Friday, April 8, 2011

Value of Building Institutions

Conference-hopping is a popular activity.  And one that wastes tremendous amounts of time, energy and resources.  All of the money spent on travel, accomodations, food, etc., over the past 40 years could have gone to developing and sustaining institutions by and for African people. 

The arts festival in Dakar (Senegal), for example, drew tens of thousands of visitors to the country in December 2010.  Its president paid musicians travel and lodging expenses on planes owned by european companies, hotels owned by foreigners, and meals in various restaurants catering to tourists. Millions spent on entertainment. However the insitutions necessary to sustain the development of the arts over time do not exist.


There are some very real challenges to African people building institutions, however.  A study of history reveals the many and varied ways that black people's sociocultural, political and economic development has assumed a form of servile development (or in the direction of the development of servitude).  The modern economic system evolved precisely to maintain servitude of African people and nations.  And investment in African culture and civilization existed to the extent that such investments served the interests of Europeans, Americans, Arabs, and Jews.

The value of African people building African insitutions designed to stand the test of time is that they would be developed by and for African people, to serve the interests of the collective and by benefitting the whole and can be sustained by the whole. Yet doing this requires a recognition that such an endeavor is necessary...that it is worthy. Then it requires the commitment in practice of people with the mental/moral skills, courage and determination necessary to bring the institution to life.  Next, the formation of institutions require investment of resources: materials, building space, and finances.  Often those with the ideas, interest and commitment, lack the resources; and those with resources, have no interest in building institutions.

This reminds me of the many ways Black people spend a lot of time supporting the institutions, businesses and activities of others, but when it comes to investing the necessary time, effort and resources into building institutions that will stand the test of time, we don't do it.  BUT a few groups are working vigilently to build institutions:
  1. Per Ankh Publishing Collective (Popenguine, Senegal)
  2. University of Kmt (Detroit, MI, USA)
  3. Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (Detroit, MI, USA)
Per Ankh Publishing Collective is the most advanced group i have seen that has held firm to its commitment to African unification through the production of books.  Though it has experienced its share of challenges (and in some ways continues to), its core decision-making body preserves its independence - and thus its thought, words and deeds - by not pursuing outside funds or accepting donations that would in any way seek to shape the principles and practices of the collective.  This independent African institution has done a lot through the contributions of its members and the sales of books. (see http://stores.bbkwan.com/Page.bok?template=about)

The University of Kmt/University of Kmt Press is an independent institution that survives through the contributions of members.  It's founders aim to create a space and opportunity for African progressives to organize for the redemption, resurrection and rebirth of the best of African civilization. (see http://www.universityofkmt.com/)

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network is a grassroots organization that has only recently begun receiving funding from external funders. The organization's leadership and members are working to retain its independence, while furthering its impact in the face of a burgeoning food security/food justice movement in the city of Detroit...a movement attracting lots of groups with economic interests that do not necessarily benefit residents of this overwhelming African American urban center. (see http://detroitblackfoodsecurity.org/).

I will follow up on the efforts of each of these groups in the coming weeks. 

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