There is an intense debate about the possibility of global peace and security when the peoples of the world, through communities, states and institutions have common goals and ambitions. It is true that peace, security and stability are some of the most fundamental things that enable humans to thrive whether in politics or economics. However, man has almost always been indulged in competition, whether for socio-economic resources, cultural or political gains. This competition indeed is mostly the driving force that determines the type of world we find ourselves in and not necessarily what we want in many circumstances. Factually, there are some inevitable values the human race commonly wishes to achieve or adhere to but our diverse interests, economic realities, unequal access to global resources, and of course our cultural orientations be in religion or the mere expression of norms are the underlying factors for global disunity and competition-both healthily and otherwise.
This paper will reflect on only one of Nguyen’s question for this week’s discussion: “Which is the best means of achieving our values (liberty, equality, justice and freedom): individuals, communities, states, or institutions?” The best means of achieving these values depend on the cultural and social settings of an individual’s background. Also the ambition of that person and the forms of causes he/she believes, determine what values to uphold. For the sake of this paper, I am assuming these basic values to be somehow universally anticipated. This will make the discussion easier but might not necessarily be realistic. Indeed, the advent of the internet, mobile communication and the acceleration of social media are some of the greatest opportunities people of this century are using to change lives around the world by believing and sharing some sort of value expectations. In addition, I am approaching this discussion from a more practical than philosophical sense, this way; I will bring some tangible examples to relate them with some of the values I am discussing here. The objective of this approach is to break the line between abstract and practice to see how values or morals that people believe are communicated or changed into actions for their own interests or for the interest of others.
Walzer and Nguyen have both noted that individuals are now more connected than ever before. Due to this, it is not uncommon that likeminded people, or in some circumstances, sympathizers, joining forces to lobby, advocate or promote causes that they believe in, be it gender equality, breaking income inequality, environmental conservation, adherence to global human rights agreements, all in the name of human advancement. Maureen, a young Kenyan woman initiated a sexual and reproductive health project in the most deserted rural communities of Tanzania, by enabling young girls to access reproductive health goods and services such as contraception. Her approach is the provision of mobile technology that links sexually active adolescents and service providers in the most cost effective and private way. This program aims to promote the value of equality as the outcome is the retention of girls who would have been victims of unplanned teenage pregnancy which in many African contexts lead to school dropout and a life cycle of poverty, inequality and vulnerability. The initiator of the program has a value she believes in and wants to share with her community and the world. It began with her but will not end there.
Like Maureen, we have our values and beliefs, but we need support and networking to promote and make those values become commonly accepted. Our individual approach to gaining liberty or equality for oneself and others is the very beginning of the process but does not end there. Icons such as Mandela or Gandhi could only assert influence or become known for their promotion of values such as peace and equality not by themselves alone. They used their personal circumstances to collaborate with others to move the agenda of causes that were close to the minds and hearts of people they represent or fight for. Some of us are doing similar things, but the likelihood that we partner with others for the achievement of an objective, be it a value that increases equality in education or supporting a needy community to advance health care, will be done through partnership with others.
Moving to the community level, as people become more connected and somehow seeing themselves as global citizens, promoting certain values and their achievement becomes more of a joint assignment as mentioned above. Through, individual initiatives, leadership through one’s charisma or power are vital to mobilize support and followers. In such relations however, people are increasingly seeing themselves as partners and not only beneficiaries or recipients of support that outsiders or more privilege members of a community might initiate. When I initiated a community project in my town to reduce the prevalence of female genital cutting based on the value of freedom and equality between girls and boys, men and women, there was no possibility that the project would achieve even a quarter of the expected outcomes without a strong community partnership with local leaders, politicians and heads of cultural institutions.
Indeed, seeing the next person in a bus or a neighbor next door with the eyes of love, respect and tolerance will make our relations and communities safer and progressive. But do we approach such at individual levels alone? True, the possibility of this will result to personal fulfillment. But shouldn’t it reciprocal? If so, how do we go about it? Do we share similar traditional expectations that require greetings of neighbors as a matter of obligation just to guarantee the other person some sense of tolerance and equality? Answers to these questions can be both universal and relative, but viewing them from relative cultural settings will be more practical.
Communities have great opportunities, cultural and social resources that could be shared to promote values through engaging one another. The possibility of this will however depend on mutual trust, established norms and institutions. There is a higher tendency that cultures that live in groups or have a higher sense of communal living will thrive better for such initiatives than those that are individualistic and put more emphasis on individual privacy. Inasmuch as, a family or an individual upholds values such as equality between sexes, races and social justice for disadvantage groups, benefits become wider when communities share these values and work towards their achievement. To address the problems of racial prejudice and cultural norms which divide humans into classes and caste groups, initiators should be able to mobilize community support on such matters.
In 2012, Matida launched an education campaign in a community in the North Bank Region of Gambia about the rights of women to ownership of resources such as land. This was one of the most sensitive issues that has trapped majority of the women in poverty, render them voiceless and in-secured especially when a spouse died. Attacking an aged long practice that has resulted to serious gender inequality and insecurity, Matida needed support from community members and local institutions such as the police, court, village development committee, and agricultural extension workers. She was able to attract discussion about the issue which turned into a successful and starting point for society to correct and mitigate such harmful practices. The values Matida was promoting included social justice, equality and freedom but she needed partnership, trust and support from the community.
