Many of the words on this site take a bit of getting used to. Here’s a guide to them. We’d be happy to consider any changes/additions you suggest.

Algebra Project, Bob MosesThe Algebra Project was born of one parent’s concern with his children’s mathematics education in the public schools of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Bob Moses, a civil rights activist during the 1960s, is an educator and organizer of The Algebra Project. He spent years experimenting in middle school classrooms, first in Cambridge in the ’80’s and then as classroom teacher in Mississippi from ’90s to present. Early funding for his work came from a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his work in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.

Moses observed that students learning algebra need to consider not only the question of “how many”, but also “which way”, as is the case for an algebraic number line. These insights led to the development of a curriculum intervention based on experiential learning, utilizing the natural language of students, then methodically leading to the language of mathematical features, and finally to symbolic language.

Later, in Mississippi, Bob Moses initiated a new generation of Algebra Project curriculum for high school algebra and geometry, through funding from the National Science Foundation.

Algebra Project principles were utilized by the Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project (SIAP) from 1992 to 2004. SIAP worked across seven Southern states to provide teacher training and professional development, community and school site involvement activities, classroom mentoring, and youth and community organizing for math literacy. SIAP personnel and programs are now merged with national Algebra Project Inc. efforts.

The Algebra Project also spun off the Young Peoples’ Project, Inc. which trains high school and college-age Mathematics Literacy Workers (MLWs) who seek to create a new culture around math literacy for youth in our targeted school communities through peer education and mentorship in after-school, in-school, Saturday programs and summer program settings.

During the mid and late 1990’s, Algebra Project efforts targeted middle schools in 13 states, 23 school districts, reaching over 10,000 students. This reach was made possible in large measure by the Open Society Institute.

Since 2001 the project has been retooling, initiating research and development of materials for early high school programs, reconfiguring its middle grade curriculum, and partnering with the expanding Young Peoples’ Project.

The Algebra Project is currently positioned to play a leading role in the movement for educational reform and social change. Its demonstration sites are designed to be models of how young people, who for generations have been tracked to lives of deprivation and poverty, when given the right conditions can reverse all expectations and achieve a proficiency in math and science vital to enjoying the full benefits of citizenship.

Fidelity (a dialogue)

JD: According to Alain Badiou [French philosopher], fidelity can only be to a subject, one which arose out of an event. Fidelity is not faith. It is not driven by morality or religious sentiment. It is driven by an ethic of truth. Truth, a truth, is what came out of an event. Fidelity does not mean imitation or repetition. An event is not just any happening, even if it is referred in the literature as a revolution. An event, in any history, is of the kind which seizes one to the point of transforming our world view. In that sense 1789 [the French revolution] is an event. Badiou prefers 1792-94 because in his view it was during that period that one could see at work fidelity to what had happened in 1789.

For the DRCongo, June 30, 1960 [Congolese independence from Belgium] could be looked at as an event. Out of it, the Congolese people could see that an independent subject (free from colonial rule, thinking for him/her/self, by him/her/self). Lumumba [Patrice Lumumba—first Prime Minister of the DR Congo] battled in fidelity to that event. In today’s Congo the question is which kind of politics would reflect fidelity to the Event? Ota Benga Alliance and the Center for Human Dignity are working toward such a politics, one which is not dictated by politicians.

The assassination of Lumumba on January 17, 1961, and the subsequent witch hunt against his followers, was meant to instill fear and distancing from Lumumba among the ordinary Congolese. Thousands upon thousands were killed either because they belonged to the same ethnic group or because they lived in Kisangani. To this day, no one knows how many were slaughtered (see the DVD, “The Laughing Man”). In the aftermath of the Cold War, the average Congolese people have internalized the fear of speaking for themselves, the habit of staying away from anyone speaking in positive terms of people like Lumumba, Kimpa Vita (aka Dona Beatriz), Kimbangu [Simon Kimbangu, Congolese religious leader].

Given this situation, what would fidelity require of average Congolese people? Should one just focus on the event in the Congo or should one also include other events. Like, say, what happened in Haiti between 1791 and 1804 {Haitian independence struggle]. Could fidelity to that event also work in the DRCongo?

How can we break away from the politics of submission which followed the severe and collective punishment inflicted (in Haiti and in the Congo) on those who dared to call and put an end to slavery and colonial occupation? Submission to colonizing states has been replaced by submission to institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Which kind of politics, from which sites, shall rise to today’s challenge?

But an event (see Polemics, by Alain Badiou) can also be a counter-event as, say, in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. It is an event because it is a birth of something new, but it is also a counter-event in that it led to colonial occupation of the land on which Palestinians were living.

