Peter van Roermundt and Daiva Razmarataite – led me to a Dutch based company called Butterwise. Jeroen Wijs, the owner, appeared also to be representing Savannah Fruits Company (SFC) in Europe. SFC is a Tamale based trader in natural oils and used to be a client of Dipaliya. One of the owners, Bart Boterman, also is a Dutch man and we managed to have a meeting in Tamale with the Savannah Fruits Company staff. This resulted in a contract for Sheabutter making and a long term agreement to collaborate (Memorandum of Understanding – MoU). In 2015 Dipaliya has sold over 35tons of Sheabutter to SFC and the company now has become more to us than a preferred buyer only. For 2016 we already have established guaranteed sales to SFC of 40tons Sheabutter in the next 4 months. SFC is also helping Dipaliya to become certified as an organic Sheabutter production site, once the Dipaliya Sheabutter center in Sakuba has finished.

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We have started building the center some time ago and hope to complete in the next 1-2 years. We are using the group bonus Dipaliya has received for high performance. In 2015 I prefunded a grinding mill and a Motoking (transport vehicle) for Dipaliya. The women had about 75 cents in costs on every Euro they earned for rent of a grinding mill and transport there. With the mill and Motoking the costs have reduced to zero for the women. We rent out the mill to finance maintenance and electricity bills. Currently we are working on purchase of a second mill.

Over time my focus on Sheabutter sales has shifted. For business to business sales of Dipaliya Sheabutter I have shifted the attention from the Netherlands to Ghana. SFC is our preferred buyer and trusted partner, but we have a production capacity that exceeds their demand substantially. Currently we are connecting with other (inter)national traders in Ghana with objective to achieve more contracts for Dipaliya Womens Association. It will bring more income for the (currently) 800 women and it will help us to generate more money to speed up completion of the Dipaliya Sheabutter center in Sakuba.

To great surprise of many, including the person offering, we refused an offering of a container of bricks from Europe for the Sheabutter center. Though we were grateful for the offer we couldn’t accept. It is well meant, but doesn’t serve the community in the way we want to. We make our own blocks for the buildings, using local sand and materials. This provides another 10-15 people work, as does the construction of plumbing, electricity and other parts of the center. It breaks with the pattern of dependency and creates employment in the local community. We can, however, accept donations and are working on a construction where people in Europe can share from ‘communal’ perspective instead of ‘aid perspective’. This fits in the Family Sharing tradition like the brick makers who give us a few extra blocks when we order with them. Sometimes we pay in food instead of with money.

Where I am focusing on realization of more contracts for the Sheabutter making, Umar coordinates the process of production and delivery, and the daily contacts with Dipaliya clients for Sheabutter. Umar and I both work on a voluntary/communal base without receiving revenues; we work as leaders who serve. Individual payment of the women is organized by the leaders in the women circles; the money received goes directly to them. The Dipaliya staff – consisting of Umar, myself and two other people – helps them with administration and external relations. Most women don’t speak English and are illiterate; without our help they would not be able to produce as much Sheabutter as they currently are. The two staff members active on operational level do get paid for their contribution. I prepared, but the women signed the contracts with Savannah Fruits Company!

How Umar and I run the Sheabutter production and sales in Ghana is strongly aligned with Dagomba tradition and with principles of ‘Servant Leadership’ that is currently very popular in Western management books and courses. In Dagomba tradition an honorable man serves the community and provides security and safety for women. Mostly this means that the man works to provide income and shares with his wife and family. Servant Leadership implies that the manager (leader) makes sure that his/her people have all the necessary means to do what they are best at. Instead of telling people what to do and how, the leader askes what is needed to achieve company objectives, makes sure that the team is provided and ‘protects’ the team from external influences that interfere.

Umar and I have a position where we can make decisions for the women. They trust us and respect us. When we tell them what we think should be done, the women will follow. This actually is common dynamics in Dagomba tradition where women are more submissive to men. But we do not, and here is also where innovation is. Instead of telling the women we ask.

How we decided to purchase the grinding mill is a good example. It didn’t take me much thinking to see that a mill would increase the women’s income by three or four. But instead of telling the women of our plans we asked them what they believed we should purchase after receiving the group bonus for the Sheabutter making. “A grinding mill” was the unanimous response. “But a grinding mill is way too expensive and we cannot buy it from the money we receive. Isn’t there anything else we should buy?” I asked. “No, then we have to save for the grinding mill until we have enough.” Decision made.

And I prefunded the purchase because I could and didn’t want to wait with increasing the income for the women. Currently we use the grinding mill not only for our own contracts. With the money earned by renting out the mill to other groups we can pay for our electricity bills and maintenance. And instead of losing 0.75 cents on every Euro, the women earn 1 Euro on each Euro received.

The handcrafted production and sales of Dipaliya Sheabutter in Ghana is crucial for all our other activities as Leap into Life. However I also started selling Dipaliya handcrafted raw Sheabutter in the Netherlands. It is still on a very small scale, but we are looking for ways to expand. There are several reasons why I started selling Dipaliya Sheabutter in the Netherlands.

First of all there is a financial reason. We do not have sufficient resources to fund our plans with Dipaliya and the Sheabutter center. Since we have decided not to work with donor funding or sponsorship that makes us depending on an external financer who decides or a loan that needs to be repaid, we need (and want) to earn our own money. The money earned in Ghana does help, but with sales of Sheabutter in Europe we earn more per kilo than we ever could in Ghana.

Secondly there is the quality of the product. I haven’t found many places in Europe where private customers can buy handcrafted raw Sheabutter in small quantities. Basically all Sheabutter sold in the European consumer market is refined or dry filtered, processed and mixed with other ingredients. There are many good reasons to do this, but when Sheabutter is refined or dry-filtered much of the vitamins and minerals go out of the butter. The raw (unrefined) product holds an extraordinary mix of vitamins that help the skin to rejuvenate, to heal and to stay healthy. It really is a high quality, all natural product that can ‘sell’ itself and I wanted to introduce it to the Dutch market as a better alternative for what is sold as Sheabutter now.

My third reason to start selling Sheabutter in the Netherlands is that it helps telling the story of Dipaliya and gives the women a voice in Europe. With the small jars I’ve chosen to use and the labels I have designed Dipaliya Sheabutter has become a brand. Dipaliya Sheabutter stands for quality, integrity, transparency and fair trade.

Fourth; selling Dipaliya Sheabutter in the Netherlands helps us to spread the story of the Sharing Economy we have built around Dipaliya. Instead of using the word “fair trade” I prefer to use the term “fair chain”. There is no middleman in between; not any traders that take some margin from Dipaliya. I am selling as a community member representing Dipaliya Womens Association. The women receive a more than fair share of each jar Dipaliya Sheabutter sold in Europe and for each individual jar I can tell exactly which woman has made the Sheabutter that is inside.

And finally; one can hardly imagine the impact it has had on the women when they heard that their Sheabutter was sold in Europe and they didn’t believe their eyes when they saw the jars, labels and brochures I have produced to sell their product.

Umar and I are helping the women to be proud of their tradition and their handcraft. Instead of holding up their hands like beggars, they can earn their own living, feed their children and have some extra money for school fees. This also is a novelty for the women with which they also have to learn to get used to. We are breaking some patterns in the tradition; not out of judgement but as a natural step for the women (and men) to take from where they are now. We bring them dignity and self-respect within the boundaries of Dagomba tradition, stretching that tradition a little at the same time.

