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The Struggle For Collective Dignity



A lot of what we learn does not happen within the four walls of classrooms. We learn more from the classrooms of life which are without walls. Increasingly, we are seeing these learning spaces to be the streets. Unfortunately these spaces are becoming increasingly lethal, with human and environmental rights defenders becoming vulnerable to corporate and political forces.

While informal modes of learning provide constant lessons, the classrooms of universities and multiversities, as concentrated arenas of learning, have special opportunities and duties to raise students and intellectuals to speak up for the poor, for Mother Earth and her children.

At a time when our foods are being assailed by chemical-based agriculture, science needs to assure us that what we eat is not eating us up. At a time when our water, land and air are poisoned by wrongheaded extra-activism, we need to remind ourselves that wellbeing is not defined by how much minerals we have dug up, transformed or accumulated.

We need to unlearn harmful lessons and relearn the wisdom that has built our societies over the millennia. As John Keynes wrote in his Essays in Biography, we must “study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future.” The trouble is that if we don’t study the past, we cannot pick up the warming signals that our bad choices trigger today.

For example, a couple of years back, Burkina Faso halted the cultivation of genetically engineered cotton due to poor quality harvest and economic losses incurred by the local farmers. Today, while conventional cotton is thriving, that country has become a huge laboratory for extremely risky engineering and release of mosquitoes in vulnerable villages. This entails literally turning humans into guinea pigs. Can we, in good conscience tolerate this? What is the implication of experimentation of this nature on the country and on neighbouring countries like Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Benin and Niger?

How do we communicate the horrors of climate impacts and displacements in ways that wake the world from slumber? Without doubt, the classroom of life requires that we get educated daily and continuously in the pursuit of justice for brothers and sisters forced to live in extremely contaminated environments.  We cannot also ignore others refused refugee status but continuously being pushed to early and watery graves in the Mediterranean Sea or to fiery graves in the burning dunes of the Sahara.

Indeed, arts in its many forms such as music, poetry, prose, drama, sculpture, architecture and paintings, have been veritable tools for education, as well as maintaining our culture for ages. They have means for expressing joy, celebrating life and serve as chronicles of history beyond the reach of official historians who may be tempted to pander to power.

The arts can help us reverse the disruption of the harmonious societies built on cooperation and solidarity with the ultimate aim of maintaining/building wellbeing. Through the arts, we can name and shame entities that peddle greed and irresponsible accumulation of resources and wealth.

We often hear that our peoples are very religious. That may be true in terms of adherence to rituals. However, can they be said to be spiritual? Spirituality reflects in how we relate to one another, how we live in community and as a nation. If our religiosity were to be turned into spirituality, we would clearly build close/respectful social relationships and not perpetuate the cacophonous communities that we are enduring today.

Harmonious relationship with each other and nature would help us tame ourselves and remind us that life is in circles and not straight lines. It would help us treasure our environment, protect our resources and not trash them. Unfortunately, in today’s world, pollution has become a measure of progress in the fictitious indices of growth. It has been used as a political force to annihilate peoples or cut their lives short.  Pollution has also become a tool for the privatisation of rivers, creeks and swamps, with externalised ecological costs borne by the victims.

The time to shift into reverse gear from the path of destruction is now. We cannot stay silent, inactive or feign neutrality as our society falls apart.  We have to organise and enforce the struggles for dignity, solidarity, survival and socio-economic wellbeing of all. We have only one earth and escaping to Mars is no option for the 99 per cent. We need to educate ourselves in ways that project dissent as a true mark of patriotism. Education must inspire us to stand against being coopted into the vicious cycles that robs us of their humanity while unattainable carrots are dangled before them. The education that can do this is the one that helps us accept criticisms and accept needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.



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