RP: I’m attracted by the cut-and-thrust of the exchange, but I’m inclined to side with Wamba when it comes to the meaning of ‘Event’, and therefore what fidelity means. Events cannot be staged. If this is the case, then it doesn’t make sense, in response to the question “In today’s Congo the question is which kind of politics would reflect fidelity to the Event?” to say “Ota Benga Alliance and the Center for Human dignity are working toward such a politics, one which is not dictated by politicians.” Strictly speaking, Events produce People, folk who aren’t moral automata. It is only those people who are capable of either politics or fidelity.

The way that people are produced is an intensely personal (as well as social) moment. Precisely when that moment comes depends on the person. Chances are that when we answer the commonly-asked question “When did you become political?” or “When did you become radical?”, we are answering the question, “What Event produced you as a person?”

If this is the case, then I don’t think it’s possible for us to have fidelity to 1789. Whatever politics we struggle for, under the sign of equality, are connected back to the politics of 1789. But I’m not sure Badiou could or would make the argument that we are transformed by Events in which we did not participate.

That’s my reading, anyway, of what Badiou talks about. Below, a quote from Ethics [Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, by Alain Badiou], pp. 41-2 in the English translation:

“…a subject, which goes beyond the animal.. needs something to have happened, something that cannot be reduced to its ordinary inscription in ‘what there is’. Let us call this supplement an event, and let us distinguish multiple-being, where it is not a matter of truth (but only of opinions), from the event, which compels us to decide a new way of being. .. From which ‘decision’, then, stems the process of a truth? From the decision to relate henceforth to the situation from the perspective of its evental [événementiel] supplement. Let us call this a fidelity. To be faithful to an event is to move within the situation that this event has supplemented, by thinking (although all thought is a practice, a putting to the test) the situation ‘according to’ the event. And this, of course – since the event was excluded by all the regular laws of the situation – compels the subject to invent a new way of being and acting in the situation. .. I shall call ‘truth’ (a truth) the real process of a fidelity to an event: that which this fidelity produces in the situation.”

WdW: Yet we still have to find out what do we learn from the experience of those who have been produced by an event. How much does it help us to be involved in a possible event? Of course, history, as Badiou seems to think, is irrelevant in helping one face an event that may produce him as a militant. There must be something we get. One does not rule out also the fact that even a militant of a past event may be unable to get involved in another event to become a better militant!

Some resemblances of event help us, I guess.

JD: Yes, for simplicity. And the quote from Badiou helps a great deal but, following Badiou himself, certainly it is possible to see how and where it might be possible to do better. It has taken Badiou a long time to see the importance of 1804, for example.

Bringing about an event? No. OBA works toward changing the situation in which we are. In that process, each one of us is linked to what is going on in many different ways. Yet, it is only now that certain things in my own life, political and nonpolitical, are becoming clear.

I am still wondering today how Badiou settled on St. Paul as THE universal figure. I agree with his and Lazarus’ dissatisfaction of history. Yet, the historical framework he adopts is one which can only satisfy those who are operating within the Western frame to the excusion of others (e.g. the rest of the world). It would be good to hear Ernest [Wamba dia Wamba] on Roy Bhaskar [British philosopher].

WdW: The palaver is on…

No one is a God to view everything and everywhere equally.

Already, Badiou’s conception of politics based on the prescription of one axiom—that of equality and the concern for singularities—gives us strong weapons to have an ethics of absolute inclusiveness.

It is true that Philosophy, which has often theorized against one-sidedness, ends up taking critical sides.

Roy Bhaskar is some sort of a anti-Hegelian Hegelian going from East to West and back from West to East and still almost silent on Africa.

The journey of the soul, short of being that of God, can only be plural. And only after multiple journeys can the unity of the soul be established and felt.

JD: My first reaction on this one was to laugh, but…I shall leave it at that…

WdW: Laughter is very healthy!

Hibakusha— The first atomic bomb actually used in war time was dropped on Hiroshima by the United States on August 6th, 1945 killing between 130,000 and 150,000 people by the end of that year. Survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known as Hibakusha. Many are active in the campaign to ban nuclear weapons. Read eye witness accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima, and a letter from the Ota Benga Alliance to the Hibakusha.

Simon Kimbangu. It is as a politically engaged spiritualist that Simon Kimbangu was sentenced to life imprisonment, and reached a milestone after serving (as political prisoner) 30 years in prison—more than Nelson Mandela (27 years). His vision of the Congo, under the direction of spiritually and politically free Congolese, who are creators of their own civilization, demands our fidelity. In this vision, the Congo can only be governed by the equal and balanced sharing of power.

From Kimbangu’s perspective, we need:

• Freedom for the three dimensions of man: body, soul and spirit;
• Black civilization by and for blacks;
• Freedom for the black slaves and their possible return to Africa;
• Reparation and compensation for slavery which has caused the loss to Africa of more than 350 million descendants able to produce the development of the African continent.