Finally, moving to states and institutions, the achievement of our values depends on the objectives of institutions concerned, the political orientation, economic and social interests of the states that create or support them. The values the UN upholds and the level of its effectiveness as the primary global institution tasked with the responsibility of maintaining peace depends on the concerns and interests of the powers that are instrumental in ensuring its existence either through political or economic support (see Nguyen 2014, p 29). In a state of anarchy, where sovereign states have no higher body, who becomes the global policeman to promote or in some instances, dictate what values, are to be respected or reinforced? Certainly, in such an arrangement, states are theoretically seen as equals but some are more powerful and equal than others and their interested values somehow become blueprints for other. How do we balance such? Do we delegate more responsibilities to bodies such as the UN to maintain order?
The shift of power, especially demonstrated as the “rise” of China and other middle powers should alert us not only in economic terms but in terms of ethics too. Who replaces the US or EU in initiating values? Are the great powers going to use their military might, economic prowess, technological advancements and political orientation to maintain their status and dictate what others must follow? Are the values binding when they are somehow imposed on others? Are priorities similar or universal? Which values are the most important to China or India or Russia? Will they focus on economic equality or political freedom? Will the so-called “Asian values” that place emphasis on economic advancement than political liberty supersede liberal thoughts in the political sense? Will Africa take part in the shift of power process? If so, which alternative ethics does it offer? These questions indeed might be easy to answer but they point at complex inter-state relations about our world and where it will head to in the near future.
I believe that nation states will likely survive the pressure and competition with other actors such as transnational civil society organizations, international financial institutions and multinational corporations likely for many decades to come. Despite intense human contacts through the internet, faster air travelling, connected educational institutions, organizations providing platform as well as influencing international and domestic policies and values, the prestige and political recognition states enjoy is an overriding advantage against all other actors. No doubt, their powers will be greatly reduced. Social goods and services that will improve lives of individuals and community development will witness reduction from states as most of them grapple with limited resources and high populations as in Sub-Saharan Africa or materially demanding populations in some Western countries. As an increasing number of non-state actors and individuals provide these resources, citizen trust and loyalty could seriously shift to such entities. Even though these organizations have their weaknesses and or limitations, as highlighted by Nguyen, their inability of setting national policies or preventing the outbreak of conflicts do not reduce their influence in most of the world’s poorest communities.
It is not uncommon for underserved communities to express trust in local or international NGOs that give them health facilities, bring pipe bone water to their doorsteps, construct schools and maintain teachers who would not have been paid enough or motivated by the state or bringing health care resources through local health facilities or mobile clinics. The breadth of such engagements is mind blowing in some resource poor countries or regions and this has direct impact on state-society relations. An important question here is: how do such independent organizations help us achieve our values?
Taking the Gates Foundation for example, while Bill is particularly interested in improving health in countries such as Nigeria and Ethiopia by making vaccines available to children , Melinda is busy mobilizing support, political will as well as funds to close the unmet family planning needs of women. These individuals believe that all humans should enjoy justice, freedom and equality to live meaningful lives. They are using their money, charisma and connections to transform these values into actions by others believing in them, willing to work or partner with them. Through their own foundation and other institutions they support or partner with, they are able to initiate value-driven projects or assistance in several resource poor countries.
Moving to regional organizations, weak ones such as the African Union could have tremendous challenges to offer or expect membership adherence to values it might hold. This could be the lack of a strong sense of commitment among members of this organization, who, to my view, have actually never delegated any form of serious power to it. In addition, the changed nature of conflicts of modern times, mostly fought within the borders of nation states , usually caused and fueled by ethnic, tribal and religious politics, regional bodies have to readjust their focus on the needs of affected members. Regional organizations have to use limited resources to ensure stability and security than ever before. This has resulted to more expectations from them and in some cases, they are not only urged but expected to be the first to intervene in conflicts well before the coming of the UN or other interested powers.
In addition to regional groups, the proliferation of NGOs, charities and community clubs will likely continue and there will even be more cohesion among these groups. Northern groups will likely keep their duty as main resource providers to their southern counterparts. Anyway, more result-based programs and greater sensitivity to values such as accountability, transparency and honesty will become more expected. Through these civil society organizations, people, especially youths, will continue to connect and advocate causes they care about and more opportunities will seem to focus on empowerment, human rights and skills building to drive the development of poorer nations than monetary support with little impact evidence.
The discussion shows that the achievement of our values will likely take a chain form, linking individual practices and beliefs to the community level and finally through states and institutions. This cannot be a clear cut expectation because competing values that might interest particular individuals might not even go well with community traditions or state behavior and interests. What might be the most important value (human rights) in Zimbabwe to advance the lives and livelihoods of the people, might not necessary be the priority of citizens of the United Kingdom. If Singapore is interested in adjusting its social justice to close income gap between the rich and the poor, dwellers who have suffered from military brutality in Burma are perhaps most interested in achieving their liberty first. Although Nguyen’s suggested four values that are discussed in this paper are interrelated, mostly, time, political situations, economic and cultural circumstances determine which ones matter and in what situation. The stories I have illustrated in this discussion give us a view that the achievement of values can come from any entity (whether through Maureen’s individual project on adolescent reproductive health and rights, Matida’s joint community campaign on equal access to resources or the health initiatives of the Gates Foundation) but mostly, broader acceptance and participation yields better results.