A personal testimony by Prof. em. Werner Cornelis (Ecologist and Third World scholar) at the occasion of the creation of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies

First published in Dutch in: Vlaams-Marxistisch Tijdschrift, 48 (2014) 3.

Following the recent creation of the “Ghent Centre for Global Studies” at Ghent University (UGent), Belgium, this paper aims to contribute to the study of the Third World in its relation to Global Studies, based upon an experience of fifty years with Third World issues. In this contribution we will elaborate the way in which we approached the Third World in the 1950s and 1960s, from the point of view of a Western university education and the then prevailing “classical” development and modernisation theories. Our extensive experiences in the field and new events and findings gradually moved us in another direction – towards a more “global” thinking.  

Our early interest in the Third World was grounded in an intellectual curiosity to learn about the non-Western world and an innate concern to help people to a better existence. We did not realize it at that time, but the breakdown of the colonial inheritance after the sixties and the profound changes in the newly independent countries appear to have reoriented our way of thinking and our activities in the field. Only later, in the course of our career, did we become more clearly aware of this evolution: specific missions to the developing countries, our teaching assignments, and specific contacts have, indeed, with hindsight, had an unmistakable and thorough impact on the evolution of our ways of thinking and acting. This evolution of our ideas, behaviour and research in the field, our teaching and special contacts, have finally lead to another way of thinking and acting, which we then called “tiermondalisme” (“Third World Thinking”).

The present essay tries to present in a nutshell the major factors, influences and facts that finally brought us to what is presently recognised as “Global Thinking”.


It is now obvious that the scientific approach of realities of the Third World cannot refrain from acknowledging the ongoing globalization of the gathering of knowledge. The scientific approach concerning the Third World is marked by the three expanding movements of this globalization:

  • expansion towards an international dimension, the so-called “mondialisation”
  • expansion of the scientific disciplines: among others, multi- and transdisciplinarity
  • expansion in time: the importance of the historical reach.

Also in the Third World, the “world” seems to shrink due to this expansion! Here as well the systematic reduction of the boundaries of the economy, of knowledge, of information, of ideas, of values and beliefs lead to the paradoxical evolution of the shrinking of the world due to a growth process.

Through this contribution to the scientific approach of the Third World within the “Globalizing World”, we clearly enter the field of the philosophy science, i.e. the branch of philosophy that focuses on the critical study of the presuppositions, methods and results of the social sciences. This clear connection with the philosophy of science entails a normative as well as a descriptive dimension. The first points to the need for philosophical or epistemological adequacy, while the second dimension requires historical adequacy: the scientific theory needs to correspond to the philosophical ideas and, following science philosopher Th. Kuhn (1), chiefly to the way in which scientific research is actually conducted.

Our approach concerning the study of the Third World and Global Studies, should therefore lead to:

  • the explanation of scientific concepts and arguments, and the way in which they are developed;
  • how science explains, predicts and influences facts;
  • how facts can be verified;
  • how scientific methods can be described and applied correctly;
  • how facts should be treated and which conclusions can be drawn from them;
  • and finally, what the implications are of scientific methods and models for the social science research and education, and society in general.

Philosophy of science has an ontological feature (what an object is), an epistemological feature (how it can be known), a methodological feature (how can it be analysed), and a socio-philosophical feature (what is the relation between research and society). It is clear that these features are of equal fundamental importance if we try to relate bring field of Third World studies to Global Studies. It is precisely through this connection to Global Studies that we should be able to develop a better and more correct understanding of the realities and the problems of the Global South and in the actions that are to be developed from the various starting points. This approach should lead to more correct and effective development actions, from the national and local levels, as well as the bilateral and multilateral development aid.

Today such an approach seems self-evident, but in our time, we only slowly and most intuitively started thinking and acting in this direction, without any stronghold and without any conscious methodology. What follows is the story of that laborious process.


During almost fifteen years of very intensive fieldwork in Third World countries (1960-1974) and later during more than twenty years in Western academia (combined with 37 missions in Developing Countries) we gradually but intuitively realized that the integration of development studies in a “broader approach” could guarantee a more efficient approach. Little by little, we became aware that this would allow us to obtain better and more effective results that offer the possibility of a real improvement of the situation in Third World countries. Seeing as we were directly responsible, not only for the preliminary studies but also for the subsequent development initiatives in the field, we were also afraid to choose the wrong options, which would jeopardize our good reputation. Our fundamental concern for undertaking good and adequate actions was in fact from the very beginning already unconsciously related to the scientific philosophy, and evolved permanently under pressure of important local events during my 15 year long stay in Central Africa. Our fear of writing inadequate plans for action, and our lack of hierarchical authority over the concerned populations, also led us to try to to remain as close as possible to the local realities and then to check, in an increasingly meticulous way, our plans for action with the opinion of the population and their local authorities. We also tried to gather and process as many as possible historical data, earlier documents and all possible and useful information about the local and surrounding situations and evolutions. The proposed actions were very precisely and thoroughly weighed because we knew, often beforehand, that the team that would be entrusted with the preparatory study, would most probably also be responsible for the implementation of the planned actions.

Our field experience in Africa is situated during and after the decolonisation processes of the sixties, which was the time of a certain independence euphoria, which grew out of the Bandung Conference of 1955. However, this initial state of euphoria at the time of real independence of the African states appeared quickly to also be accompanied by the insidious degradation of the new state systems: the global reality of those new countries began to change dramatically under the influence of independence, the sudden vanishing of the strong pressure of the colonisation and the attitude of the new hierarchy. This observation has nothing to do with nostalgic thoughts about the colonial period, it is based on historically established facts.

Even before and during that first period of euphoria following independence, specific problems already arose very clearly. These are a few of these emerging issues:

1. Some old ethnic contradictions, which were smothered for years by the colonisation, started to surface. In Rwanda for instance, the problems entered the daily reality already during the preparation of the independence: Tutsi’s (representing ca. 14 % of the population) feared that, through democratic elections organized by the tutorial authority, Hutu’s would rule the independent Rwanda. Tutsi’s tried to block these elections and major incidents occurred against Hutu’s (2). During our missions (1961-1962) in Burundi (Rutana , Mosso) and mainly in Rwanda (Ruhengeri), in relation to the preparation of the elections leading to the independence, we already witnessed heavy incidents between the Hutu and the Tutsi.

2. A state system based on the separation of powers (basic principle of a “modern” state and as such proposed as the sole possible state system by Western countries) could not, after independence, be introduced permanently in these new countries: the deep-seated notion of the “African Chief” does not allow for such an organized and coded (Western) splitting (3). Very soon the principle of the separation of powers fell apart at the top of the new countries, and in the subsequent “struggle” for power dubious, unpredictable and dangerous dictatorial characters came to power (Bokassa, Idi Amin, Taylor, Gadhafi, Maloum, Mobutu, and others) with at times insane ideas and practices. The centralized power of those characters determined the hard realities of the populations concerned.

3. Instigated by the political ambitions of some high ranking officers, the military, who immediately acted as the fourth power in the new state systems, also demanded direct participation in the government of the country. In some countries, (parts of the) military organized open coups to “restore order” after a “contestable” previous government. In some African countries these ambitions exploded into national chaos and sometimes into gigantic conflicts, at times even involving direct intervention of foreign powers (Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Tchad, Central African Republic, Somalia, …).

4. With some delay, the underlying religious tensions also emerged and exploded rapidly into open conflicts. In addition, many local and very popular “African Churches” were created and quickly expanded. This phenomenon is not to be underestimated; in some countries these African Churches hold a major position in the national economy and politics.

5. Related to this, significant attention should be paid to the urge for expansion of  Islam and the strong reactions of the African Christians. With the financial support of the rich Asian “oil states”, the southern border of the Islam in Africa was, and still is pushed southwards, creating time and again important zones of unrest, instability and brutal force.

 6. At the northern border of Islam in Africa, the Maghreb countries, the local order was also severely compromised by broad popular uprisings against the long-term dictatorial regimes. But this “Arab Spring” does not lead quickly to new stable state systems: neither Tunisia, nor Algeria, nor Libya, nor Egypt seem able to install stable modern state systems in the short term. Only Morocco appears to escape from that destabilization. In the meantime, the local situation in other Maghreb countries is deteriorating, with the risk of extremist regimes becoming stronger.

