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close this bookMaldevelopment - Anatomy of a Global Failure (UNU, 1990, 246 pages)
close this folder3. The crisis of state
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View the documentNation-state and the ideology of nation in crisis'
View the documentEthnicity: myth and reality
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View the documentThe cultural dimension: the example of the crisis in the arab world today - the end of the Nahda?7
View the documentNew forms of the social movement
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The cultural dimension of development in Africa and the third world

For the following we draw on the analysis made by our colleague Faysal Yachir. His text was published with two others. Samir Amin on Islamic ideology and Mario de Andrade and Maria do Ceu Carmoreis on black African ideologies.6 We shall not reiterate the two texts here but return to the issues they raise.

The now widely acknowledged failure of development policies followed in Africa has provoked a renewed interest in culture. Cultural issues, until recently regarded as secondary, are seen by an increasing number of researchers as an essential aspect of social change, or as the fundamental issue in development.

This irruption of culture on to the field of economic and social reflection is primarily a reflection of the recent evolution of African societies, who in some way have spontaneously included cultural issues in the forefront of their concerns. The new acuteness of linguistic questions, the religious revival in its various forms, the demand by minorities for the right to be different, or from another angle the tensions undermining traditional values, status and roles, bear witness to the relevance of questions of individual and collective identity. But this irruption of culture on to the field of economic and social reflection also arises from increasing dissatisfaction with the limitations of analytical force in the conventional approaches, in particular of sociology and development economics.

The reason why researchers studied economics and sociology rather than culture was not that economic and social issues seemed more serious. The explanation is rather the compartmentalization of the social sciences and their largely apologetic nature have led to a separation of culture from economics, with the notion that the former should adapt almost automatically to the latter. Furthermore when culture was explicitly taken into account, it was to stress its negative character as an obstacle to development. If this dichotomous approach is nowadays challenged with renewed vigour and in more and more circles, it is because its methodological premisses prevent account being taken of the increasingly obvious embroilment of culture with economics.

An awareness of the crucial importance of this embroilment of culture with economics is based on two observable intuitions warranting scientific elaboration. The first is that culture in the broad sense deeply affects if not the character of economic systems at least the logic of their operation, and this impact goes further than the influence of 'traditional values' on the diffusion of attitudes of the capitalist kind - the principal theme of functionalist sociology of modernization. The second intuition is that economics, or more precisely economic (and social) changes induce phenomena of acculturation and deculturation, namely change the culture. The relationship between culture and economics is dialectic rather than functionalist or structural.

An interest in the cultural aspect of development is not merely identifying an omission and studying cultural issues after a study of the cultural aspect of economic changes.

An attempt should be made to clear up the interaction or rather embroilment of culture with economics at three distinct levels ideology, society and state. The social changes experienced by the African countries in the past two or three decades in part reflect the impact of policies implemented by the governments or parties, which were - and are - strongly influenced by the great ideological constructs of anti-colonial Africa. Pan-Africanism throughout the continent, sub-Saharan ideologies of negritude and 'consciencism, pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism in Egypt and the Maghreb' fill the ideological horizon for Africa in the 1950-70 period. Whatever the means of justifying government policies, under the label of 'African' and 'Arab' socialisms or whatever the aspirations to dignity and freedom of the broad strata of population, these ideologies have for an era provided the fundamental bench-mark for action by individuals and groups. Research into the cultural aspect of African development must begin with an analysis of these ideologies and their complex relation to social and economic practice. Among the matters we regard as important here is the relationship these ideologies and the perception of development issues have with the corresponding formulation of economic and social strategies.

By contrast nationalism and Marxism can be seen as minority ideologies in Africa, if not as the explicit ideologies of state authorities, at least as mobilizing myths commanding the broad adherence of peoples. In some countries, particularly those that have experienced an armed struggle for national liberation, nationalism and to a lesser extent Marxism have had a strong impact, sometimes outreaching the ideologies of pan-Africanism, negritude or pan-Arabism. Moreover, nationalism and Marxism have often been in competition, before and since political independence, a competition for power and influence, but also in recruitment and programmes. It is possible to discern within this broad framework the history of troubled relations between national movements and communist parties in Africa, but only passing interest has been shown in a comparative analysis of the themes and structure of the nationalist and communist ideologies in the context of African countries, any more than interest has been shown in the way either revealed a continuity and/or break with the more widespread African ideologies. In particular, few researchers have tried to consider the two ideologies from the point of view of their comparative bearing on dependence and under-development in Africa. Finally, for more than a decade. Marxism has become the state ideology in a fair number of African countries and this factor makes it necessary to reconsider the relation between nationalism and communism in modern African history.

