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Interviews

Interview with Yehoeshahfaht Ben Israel (Representative, Dr. Martin Luther King Institute for a New Humanity)

BEN ISRAELQ1. In your lecture, you spoke about the God of Israel and Abraham, as well as Isaac and Jacob with regards to a positive transformation of humanity. How important is religious identity in defining a nation, and in the case of African countries, is this similar to the rest of the world?

It needs to be clarified. When I talk about God the creator it’s not from a religious standpoint, it’s from a cultural standpoint – that means things that you do every day, not something you have to put a label on – your actions. When put in that particular context, things related to the creator will be things that are either truth centered or life giving. Things that go against the creator will be things which will cause you to die or things which are not life enhancing. In terms of religion in its current form, it will not help in the transformation of Africa because religious beliefs normally produce different perspectives. However, when you come into what is right, truth centered and life giving for example as the creator, whether you’re Chinese, Columbian, or Jamaican, everybody has two lungs or two eyes so it’s that basis, those natural laws of people. The flora and fauna of the world’s creator are the principles upon which we refer, so our position when we come to the creator, is a position of cultural reality and the principles which govern life.

Q2. In a post-modern world, you mentioned there is a problem as the need for leadership is even greater today. Are there areas where you feel this leadership is lacking, and what measures do you feel need to be taken to rectify the situation?

Leadership is lacking in the integrity of how they see themselves as leaders. In the post-modern world what has happened, is that leadership has become an iconisation, or deified where people feel that they are leaders, and that they are the totality of mind and direction without consulting the people, having sensitivity to the people, or having any sincere care to one another. In terms of application in the post-modern world, a lot of leaders say a lot of good things, but have no intention of following through with what. Before elections, they are very good. Sir James Mancham, the founding president of the Seychelles commented on this by saying this is the season where we should move away from politicians who are just playing to the electorate, the next election, to statesmen. People who are seeing a progression a transformation of the entire welfare of a polity and continually making sure that it’s eternalized or stable. It’s the same for leaders. They should be concerned about the people who they’ve had the opportunity to lead and allowing those people to have an environment that is able to enhance and protect their health and welfare.

Q3. You stated that de facto change in African economies need to take place in order for sustainable progress to be achieved on a socio-political level. Is it time for Africa to assume responsibility for their own economic development, rather than copy western models and ideologies? What strategies would you suggest in order for this change of approach to occur?

Well a big dilemma is the acceptance of not only European models, of Chinese models as well. The Chinese are in Africa today and they have cultural diplomacy in Africa. India is in Africa as well, and it looks like any foreign interest that enters Africa whether it’s religion or business related, excuse my pun, the Africans take it hook, line, and sinker without an assessment of it. Yet Africa has something to give. It has indigenous knowledge systems which have been sustainable and have produced stability and creativity. So you have other models Africa must assess and it has to cause a synthesis of the strong things on behalf of its people and merge the two going forward. That means it must have the courage to say what Africa is doing, is inherently, and traditionally is flawed and wrong, and they must right this and cast it away. As such, they also must have the same courage, regardless of the international pressure look at other models that come and if it will not work for Africa they must say ‘no we are not going to do it.’ Unfortunately with leadership, some of it has not been strong because of their own personal vested positions to take those positions, and the people or the state has suffered.

Q4. The ICD promotes cultural diplomacy and with Africa currently facing some challenges, what role do you feel cultural diplomacy can play in solving problems such as ethnic conflict within Africa?

That’s a brilliant question. The world media does not understand a lot of what happens in Africa, they just pick out what they understand, and that even Africa doesn’t understand Africa. Through cultural diplomacy, Africa will begin to find the richness and wealth in the strength of knowledge, the indigenous knowledge systems, the creative genius of different African ethnic groups, and like Hegel who is German, will be able to take the two sides: the thesis and the antithesis and form a synthesis to pull the truths and strengths out. They will be able to form something more than just having the rhetoric of African union or African progress or African rise without content is actually null and void.  If they get tangible things, a micro- or macro-scale and they pull those valid sustained examples together, they will be able to craft something that can sustain Africa into the 21st century. Cultural diplomacy will not only bring down the tension or the propensity of ethnic conflict, but it will allow the ethnic people to see what they have in common, what they have to learn from one another, rather than putting energy into what their differences are which causes them to degenerate rather than regenerate.

Interview conducted by Peter Hanley, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
www.ccds-berlin.de
www.culturaldiplomacy.org

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We are the Blogsphere Team of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. We are the interactive part of the web resources of ICD. We spread culture and mutual understanding among cultures through blogs.

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