7. Under the influence of the tendency of gaining absolute power by the African Chiefs of state and a fundamental lack of serious and effective control of the state finances , the ever growing and uncontrolled corruption at the top of the political, administrative and military structures, became one of the major reasons of the growing global destabilization. This brutal kleptocracy tries to maintain itself by all possible means but we see that the populations are getting better informed and that the reactions are brooding. In some African countries it is precisely that uncontrollable kleptocracy that has been the cause of rebellions and revolutions.

8. Sometime after the independence various countries introduced so-called “nationalizations” of the economic structures that, during the colonization, exploited “natural resources” such as petroleum, minerals and plantations. Whereas colonization stimulated unequal economic barter / trade, while the exploiters of the resources had to pay high taxes to the treasury of the colony, these nationalizations have very quickly allowed the new local politicians and other local authorities to “draw” from of these enormous sources of revenue (4).

We have mentioned earlier that the institutionalized kleptocracy did all that was possible to maintain the power and the correlated “benefits” in their own hands. Still today the African population does not profit from the revenue from “national resources”. At present and under influence of important “contracts” with emerging Asian countries, the greater part of those benefits are transferred to the foreign accounts of their own “national elite”.

Africa underwent more and more a fast growing series of the most diverse problems: depopulation of the countryside, unmanageable megacities, food and water shortages, the new phenomenon of African street children, growing pauperization of expanding slums, deterioration of public health (5), petty and large crime, prostitution, demographic explosion uncontrollable and illicit economical activities, bad privatization without preventive maintenance or the new investments (e.g. in mining), bad maintenance of economic structures, crumbling educational systems, etc. The present situation in most African countries becomes more and more problematic and sometimes totally chaotic. There are a few exceptions to this reality but these are in fact due to the political and/or the military strength of the ruling kleptocracy: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Angola, Kenia enjoy a spectacular growth. But the time bomb is ticking.

The West, very concerned with its own (mainly economical and financial) problems seems not to be aware of how serious this gradual, sometimes complete degradation has become. Only the African refugees who try to enter Europe from all sides are of some concern and sometimes short military interventions are needed: Chad, the Central African Republic, Somalia, … receive very limited attention. Precisely in that period of global decay we were charged by bi- and multilateral organizations with the preliminary studies and often also the implementation of development plans in Africa for a neglected sector: agriculture.

From our specialization in the fast evolving and worsening situation of the countryside, we were contacted in the same context to face a totally new problem in Africa: due to serious incidents in some regions, large groups of local citizens (mostly rural population) fled to neighbouring countries to save their lives. The African refugee problem took off very fast. All the missions that were entrusted to us in this context by the bilateral and multilateral aid programmes, brought about from the start a deep concern to give the best advice in this field. Due to our limited experience in Africa with this broad array of new problems, from the first request we started to work with strong multidisciplinary teams:

  • E.g., if cattle was concerned in a particular situation, there needed to be a “good” bio-technician or an experienced veterinarian on the team. Serious health problems (malnutrition, exhaustion, malaria, …) made the presence of a strong medical component necessary in the team;
  • Agricultural activities asked for good agronomists, experienced specialists of certain crops, experts on buildings, roads and bridges, marshland, etc.; serious health problems asked for specialized medical personnel.
  • We also eagerly looked for the so called “polyvalent workers”: competent experts oriented towards practical solutions with a wide experience, who could be put to work in various fields such as distribution of food, transportation, storage, creation of drinking water systems, maintenance of vehicles, …

During the preliminary study of those projects an adequate and extended working scheme was created which, on the basis of a rather unconscious systemic analysis and approach, became increasingly wider and more global. We noticed that, for instance, when making the inventory of the encountered problems we also had to include historical components and that, the action plans proceeded more and more in a multi- or transdisciplinary way. The reasons for this are clear: each time we were confronted with almost unknown, wide and global situations in wide environments. To avoid including false orientations in these aid and development plans, we surrounded ourselves with carefully chosen and capable experts in the various disciplines and aspects of those realities. Very often these were young and motivated broad-minded local specialists or “unsuspected” older experts from the period before the sixties. They contributed also to the historical dimension of the problems under study, before putting forward their own solutions. But this multidisciplinary approach soon became insufficient.

A short but intensive period of training and observation in the field allowed us to be able to evaluate correctly the selected experts and if necessary, to quickly replace some of them by more capable candidates. Great care was given not only to the technical capabilities of the candidates but also and mainly to their ability to work in close teams and difficult working conditions to bring the approved projects to a successful conclusion. This intensive multidisciplinary cohesion was not always easy to achieve. Our mission was to propose, with these different disciplines, a global and coherent frame of action, combining the various suggestions into a coherent operational whole. This was closely scrutinized by the sponsors, the local authorities and, last but not least, the local population.

The writing of the final report and the correct budgeting were part of our own final responsibility within the preparatory study mission: we carefully tried to ensure that every good contribution was included in a realistic, coherent multi- and transdisciplinary operational plan. It needs to be emphasized that the national and international development and donor organisations quickly and strongly worked themselves up in this subject and even quickly built up an important expertise. It became already obvious that in none of our missions, after reading our reports, the sponsors asked for more information or demanded fundamental changes to the project. The sole and rare remarks occasioned by the reports mainly concerned the budgeting.

The dynamic approach in the preliminary studies and the action plans requires some additional explanation: from the first missions onwards, we felt the need to consider the inventory of the situation not merely as the sum of the separate disciplinary aspects. In our view, the global reality of descriptions and proposals could not be brought under the narrow categories of the involved disciplines. On the contrary, we felt that, from the very start of our missions, all the components of a project were overlapping and influenced one another to a larger or a lesser extent. The “systemic approach” was unconsciously developing. But the education we had received until then appeared to be incomplete and not sufficiently enabling to methodically understand what was happening in these larger “systems”. Thus, prudence was called for in writing the integrated inventory, the recommendations and the proposed actions. From the very first contacts with the local populations we also noticed that in the middle of the situations under study (the “systems”) there was always an important complex that influenced almost every surrounding subsystem. We called this later the “subsystem of values and beliefs”. These convictions gradually developed into a conscious approach and gave a realistic strength to the inventory and proposed actions of the projects. It is only later (1967-1968) during a further specialised training at the IRFED (Institut de Recherche et de Formation en matière de Développement, Paris) that we acquired a better and more structured view of our own methodology (6): it then appeared that we had been applying partially and intuitively the “systemic approach” (see Figure 1).

In short, we argue that a social system, with rather unstable borders, is at one with its environment (eco-system) and evolves through time (the 5th dimension). Within its own ecosystem it also consists of a number of changing subsystems: the subsystem of power and politics, the economic subsystem, the social subsystem, the educational subsystem, the cultural subsystem, etc… These subsystems develop over time and overlap each other in different ways. At the centre, moves the overlapping subsystem of “values and beliefs”. None of these subsystems can be examined separately: to understand one subsystem, we need to take into account the other overlapping subsystems, among which the subsystem of values and beliefs, together with the overall evolution in time and within the ecosystem, which the system is part of.

Figure 1_Systemic approach

This “ holistic thinking” had entered our way of thinking surreptitiously: the whole is more than the sum of its parts and the weight, the coherence and the arrangement of these components (subsystems) is relevant to understanding the “entirety”. In those days, we also noticed that this “alternative thinking” could help us to formulate suitable action plans and to develop acceptable solutions to the local problems. With this “alternative thinking” we mean that sometimes we deliberately ignored the Western basics in our way of thinking. For instance, the straight line (which is to us the shortest way between two points) has little importance in the African reality, nor the 90 degree angle. Africans themselves marked out pieces of land and these demarcations of agricultural plots were totally incomprehensible to a Western observer. The roads created by the African refugees in the various settlements were erratic meanders to outsider visitors. The main roads (designed by us) were mainly built along straight lines, the secondary roads were more of a labyrinth of small paths. The settings for schools or markets were not determined by our Western criteria but were planted according to African ways of thinking that we could hardly understand. But those did have a certain logic to them. The dwelling huts in the new settlements were not aligned to create a kind of street matrix: the place and the distance between the dwellings was determined according to their own traditions. The logic applied and the procedures were apparently unlike ours and the prevailing rules and values were also different. We were convinced, however, that the refugees felt quickly at home in these new settings.