Soon a web shop will be opened wahere one can buy Dipaliya Sheabutter on line. In line with the tradition of sharing and the objective that others must also benefit from the activities Umar and I initiate I’ve given the management of the web shop completely in hands of a friend, Femke van Hellenberg-Hubar, who will be running the on line sales as an independent entrepreneur and part of our sharing family. The name Dipaliya stays in ownership of Dipaliya Womens Associatiation in Tamale, but the web shop and company in Europe can carry the name Dipaliya.

Though my focus in Europe isn’t any more on large quantity sales of Sheabutter I’ve also not closed the possibility. Any possibility that passes by will be taken up in collaboration with Butterwise and/or Svannah Fruits Company. I’ve also introduced Jeroen Wijs from Butterwise with a friend who is a trader in the food market with the hope that they can start doing business together. Slowly I’m copying the principles of the Family Sharing system applied in Tamale to a Sharing Economy in the Netherlands. And there is real money going round, flowing in a complete different way one is used in trade or business. Money is now flowing into the informal economy of our community instead of flowing out. People are becoming more prosperous by working together as a Sharing Family. The thing that comes closest to how we work in Ghana and in Europe might be the Slow Money movement initiated by Woody Tash. We work with money we have and that we can trace in constructions that are understandable to the people we work with. Some of the constructions are very unfamiliar for a Westener, but they are very much aligned with the Dagomba tradition and with my views on what a real Sharing Economy is.

In the 2015/2016 season Dipaliya Womens Association has sold over 35.000kg Sheabutter in Ghana and the contracted production for this season has already exceeded that amount. In Europe Dipaliya Sheabutter is sold in five shops; Kappermee (Aalsmeerweg 30 Amsterdam), The SoulSister Vitamins (Elandsgracht 132 Amsterdam), Fine Fresh Food (Korte Houtstraat 14C Den Haag), Delano Delicatessen (Diemerplein 188 Diemen), and Metz Bio Markt (Orchheimer Str. 35 Bad Münstereifel, Deutschland).

We are entering communities in Northern Region for the collection of our own Sheanuts (organic) to be used by Dipaliya Womens Association. Thus currently provides work for approximately 50 women in rural areas. We expect the number to be increasing next season.

Having the production and sales of Dipaliya Sheabutter stable and growing in Ghana and in the Netherlands we are now focusing on other activities. We have started to setup an infrastructure for collection of Neem seeds. This will provide every woman in Tamale the opportunity to earn direct cash money on a daily basis and will provide work and income for a new staff member at Dipaliya Womens Association. The Neem seeds are sold to a new partner, GreenGro Ghana, which produces organic fertilizers and pesticides. With GreenGro Ghana we are working on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and 2 business contracts to confirm our long term relationship. The MoU includes training of Dipaliya women in harvesting, drying and processing of the Neem seeds into organic products.

We have also started with organic farming on 3 plots in different areas in Ghana Northern Region. This project is intertwined with the relationship established with GreenGro. We started organic farming as a way to prevent the Savannah land turning into desert and to produce healthy food without toxic chemicals. We are using the GreenGro products on the land and are teaching farmers how to grow crops on their own land, using organic products and seeds.

Willem-Albert Toose has become a dear friend and active contributer to the successes we have achieved in organic farming. Not only is his family most generous offering me a place to stay while in Accra. It is Willem-Albert who introduced us with Philomina Brittan from GreenGro (another wonderful person who does what she can to help us) and who shares his knowledge and network in organic farming. There are so many people we are grateful for contributing to the achievements made with Leap into Life Dipaliya. Without any of the people mentioned in this article we most definitely would not be where we are now. It shows that it is possible to turn a dream of community and sharing into reality.

There are few more projects running in Ghana. We have been approached by Louis Bolk Agro Eco to participate in a project related to Tigernuts and we have plans to open an organic store in Tamale. I’ll write more on these projects and on how we collaborate with local communities in future writings.

In The Netherlands we are about to setup a foundation “Leap into Life” that will support the activities with Dipaliya Womens Association. The purpose is to generate extra funding for the Sheabutter center and other expansion plans in a way that aligns with the principles we apply for financial management as Leap into Life. In order to achieve short term results we are hoping to establish collaboration with BeGiving and other parties in the Netherlands.

Together with Ruud Ort and Lex Warmerdam from Smit de Vries and with Martin Immelman and Herman Geesink from Urgenda/Duurzom we are working on 2 educational programs for entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. A visit to Dipaliya Womens Association with objective to learn from the Social Economy / Family Sharing System is central in one of the programs and an optional choice in the other. The program for SME (MKB) entrepreneurs has focus on sustainability and social entrepreneurship (MVO) as a business opportunity. Tessa Kappert from Landgoed Isis is also a trusted partner in this program, offering use of the estate as venue for one of the modules for a family sharing price.

The Sharing Economy or Social Economy Umar and I have been dreaming of and working on for the last two years has a firm base, is growing and has much potential for further growth. I’ll be writing more articles on the principles we work with and how they translate into concrete actions and results.

 

Alain Volz,

Tamale – July 2016

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Een andere blik op Islam

Wat kunnen wij leren van traditie en conflict?

 

Degenen die mij kennen weten dat ik al vijf jaar heen en weer reis tussen Ghana en Nederland en in Ghana werk met een gemeenschap van de Dagomba stam in het noorden. De Dagomba zijn doorgaans traditionele mensen en religie heeft in Afrika een belangrijke plaats in het leven van mensen. Veruit de meeste Dagomba zijn praktiserend moslim. De vorm van Islam die zij praktiseren is echter geheel anders dan wat wij kennen in het Westen.

 

De beelden over Islam in Europa en de Verenigde Staten zijn voornamelijk gebaseerd op de Arabisch/Noord Afrikaanse Islam. Det Arabische vorm van Islam speelt een invloedrijke rol in de wereldeconomie vanwege de dominantie positie die dat deel van wereld heeft als leverancier van olie. De wereldeconomie is gebouwd op olie en de grootste olievoorraden liggen in landen die Aribisch Islamitisch zijn. Daardoor is de invloed in de OPEC (en daarmee de wereldeconomie) groot.

 

De meeste immigranten in Europa komen oorspronkelijk uit Noord Afrika. In Nederland wonen, bijvoorbeeld, veel mensen die hun wortels hebben in Marokko of Turkije. In Duitsland woont een grote gemeenschap met Turkse wortels en in Frankrijk komen veel migranten oorspronkelijk uit Algerije en Libanon. De oorspronkelijke migranten zijn al zeker twee of drie generaties geleden naar Europa gekomen en hun nakomelingen zijn inmiddels volwassen Nederlanders, Duitsers of Fransen. En ze zijn Moslim, hoewel niet altijd praktiserend. Maar een Turk is geen Marrokaan, net zo min als een Belg een Nederlander is.