The recent evolution of African societies has enriched the gamut of ideologies in three main directions. The religious revival, in its various forms, from new syncretisms to Islamic fundamentalism, is to be seen nearly everywhere in Africa, to the degree that a certain acculturation to the capitalist West proceeds and there are more obvious failures and impasses in the development strategies pursued. In the Arab countries more particularly, fundamentalism appears as a 'cultural' come-back on economics and is the reaction of an indigenous culture threatened by the accelerated Westernization of the society and its elites. This truncated but real Westernization is not supported by an explicit cultural ideology, but increasingly by the vehicle of the language of neo-liberal ideology on a world scale. The contrast between fundamentalism end 'westernization' is not as clear-cut as might be thought from the strict letter of fundamentalist discourse. If fundamentalism emerged as a cultural protest against economics, it has its economic foundation, whereby the circumstances of its growth are largely conditioned by the forms of social and economic change. In the same way, if 'westernization' comes with the drift of development strategies and is conveyed by neo-liberal economic discourse, it has its cultural foundation too, since it has arisen on the basis of the dissolution, albeit incomplete, of established social relations, through the diffusion of commodity and capitalist categories in the society. Finally, possibly in con junction with the ideological duo of fundamentalism and Westernization, new ideologies emerge on particularist bases as part of the process of constituting or consolidating nations. The national formations must be distinguished between those where nationalism has been or is an active ideology, and more recent or weaker formations where the frontiers inherited from colonialism delineate a highly heterogeneous social space in ethnic, linguistic or religious terms. In either case, specific characteristics and particularities are asserted to a varying degree. An analysis of these new ideological phenomena, of very varying degrees of completeness and spread, should be carried out, with the corresponding bid to relate them to the economic and social changes occurring in Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

A study of the cultural aspect of development should begin from a second point of view, that of relations between culture and society. Three key issues can be identified here, the search for identity, the relation between labour and technology, and the role of intellectuals, which all come back to the interaction between cultural change and economic transformation.

The question of identity, of individuals and groups and broader collectives, is at the very heart of the cultural aspect of development. The economic changes, while bearing the stamp of the pre-eapitalist cultures, alter beliefs, attitudes and behaviour that define the culture as the world of being of the peoples. In the circumstances of dependent capitalism, economic development brings a 'crisis of values' of unprecedented extent and ferocity. In the West and Japan, material development has the support of internal transformation of social and human relations, a transformation achieved over a long period so that there was no break but a complex process of selective repossession of former cultural components within the context of technological and economic development. Modern capitalism is deeply rooted in a truly Western (or Japanese) tradition that it has in turn invigorated, namely in a direction favourable to technological creativity and economic initiative. In Africa, the historical circumstances of capitalist penetration, then expansion, have from the outset had a contrary effect, as economic development confronts local cultures and the transformation of social and human relations is essentially effected from outside, often with the help of ferocious violence. Identity, in this case, rather than being gradually broken down and rebuilt to productive effect, is more or less ferociously destroyed, without putting in place compensatory processes of production of new cultural components, capable in turn of supporting accumulation and innovation. Nowadays the crisis of values in African societies has reached a staggering pitch, because of the development of capitalism and because of the inadequacy, of this development. We find accelerated urbanization, the bringing of a significant proportion of the population into the wage sector, the spread of modern forms of production to the countryside, external competition, along with the break-up of population balance, unemployment and social differentiation tending to disrupt the traditional settings of popular culture, with the latter process assisted by the various Western cultural influences. As in the West, the individual climbs out of the disaggregation of traditional collectives, but here climbs into an atmosphere of confusion. The decomposition of social values has more the effect of changing them than of purely and simply destroying them, for the reason that mentalities are slow to change, but also that the evolution of social and economic structures fails to give rise to a coherent entity. The diffusion of new reference systems, new social criteria and new aspirations occurs at the same time as a revaluation of traditional values of new import. This spontaneous repossession of values in a rapidly changing economic context is purely a holding operation, despite its many facets ranging from the simple dullardness of the collective psychology to metaphysical reactivation before the disenchantment of seeing the real world 'in the icy waters of selfish calculation'.