In the next part of this paper we will make a short analysis of a selection of our field work experiences in Africa. Here it is of importance to recognise the “systemics”, the transdisciplinary and holistic approach, the alternative thinking, the local logic and values, as the fundamentals. Our experience runs through the following projects (the dates mentioned indicate our presence in the field not always the total duration of the project):

  • The MUGERA project in Burundi: the relocation of 54.000 Tutsi refugees from Rwanda in Eastern Burundi (District of Chankuzo, Province of Ruyigi),1964-1967, UNHCR, Geneva.
  • The preparatory study and the starting of the development project Karuzi-Ruyigi, Belgian Development Cooperation, 1967.
  • (in between: studies at the IRFED, Paris: 1967-1968)
  • The relocation of 75.000 Sudanese refugees in the Uele, Eastern Province, Congo, 1968-1970, UNHCR, Geneva.
  • The aid brought to the relocation of +/- 12.000 Angolese refugees in the Lower Congo and the Kwango region, 1970-1971, UNHCR, Geneva.
  • The study of the development project for Mbanza-Gungu, Lower Zaire, Congo (Zaire), 1971, Belgian Development Cooperation.
  • The study of the development project for Bulungu, Province of Kwilu, Congo (Zaire), 1971, Belgian Development Cooperation. (The Congolese government had previously asked Belgium for two studies for regional development (Mbanza-Gungu and Bulungu) with the intention of keeping one for immediate realization. In the end it was the Bulungu project that was chosen.)
  • Aid to the Angolese refugees in the Kwango region, Province of Kwilu, Congo (Zaire) and in the region of Dilolo (Katanga), 1972, UNHCR, Geneva.
  • Preliminary study and (unsuccessful) realization of the resettlement project for 12.000 Lumpa refugees from Zambia, Province of Katanga, Congo (Zaire), 1973 -1974, UNHCR, Geneva.
  • Aid to the 50.000 Burundese refugees in the Kivu Province, Congo (Zaire),1974, UNHCR, Geneva.

When we started our academic career in 1975, after 15 years of intensive experience in the field, we were simultaneously asked to participate in missions to Third World countries. In total they amounted up to 37 between 1975 and and 2000. Each time we have accepted most of these offers with enthusiasm: they largely extended my experience (also in other countries and continents) and provided our teaching, our lectures and seminars with up to date and truthful testimonies. From these missions during our academic career we have selected a few  that can help attend to the subject of the present essay:

  • The evaluation mission to Chad: the dam of Bahr-Azoum; UNDP, New York
  • South Africa: Evaluation of development projects financed by the Bank for Development, 1977 Pretoria, S.A.;
  • Evaluation of an irrigation project in Ecuador, south of Quito, ABOS, Brussels, 1976;
  • Thailand: Evaluation of an ABOS agricultural project in Kanchanaburi, AADC, Charleroi, 1984;
  • Sri Lanka: Development plan for the South Province, ABOS, Brussels,1991, and the cooperation with the Sarvadoya Shramadana (a local people’s movement);
  • Gabon, Orientation of agricultural development project, Libreville, 1992.
  • Federal State of Assam (India), Guwahati, Evaluation of an agricultural project, 1979, AADC-Charleroi, financed by the Belgian Development Cooperation;
  • India: Mumbai (Bombay), Study of the street children of Mumbai, University of Mumbai / UNICEF-Mumbai, India, 1979-1981;
  • Indonesia: Development plan for Bali : W.E.S. (Belgium, 1980-1981);
  • Senegal: Establishment of a project for small credit, Dakar, FODEP, 1981;
  • Cambodia: Evaluation of a development project in Battambang, AADC, Charleroi, 1999;
  • Bangladesh: Evaluation of a health project in the Dhacca delta;(ABOS-Belgium)
  • Mali: Evaluation of the project “ORS- Opération Riz Ségou”, 1989, FED – EU, Brussels;
  • Tanzania: Support of the APOPO-project, Morogoro: mine sweeping with the help of African rats, 1982-1983, 1996-1999;

The other missions were guest lectures at different universities : IRFED (Paris), Laval (Canada), Pretoria, Empangeni (South Africa), Mumbai (India), Peradeniya (Kandy, Sri Lanka)…, preparation of and participation in international conventions regarding “community development” (mainly for AADC, Charleroi), participation in some research missions (i.e. at the “Africa Institute” in Pretoria), invitations to  participate in international conventions, a resident stay at the ICAC (Independent Commission against Corruption), Hong Kong), etc.


Let us walk through some of our activities in the Third World (not in chronological order) and explain some of the remarkable experiences related to the subject of my argument: “Global Thinking”.

3.1. The MUGERA project, Burundi (7)

Following our academic training in the problems of Third World countries, and from 1960 onwards, during many missions to Congo (Lisala, Lubumbashi), Burundi and Rwanda for the local councils and elections, in 1965 we were asked to participate in the preparation and the realization of a large scale resettlement project of 54.000 Rwandese refugees (mainly Tutsi, but also Hutu and some Twa) in Burundi. Due to the brutal incidents in Rwanda between the Tutsi and the Hutu, tens of thousands of Rwandese fled in panic to Congo, Uganda and also Burundi. Burundi, itself an impoverished country, could not cope with the problem of such a mass of refugees and called in help from the UNHCR: the first request of that kind for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva, Switzerland) from Africa.

The preparation of the Mugera project was done in close cooperation with the UNHCR/Bujumbura and the local Burundese authorities (e.g. the Mwambutsa –Foundation) that had called in the help of the UNHCR. It is important to know that the UNHCR was originally created to help, protect and relocate refugees from the Eastern Block in Western countries, as they could not return to their country of origin. It always concerned very small groups of refugees. The Mugera project in Burundi was not only the first experience for the UNHCR with African refugees who could not return to their country of origin, but it also concerned enormous numbers of people who suddenly and massively left their homeland. It is then understandable that the UNHCR as well as we ourselves (as operational partners) had to be careful but also swift in handling this first resettlement of refugees in Africa, paying attention to the enormous number of different aspects of this project.

This great caution and the cooperation with some experienced, broadminded experts were the grounds of the unusual and intuitive systemic approach of the project. The basic idea of the project was: “How can we, without the help of any police force, move these 54.000 refugees to Mugera, and keep them there permanently and definitively?” Their return to their homeland was considered “impossible” at the time. The answer (not the implementation) was simple: with the participation of the refugees themselves, with a swift and effective medical support, with a continual food distribution, with decent permanent housing, with a swift and sufficient local food production that could after 4 years replace the temporary food distribution, with an acceptable social structure (schools, markets, …). A new liveable, reliable and acceptable reality for the refugees needed to be established from scratch.

Thanks to the good cooperation of the local Burundese Authorities, of the W.H.O (World Health Organization), the world food programme of the FAO (for the food distribution) and the medical aid of the W.H.O., a successful relocation was realized on short notice: Mugera received such a good reputation that new individual refugees came on their own from Rwanda on foot to join Mugera. It needs to be emphasized that, especially in the beginning of these refugee projects, very emotional moments occurred with the refugees and that, through their experience, the concerned experts had to build their own resistance to harrowing situations, etc. Two factors have contributed to the stabilization of the success of Mugera:

1. Next to the normal crops (cassava, peanuts, sorghum, …) and through  the   controlled drainage of  papyrus marshes, an intensive production of beans (the basic food of those regions) was made possible all year round. This positive activity was furthered by a young agricultural expert who constantly stressed on the “time” aspect (the 5th dimension in the project): How to have the refugees themselves produce enough food intensively and permanently so that the food distribution could be stopped? What to do once the project stops and the refugees must take care of themselves?

2. Through this drainage of marshes the permanent food distribution (WFP) was reduced to a minimum of time and the distribution of the imported PAM food could be halted before the projected date. Later it appeared that Mugera, thanks to the intensive production of beans in the valleys, became the most important beans market in central Africa. The drainage of the papyrus marshes had been, in the past, strongly denounced by the agricultural experts as being a “lunatic enterprise”. They had one decisive argument: in Rwanda, the drainage of marshes had resulted in spontaneous blazes. The locals in Rwanda called that the “burning earth”. After some investigation it appeared that the drainage was not kept under control and that drought in the valleys was too strong, causing the spontaneous ignition. In Mugera, smaller valleys were drained and sufficient “spill ways” in the evacuation canals were created and maintained by the refugees themselves to keep the valleys moist enough.