 

In dit artikel refereen ik naar Spiral Dynamics, een sociaal ontwikkelingsmodel dat uitgaat van verschillende werkelijkheden (wereldbeelden of vMemes) die tegelijk en naast elkaar bestaan. Spiral Dynamics brengt de complexiteit van de werkelijkheid en de nuances zeer scherp in beeld. Grote waarde van Spiral Dynamics vind ik dat het een verfrissend perspectief brengt op maatschappelijke vraagstukken en daardoor ook andere mogelijkheden in beeld brengt om spanningen en conflicten te benaderen. Daarmee geeft het toegang tot alternatieve oplossingen voor bekende en nieuwe vraagstukken.

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Religie in algemene zin – zowel de Islam, als het Christendom – is volgens Spiral Dynamics een uitingsvorm die zich vooral manifesteert in het blauwe waardesysteem (Authoritarian vMeme). Synoniem voor het woord ‘waardesysteem’is wereldbeeld. Heilige geschriften en leefregels geven structuur en vorm aan de manifestatie van het geloof in een hogere waarheid.

De inhoud van de boeken en regels verschilt tussen de religies, maar voor mij is de essentie niet zo heel verschillend. Wat ze gemeen hebben is de overtuiging dat wij onderdeel zijn van iets dat groter en inteligenter is dan wij en dat wij ons daarin hebben te schikken en ons daarmee moeten verbinden. Regels en afspraken helpen daarbij.

 

De oorsprong van religie ligt echter in een ander waardesysteem. Het bewustzijn dat wij onderdeel zijn van een groter geheel, als is het maar de planeet Aarde waarop we wonen, komt uit het paarse waardesysteem. Dit waardesysteem wordt ook wel “tribale orde” (Tribal mythic vMeme) genoemd. Essentie van de tribale orde is (voor mij) dat we met elkaar verbonden zijn en samen veel meer kunnen realiseren dan als afzonderlijk individu. Familie en groep zijn belangrijk, vaak zelfs belangrijker dan het individu. Er is sprake van eenheid en verbinding; in de groep en als groep met de aarde. Het meest bekende voorbeeld van het paarse waardesysteem zijn de Aboriginals in Australie. Ook bij de Dagomba in noord Ghana is dit waardesysteem dominant aanwezig, vooral in niet-stedelijke gebieden. Hierover later meer.

 

Waar het blauwe waardesysteem strutuur en taal geeft aan een geloofsbelevenis heeft het paarse waardesysteem veel meer een mystieke relatie met datgene waar we onderdeel van zijn en in verbonden zijn. Beiden zijn georienteerd vanuit de groep als geheel, het collectief. Daarbij blijft de vragen “Waar is het individu in de groep?” en “Wie ben ik als individu in de groep?”. Deze vragen komen uit een ander waardesysteem, georienteerd vanuit het individu.

 

Het tribale waardesysteem (paars) en het structuur georienteerde waardesysteem (blauw) zijn met elkaar verbonden via een waardsysteem dat de twee vragen in de vorige alinea beantwoord. In dit geval is het verbindende waardesysteem rood, “Power Gods”. Dit waardesysteem gaat uit van zelfexpressie en zelf manifestatie. Daadkracht is het woord dat ik het meest samenvattend vind bij dit waardesysteem. Je zou kunnen zeggen dat het collectieve bewustzijn van verbinding in de tribale orde (paars) zich manifesteert via expressie van het individu (rood) en dat het blauwe (authoritarian) waardesysteem kaders geeft voor ‘gezonde’ manifestatie door het individu door de groep. Gezond betekent hier dat het dienend is aan het grotere geheel; de groep.

 

Er is sprake van een zekere volgordelijkheid, maar deze is niet lineair. Levend in een collectief (familie, groep, bedrijf, samenleving) ontstaat vanzelf de vraag “wat is mijn plek in de groep?”. Dit is niet een vraag die op een gegeven moment wordt beantwoord. Omdat er constant beweging en dynamiek in een groep is, blijft de “ik” vraag continu terugkeren. En omdat de groep constant in beweging is verandert het antwoord op deze vraag ook met de tijd. Daarom is het ook belangrijk om deze vraag telkens opnieuw te stellen.

DNA spiraal vMemes

Tegelijkertijd blijken sommige zaken minder aan verandering onderhevig te zijn of blijkt er binnen de groep grote consensus te bestaan over een aantal zaken. Dan is het waardevol om afspraken te maken en vast te leggen zodat niet iedere keer ‘het wiel opnieuw hoeft te worden uitgevonden’. Dat maakt het leven makkelijker, leidt tot minder spanning/conflict binnen de groep en geeft ruimte voor andere zaken die ook belangrijk zijn. Het rode waardesysteem vind rust in structuur, tegelijkertijd zoekt het de grenzen op. Dit is een natuurlijk (evolutionair) proces en onderdeel van de individueel menselijke behoefte om zich te ontwikkelen en te manifesteren.

 

Als de bron is van elke vorm van zelfmanifestatie en individuele creativiteit is het rode waardesysteem een zeer krachtig waardesysteem. In Nederland is er ook angst voor de kracht van dit waardesysteem. Dat is niet onterecht omdat te veel kracht/zelfexpressie kan leiden tot ‘óngezonde’ uitingsvormen en zelfs (extreem) geweld.

 

Het beeld van Islam wordt in Europa sterk gekleurd door gewelddadige groeperingen zoals Daesh (bij de meesten bekend als ISIS) en Boko Haram. De aanslagen in Europa van Daesh en de aanslag van Al Qaida op het World Trade Center in New York hebben het westerse beeld van Islam sterk beinvloedt. In Noord-West Afrika handelt Boko Haram op vergelijkbare wijze. Het zijn vormen van ongezond rood (Power Gods). Maar ook de opmerking van George Bush junior “You are with us or you are against us” en de uitspraken van Geert Wilders over “minder, minder Marrokanen” zijn uitingen van ongezond rood.

 

Vanuit het perspectief van Spiral Dynamics is de clash tussen het Westen en groeperingen als Daesh, Al Quaida en Boko Haram niet zozeer een conflict tussen Islam en het ‘vrije’ Westen. Het is een conflict van ongezond rood tegen ongezond rood. Hierover schrijf ik wellicht in een ander artikel meer. In dit artikel wil ik de nuance benadrukken en helderheid verschaffen dat het beeld van Islam als een gewelddadige religie niet geheel onjuist, maar wel zeer beperkt is.

 

De Islam kent een rijke historie in kunst, wetenschap en literatuur. De moderne astronomie heeft zijn oorsprong in het werk van de Moghul in India. Moghul zijn moslims die lange tijd grote delen van India bewoonden en beheersten. Hun kennis van de sterren was lange tijd veel geavanceerder dan in het Westen. Terwijl in Europa nog geloofd werd dat de zon om de aarde draait waren er in India al sterrewacht torens en zeer accurate kaarten van het heelal en de dynamiek in ons zonnestelsel.

 

De meeste traditionele wetenschappers in Islam waren Sufi. Grote schrijvers/dichters als Hazrad Imrad Kahn waren Sufi, evenals vele wiskundigen, astrologen en andere wetenschappers. Essentie van het Sufisme is (voor mij) dat wetenschap en mystiek worden gecombineerd. Vanuit het besef dat de werkelijkheid veel omvangrijker en complexer is dan wij mensen kunnen bevatten streven Sufi naar het verbinden met deze werkelijkheid door onderzoek, gesprek en meditatie. Het stellen van vragen is belangrijker dan het antwoord en door constant dezelfde vraag te stellen ontwikkelt ons besef van de werkelijkheid zich. Tegelijkertijd blijft dat besef slechts een concept dat de werkelijkheid benadert. Een diep bewustzijn hiervan kenmerkt een Sufi.