The crisis of values for the majority is matched by a profound cultural alienation of the social elite, which comes back to the issue of the formation of an intelligentsia. It is of the essence of the cultural problem, since only the intelligentsia is capable of helping a society to become conscious of itself and take on board its own modernization. The direct political role of the intelligentsia in the successful modernizations of the 19th and 20th centuries is open to discussion but its role as social critic has always been crucial. In most African societies the intelligentsia has not yet been able to form itself. The growing number of graduates and intellectual workers on mainly technical duties does not suffice to form an autonomous and critical corps of intellectuals. The circumstances of training the elites in Africa do not relate only to such economic factors as the relative breadth of the production and administration systems to absorb them. They also relate to the cultural remoteness induced by alienation of the elites from their peoples. It is an alienation that comes first from privileged access to the goods and services of the modern economy, but is more affected by the extraverted character of the educational systems. Just as it has not formed an intelligentsia, the intellectual elite has been unable to construct an alternative cultural model to the more or less enticing Western model whose baton it carries. A good indicator of this incapacity is shown by the relative scantiness of autonomous social study by Africans about their condition and future, as a result of cultural, scientific and technical dependence on Western metropolises and their sloth. In one way the cultural alienation of the elites is an aspect of the crisis of values in society, just as the problems of collective identity are aggravated by the alienation of elites and lack of an intelligentsia. Analysis of 'mass culture' should be closely tied to that of 'elite culture'.

The question of technology is at the heart of the problematic of identity, since creativity in all forms and technological creativity in particular, is one of the main manifestations of the identity of peoples. Throughout history communities have stamped their own genius on their physical environment even when the level of development of the forces of production was very low. In this sense, technology is culture, even when the technological underdevelopment of ancient societies frequently corresponds to and nurtures a mythological overdevelopment. In the Western and Japanese societies of today, technological innovation carries the clear imprint of attitudes, tastes, and more broadly, values appropriate to these societies. In the kind of products, the conception of forms, the working methods, the universality of capitalist norms of consumption and production adapts to a certain diversity reflecting national cultures. In Africa, the development of colonial and post-colonial capitalism has broken the unity between culture and technology, thus inhibiting national creativity at the same time as it imposed an alienating technology. If the impact of Western technology on economic structures is often taken into consideration, its impact in the field of culture is much more rarely so. Furthermore if technology is culture, modern Western culture has become technical, in that it tends to reshape itself in the light of the appropriate conditions for technical innovation. But in Africa, the culture has largely lost its former power of control over nature without managing to achieve a new technological creativity. These complex issues, of vital importance for the future, deserve a more detailed treatment, but a beginning can be made with an analysis of particular aspects, for example the problem of language in the policy of technical apprenticeship, the representations, attitudes and behaviour of workers in industry, or the patterns of creativity in the informal sector.

A third axis of possible research is the relation between culture and the state. Two main themes are relevant at this level, the cultural policies implemented by the African states and the political conditions for cultural development.

By cultural policy here is meant properly speaking "cultural policies" that could usefully be subjected to a critical survey, but particularly education, training and scientific research policies, plus policies to encourage national languages. It is obvious that the policies of education and training determine the level and character of educational service and its social catchment. Concern should be shown for the curriculum, language of instruction, literacy campaigns, and to the role of the educational systems, as an instrument of cultural, economic and technical development rather than as a means of social promotion and reproduction.

The issue of national languages deserves particular attention, as the experience of encouraging the use of national languages to the north and south of the Sahara is sufficiently long-established as to lend itself to survey.

The second theme, the political conditions for cultural development, in fact a bearing on democracy. Political democracy is evidently a precondition for the free expression of cultural pluralism, the most commonly found situation in Africa. In general, cultural pluralism, whether on an ethnic, linguistic or religious basis, is repressed by state authorities out of fear of imperilling the attempt to build or consolidate the nation. But such repression often leads to an exacerbation of cultural pluralism as the latter is expressed in clandestine forms even more perilous for national unity.

In a more general way, democratization of political and social life bolsters a dynamic cultural development, since it promotes discussion and encourages scientific, technical, literary and artistic innovation. In many African countries control over the press and media and censorship of literature, theatre, cinema or popular music works to sustain a cultural waste and reproduce dependence on the West. A question mark over the frustration of modern cultural expression in Africa by political authoritarianism is therefore increasingly pertinent.