3. Thanks to an important financial contribution of OXFAM, a permanent drinking water supply system could be built for the 54.000 refugees. Some of our drinking water experts immediately planned a ca. 140 kilometre long PVC piping system, with pumps, on the small rivers flowing nearby. Another part of the operational team suggested a water distribution system without pumps based on the capture of sources in the hills around Mugera, using gravity to get the water to the settlement. The choice of the system to be applied turned out to be a grim confrontation: the “technicians” against the others! Fortunately, they received help from the travelling OXFAM representative for Africa who said that the placing of pumps was not a good option for the long term for such a secluded area: despite of the longer length of piping needed, a drinking water distribution system based on gravity was a much more suitable and acceptable long term solution.

4. We had the possibility, around 1990 (some 25 years later) to visit the Mugera project again on the occasion of a mission to Burundi (for the UCL – University of Louvain-la-Neuve). On top of the overwhelming reception by the refugees it was a satisfying five days stay in Mugera during which we were able to witness that 153 kilometres of the PVC piping were still in working order, running without problems, and that all the drinking water levies near the settlements were still full! One can wonder in which state the possible pumps would have been after 25 years. In this field too we have been able to ascertain that one-sidedly trained Western experts cannot always adapt their knowledge to the local globality and other realities in which they are usually active: they are blinded by their own speciality (and often pedantry). Some doctors do not wear their white gowns for hygienic purposes, but to silently show that they are the only ones concerned with health problems. Also important is the fact that the coherence of the operational teams threatens to be disrupted by such differences in mentality and that precious time is lost in heated discussions and almost intransigent standpoints.

After some time we were asked to take over 3 other resettlement projects (Kayongozi, Muramba and Kigamba) from the BIT (UN – Geneva) in Burundi: a Iranian BIT veterinarian had judged that, for these relocations,  stables had to be built for the Ankole cattle of the refugees. However, these cows had never spent one single night in stables in their homeland! Due to the enormous harp-shaped horns of the Ankole (the pride of the Tutsi) the gateways and the beams of those stables were to take unbelievable proportions! Later we had to transform those stables into school buildings.

3.2. The Karuzi-Ruyigi project, Burundi, ABOS, 1967

Burundi is one of those central African countries inhabited by, among others, immigrated Tutsi shepherds (14 to 15 %), around 80 % Hutu (the original inhabitants) and some Twa pygmies. The Tutsi were originally Hamitic shepherds from the high plains of Ethiopia and Somalia. The real dream of a Tutsi in those times was to take his Ankole herd out of the corral in the morning and to accompany “his wealth” for the whole day, grazing through the surrounding hillsides. These Ankole cows weighing some 300 to 400 kilos, with their beautiful wide harp-shaped horns gave, and still give, prestige and influence to their owner and occupied centre stage in the local social context. Originally, and still now, few of these cows were slaughtered. It was not their weight but their numbers, the shape of their horns that were important, together with the quantity of milk they produced (3 to 5 litres per day), their urine and their blood.

During the preparatory study for this rural development project we discovered to our great suprise in the neglected “State farm” of Karuzi a confused three quarter Indian Saïwal zebu bull of about 800 to 1000 kilo (depending on the season) running loose. We were told that in the time of the Belgian protectorate, this enormous bultback bull had been brought in by plane to “improve” the local Ankole cattle! In Africa, at that time, the technique of artificial insemination and of “caesarean birth” was not well-known and it is not remarkable that we could find, among the herd of the Karuzi farm, a great number of cows bearing heavy deformities of the pelvic cavity and the stern. Other cows showed apparent scars resulting from inadequate caesareans. Eventually we also found an old farm worker who used to be specialized in the use of razorblades to perform the caesareans. In an abandoned stable we also found solid, low built wooden structures which were shoved under the Ankole cows to prevent them, at the time of the natural insemination, from crumbling under the weight of the much too heavy Zebu bull. Which “blind specialist” had thought of importing this heavy Zebu? This caricature decision was surely not the result of “teamwork”… A good example of “non-global thinking.”

To introduce certain activities in the field of rural development in the Karuzi-Ruyigi zone, meetings with the people were cautiously organized to choose which first actions were to be undertaken in accordance with the opinion of the people. As a team we had reached  the conclusion that the first project had to meet the following criteria:

  • it had to bring a solution to a problem recognized by the majority of the population, the solution had to be clearly apparent,
  • the participation of the concerned population to the solution had to be as large as possible,
  • the realisation of the solution, with the help of the population, could not take too long,
  • the financial impact on the available budget had to remain within set limits.

From these meetings, it was eventually decided to give priority to the construction, with the assistance of the population, of a pedestrian bridge over the Ruvubu river, seeing as several children had drowned when taking the risk, even during the rain season, of crossing the dangerous swirling river to go to school. It was convened that the population would deliver the needed large stones and sand to build the strongholds together, and that we would deliver and assemble a narrow pedestrian Bailey bridge. The bridge was indeed built, be it, according to our western mentality, much too slowly. But we had to accept that the population had other important tasks in life to see to and that the notion of “time” did not have the same meaning to them than to us. From Brussels we were told that, because of the delay, the cost of the bridge was too high… We still tried to explain the notion of “cost” to the population, but in vain. The inauguration of the Ruvubu bridge took place two or three months later than planned, when we had already left for a holiday in Europe. But we received confirmation, later in Belgium, of the merry public fiesta that was held on the banks of the Ruvubu.

3.3 The Bahr-Azoum project in Tchad, UNDP, 1975

While working at the University of Antwerp (RUCA) we were asked by the UN Development Program (New York) to make an opportunity study, together with a French sociologist in Chad, about the possible financing of the construction of a 80 meter high and hundreds of meters long dam in the Bahr Azoum valley in South Eastern Chad, close to the border with Sudan in full Sahel desert. The valley of the Bahr Azoum is flooded every 4 to 9 years due to the changeable heavy rains falling in the southern mountains of the Sudan with the water swirling down to the Bahr Azoum in southern Chad. At the request of the then President Maloum, a French consulting engineering firm had elaborated the plans and the budget for this enormous concrete construction.

In those days President Maloum, a higher officer from the Chadian army who had taken power after a “military coup”, had conceived the desperate plan of creating a major construction site in the small part of Chad that was still under the control of his troops and show the population that he was concerned with the wellbeing of his local compatriots. He shouted from the rooftops that such an enterprise would pump money in the region and thus, bring prosperity to its inhabitants. Against the will of the President, we wanted to visit the region and to start the evaluation on the scene. After a lot of problems, we were flown into the region by a small “Pilatus” airplane. Our investigation started under close scrutiny of a strong “protective” military escort. After a few days it became obvious that this construction would be a “white elephant” and that the concerned population was not waiting for such a gigantic project.

On the contrary, we encountered a very clever, united, hard-working population of about 2.200 members who had adapted to the harsh local living conditions in a very remarkable way, through crops and agricultural methods adapted to this dry region. There was even a local overproduction of food that could be sold: the Targuy nomads came to the Bahr Azoum to supply themselves with food. The main problems for the local population were rather medical care and decent basic education. During our local investigation we had avoided on purpose to talk about the big dam with the local population: most probably we would not have survived!

Upon our return to the capital city of N’Djamena we were no longer allowed to meet with the President: he had heard about our disapproval of his plan. The UNDP in New York was pleased with the results of our enquiry and with our final report… Nevertheless, the French consulting firm had proven “in writing” that the project was feasible and that the local population would greatly benefit from it.

3.4. The evaluation of development projects financed by the Bank for Development of South Africa, Pretoria, 1988.

Through the Africa Institute of Pretoria (where we were invited for some time for research) we were asked to participate in a round trip of South Africa to visit some projects financed by the Bank for Development (Pretoria). From the 9 visited projects, only 1 was acceptable to us: a very active credit and relief project for the improvement of housing in the Durban region. All the other projects appeared to be ruins of wrong options, bad credit allowance, insufficient technical support and bad management. Every attempt at improvement by the Bank had failed. Our advice at the time was to stop the projects.