 

Sufi ervaren een ander wereldbeeld dan de vormen van Islam die ik hierboven heb beschreven. In Spiral Dynamics zou ik Sufi plaatsen in de gele (FlexFlow) en turquise (Wholeview) waardesystemen. Deze waardesystemen hebben een hoge complexiteit, hebben en staan doorgaans ver af van de paarse, rode en blauwe waardesystemen in Spiral Dynamics. Sufi hebben doorgaans meer gemeen met de Rozenkruisers in het Christendom en de Kabbalisten in het Jodendom dan met andere vormen van Islam. In Sufi tempels vindt je dan ook, naast de Koran, de heilige geschriften van andere wereldreligies zoals de bijbel, de kaballah en hindu geschriften.

Wereld religies

Hoewel ik zelf als jood ben geboren en voornamelijk ben geschoold in Hinduisme, Buddhisme en Taoisme beschouwen moslims die bekend zijn met Sufisme mij als een Sufi. Ik ben zelfs getrouwd in de Sufi tempel in Katwijk (met een eigen ceremonie gebaseerd op mijn eigen spirituele beleving) omdat mijn levensvisie volgens de beheerders van de Sufi tempel die is van een Sufi.

 

Een grote meerderheid van de Dagomba, zoals ik eerder schreef, is moslim. De vorm van Islam bij de Dagomba is anders dan andere vormen die ik ken. In plaats dat de lokale tradities zijn vervangen door Islam is Islam geintegreerd in de traditie. Zoals veel Afrikaanse stammen staat de gemeenschap bij traditionele Dagomba voorop; het paarse waardesysteem is nog dominant aanwezig bij de traditionele Dagomba waar ik mee werk en leef.

 

Dagomba gaan er van uit dat we allemaal familie van elkaar zijn en als zodanig met elkaar zijn verbonden. Dat geldt binnen de stam, maar ook over de grenzen van de eigen gemeenschap heen. In veel gevallen is men ook daadwerkelijk familie van elkaar. Een man mag maximaal vier vrouwen trouwen, mits hij ze allemaal kan voorzien van een goed bestaan. Grote gezinnen zijn eerder regel dan uitzondering. Wat ik bijzonder vindt is dat er ook gemengde huwelijken zijn waar de ene ouder Moslim is en de andere ouder Christen. In deze gemengde huwelijken worden kinderen worden relatief vrij gelaten om hun eigen keuze te maken voor geloof en kerk. Ook de keuze voor de specifieke moskee of kerk waar kinderen naartoe gaan is relatief vrij. Zo kan het voorkomen dat binnen één gezin ouders en kinderen naar verschillende kerken en mokeeën gaan en bij elkaar opgeteld wel meer dan 10 verschillende gebedshuizen bezoeken.

 

Tijdens mijn eerste bezoeken aan de gemeenschap die mij had uitgenodigd om naar Ghana te komen heb ik de tijd genomen om met de initiatiefnemers te spreken over mijn eigen spirituele praktijk. Deze is voornamelijk gegrond in het Budhhisme/Hinduïsme/Taoïsme. In deze gesprekken vonden we opmerkelijk veel parallellen als het gaat over de principes van eenheid en verbinding. Maar ook in de noodzaak tot zelfreflectie als onderdeel van persoonlijke en spirituele groei. Ook adresseerde ik dat ik als Jood geboren ben en dat die identiteit ook belangrijk voor me is. Ik vroeg of dat een probleem zou zijn (of kunnen worden) voor onze samenwerking. De reactie was er een van oprechte verbazing.

 

Mij werd uitgelegd dat wat de Dagomba betreft Joden en Moslims broeders zijn, want we hebben dezelfde stamvader, Abraham. Het was eerder een extra voordeel dan een belemmering. Nu, vijf jaar na deze gesprekken, kan ik alleen maar bevestigen dat Dagomba dit niet alleen met de mond belijden, maar mij daadwerkelijk als een gelijke behandelen, ondanks de verschillen die ook duidelijk aanwezig zijn. Dat is ook voor mij nieuw, wonende in een wijk in Amsterdam waar ik beschimpt en soms bespuugd wordt als men weet dat ik joods ben. Hoewel ik me iedere keer verbaas over hoe iemand die mij niet kent mij kan haten, enkel om mijn ras of afkomst. Ik ben daar als kind van oorlogsslachtoffers gevoelig voor, maar richt me liever op mijn Marrokaanse bakker die me altijd een extra croissant of koekje geeft en mijn Turkse groenteboer die altijd even vriendelijk en hardwerkend is.

 

Voor Dagomba zijn we allemaal broeders en zusters, ook als we een andere huiskleur of verschillende opvattingen over religie hebben. Wat voor de mensen met wie ik omga veel belangrijker is, is dat er sprake is van een oprechte en serieuze practice en dat je de relatie met het goddelijke actief onderhoudt. De mensen met wie ik omga bidden 5x per dag (om 4 uur is het eerste gebed) als ze moslim zijn of gaan minstens 2x per week naar een “all night mass” als ze Christen zijn. Ze zijn intensief in hun practice, maar niet dogmatisch ten opzichte van andere vormen.

 

Het dogmatisme van Islam dat wij in het Westen kennen komt uit het rode waardesysteem; het geweld dat wij daar direct aan verbinden is een ongezonde manifestatie van het rode waardesysteem. Heilige geschriften (blauw) zoals Bijbel, Koran of Torah zijn bedoeld om mensen te helpen om te komen tot een gezonde ontwikkeling van rood. Gebed, meditatie, gesprek en zelfreflectie zijn daarbij hulpmiddelen. Het helpt rood om tot betekenisgeving te komen en geeft kaders voor gezonde expressie. Maar als men vastzit in rood, om welke reden ook, ontstaat er dogmatisme en destructie. Dan worden de regels gebruikt om te onderdrukken en te overheersen. Dit zien we bij Daesh, maar ook het Christendom heeft daar een rijk verleden en actief heden in.

 

Dagomba paars, de traditie, heeft gastvrijheid en vriendelijkheid hoog in het vaandel. Daarnaast is het begrip van inidividueel bezit vrij relatief. Dat komt mede omdat de groep belangrijker is dan het individu, maar ook omdat in paars het individu – wat wij Westerlingen Ego zouden – noemen veel minder sterk ontwikkeld is dan in het Westen. Vanuit Spiral Dynamics is dat goed te verklaren omdat het Ego zich pas begint te manifesteen in het rode waardesysteem, de PowerGods. Hier zie ik parallen met het Hinduisme en met mystieke benaderingen als het Sufisme of (in het Jodendom) Kabbalisme. Het begrip van ‘individueel bezit’ is namelijk volstrekt absurd, we krijgen alles van de aarde (de Goden, Allah, Jaweh) en alles is ons gegeven. Aan ons allen en voor iedereen. Het goddelijke kent hierbij geen exclusiviteit, dat is door ons mensen bedacht. Soms is dat gezond, maar soms ook niet.

