|The Courier N° 134 - July - Aug 1992 - Dossier A fresh look at Africa? - Country Reports Grenada- Seychelles (EC Courier, 1992, 104 p.)|
|Dossier: A fresh look at Africa?|
An interview with Daniel Etounga-Manguelle
Of all the continents, Africa has been subject to more outside influences than any other. Certain/y, the consequences of such influences have sometimes been irreversible elsewhere. Africa seems to have a destiny which is not of its own choosing, but gives the impression of bowing to it nonetheless.
Development has been the leitmotif of policies implemented in the name of the people for more than three decades now. But the people are disenchanted and the developed countries with them, for the results are neither up to expectations nor a proper reflexion of the sacrifices made to achieve them. Methods are being held up to question and revision and doubt are the order of the day-starting with economic structures and the States themselves. There is no development nowadays without 'structural adjustment', 'democracy ' and 'human rights'. Is this a new discovery ? Not for everyone.
Consider the starting point and Africa has done well. But consider the potential and the means provided and its development policy looks very much like a failure.
There are many reasons, some external and some internal, for this conspicuous lack of success. The external causes are of course the ones which the African leaders highlight in their attempts at explaining the crisis, and they are important. But they are not the whole story.
There are also internal causes which seem to be more clearly perceived by the people.
And then there are deeperseated causes, with material effects, for the policies pursued over the years and they tend to be cultural. If the level of industrialisation is taken, rightly or wrongly, as determining the level of development, is it right to assume that geographical location and mastery of the industrial economy define the cultural contours of this type of development? This is the subject of a major debate launched by Cameroonian economist Daniel Etounga-Manguelle in a recent book entitled. 'Does Africa need a cultural adjustment programme? The Courier talked to the author in Abidjan ( Côte d 'Ivoire), where he heads an engineering consultancy, in February and asked him to explain his ideas.
The starting point must be a simple observation-that the African countries are all in the same economic boat. Whether or not they have resources, real or potential, in oil, farming, finance or anything else, and whether or not they are landlocked or coastal or arid or wet, their development is similar. It is not a question of money, because those countries which contrived to pile up large financial resources at one time or another have fared no better. So we should look elsewhere, at African culture, and try to understand the non-economic causes of underdevelopment. How does culture affect industrial progress and does Africa have a handicap in comparison to other continents here?
The answer is twofold. First of all, there is indeed a culture barrier in Africa and it is to blame for some of the continent's industrial setbacks because technical development involves having a concept, a way of seeing the world, and having the will to master and transform it. If you accept the world as it is, you sit idle and submit to the divine order of things. Both these approaches are shaped by culture. The development of technology is tied up with how you see the world and, if it never occurs to you to change things, you will not develop the means or the outlook to bring about change. African farm tools, for example, have changed very little, because it has always been possible to live off traditional agriculture. We Africans are not conquerors at heart and we do not therefore want to develop the means of conquering the world.
However-and this is the second part of the answer-cultural handicap is not an intellectual obstacle. Those who claimed or still claim that it is, do more for the defence of their own culture than for an objective analysis of the African situation. And they are unaware of the industrial history of other parts of the world as culturally different from the West as Africa is. African society is also more conservative than other societies at different stages in their development, but it is not the conservative, conformist essence of society which is in question here. Look at Japan, for example, and you will see a country which is culturally and religiously highly conservative and which has contrived to achieve powerful industrial development without damage to the essence of its society or culture.
It all points to cultural adaptation and change
Our problem here in Africa is that this cultural conservatism is working to the detriment of the development of African society in an international context in which both the nature of expansionism and its means of action have changed. Japan would never have been able to take over the world with its culture, but, thanks to industrial and technological power, it can now export its industrial products as easily as its religions and its martial arts, its whole way of life if you like. People are not frightened of the yellow peril any more.
So Africa needs to change its perception of itself and the world and adapt its culture to the contemporary scene, otherwise it will do more to destroy its culture than preserve it. It has not taken on its proper identity, so it cannot develop a blueprint for society whereby it could do as Europe, the USA and Japan have done and start working towards a higher goal. It contains so many contradictory currents that the unity it boasts of is nothing more than a facade. Culture is adjusting to time and to work and Africa has to learn to project itself in time and make a proper job of managing the resources at its disposal.
Obviously, the basic movement which should lead to cultural adjustment has to be encouraged and the encouragement should come from the people responsible for running affairs of State and leading the peoples of Africa. But, since it is a long-term thing, it should, more importantly, come from civil society.
Africa has what it needs to make a success of the change. One of the main assets which the Africans have when it comes to bringing about the cultural revolution which they must undergo is their 'extraordinary plasticity of spirit' (Alassane Ndaw) whereby Africa can cope with anything, be it Islam, Christianity, Marxism, Leninism or even, I suggest, Beninism. It is no longer a case of importing ready-made expressions and serving them up with a tropical sauce to the rhythm of folk dancing and singing. Quite the opposite. We must get to the roots of our usages and customs and cut out the dead wood preventing our societies from moving into the modern era. This change in outlook is essential to the transfer of technology and we have to make it on our own.
Only if we can get this right will Africa be able both to ensure internal change and to avoid being saddled with an external cultural adjustment programme which, if implemented, would complete the depletion of our mental resources and reduce the extent to which people living on the Black Continent can take themselves in hand. What kind of fresh look should we be taking at Africa? It all depends on how far the Africans' faith in certain ideas can be shaken.