One of these projects has really stuck in our mind: in the “East Cape” a project of intensive food production was started to supply a mining region and to improve the income of the local population. An economist of the Bank had made and managed the preliminary study; he had received the necessary funding from the Bank. After 4 years the project still did not seem to operate autonomously: the women who were in charge of the agricultural production were not able to produce enough for sale and thus for the pay off of the financing. To save to project, the economist from the Bank had then proposed, to build a canning facility and to limit the food production to a certain kind of expensive asparagus. According to that economist, these were the most expensive vegetables that could be grown and that could carry the cost of canning through their sale price. Pretoria would surely buy those cans. A desperate attempt to save the project: the concerned local women were not interested in that peculiar culture, the culture method was too intricate, they did not consume asparagus and were not able to sell these cans at the imposed high price. Following my advice, and without much comment, the project was cancelled: a good example of how a narrow-minded, purely desk economist, with no connection to the real world, might be able to prove on paper that his ideas are valid, whereas in reality they are totally useless.

3.5. The development plan for Bali, Indonesia, WES, Bruges, 1982-1983. 

The multidisciplinary team, led by an economist of the WES (Western Flanders Economic Study Bureau, Bruges), quickly came to the conclusion that it was not about the underdeveloped starting point of a socio-economic development project, but that we were confronted with a surprisingly well-advanced situation. Especially from Djakarta and Java, there was a an implicit insistence on a stronger and faster development in Bali. In terms of rural development,  our influence, except for some minor recommendations for the rice growing culture in the eastern zone, was limited to propositions of a new irrigation area in the western part of the island. We still remember very well that we had to solemnly pledge that the water needed for the irrigation, which was collected from a small mountain lake, would never cause the water level of the lake to descend so low that a little temple in the lake would stand dry.

In the planning, tourism was, of course, included and it was recommended that a special kind of limited and selective tourism would be enhanced. According to me, the peninsula of Kuta (a former hippie resort), the most popular destination for Australian tourists, had to be completely isolated from the rest of the island. The overnight stay of the tourists in the villages inside the country had to be prevented as much as possible and the immigration of people from Java had to be strongly limited. Even the repairs to an unstable bridge between KUTA and the island itself was strongly dissuaded!

Recent information about the evolution of the development of Bali unfortunately lead me to conclude that the local authorities have not been able, or willing, to limit the growth of popular tourism and that the cultural level of the island has therefore been put under a lot of pressure. The immigration of people from Java, who are very commercially minded, was not limited either. The so-called “transmigration” of the Javanese is difficult to restrain. We can only hope that the local population will resist enough against these external influences. Luckily, the subsystem of “values and belief” holds a very strong position in the global social system of this unique Bali.

3.6. The evaluation of the “Opération Riz Ségou” project in Mali (8)

In the eighties, Mali was faced with a cereal shortage of about 400.000 tons. In 1979, in the context of its contribution to the development aid to the Third World, the European Union offered, a “non-refundable loan” (?) of more than 45.000.000 euro to obtain an increase of 90.000 tons of rice, op top of the substantial temporary food aid and a (real) loan of about 700.000 euro for a new rice production plant. The expertise of mainly Dutch “polder” specialists was called upon to start a project that would increase the natural inundation zones of the Niger (during the annual rain season) by creating “polders” and the digging of canals, to 45.000 ha. The “natural floodings“ (without the use of pumps) take place in the 3 chosen perimeters (including 13 self-sustaining irrigation areas) by opening large gates on the Niger and, at the right moments, bringing water to the enormous rice fields.

Downstream, large exit gates that could be opened after the flooding were built in the rice fields. In each of those 13 “polders” kilometres of primary and secondary canals were dug to bring the irrigation water as far as possible into the rice fields. The entire project of course is is based on the assumption that the rain season starts on time (96 % of certainty), that the rice growers would seed in time (the rice plants should by then be 5 to 6 cm high), that the water level of the Niger would rise at the right time, that the level would remain higher than in the rice fields so as to compensate for the infiltration and evaporation of the irrigation water. After the necessary time for the ripening of the rice plants, the exit gates would be opened to release the irrigation water and to allow subsequent harvesting.

In the original concept the purpose of the project “Operation Riz Ségou” was to produce 90.000 tons of rice. It is understandable that the highest authorities of Mali were very pleased with the ORS Project. The objectives only represented a productivity of only 2 tons/ha. The viability of the project was based on the fact that the yield was also to finance the autonomous administrative and technical infrastructure (ca. 400 officials) of the ORS. Apart from the annual tenancy fee, to be paid in kind by the rice growers (180 kg/ha), the fee for the facultative use of the ploughing machines, the mandatory use of the mechanical threshing machines (12% of the harvested crop), the rice growers were also obliged to sell a part of the harvest at a fixed price to the ORS. A number of supplementary problem factors indicated to us that the ORS project would suffer great difficulties:

  • The planned rice production (90.000 tons) was never reached. Even worse, the maximum of produced rice dropped from barely 29.000 tons in 1978-1979 to 15.000 tons in 1981-1982.
  • The theoretical securisation ratio of 96 % that formed the basis for the calculations for the irrigation of the rice fields was never reached: the Sahel fell victim to a draught during a few years in a row, due to a shortage of rains on the Western coast of Africa (the source of the Niger).
  • The irrigation method (controlled submersion) developed by the Dutch “polder specialists” made it necessary to seed everywhere at the same time: the opening of the canal gates along the Niger suddenly bringing water to the rice fields made it necessary that all the rice plants had sufficiently taken root not to be carried off by the stream of irrigation water.
  • The rice growers had to harvest their own crops but it was forbidden to them to thresh! In the planning of the project, this was already felt. The threshing machines of the ORS would come to the fields and the imposed fees could then immediately be cashed on the harvested rice.
  • The rice growers were obliged to sell a part of their harvest to the ORS at the set price of 110 FM/kg (1982-1983) while the market value, outside of the ORS zone, was 340 FM/kg! To prevent the growers from selling their crops outside the ORS zone, a mobile “Economic Police” was created: the crime of selling the crops outside the ORS zone was defined in the police reports as “Self theft”!

The growing financial difficulties of the ORS had as consequence that:

  • The foreseen maintenance works to the infrastructure could not take place
  • The foreseen weed control (especially against the threatening “diga”) could not be done;
  • The foreseen artificial fertilizing of the rice fields could not be realized and the repeated rice growing was further exhausting the fields;
  • Upon closer examination it appeared that 25 % of the tillable land was awarded to Officials of the ORS, by using alias names! And that the rice growers were hired to do the work on these fields. That was also one of the reasons why a number of rice growers did not seed at the right time, as they were, at those crucial times, working for the ORS-Officials who had claimed the rice fields under false names.

Under the pressure of the financial problems, of the megalomaniac and fragile technological concept of the project and of the whole array of negative aspects, for the first time in the Sahel region and on the basis of a extensive rural investigation, our evaluation team made recommendations to bring everything down to more realistic and more sustainable proportions. In the meantime, drawn by the large number of major works along the Niger in the Ségou zone, more than 100.000 Malinese migrated to this area, hoping for better living conditions. The local civil servant who, as General Manager stood  at the head of the ORS at the time, carried an American academic title of Master in Agro-business! When, years later, we wanted to visit the ORS zone again at our own initiative, to observe how things had evolved, our travel visa was refused…

3.7. The APOPO project in Africa

This was a highly intriguing and successful mine sweeping project to the benefit of those African countries where war and unrest had raged (9). We were invited at the Institute for Product Development (University of Antwerp) to give a series of talks about the present realities in the Third World countries. The aim was to teach the future product development specialists (for Europe) some realities that they were not familiar with and which would enable them, after a short stay in developing countries, to develop new products in the scope of their final papers. It had been agreed that this new products should bring about a solution to an existing local problem in a developing country, using local means and the cooperation of the local population, without calling upon western know-how nor Western spare-parts. This revolutionary idea became a magnificent success: after their stay in a developing country, the concerned students came back with astonishing and very positive ideas. Developed as a prototype, the new products were defended successfully at the end of their training (5 years) before of a public jury.