IMG_2760

Een groot verschil tussen de paarse mystiek en mystieke stromingen zoals Sufisme en Kabbalisme (Turquiose waardesystemen) is dat bij de laatste het individu (Ego) wél sterk ontwikkeld is. De grote oefening voor mystici is om de de individuele persoonlijkheid zich sterk te laten ontwikkelen, niet voor eigen gewin, maar juist om dienbaar te kunnen zijn aan het hogere, goddelijke. Als zodanig beschouwen mystici zichzelf als dienaren van het hogere met de opdracht om het Goddelijke zich via hen te laten manifesteren. Waar in paars/rood de individuele persoonlijkheid zich begint te ontwikkelen, is deze in Turquoise geintegreerd en getransformeerd. Dat betekent ook dat er op andere wijze keuzen gemaakt worden en en verschil is in intepretatie van grenzen en begrenzing.

 

Dagomba paars is vrij onbegrensd, voor mij persoonlijk soms té onbegrensd. Er zijn beelden en verplichtingen in Dagomba paars waar ik soms moeite mee heb én er zijn omgangsvormen die voor mij vreemd, maar tegelijkertijd hartverwarmend zijn. Ik leer dat het niet zozeer de leefregels zijn die soms spanningen opleveren, maar mijn oordelen over die leefregels.

 

Neem bijvoorbeeld behulpzaamheid. In de traditie van Dagomba het is vanzelfsprekend om iets voor iemand te doen die je niet kent als dat gevraagd wordt door een broeder/zuster. Zo werd ik door een Dagomba vriend gevraagd of ik een zuster van hem kon helpen met een uitnodigingsbrief voor een visum. En of ik kon helpen met een slaapplaats die haar niet al te veel zou kosten. In eerste instantie riep dat veel spanning bij me op. Iemand die ik niet ken officieel uitnodigen? En wat als die persoon besluit om hier te blijven of andere plannen heeft waar ik niet van weet, maar die dan wel aan mij zijn gekoppeld? Er ging van alles door mijn gedachten over de risico’s die ik hierbij zou lopen en de verantwoordelijkheid die ik zou hebben als er iets mis zou gaan.

 

Ik heb de brief geschreven en er ook voor gekozen om haar bij mij in huis op te nemen in plaats van een hotel te reserveren. Mijn voornaamste reden om dat te doen was omdat ik zelf ook met dergelijke gastvrijheid ben ontvangen tijdens mijn eerste twee reizen naar Ghana. Ik deed graag iets terug en kon zo ook meer leren over Dagomba en traditie; door onze gesprekken, maar ook door te proberen in lijn van hun gastvrijheid mezelf gastvrij op te stellen. Natuurlijk is er niets misgegaan en hebben we een erg mooie tijd samen gehad. Sterker nog; mijn uitnodiging gaf haar gelegenehid om haar huwelijk voor te bereiden met haar echtgenoot die in Spanje woont. Zonder mijn uitnodiging was ze nooit Europa binnengekomen.

 

Deze actie heeft mijn aanzien binnen de gemeenschap versterkt en mijn leven in Ghana een stuk makkelijker gemaakt. Nog steeds zou ik dat niet voor iedereen doen, maar het bewijst wel dat gastvrijheid wordt beloond met gastvrijheid en – zoals een Dagomba zou zeggen – goedheid wordt beloond met goedheid. Ik heb één week iemand in huis gehad en in Tamale woon ik maanden in haar huis omdat zij “nooit genoeg kan doen voor mij om terug te betalen wat ik voor haar heb gedaan.” Dat vind ik ook weer een beetje overdreven (er hoeft helemaal niets terugbetaald te worden), maar het zet me ook ernstig te denken over hoe wij Europeanen omgaan met medemensen in Afrika; hoe het wantrouwen en de angst regeert. Ook (zelfs) bij mij.

 

Islam is bij Dagomba niet in plaats van tradities gekomen; men heeft eigen manieren gevonden om Islam te integreren in de traditie. Bepaalde waarden uit paars (family sharing, kindness) zijn nog altijd belangrijker. Traditionele Dagomba doen al veel voor elkaar en tijdens de Ramadan doen ze daar nog een schepje bovenop. Ook bepaalde specifieke rituelen hebben hun weg gevonden naar de Moskee. Vanuit Spiral Dynamics lijkt dat een gezonde ontwikkeling van het paarse waardesysteem naar het rode en blauwe waardesysteem.

 

Niet alle Dagomba zijn even traditioneel als de mensen waar ik mee leef en werk. Mede door invloed van het Westen (produkten, ontwikkelingshulp en investeringen) staat de traditie sterk onder druk. Tegelijkertijd is het een natuurlijke ontwikkeling dat traditie zich ontwikkelt – in termen van Spiral Dynamics: dat paars zich ontwikkelt naar rood. Niet onterecht maakt men zich zorgen daarover. Tamale is de derde stad in Ghana met alle grootstedelijke invloeden. Daardoor lijkt de ontwikkeling van paars naar rood/blauw ‘scheef te worden getrokken’ en sneller te gaan dan mogelijk is om dat te doen op een manier waarop rood/blauw zich gezond kan ontwikkelen.

 

In plaats te delen met de gemeenschap kiezen jongeren vaker voor zichzelf; ze besteden liever 5 Cedi aan hun telefoon of een colaatje dan aan de ziekenhuisrekening van iemand die dat zelf niet kan betalen. De druk om geld te verdienen neemt toe omdat basisvoorzieningen als water en onderdak niet meer gratis beschikbaar zijn, men eten moet kopen omdat men het niet meer zomaar zelf kan telen. Land dat eerst door chiefs of elders werd gedeeld is bezit geworden dat gepacht moet worden.

 

Het leven wordt duur, hetgeen mensen die weinig hebben zeer confronteert. Ze zijn opeens arm omdat de rijkdom van het land voor hen niet meer toegankelijk is. Gezinnen worden gescheiden omdat de man meestal naar de stad moet om werk te vinden om zijn gezin te kunnen onderhouden. Werk is schaars en werkloosheid is hoog, vooral onder jongeren. Wat ik zeer pinjnlijk vind is dat het vertrek van de man om op een ‘Westerse manier’ geld te verdienen voor zijn gezin juist de positie van de vrouw zwaar ondermijnd. Ook het gezin is een gemeenschap, de vrouw heeft positie en functie, maar als de man er niet is om haar te beschermen en te onderhouden heeft zij zowel binnen het gezin als in de gemeenschap geen status meer. Waar Westerlingen gender equity propageren, zorgt adoptie van onze levensstijl juist voor het tegenovergestelde.

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Armoede en hoge jeugdwerkloosheid zijn een gevaarlijke combinatie voor iedere samenleving, ook voor de traditionele samenleving van de Dagomba. De mensen leven in een werkelijkheid die wij als verleden tijd beschouwen, maar ze leven wel nu en in een omgeving waar ze worden geconfronteerd met allerlei zaken die ver van hun levenshouding en beeld van de werkelijkheid staan. Door gebruik van chemicalieen en introductie van industrie verschaalt het land, vervuilen de rivieren en voelen mensen zich genoodzaakt om hun levensstijl te wijzigen (ook waar ze dat niet willen) of zelfs hun thuis te verlaten. Ieder jaar wordt het moeilijker om in de Savannah van Noord Ghana akkerbouw te plegen; oogsten mislukken door gebrek aan water en omdat chemicalien en kunstmest het land uitputten. De Savannah wordt langzaam woestijn.

