OUSMANE ALY PAME, PRESIDENT OF GEN AFRICA : SIMPLICITY AND SHARING ARE THE ROOTS OF HAPPINESS
New Series : Who are the People in the Ecovillage Movement ?
I saw him for the first time in the middle of the night, on the way to the GEN Africa conference in Sekem, Egypt. In a Cairo traffic jam, another van stopped next to ours, full of African men. In contrast to the tired mood in our car, they celebrated and laughed. With a funny hat on his head, one man seemed to entertain the rest of the group. Only later I learned that he is a political leader, an innovative visionary and one of the key figures of the emerging ecovillage network, not only in Senegal but in whole Africa.
In the GEN Africa conference all delegates became aware of Ousmane´s skills to facilitate and moderate, thus contributing to the amazing efficiency of this event. GEN Africa was launched at the conference, a visionary concept was composed, the first council was elected – and later the first president. His name: Dr. Ousmane Aly Pame. A portrait by Leila Dregger, Tamera Ecovillage, Portugal. Ousmane was born in Ndioum, a small village in the north of Senegal, on the border with neighboring Mauritania. In reality, Nidoum is not on a border, but at the heart of the old kingdom: Futa Toro. Since his childhood in the village, Ousmane´s passion has always been to preserve the traditions of his community and the environment – in spite of the wounds of colonialism. I asked him, in which way he still perceives these wounds:- Ousmane: “Colonialism is still a strong reality in Africa. We still use our colonizers’ languages, currencies, crops and didactic materials. Our countries frontiers are a legacy of this colonial past. These frontiers don’t take into account our historic kingdoms, cultures, social and political organizations. Our ethnic groups, families, fields and pastures are divided and separated by these artificial borders. These situations often create tensions. Today, our educational system – which is a colonial legacy – is focused more on the West than on our rich history, traditions and cultures. This is a serious hindrance to our socio-economic take off.” He strongly believes that we can restore the lost Eden through long term communication and community action: “About 70 years ago, this area was a dense forest with lions, elephants and many other animals. My grandmother, who lived from 1904 to 2012, has told me a thousand stories about life in those days. Today, my land is a dry and almost like a giant football ground. My dream is to see my community produce what it eats and eat what it produces.” What is his definition of an ecovillage? “In real ecovillages, people produce wealth without harming their physical and social environments. Real ecovillages create or reinforce simple and rational lifestyles in which greed, accumulation and human exploitation have no space. Real ecovillages highly value local engineering to meet local inhabitants’ rational needs. The greatest force in ecovillages is not money or high tech, but community power. Once a community is aware and willing to act, all changes become possible.” Ousmane´s wish to preserve the traditions of Senegal have emerged from his heritage. He is a descendant of Cheikh Omar Foutiyou Tall, a religious leader who has converted most of West Africa to Islam. Ousmane became a Professor of Translation, British Civilisation and Literature. In 2005, he started working as an African literature teacher in the American Study Abroad Programme in Senegalese ecovillages. “At that time I got really interested in the concept of Ecovillages. Then in August 2007, I had the opportunity to participate in an EDE in Auroville, India, which was an eye and heart opening experience. Back in my country, I started organizing my community and teaching Ecovillage design.” In 2009, he became mayor of the famous eco-town Guédé Chantier. In this role, he could give more than a thousand kids in the eco-town and surrounding villages the opportunity to attend school. He has run a programme of constructing free school classrooms and providing free school materials to vulnerable villages. He organized that the villagers have access to clean water with a well digging programme and extension of the water distribution system in Guédé. Raising his community´s awareness about the necessity of preserving its traditions and environment, he could help transform Guédé to a leading town in the ecovillage movement in Africa. The success has not stopped him from still having dreams for the future. I asked him to share the vision of Guédé Chantier and how it could look in 10 years. “In ten years, my village will have more infrastructure: a Community radio station, a Center of Excellence where permaculture, bee-keeping and fish farming will be taught, and biogas production units. I hope Guede as a whole will become a centre for excellence, where people from different regions of Senegal will come to learn about sustainability, ecovillage design, environment protection, recycling plastics, architecture, African history and genuine lifestyles. I hope the village will make a successful transition from conventional to organic agriculture.” As a next step, he sees Guede´s Community and Environmental Center becoming functional within a year. “It will be instrumental in shifting people’s mental paradigms for a wholistic transformation of our community. There will be film projections followed by debates, conferences, meetings, exhibitions, plays etc. We want to see an EDE course in Guédé, to train people and help the community attain a critical mass of people with adequate training. I wish to see Guédé as a twin town with Damanhur (Italy), Findhorn (Scotland), and a couple of Senegambian Ecovillages.” Ousmane´s vision for Senegal is to reverse the rural exodus. Instead of having villagers leave their villages for city suburbs, he hopes to see city-dwellers leaving the cities for villages where they will reconnect with Nature, and live full, exuberant and productive lives. Ousmane was one of the influential leaders who convinced the Senegalese government to adopt the plan of transforming every second village in the country to an ecovillage – with the help of GEN. This is when he got to know the Global Ecovillage Network. “I believe that GEN‘s ideals and philosophy represent the future of the world. Its holistic approach makes a difference. I’m strongly convinced by the need to restore local cultures and wisdoms.” To raise people’s awareness, encourage action to preserve the environment, and restore community harmony, he communicates a great deal, using tv, radio, newspapers and Facebook platforms. Being the very first president of GEN Africa means a lot to him. “Together with all the council members and partners, I have the responsibility to develop and strengthen the structure on the continent, create ecovillage networks in the different regions and countries on the continent, promote ecovillage philosophy and successful practices on the continent. I’m blessed to have a dedicated and experienced team and pool of international partners working with me. I’m confident that GEN Africa – more than any other organization- will contribute more to the sustainable development of the African Continent. We are tired and exhausted by all the remedies of international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, and of the systematic looting of our natural resources by Western and Asian multinationals. Africa will be developed by Africans, or not at all. Our continent is rich in natural and human resources. I believe in Africa taking serious leadership and responsibility to save the world!” Whatever remains as free time, he likes to enjoy in a simple, rural and warm lifestyle in his village, especially with his family: his wive Aminata Sow and their three boys: Amadou 13, Aly 10 and Abdoulaye 8. “Simplicity and sharing are the roots of Happiness”, he states. In December 2014, his country Senegal will be the host of the first Ecovillage World Summit