Afterwards, two of these students, who wanted to pursue their activities in Africa, came forward with the brilliant idea of training rats to detect the thousands of antipersonnel mines that remained in rural areas of many African countries after heavy military operations. A very suitable African hamster rat (the “African Giant Pouched Rat”), gifted with an exceptionally strong sense of smell, was selected for this mission. After six years of intensive research and the necessary breeding and training methods, the mine sweeping started in Mozambique and Angola a few years ago. Other countries are waiting in line, also in Asia.

The success of this remarkable enterprise, now based in Morogoro (Tanzania) at the Sikoine University, is mainly due to the multidisciplinary training in product development, the global and adequate understanding of the problem, the clearly integrated solution that was proposed. It now appears that mine sweeping with rats, is faster, cheaper and more efficient than any other modern mine sweeping method! Furthermore, research in Morogoro has proven that those African hamster rats are also capable of detecting TBC infections in the sputum of patients in a more accurate, cheaper, faster and more efficient way than African hospital laboratories. Even more possibilities include: the detection of drugs, tobacco and other contraband products, the detection of intestine cancer and also localisation of victims after natural disasters and landslides, etc.

The success of this remarkable NGO is astounding: in the annual report of 2013, it is mentioned that with a budget of more than 3.000.000 euro, with a staff of 256 people and with more than 320 trained rats, more than 8.500.000 square meters of land had been swept, more than 13.000 explosive devices had been dismantled in Mozambique and Angola. Thailand, Vietnam and Laos are now awaiting the APOPO expertise. We hope that APOPO will find the necessary funding for those new countries. As to what the detection of TBC is concerned, in 2013 in Mozambique, 556 supplementary TBC patients were found, this means that 44 % more patients were detected by the rats than in the laboratories of the local hospitals. In Tanzania, the local authorities have now set up a collaboration between APOPO and 21 diagnose centres, 2 military hospitals and a prison. The necessary contacts with the WHO (World Health Organization, Geneva) have been made to secure the scientific recognition of the detection of TBC patients with the help of the APOPO rats.

It is now clear that the positive results of APOPO are based on “Global Thinking”. If we would apply the standards of philosophy of science to the work of APOPO we could say that:

  • the epistemological standards were respected: how the problems                         became known ?
  • the ontological character was respected: what were the problems?
  • the methodological character was respected: how and in which direction were the problems examined?
  • the social-philosophical character was respected: what was the impact of the project on society?


In the course of our academic career (1975-2000) we have experienced, in Belgium, almost every possible variant of the initiatives in university training concerning the Third World.

4.1. The first experience concerned a postgraduate specialization programme for Third World students organized in Belgium and directed by purely Western trained economists (among whom a number of professors from the local Faculty of Applied Economics, who had no experience at all in developing countries). Blinded by their Western “Universal” scientific knowledge and indoctrinated by the Western consumption economy, they presented, without diffidence, the basic elements of their economic models as the solution to the problems of the South. It was the only reality they knew. They strongly reacted, fanatically, defensively and conservatively, against the possible cautious suggestions that could challenge their knowledge and most of all their positions within the local academic world. Meanwhile, a very corrupt management system of “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” was put in place from the top to protect their academic power positions.

Faced with this situation, we were forced to distance ourselves from these dubious practices.  Fortunately, we could fall back on the following other activities:

  • our teaching assignments in 3 other Belgian universities: Liège,          Louvain-la-Neuve and Ghent;
  • our outreach activities in 2 newly created organizations, APOPO and Transparancy International Brussels, and one operational non-profit organization, AADC-Charleroi: promoting community development in Third World countries;
  • our research programme and numerous missions to developing countries;
  • and our contribution to the ABOS training programme for development experts in the Technical Cooperation Services of Belgian Development Cooperation.

The combination of these four domains provided us with a full-time working schedule. We had to wait for the “natural” disappearance of the academic generation described above, to see this university structure transferred into the hands of younger academics, who had a stronger experience in the South. In the end, this structure was able evolve into a very good and more realistic direction (Institute of Development Policy and Management – I.O.B. University of Antwerp). At present the I.O.B. is part of the postgraduate institutions in Belgium for development issues of the South and is appreciated by many.

4.2. A second experience concerned our own Ph D dissertation, on the MUGERA project (10). Seeing as we had experienced this case very intensively and given the fact that all possible data were available to us, and because it was about the first resettlement project for African refugees and we felt that the African refugees problem was still in its prime, we decided that our doctoral thesis would be about this MUGERA project. We presented our doctoral project to all Belgian universities, but none of them was interested. It was labelled “not suitable for an academic faculty”, as an “unrealistic bible”, as “too broad and non-classifiable a topic”; the refugee problem was “only a sporadic phenomenon” etc. It was a highly discouraging experience.

By coincidence we were informed that at the “Fondation Universitaire du Luxembourg” (FUL – Ulg) in Arlon interdisciplinary group work was organized on a surprisingly high global level, under the common denominator of “the environment”. When we introduced our doctoral project to the FUL, we were immediately invited to present our plans to a “Doctoral Committee”. After our brief presentation and a short evaluation by the Committee members in closed quarters, the “Scientific Manager” of the FUL announced that the FUL would be happy and pleased to take accept our proposal and to guide us towards the final dissertation! This was quite a “positive opening”! In the doctoral curriculum there was one course called: “Systemic approach of realities”. During his lectures, the Canadian guest professor (an expert in forest management) informed me that in Africa, we had apparently applied the “systemic approach” by sheer intuition. We had already realized this earlier, in 1967-1968 during  our training at the IRFED (Paris), despite the impressive “revolution of May ‘68”. Shortly afterwards, the Canadian scholar became one of the two supervisors of our doctoral work and as such had a direct impact on the progress of the project. A famous Belgian ethnographer was appointed second supervisor and the president of the doctoral committee was an all-round biologist, who later trained as an candidate astronaut.

We recall this period as a very exciting time: not only did we gain a better understanding of our own way of thinking, but we were also guided towards the finish line of this splendid academic experience, with great care and dedication. In front of a 9 member strong doctoral jury (among whom two University Vice Chancellors), in 1981 we defended with great success our dissertation on the MUGERA project in Burundi: the first resettlement of refugees in Africa. It is with great gratitude and warm feelings that we remember this busy academic time in our life.

This Ph D dissertation had, as the title suggests, a dual aim:

1. To be able to draw the first practical conclusions from the Mugera project from the point of view of the growing problem of the refugees in Africa after the first successful resettlement project, and to learn from them for later resettlements.

2. To use the successful experience of the Mugera project, as far as possible, in integrated rural development: based on our then specialization and, foreseeing the further neglect of the countryside in Africa, we wanted to further improve and refine the methodology of integrated rural development.

It is only later, after a profound acquaintance with the ideas of I. Wallerstein (through the seminar at Ghent University) that we were able to easily integrate our own experiences, conceptions and convictions about the African refugees and integrated rural development, into the famous “World-System Analysis”. This will be further explained in part 4.6. of the present paper (12).

4.3. A third experience in Belgium concerned a curriculum for the university education in the (Western) commercial sciences at the University of Liège, we were asked, to our great surprise, by the academic authorities to teach a programme of information courses on Third World countries. Apparently in these circles the developing countries were considered a potential market for the Belgian economy and it was thus, necessary for the students of commercial sciences to acquire sound knowledge of this field. However, in practice and with the full knowledge of the academic authorities, this initiative turned out in a completely different way. In the end, the course was entitled “Interdisciplinary laboratory of North-South relations”.

In this “Laboratory”, Belgian students were, primarily and with the use of every available pedagogical means, confronted with all aspects and problems of the Third World. Our experience in the field and our many missions provided the students with a strong guarantee of credibility. During these lectures about our experiences, sometimes very emotional memories came forward, mainly concerning aid to refugees and street children, creating a charged silence in the aula. The appreciation by the students evenly overwhelmed the academic authorities. In a second part of the “Laboratory”, the students were asked to gather information by themselves with the modern information technology about a chosen problem of the South; such as for example national debt, demography, slums, famine, drinking water, urbanization, street children, corruption, desertification, etc… and to put these issues into a more global perspective. The ranges of choice were wide! Together they had to prepare a paper on the topic of their choice and defend it before the entire class.