Kimpa Vita–Kimpa Vita/Dona Beatrice was born in 1684 in the kingdom of the Kongo. In 1704, she started a non-violent mission of liberation and restoration of the Kongo Kingdom, which had been destroyed by the Portuguese. She fought all forms of slavery—local practices, as well as those linked to European domination. She adapted Christianity to African realities, teaching that there are also black saints in paradise, in contradiction to the Catholic priests who taught there were only white saints.

She believed that the Christ who founded Christianity seventeen centuries ago and his disciples were Kongolese (Black Africans). She placed the birth of Jesus Christ within the Kongo and São Salvador (present day Mbanza Kongo) as the biblical Bethlehem, claiming that God wanted it restored as capital. Her message became so popular it could be called a spiritual renaissance. This threatened the influence of the Catholic Church amongst the African people. The Movement was called Antonian. Even though it integrated Kongolese culture with Christianity, the Catholic priests drove the supporters of Kimpa Vita away. Some were imprisoned and beaten daily for their convictions.

In 1706 Kimpa Vita gave birth to a son after two miscarriages. She continued to emphasize the closeness of God to the African people, which was a unifying factor amongst Antonians. The establishment of the Antonian movement and its consequent success led to the arrest of Kimpa Vita, her son and her associates. They were charged with heresy. The miracle working by Kimpa Vita was described as “kindoki” or the use of supernatural powers. Kimpa Vita and her infant son were burned at the stake as a “witch” under the watchful eye of a capuchin priest who helped in convicting her.

Kimpa Vita had a singular impact on Kongo culture/civilization and history. Her Salve Antoniana (her prayer that converted the Salve Regina [Hail Holy Queen], a Catholic prayer, into an anthem of the movement) is akin to a fragment of a theology of liberation; its message is an insistance that salvation is a question of a sincere commitment of the deep heart—i.e., the soul—and not mere impressions, actions, verbal repetitions. The line of fidelity to St. Anthony was incarnated in her. This was an orientation of thought critical of the official Church and of the dominant ideological line (kindoki of submission).

The incarnation, believed in Kongo cosmogony, is reconfirmed. It is on that basis of true commitment that people were asked to join the movement of “cultural revolution” focused on the people’s march for unification of the fragmented kingdom and for restoration of Mbanza Kongo as the capital city. It was also support for a king who was sincerely committed to that movement, and opposition to any other king. The slogan “siya, siya”—to rectify, purify, destroy the resistance—can also be understood on that basis.

Sincere commitment is lacking in the Church that preaches and sells slaves; sincere commitment is lacking in the small kings that depend on the political fragmentation of the Kingdom. Burning Kimpa Vita and her child and boyfriend reconfirms that lack of sincerity. The child, Kembo Dianzenza va Kintete (First New Celebration) will come back and be born as Kimbangu.


Wamba dia Wamba, Ernest. Email communication, 7-01-07
World People’s Blog

Mbongi is a word in the Kikongo language which means “learning place.” (In Kiswahili, it is Baraza; in Tswana, Kgotla.) When people come together to resolve community problems in a Congolese village, that problem-solving meeting is an Mbongi. And the issues that they address will be as varied as the care of seniors and orphans, the cost of education, fixing potholes in the road, availability and safety of the local water supply, or matters of national interest. The Mbongi is the place where one looks for and finds solutions to problems. In the Mbongi, everyone has the right and the responsibility to speak up.

In today’s DRCongo, where political leaders’ sense of ethical, moral, and political leadership has severely atrophied, most Congolese are eager for ways of re-rooting themselves so that, at the same time, they can be full participants in a process of re-orientation of self and of the larger community. In a country where dictatorship, war, and poverty have strained all social relationships, the Mbongi is one starting point for rebuilding community unity and empowering members to take action at a community level. It is re-invigorating to hear and see in practice the principle—central to the Mbongi—that “everyone thinks, everyone counts, no one counts less or more than one.”

For so long, Congolese have stopped trying to address their issues collectively, stopped bringing to the attention of appropriate government officials issues and problems that are properly addressed by government. Instead each family addresses their problems by themselves or gives up. But there are things that need community rather than individual action. There are basic services that only government can provide, and it is the proper role in a democratic state for communities to insist on these services. The work of today’s Mbongi draws strength from its village roots of consensus and participatory democracy.

For further reading:

Depelchin, Jacques. Mbongi and the Practice of the Communalist Palaver” (2006)

Depelchin, Jacques. Silences in African History. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers; North American Distributor: Michigan State University Press, 2005.