 

Enkele boeren hebben mij bijna wanhopig benaderd dat zij weer af willen van de chemicalien, maar niet weten hoe. Ze realiseren zich dat ze het land en daarmee zichzelf vergiftigen, maar wat de doorslag geeft is dat de geintroduceerde moderne technieken van argicultuur hen op de langere termijn geen extra inkomsten oplevert. Dagtene wat ze extra verdienen wordt direct weer uitgegeven aan nieuwe zaden en chemicalien die vaak meer kosten dan wat ze hebben verdiend. En vaak zijn ze zelf geen eigenaar meer, maar pachter voor een derde partij die zowel de prijs van hun produkten als de manier waarop ze moeten werken bepaalt.

 

Mali en Kameroen zijn niet zo ver van Noord Ghana en – hoewel mijn Dagomba vrienden zeggen dat het nooit zal gebeuren – maak ik me ernstige zorgen over de ontvankelijkheid van de jeugd voor de rhetoriek van Boko Haram. Het aantal mensen dat naar Europa wil en een poging daartoe waagt neemt toe. Niet omdat mensen weg willen uit Ghana, integendeel, maar omdat ze denken en hopen dat zij en hun gemeenschap het daardoor weer beter zullen krijgen. Naar mijn mening reageert Europa daar volstrekt verkeerd op, hetgeen – ondanks mogelijk goede bedoelingen – eerder olie op het vuur is dan dat het tot blijvende oplossingen leidt. Daarmee is Europa onderdeel van het probleem en mede veroorzaker van het geweld van – in dit geval – Boko Haram.

 

Umar Mohammed, een leider in de Dagomba gemeenschap in Tamale heeft mij twee jaar geleden gevraagd of ik hem wilde helpen om zijn gemeenschap te behouden en de mensen wil helpen om een aansluiting te maken met onze Westerse levensstijl op een manier die recht doet aan de traditie en waarden van gemeenschap / family sharing. Mede omdat ik denk dat het Westen veel kan leren van de Dagomba traditie en dat het ons kan helpen om knelpunten in Nederland en Europa te beslechten heb ik dit verzoek met beide handen aangenomen. Nu, twee jaar later, hebben we – op eigen wijze en met eigen geld – een manier van samenwerken en geld verdienen ontwikkeld waar in Ghana meer dan 1.500 gezinnen profijt van hebben en een menswaardiger bestaan kunnen opbouwen. Vanuit traditie, gebruikmakend van mijn ervaring als ‘vernieuwer’ in het Westen. In komende artikelen zal ik daar nader op ingaan.

 

Dit artikel zou ik kort willen samenvatten in vier inzichten:

  • De Islam is veelzijdiger en diverser dan veel mensen in het Westen denken. Ons beeld van Islam is beperkt, gevoedt door angst en sterk gebaseerd op slechts één (ongezonde) uitingsvorm. De meeste moslims delen de opvattingen waar ons beeld van Islam op is gebaseerd niet; en geweld van Daesh, Al Quaida en Boko Haram treft veel meer moslims dan Westerlingen.
  • Er is geen sprake van een strijd tussen Islam en Westerse waarden; er is sprake van een ‘clash’ tussen twee verschillende manifestaties van één en hetzelfde wereldbeeld; de Power Gods, oftewel het rode waardesysteem in Spiral Dynamics. Mensen bombarderen is net zo gewelddadig als iemands keel doorsnijden. De opvatting dat ‘als je niet voor ons bent, je dan tegen ons bent’ is even ongezond rood als de opvatting dat ‘het doden van mensen die niet mijn interpretatie van Islam volgen leidt tot verlossing in het hiernamaals’.
  • Het “Vrije Westen” is onderdeel van deze clash en eerder mede veroorzaker dan slachtoffer. Door Daesh, Boko Haram en Al Quadia worden wij geconfronteerd met ongezond rood. Echter onze reactie op zowel de instroom van ‘illegale asielzoekers’ en de opkomst van Geert Wilders, Donald Trump en vergelijkbare publieke figuren zijn een manifestatie van hetzelfde ongezonde rood in onze eigen samenleving.
  • Het is makkelijker om de ander te verwijten dan naar de eigen ongezonde manifestaties te kijken. Dit zijn ‘normale’ menselijke en groepsdynamische processen, maar het lost niets op. Wij moeten misschien zélf anders gaan denken en handelen, willen wij de clash tussen verschillende samenlevingen/wereldbeelden daadwerkelijk beslechten en de problemen in onze eigen samenleving willen oplossen.

 

Alain Volz – Tamale – juli 2016

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Leap into Life – activities and progress in the Dipaliya Meshwork

Dear friends of Dipaliya,

This month or early next month we expect to hear from Tallberg about our nomination for the Tallberg Global Leadership Prize 2015. Meanwhile we like to give an update on our progress.

In Tamale, Ghana, over 300 women are making Sheabutter now. Our orders are increasing and we are involving 100 more women in the production. 50 other women are collecting the Sheanuts for the butter. Another 100 women are collecting Neem seeds. They can bring the seeds every day to our office and receive direct payment for every Kilogram they are bringing.

Collecting Sheanuts 01Sanatuu collecting Sheanuts 01

The grinding mill for the Sheanuts is operational. This saves the women about 60% in costs. Building of the Sheabutter centers in Tamale and Saakuba continues. Umar and Alain are using their personal resources and creativity to finance construction.

We have planted mais and beans for organic farming. Local farmers are helping us and learn how to use organic fertilizer and pesticides. Locals are asking about organic farming because our fields look much better than those treated with chemicals.

The Community Investment Fund is operational. The account is still empty, but the group bonus for the Sheabutter production will be deposited in the fund.

We are working on a proposal for MTN Foundation (a large telecom company in Africa). MTN might be able support us in a way that aligns with our principles and practice of social entrepreneurship.

Foto Dipaliya Sheaboter 02

In Europe Dipaliya Sheabutter is sold in 3 stores. Together with two local partners we are looking for ways to expand sales in Europe. To find clients for the entrepreneurs program we are building a website and engaging with mid-cap sized company owners in our networks.

The articles and presentation(s) on Leap into Life as a Social Economy System are still under construction. Though still fragile, we are proud to have a working business case instead of a story on ‘how it could be’.

Everything we have achieved until now has been without external funding. We also see that we need more resources to make our next step in maturity. Our objective still is to earn it by entrepreneurship instead of working with loans or subsidized projects.

We would like to thank those who signed our petition for support. Though it is only a signature you gave, the impact in terms of empowerment for the women should not be underestimated. You gave the women hope and strength to overcome their struggle in life.

If you feel like doing more to support us, please contact Alain Volz at alainvolz@atma.nu

Dipaliya - Meshwork and dynamics

When you want to learn more of the principles we are working with as a professional family, you can also connect with Alain.

In gratitude,
Umar Mohammed & Alain Volz

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Are you chicken?

How EU subsidies damage local farmers in Ghana

Saturday April 18th of this year the Dutch Democratic Party (D66) held its 101st national conference. With the national committee for Social Innovation and Gender Equality (of which I am secretary) we held a session about the basic income. The session was organized in collaboration with the national committee for Economy.