From the outset of the new curriculum, we sensed that the students were immediately “passionate” about our hard testimonies of the realities of the South. It was with enthusiasm and devotion that they later started writing the paper they had to defend orally. During those defences of the papers we experienced many memorable moments thanks to the dedication and emotion of the students: sometimes there was a complete silence in the auditorium when sensitive realities were addressed and when emotions took over. We are convinced that the “multidisciplinary laboratory” has left deep traces in the mind of these devoted future specialists in commercial science and we reflect with great confidence on this remarkable and extremely positive pedagogic experience.

4.4. A fourth experience was a hyper-specialized UN postgraduate programme at another Belgian university but this time to the benefit of demographers from the Third World. While originally the curriculum had a multidisciplinary outlook (to extend the knowledge of these specialists towards the reality), in the following years the Western lecturers of demography managed to manoeuvre in such a way that this multidisciplinary approach was lost in favour of pure demography. They pretended that they had too few lecture hours to adequately teach their specialism in detail. The multidisciplinary approach and “Global Thinking” were smothered by far-reaching specialization. The whole UN programme fizzled out.

4.5. The fifth experience has given us a great satisfaction for many years: the training programmes for future development experts of ABOS (General Board for Development Cooperation, Brussels). During several weekends, the participants were called upon to attend these courses in residence at in various locations in Belgium. In that programme we managed to have our lectures scheduled in the last days of each meeting. This allowed us, as the final lecturer, to talk – be it in a short time – across all disciplines to these enthusiastic students about our experiences. Most participants were surprised by this global approach but appreciated this kind of investigation. They let themselves be carried away by our enthusiastic lectures. Their response was always very positive and we were very grateful for the warm applause that they gave us at the end of our classes. The evaluation of the lecturers by the participants was very flattering and stimulating.

4.6. The sixth experience was by large the most positive and most constructive one: at Ghent University, through a very active interdisciplinary seminar. In 2002, after several workshop meetings, the “Immanuel Wallerstein Chair” was created with effective support of the Chancellorship: students from various disciplines and faculties were brought together to be introduced to the World-systems approach of Wallerstein. As a member of the workshop that had been preparing the creation of this Chair, we were asked to attend to that part of the curriculum that addressed the Third World. Wallerstein honoured the initiators of the Chair by personally attending the opening ceremony at Ghent University: that day the grand auditorium of the university was too small to host all the enthusiastic students!

Our own lectures within that Chair (about Third World problems) were also a very positive experience. At first, the students, coming from all possible disciplines, were astonished by the global concept. Very soon, however, they became very enthused by about the dynamic approach and the relevance of the contents: the warm and earnest applause after the lectures was like music to the ears. After a fairly thorough introduction to the realities in developing countries, the students were divided into working groups of 3 to 4 people of different scientific disciplines: the teams were expected to study one of the many problems of Third World countries. In the end, each team had to write a joint report that was to be defended collectively in public.

From the very beginning, we closely followed up these teams but without interfering much. The proceedings themselves were already memorable: the designation of the “reporter” was not always easy, the writing of the final report caused a lot of debate and preparing the oral defence was rarely smooth sailing all the way. However, it needs to be emphasised that an agreement was always reached about the final report. This way students learned to reach an acceptable point of view, jointly with different disciplines, and with compromises, from the perspective of the global character of reality.

In the context of the recent BaMa reforms of Belgian higher education Ghent University threatened to lose its valuable experience with the Wallerstein Chair. Fortunately, the thread has been resumed now with the creation of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies.


From our working experience in the Third World and our various experiences with Global Studies we would like to put forward the following recommendations to a university centre concerned with Global Studies.

1. All society-related academic programmes (especially including economics), should be brought together for a certain period of time during their last academic year under the umbrella of the Centre of Global Studies.

2. During the last academic year of these programmes, the curriculum should devote some time to a joint course on “Globalization”.

3. In a first part of this course, the theoretical part of Global Studies should be taught considering all possible viewpoints. It is here that the globalization of the various disciplines linked to the Third World, should be located. The estimation of necessary hours to be dedicated to this part needs to be determined through experience.

4. In the second part of the course, the more active participation of the students is started. We would recommend to build on the very positive experience of the I. Wallerstein Chair when considering the problems of the Third World: the students are divided into small multidisciplinary groups and need to select a research topic. The chosen topic must address problems of the Third World such as famine, draught, urbanization, slums, crime, prostitution, child labour, contraband, demography, corruption, street children, etc… and this in a specific part of a country or a specific region of the Third World. With the help of all available research tools, they are subsequently required to gather information about that particular topic and a write a collective report. The “reporter” is to be appointed by the group members. The report is to be defended collectively and publicly by the group. If desired, the public, i.e. the students of the other groups can participate in the evaluation of the report and its defence, together with the involved academic members of the Centre for Global Studies. This evaluation is later to be made public.

5. The final aim is to confront the students, at the end of their bachelor and / or master education, with the globality of the realities, with the apparent paradox of the shrinking of the world due to a growth process, with multi- and transdisciplinarity, with the perspectives of other scientific disciplines (such as history) and with the necessity to use bridges and compromises in order to reach balanced proposals so that the subsequent actions can be improved.

In the dynamics of this pedagogic approach, the following aspects need to be explicitly highlighted (10):

  • the ontological dimension: how do the problems of the Third World fit into this globalization?
  • the epistemological dimension : how can these problems be known within this globalization?
  • the methodological relevance: how can this reality be studied within this globalization?
  • the social philosophical relevance: how do research and realities influence each other?
  • each of these four aspects also contain an important historical dimension.

Furthermore, in my opinion, the proposed pedagogy needs to address the five characteristics put forward in the important Santa Barbara workshop of 2007 on Global Studies (11):

  • the approach is even more than transnational
  • the inter- and transdisciplinary dimension is gained through the variety of study fields and programmes that are debating together, writing a global report and defending that report in public
  • all the data gathered should be studied from both a contemporary and a historical point of view
  • the approach is postcolonial and critical: through the historical perspective and on the basis of the underlying idea that it is not intended to promote Western models
  • the full pedagogy and methodology of the Centre of Global Studies should aim at a “global citizenship”

Seen from another point of view, each study and research programme at the Ghent Centre of Global Studies should put forward the following aims for the participating students:

  • developing an all-including cultural consciousness;
  • imparting the skills and open-mindedness to think locally and globally, meaning to have the mental strength to introduce one’s own specialization in the global approach;
  • promoting a sense of good and correct analysis;
  • strengthening the interest for broad contemporary problems;
  • developing a strong professional approach grounded in global thinking;
  • stimulating communication skills;
  • enhancing the necessary multilingual proficiency

The holistic character of the Centre allows for the necessary attention to all subparts and their place within the project as a whole. A very important aspect, that could function as a guideline throughout the way of thinking of Global Studies in relation to the Third World is the following: let the people of the Third World keep their own identity! Let us not transform them, through the pressure of our own impact and our egocentricity, into “coloured Western people”.

This Western world is itself the victim of a gigantic stuttering economic consumption model, of a “coercive” necessity of permanent growth, linked to absurd overproduction, enormous national debts, polluting and ever-increasing use of energy, mountains of waste, big and unmanageable environmental problems, more and more suffocating traffic jams, newly emerging health problems, polluted and plundered oceans and seas… This famous economic growth is said to be a “conditio sine qua non” to preserve the system in the future. But all growth processes slow down and become more intricate and this delay is part of our realities. How far and how long will this economic growth reach?

It is also necessary to underline that in the present period of economic, social, financial and political deregulation a very disturbing but dynamic “greed culture” has developed. This “greed culture” is generally linked to the hidden punctual speculation of the heavier risks. The entire economic system and its financial motor have been facing major troubles, with disastrous consequences. The so-called BRIC- emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have already and eagerly taken over the Western consumption model (with all its faults and shortcomings) at a spectacular and accelerated speed.

In spite of the unbelievable growth some alarming signals and phenomenon appear to call for serious doubts in the near future, among others, with regard to environmental consequences. The new MINT- countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) appear to head in the same direction with some delay.

The recent economic growth of all these “newly emerging countries” is due to the attractive character of our consumption economy, to a strong internal and dynamic political orientation from a solid core that is supported in those countries by strong financial means. The dynamic aspect of these economies is also pushed forward by our economic structures through investment and delocalization. The technical support of the “modernizing process” in the developing countries is generally very irregular, less extended and operating at varying speed. It is remarkable, in this perspective, that in many developing countries, “islands” of modern communication appear (using cell phones) while the local transportation system lags behind. In the BRIC- and MINT- countries the bright (?) projected future of the economy will be based on the massive expansion of the use of fossil energy. And we already can see that the gap between rich and poor is ever widening.