Wamba dia Wamba, Ernest. “Experience of Democracy in Africa: Reflections on the Practice of Communalist Palaver as a Method of Solving Contradictions Among People.” Philosophy and Social Action, Vol. XII, No. 3, 1985.


Ota Benga–Read the story of Ota Benga.

Palaver–In dictionaries, a long parley or discussion; idle talk; misleading or beguiling speech. In Africa, the time and talking it took to arrive at a peaceful solution to whatever conflict may have arisen–a solution which was in the interests of the entire community, not just the individuals involved; a healing exchange. The palaver drew upon and taught the founding values of the community, and thus connected people with their ancestors. The palaver provided an equalitarian environment in which each community member had the right and obligation to speak and to hear others speak until the conflict was resolved.

Palavering, in a colonial context, always had a negative connotation because it was thought to lead nowhere and waste time (and therefore money).

For further reading:

Depelchin, Jacques. Palaver as a way of living democracy, from Silences in African History (2005)

Wamba dia Wamba, Ernest. Experience of Democracy in Africa: Reflections on the Practice of Communalist Palaver as a Method of Solving Contradictions Among People. (1985)

Social Healing (a dialogue)

JD: If one understands the physical meaning of healing, i.e., to get better, recover, etc. then it should not be difficult to understand the meaning of social healing and why its meaning goes much further than reconciliation. For a physical wound to heal, we all understand that it has to be properly cleaned. If a wound is not properly cleaned, it will become infected and it could get worse than the original wound.

When Ayi Kwei Armah wrote his novel The Healers (1978), it was possible to look at it as a response to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which originally appeared in 1958. For African societies to heal, not just as individual members, but as members whose existence would be difficult without the social connections, the members of all these societies have to have an understanding of what we must heal from. A physical or a social wound has different levels. Treating what appears at the surface (the symptom) will not necessarily cure what is below (cause). For example, poverty is certainly something people want to get rid of. Will it come by focusing on individualism or on social solidarity? In Africa, solidarity is one of the strongest rooted values, but there is a tendency, especially from the West, to explain that Africans remain poor because of too much emphasis on social solidarity and not enough on individualism.

Achebe’s message is to let go of solidarity. He himself might deny this. Armah’s message is that we, Africans, could heal if we understand how our societies have been destroyed, not just by outsiders, but also by our own choice to move away from our best values.

As a society which underwent centuries of violence, how do we heal from the repercussions of violence, leading people in turn to inflict further violence? How do we heal from the genocide of Leopold II? In the DRCongo, it is as if the leaders of the country feel that the quality of their leadership increases if they imitate what the colonizers did. In short, how do we heal from having imbibed the mindset that brutality against children is ok, that raping women is the best way to show your manhood? It will be a long process, but it is also one which does not require the hand of specialists or the hand of the state. It requires willingness to heal, full stop.

WdW: On the issue of healing, the parallelism seems to fall too short. The idea of healing, in the physical sense also means reconstructing the cells and the tissues. There is also the issue of the scar to deal with.

When society is destroyed, it is the social relations that have to be rebuilt. Take the example of Lemba society: they deal with the psychology of people, they must re-establish the family equilibrium, they must re-establish healthy outer relations. You talk of poverty as a thing to eradicate; poverty is first of all a relationship between those who have most of the wealth and those who are refused access to wealth—and these may include those who actually produce the wealth.

Healing poverty is breaking down this relationship, replacing it with a better relationship.

In the healing from disease, healers say” “Buka mu kati, mono yabuka ku mbazi.” (Heal inside while I heal outside). The physical is here coupled to the spiritual and without internal healing, no external healing as well. It is God or some invisible force that is being appealed to: “heal inside!” The required achievement of spiritual maturity (Kimbangu [Congolese religious leader Simon Kimbangu]) is a result of some kind of healing. This requires healing ourselves from our own sins, betrayals (from brotherly ethics capable of betrayal to a parental ethics of fair treatment of all children), etc.

What I am saying is that definitions—the scientific approach—may not go deep enough to help us grasp the healing process well.

Note that events cannot be staged. Involvement/encounter with event transforms the person from a simple human to a subject of the truth of the event. Following this truth to its fullest consequences is having fidelity to the truth of the event.

Is it possible to be transformed by an event in which one was not involved? How should we learn from the process of transformation those transformed by the event underwent, so that we could also be so transformed? Otherwise, we are observers talking of the process and the transformed people.

Solidarity is most commonly expressed by the bumper-sticker idea “a blow against one is a blow against all”. Forged in the tradition of union organising, its boundaries were well defined – an affront to any individual worker was an affront to all workers in a particular place or, more broadly, against the proletariat. Solidarity has since come to be used to cover sympathetic actions by one group on behalf of another. See Peter Waterman’s essay for a deeper treatment.

For Peace, Dignity and Healing