Africa?s Prosperity Goals: A Cultural Perspective

Commission for Africa (CFA), one is made to understand is the brainchild of His Excellency, the UK Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair. Another initiative geared towards arriving at a set of policies meant to get Africa out of its economic doldrums.

Concerning this matter, I must say, 'Thank you Sir' for this selfless initiative. I hope your colleagues in the G8 which you intend to chair come 2005 would be fair enough to assist in the implementation of the eventual suggested views that will be compiled after this process.

No doubt about it most of the solutions to African economic underdevelopment rests in the hands of Africans themselves and therefore one is a little bit unexcited that yet again, another initiative is coming from a non-African. Is there any hidden agenda one may ask? Again where will this one take us? Many questions are therefore raised for answers. With reference to several African and other global initiatives which have come and gone plus those ones now in existence without the expected positive results yet to be realised, one is tempted to keep mute rather than give few words as thoughts to this 'new' project.

Since contributions for this project have now been extended almost close to the grass roots-to some citizens-it is a plus for this initiative unlike others. One may then assume an incurable optimist position to give a few words, however imperfect but based on information at ones disposal as a citizen of the continent. Even at that, suggestions and views would still be made with reservation and skepticism.

At this juncture it is not really necessary to give a recap of how Africans got to this sorry state in the present scheme of things as being experienced within the continent and on the global platform. Global policy makers and stakeholders in Africa (if they exist) are already well informed about this or they may be ignorant of the root cause of our problems.

So, from the cultural and traditional perspectives, how would the continent take it pride of place within the global space?

Personally I believe Africans themselves must look inwards and start implementing ways to relieve themselves of the burden they are carrying in all its ramifications.

Africa should not leave room for the charismatic political opportunist that continually capitalise on the unfortunate predicament it is has found it. Africans should look at our positive cultural values and norms that had provided succour and meaningful existence before the advent of colonization.

Emphasis should now be directed towards a sort of political and ideological systems that would work for Africans. That would be beneficial within a global context where other peoples' rights are respected since no human being chose at creation which country or continent he was to be born. Though Africans could now be regarded as being economically backward but they are not mentally underdeveloped.

African policy makers should start investigating and putting to use in a courageous and unselfish manner those values, tradition and culture of its people as practised in the inner recesses of their villages and hamlets. Those aspects of our culture that make things work, creating orderliness, respect for neighbours (rather than the new individualism)- such elements that stimulate local commerce.

Contemporary style of governance called 'democracy' needs to be modified to fit into our inherent cultural dispositions, after all in the developed nations, deliberate political devices are continuously put in place to reflect the cultures of the people.

Leadership in Africa appears to have jettisoned its cultural relevance in the practice of the imported system of governance.

Committed leadership for the future must be mentally de-colonized.

Culture as tools, values as a gauge and other systems should be employed to highlight the positive aspects of the African tradition and what is expected of a leader.

(Of course, no nation or group of people can thrive in isolation, as whatever policies evolve must be integrated within the global system, now that there is a lot of talk about globalization.)

A machinery of sorts should be in place to enable the masses within the grassroots enable them channel their views about policies that will eventually affect them-wherever they are situated. This is where the custodians of culture come in.

That is, the relevance of the traditional institution is fast disappearing. This institution should be rejuvenated. The role of traditional rulers and community leaders cannot be over emphasised.

Although, short of these people being corrupt themselves (a major dilemma) and their being intimidated by politicians of the day, these traditional leaders should be given more roles to feel the pulse of the people towards making a collective submission to the higher level of governance at the centre.

A framework should be in place to monitor traditional rulers by their subjects towards accountability and abuse of powers. (Africans being highly superstitious and metaphysical for that matter, in their worldly view will strive towards dispensation of justice whenever contentious issues come up)

For immediate economic power, the issue of Lands Use Act should be changed towards property rights to rest in the hands of families and indigenes and not necessarily taken over by government. This creates immediate wealth and as such traditional occupations, like farming, the running of cottage industries and what have you can easily be carried out.

Expenditure by African governments should not necessarily pursue the fashion of the day in the execution of grandiose or white elephant projects that would not transfer to immediate wealth to the masses. Such funds could go into stimulating and modernizing various traditional values and heritage that having first satisfied local need, can thereafter be exported for international consumption bringing the needed foreign exchange eventually. Funding should increase in the area of imparting indigenous and global education amongst genuine professionals and practitioners of arts and culture to encourage them come up with creativity that gives Africa a comparative advantage. This is expected to sustain the positive aspects of African culture and serve as a means to inform and benefit the rest of mankind.

Artists should be supported and taught the entrepreneurial know-how, to package African culture as a commodity yet to be appreciated locally and across the world towards improved understanding.

There are many ways of doing this.

It could be through arts and cultural exhibitions, festivals, book publishing, tourism, by print and electronic media even by way of a sustained hosting of Internet web portals.

Interactive and exchange of cultural programmes within different ethnic groups within an African country should be instituted to stimulate better understanding still and to satisfy curiosity across boundaries. These cultural exchange programmes should be extended across countries in Africa. And where such programmes are organized the people within the village and the hinterland should not be left out. The use of modern technology should be employed to make this a worthwhile experience for all..

African artifacts and pieces of heritage locked up for display in foreign museums belongs to Africans and as such should be shown in museums here in Africa. Those who are interested in seeing such works should endeavour to come to those localities where the items came from in the first instance. Functional museums should be located within such localities. Foreign cultural interests and organizations may go into partnership with local representatives (not the government at the centre) to strike a business venture. All this should translate to improved economy for these impoverished villages.

On a lighter note, to fight the endemic corruption amongst some political leaders in Africa, (out of frustration in some quarters) the joke goes like- that political leaders striving for positions of power and authority should be made to take the oath-of-office by swearing in the name of their local African deity: that they will not steal nor siphon public funds to a safe haven outside the continent, where it is of no use to the people. Some believe that the spiritual powers of these traditional deities can not be taken for granted as they are capable of dispensing justice at a supersonic speed or whatever.. I do not really know.

Lastly I will rest my case here with an advice that Africa is such a huge continent which problems can not be addressed by a broad and sweeping set of policies without taking into cognisance the diverse cultures and norms that spread across the continent even within a geographically nomenclature called a country.

Muyiwa Osifuye
A photographer based in Africa
Works can be seen at http://www.pictures-of-nigeria.com

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