On a global world scale, this economic evolution has an undisputable negative influence on the environment. Authoritative scientific institutions (12) estimate at present that it is already too late to intervene in this global destruction of the environment. In spite of the growing sensibility to climate change, short-sighted policy-makers and the business world keep ignoring this in a shameful way, and look for excuses in the economic crisis (cfr. The conclusions of the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change). Meanwhile, it is high time to take immediate action. We are more and more entering an uncontrollable downward spiral of environmental destruction and fundamental climate change. The “rich West” should already be preparing for a massive arrival of “environmental” refugees. Furthermore, we may not forget how the West, the BRIC and MINT-countries continue to increase the use of fossil fuel for their energy needs. The more we use IT-tools to contain and expand the system, the more the general situation becomes vulnerable. There is already a very serious threat of crash in the energy- and IT-sector and this is a supplementary doomsday idea that threatens the economic and social model in the essential core of their functionalities.

And in the meantime we are introducing even more automatic IT-applications. The digital revolution and robotization are suppressing more and more jobs and many industrial production units need to shut down. New jobs are still created but, for financial reasons, the final balance will be negative. The apparent difficulty to manage growing cost of labour calls for permanent “restructuring” and “delocalization” that will lead even more job losses in the Western economic system. More and more young people (even the most educated ones) do not find adequate jobs and large parts of the second and third generation of migrant workers become marginalized in this Western evolution. The whole of these problems is not just a doomsday scenario, but a scientifically grounded assessment. Let us therefore, through our “Global Thinking”, not drag the Third World into our own probable dramatic downfall.


The recent creation of the Centre for Global Studies at Ghent University is a very remarkable and promising landmark in the Flemish academic world. With this initiative the university not only reinforces its position in the Western academic landscape but also intensifies the internal value of its educational mission, its research area and its outreach to society. In this context the Third World cannot be forgotten within the new Centre for Global Studies. The Centre must play a major efficient and positive role in handling the enormous problems of the developing countries. The sensitivity, the knowledge, the research and practical competences of the students can find a place in the necessary wider intellectual context. Eventually, they will be able to better contribute, directly or indirectly, together with the peoples concerned, to the efficient and effective handling of the problems of the Third World.

It will only be through the simultaneous and interwoven use of the specific elements from the Third World realities, in combination with the core data from the scientific ecological approach that useful and permanent solutions will be found for the problems in the developing countries. That is, in a nutshell the main reason why the Third World needs well-trained specialists with a strong global vision.


(1) Thomas KUHN, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962. Apparently Western social sciences (especially in their relation to the Third World) were integrated in this famous third step of the evolution of scientific disciplines: the step of the crisis. The Western paradigm does not hold anymore.

(2)  During a mission in Burundi in 1961-1962, at the time of the elections, we personally witnessed heavy incidents between the Tutsi and the Hutu in the region of Ruhengeri: the first step in what later appeared to be the genocide of 1974. During the independence period and due to various local reasons, the situation remained calm in Burundi, that held approximatively the same ethnical backgrounds. The politician Rwagasore (son of the Mwami Mwambutsa) and the Mwami himself played a major role in this. During that time we worked in the  Mosso (South Eastern Burundi) and later in Bujumbura at the time of the murder of Louis Rwagasore, leader of the winning political party UPRONA. The bloody “clash” between Hutu and Tutsi will also break through later in Burundi (1974).

(3) Werner Cornelis, ‘Wanorde en Chaos in Afrika’ (Disorder and Chaos in Africa), Vlaams Marxistisch Tijdschrift (VMT), Spring edition 2013, pp.22-36.

(4) Werner Cornelis, ‘Wanorde en Chaos in Afrika’ (Disorder and Chaos in Africa), Vlaams Marxistisch Tijdschrift (VMT), Spring edition 2013, pp. 22-36. In 1960, the taxes paid by the UMHK (Union Minière du Haut Katanga, which stood for the copper and cobalt production in Congo), represented 75 % of the state income of the Congo colony. After the nationalization of the mining exploitation, the production of the GECAMINES, went dramatically down due to non-timely detected management problems, in a short time the copper production went down from 200.000 tons to 40.000 tons. The revenue for the State was impaired and furthermore it became apparent that Mobutu was “plundering” the small income from GECAMINES to feed his corrupt management.

(5)  The very serious problems of public health are characterized by the sneak and wide extension of tropical illnesses that were under control in the sixties: lepra, malaria, yellow fever, etc. Furthermore, HIV created a supplementary problem, carrying in its flow an important growth of TBC and other immunity related illnesses of a vulnerable African population whose life expectancy fell dramatically.

(6)  During our two first missions (Burundi 1964-1967) we progressively adopted conviction that the “cutting” of the reality into separate disciplines was a mistake. There appeared to be little coherence  in this “separate” approach. The Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm of Western science seemed to us to be the wrong approach for African problems. The later collating of the separated scientific disciplines to one unity (?) does not lead to an original coherent entity, but only to a collection of unconnected elements. In short, the problem is (and the intuitive systemic approach that inspired us in the field confirmed this): the reality of society, linked to a certain environment, is composed of larger systems, and each one of these systems is composed of overlapping smaller subsystems. At the centre of a large society system there is a “subsystem of values and beliefs” that influences all other subsystems in to a lesser or a larger extent. Furthermore, the historical approach added a fifth dimension to the approach of reality: the evolution through time was also important to understand the systems, and that is the reason why the historical dimension has its rightful part in the total view. At the IRFED (Institut de Recherche et de Formation en matière de Développement, Paris, 1967-1968) and despite the academic revolution that took place at the time, we reached a more methodological and more structured insight of this apparently more adequate approach: the “systemic approach”.

(7) Werner Cornelis, The MUGERA project. The successful resettlement of 54.000 Rwandese refugees in Burundi, unpublished master thesis, College voor de Ontwikkelingslanden, RUCA – University of Antwerp, 1978.

(8)  Werner Cornelis, ‘De ontwikkeling van een onderontwikkeling: the “ORS project” in Mali’ (‘The Development of underdevelopment: the “ORS project” in Mali’), Nieuwe Tijdingen, University of Antwerp, 1989, pp. 29-33.

(9)  Werner Cornelis, ‘Afrikaanse ratten voor ontmijning. APOPO; Genesis en verloop van een succesvol project in Afrika’ (‘African rats for mine sweeping APOPO; Genesis and development of a successful project in Africa’), Vlaams Marxistisch Tijdschrift (VMT), winter 2013, pp. 16-26.

(10) ‘Analyse du problème des réfugiés en Afrique Centrale et recommandations, à partir d’expériences de réinstallation, pour le développement rural intégré.” Analysis of the problems of the refugees in Central Africa, and recommendations from experiments of resettlement for an integrated development of the countryside)’, Essay presented at the Fondation Universitaire Luxembourgeoise (Ulg) by Werner Cornelis  A.S. M.P.D., to become the title of PhD in Environmental Sciences, Arlon, 1981.

(11) Eric Vanhaute, World History, An Introduction, 2013, London: Routledge.

(12) Immanuel Wallerstein, ‘The Development of an Intellectual Position’,        (http://www.Iwallerstein.com/intellectual-Itinerary).

(13) Mark Juergensmeyer, ‘What is Global Studies?’, Global-e. Global studies Journal, 2011. (http://global-ejournal.org/2011/05/06/what-is-global-studies-3); Potentials and Challenges of Global Studies for the 21st Century, by M. Herren, P.Manning, P.C. McCarty, M. Middell, and E. Vanhaute, Global Europe – Basel Papers on Europe in a Global Perspective, 2014, no. 105. (https://europa.unibas.ch/fileadmin/europa/redaktion/PDF_Basler_Schriften/BS105.pdf)

(14) See the recent publication (2014) by the US National Academy of Sciences: Climate Change, Evidence & Causes: “Climate change is occurring, is caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems”. In December 2013, in the scope of the United Nations Conference in Copenhagen, the Academy published the remarkable paper ‘Preventing dangerous climate change’. See also the reports of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).