Modern-Africa is much more focused than the yesteryears of ‘under-the-tree’ barazas

Recently, I read a blog about Owen Hansen and his 1980’s “innovative” open-space technology for conducting meetings. The open-space approach has the following mechanisms: 
  • a broad, open invitation that articulates the purpose of the meeting;
  • participant chairs arranged in a circle;
  • a “bulletin board” of issues and opportunities posted by participants;
  • a “marketplace” with many breakout spaces that participants move freely between, learning and contributing as they “shop” for information and ideas;
  • a “breathing” or “pulsation” pattern of flow, between plenary and small-group breakout sessions.
The blogger wrote “If Hanson was codifying Open Space today, perhaps he would call it ‘under the tree.’”  “[Hanson] acknowledges that, in developing the methodology, he was influenced by ‘his experience of life in an African village.’  “  The blogger also attached this picture.
I liked the blog so much that I flipped it to a friend in Kenya. He made me think when he wrote back and said:
“Yeah, I can see the ‘cuteness’ of it all appealing to a certain touchy-feely audience in the West, but if you look at it closely (especially the ‘four principles’ attached), I can’t help thinking it perpetuates negative stereotypes about Africa . . .
We settle for whoever turns up (instead of actively trying to get key people involved); we have no more greater aim than the chitchat itself (instead of having some kind of goal); we can’t turn up on time (because that’s just the way we are) and we end things when we are finished talking (even if nothing concrete has been agreed).
I have always thought that we need to break the belief that the baraza is an end in itself – instead of a means to an end. This sort of hooey doesn’t help.
Modern-day Africa is much more focused than this. Thank God (or Christopher Hitchens perhaps!)”
By Rita Field-Marsham (info@fieldmarshamfoundation.org)