Besides an expert from the University of Rotterdam there were D66 representatives (town clerks) of two cities who initiated an experiment with the basic income. Thanks to their input and the collaboration with the national committee for economy the meeting was a success.

At the conference there also was a session on the European Agriculture policy. About that session I’d like to share more here.

Foto congres 101 - van nelle fabriekThe session was initiated by the national committee for agriculture. Amongst the participants was Gerben Jan Gerbrandy – member of the European Parliament and vice chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – and Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, former minister of agriculture in the Netherlands (199-2002).

It was an open session and well prepared. Participants were asked to bring in suggestions for improvement of the EU agriculture policy. D66 had written a paper on this topic and in preparation of the session it was shared with the participants by email.

My suggestion to look at the EU subsidy regulations and practice made an impact on the meeting. I shared the example of Dutch poultry.

The European Union subsidizes the production of chicken that is being bred in a very animal unfriendly way (plofkip). The subsidy was actually meant for a campaign on animal well-being and food security but wasn’t used for that purpose. The Dutch large scale chicken farmers received millions of the subsidy. In 6 weeks’ time the chickens are prepared for slaughter and consumption. As a consequence this chicken is much cheaper than organic chicken or chicken that has been bred walking freely at the farm. With the EU subsidy these cheap meat chickens become even cheaper and the organic farmers can’t compete anymore. EU subsidy goes to companies who don’t actually need it and who don’t use it for the purpose it is meant.

But this is not the full story. Because the organic chicken can’t compete with the mass produced chicken, the farmers need to find alternatives for the sales of their poultry. They, but also the large scale chicken farmers have found an alternative market for their products; Africa. And again the export is with EU subsidy.

The industrial chicken farmers export the parts of the chicken that Western consumers do not eat to African countries. The Dutch farmers primarily export to Ghana. But also the biological bred chicken is being exported to Africa and Ghana. For them it is much cheaper to export the chicken meat to Africa than to find alternative markets in Europe. Why? Because of the European subsidy. There are actually two subsidies that the Dutch farmers have extra benefit from; the first one is for export and trade outside the EU, and the second one is though developmental aid subsidy. The latter concerns me deeply.

Dutch companies receive EU subsidy for developmental aid that should be going to the African continent and not be flowing back to Western companies. At least that is my opinion. It is good for European trade and the economic figures of export, but is it also good for the well-being of the global population? And is it developmental aid; should the budget be used for these purposes?

So this is the ‘technical’ aspect that I shared in the meeting and it was very well taken. But it was not my full story and not what made the impact. I shared that to me this is not only a technical story, but that it is hurting people I know and I care for. Then I told the story of my friend in Ghana. That made it real for everyone in the room.

Chicken farm Ghana 01

The last few years I have been active in Ghana. The way that I work is such that I engage and live with the local tribal people. Because of that I have built up many good relationships with local Ghanaian people. People trust me because of how I live in Ghana and how I engage. One of the people I became close with is my friend Ibrahim.

Ibrahim is a chicken farmer in Tamale, Northern Region. I asked him what was true of the story I wrote here and how it influenced his business. “It is true” he said and explained me that many of the local chicken farmers needed to close their business because of the European chicken that is entering the Ghanaian market. Local farmers just can’t compete with the subsidized chicken from Europe and go bankrupt. A second problem they face is that the Western companies and governments spend large budgets on marketing of Western products as healthy, even if they are actually not. And it brings status if one can afford Western made products so Ghanians are eager to buy them.

So this is how EU subsidies also contribute to an increase of poverty in Ghana and an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Money is not spent the way it should be and Dutch organic chicken is cheaper in Ghana than the local bred chicken. While the Dutch eat the mass produced chicken, the Ghanians eat the organic ones for a low price.

Well that is at least something positive, but I can’t say it is right. This really has to change as far as I am concerned.

And my friend, Ibrahim? He has difficulties, struggling to survive and to feed his family. Education for his children is costly, but he still survives. He has been able to change his business from meat poultry to a chicken farm where eggs are produced. His income is lower than before, but at least he has not gone bankrupt. The chickens that have served their term for the eggs end up in soup of friends and relatives. It is hard to sell them at the local market.

This is only one story, but I can imagine that there are many similar stories like this.

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Failing states – not a local issue

Current economy is so intertwined on a global scale, that local conflicts have direct impact on global peace and economy. An unstable state is not just a local issue anymore.

Some personal observations based on Fragile State Index by the Global Fund For Peace (FFP)
http://ffp.statesindex.org

– All African countries are in a category of risk and the 4 highest risk categories are dominated by African countries.

– Exept for Brazil, the BRIIC countries, the 5 largest emerging economies in the world (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, India and China) are a high risk state in this index.

– All countries from stable to very sustainable are dominated by European countries. Of the 25 Best perfoming countries only 8 are non-European. Of the best 40 only 13.

– The states with the highest reserves in oil, gold and other natural resources with high economic value are in a danger zone on this list. With exception of the United Arab Emirates (US and Canada) none of these countries is labelled as stable or beyond.

About the Fragile (Failed) State Index:

“… The Fragile States Index (FSI), produced by The Fund for Peace, is a critical tool in highlighting not only the normal pressures that all states experience, but also in identifying when those pressures are pushing a state towards the brink of failure…

… Millions of documents are analyzed every year. By applying highly specialized search parameters, scores are apportioned for every country…

… By highlighting pertinent issues in weak and failing states, the FSI — and the social science framework and software application upon which it is built — makes political risk assessment and early warning of conflict accessible to policy-makers and the public at large…”

The Failed States Index is an annual ranking of 177 countries across 12 indicators.

The 12 key indicators are divided in 4 categories and include over 100 sub indicators.

Social indicators:
– Demographic Pressures (DP)
– Group Grievance (GG)
– refugees and IDP’s (REF)
– Human Flight and Brain Drain (HF)

Economic indicators:
– Unequal Economic Development (UED)
– Poverty and Economic Decline (POV)

Political and Military indicators:
– State Legitimacy (SL)
– Human Rights and Rule of Law (HR)
– Factionalized Elites (FE)
– Public Services (PS)
– Security Apparatus (SEC)
– External Intervention (EXT)

About the rankings:

First of all, the list seems to be published before recent outbreaks of crises with Ebola, IS and Ukraïne and – most likely – not included in this ranking.

The higher the ranking of a state, the more fragile that state is and the more likely to fail. The index distincts 11 categories from ‘Very High Alert’ to ‘Sustainable’.

Very High Alert (1-5) is given to 5 countries in Africa.

High Alert (6-16) is given to 11 countries; 5 from Africa and 5 countries where IS, and similar organizations are active. (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jemen).

Alert (17-34) is given to 17 countries, including 10 countries From sub Sahara Africa. North Korea, Egypt and Nepal are also in this category.

Very high warning (35-66) is given to 32 countries of which 15 Are in Africa. Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan are in this category, as is Colombia.

High warning (67-109) is given to 43 countries. Including Ghana (108 on the list), 7 African states are in this category. Amongst others, Israel, Turukey, Marocco, Indonesia and Surinam are in this category. With China, India and Russia, 3 of the 5 lagest world economies are in this category.

Warning (110-126) is given to 17 countries. Amongst them are 3 African countries, including South Africa. Brazil also is categorized here.

Less stable (127-138) is given to 12 countries, including Kuwait and Greece.

Stable (139-153) is given to 15 countries, most are East- and South-european.

Very stable (154-165) is given to 12 countries. The United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France and Japan are the large economies in this category.

Sustainable (166-177) is given to 12 countries. Except for Canada, Australia and New Zealand all these countries are European. The Netherlands is positioned here at 177

Very Sustainable is only given to 1 country, Finland.

IMG_4238-0.PNG

IMG_3387.GIF

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Is capitalism dying?

Jeremy Rifkin – President of the Foundation on Economic Trends:

“While I suspect that capitalism will remain part of the social schema for at least the next half century or so, I doubt that it will be the dominant economic paradigm by the second half of the twenty-first century…

The Collaborative Commons is ascendant and, by 2050, it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world. An increasingly streamlined and savvy capitalism will continue to soldier on at the edges of the economy…”

http://www.psfk.com/2014/06/jeremy-rifkin-consumer-of-2030.html

His latest book is called “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet Of Things, The Collaborative Commons, And The Eclipse of Capitalism”

“As humanity transitions into an age of extreme weather conditions and water scarcity, will food come to undermine the constructive transformations we are moving towards

Rifkin does acknowledge that without good solutions and preparations for scarcity, the emergence of an alternative to capitalism becomes significantly less probable.”

capitalism dying

My thought was: “And maybe that is why companies like Monsanto, Nestle, Gazprom, Bayer, Pfizer, banks and others try to dominate the food, water and energy supply chains. It is not about food security, health or society, it is about maintaining power in a declining system.”

Marketing and research budgets help to share another image, and most people are affected by commerce and media. “… He who controls the media, controls the people …”

Marketing has become psychology; with a purpose to affect human behavior to like and buy ‘stuff’. How? By making you feel good about yourself.

Science has become so intertwined with commerce and politics that one can hardly speak of any scientific independence. That makes outcomes of research by most institutes very disputable. “No dog bites off the hand that feeds him, it licks it and wiggles it’s tail gratefully.”

There might be other, more genuine reasons, for business leaders and political leaders to invest in more ‘sustainable’ solutions. But if optimization of profit and shareholder value is the primary driver, it becomes a ‘trick’, just to get more customers, more profit and more shareholder value. This is called “green washing” and is not going to work.

Instead of maximizing customer sales, profit and shareholder value, focus should be on long term continuity, innovation and stakeholder value. It places profit in a larger perspective as a condition for continuity instead of framing it as a purpose as such. Purpose and profit are not the same, they can never be.

This requires a shift in thinking and in acting and that, again, takes time, courage and perseverance. It also requires education, practice and effort of our current and future leaders.

My question actually is: “Does capitalism wants to survive or evolve?” Personally I believe it wants to evolve. But the current leaders focus – in my opinion – on survival. And that doesn’t work in an evolving society. It is a death scenario.

I do not doubt the positive values of capitalism as a vehicle. Nor am I in favour or against capitalism. I do question the qualifications – or rather the world views – of the drivers, their egocentric behavior and their ‘win-lose’ morale.

Where current capitalism started with a dream, liberté, egalité et fraternité, our current leaders seem to have forgotten the dream and have broken many peoples hearts. I can understand how that happens, but – though I tried – I can not justify it.

Accra neighbor Poverty in India

How can I justify current economy and global leadership with the people in Africa and India I engage, who have nothing and yet still share because it is the right thing to do?

How to justify it with traditional people who want progress, but not under conditions of current economy leaders, having to replace traditional values for a modern lifestyle?

How to justify it with people who do have the capacities but don’t have an honest chance in society, simply due to lack of money (poverty) or personal safety  (violence)?

It’s not just, nor right! People know it and, maybe, that is where the distrust in current leadership comes from. That’s might be why people don’t vote or raise their voice in extreme; why people fight or flight.

Change is not coming from systems like government or corporations. It comes from people who are curious to learn new ways of thinking and implement them in their actions. And maybe they work in governments or corporations.

Current focus in innovation is on technology, but we should also focus on ethics and behavior in companies and societies. There is a dangerous dis-balance. Technology will help, but not solve the challenges we face.

We have the technologies to do the most amazing things. But do we also have the consciousness to use them in a way that serves life on Earth?

World economy and our lives are so intertwined that, if we don’t, the impact is disastrous for many people and for life on Earth in general.

I trust evolution and resilience of living beings. But, 50 years from now, I will most likely will not live anymore; and I don’t want to wait. Wait for ‘someone’ to release me, a leader or guru that will save us.

The Guru is inside, inside all of us. We all have an inner moral compass. We know in our hearts what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. Our bodies tell us when we (re)act out fear or from an open and free space. It tells us when we are hurt or happy.

Most of us are surviving, people and current systems. To survive is exhausting; it fatigues and uses up most resources we have; money, oil, water, etc. To defend what we have, with more people to share with and less to share, is creating tensions, wars and climate change.

Money was supposed to liberate us and make life more easy. Reality is that for many it has become a ‘prison’ or a ‘purpose’. “… He who dominates the money, dominates the world.”

In nature, every living species adopts to local circumstances and the species as a whole survives by diversity. Adopting just one dominant economic or social model on a global scale, like we tend to do, is bound to lead to extinction. It is not how nature survives and therefore it is unnatural to us.

And if capitalism wants to survive, it should stop killing the environment it is part of and start to accept other realities as equally true. Co-creation brings more resilient options than collaboration.

But, to be honest, the title of this writing is wrong. It is not about capitalism.

flower of life plant

The largest capitalist economies – the US and Europe – don’t actually differ so much from the largest socialist economies – China and Russia.

I see similar patterns; it is like the US/Europe and China/Russia driving the same cars, only in different colors. And even when they are driving different brands, the cars still have the same basic function.

So if it is not about capitalism, what is it about then? The key question is about human behavior and ethics. Like Clare Graves’ question “What is healthy human behavior?”

It is easy to question other peoples behavior or morale, but more effective to work on my own. The most profound question to understand human ethics and behavior is: “who am I?”

It is a tough practice because it means entering into discomfort and facing my personal likes and dislikes as mine to deal with. It means not rejecting others for ‘triggering’ something inside me. It means to be honest to myself beyond my own lies to myself.

A ‘leader’ with moral compass never is in struggle with himself or the other. Practice brings mastery. I try, fail, learn, and try again.

I also notice I’d like to have an easy way out. A little voice asking; “Can’t I buy some ‘instant enlightenment’ anywhere or find a leader/guide who will save us from our mistakes?”

God large

No.
That is Freedom

Freedom actually means to oblige. At least that is the definition in all world religions and all spiritual traditions.

Wisdom is more than having a bright mind. Freedom of mind and word are more powerful than oppression by rule or sword. Freedom of word is to express self with respect for the other.

But wisdom and freedom are difficult because they require an open, genuine relationships with myself, with other people, and with the environment I live in.

Self knowledge and acceptance are the base. Relationship is key to realize a shift from surviving to thriving; to act beyond, but with, our fight-flight patterns.

That’s life, at least my life.
And I try to live it with my survival patterns, but not having them in the drivers’ seat.
Occasionally I succeed.

Only need more money …

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