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Alternatives to Globalism: Potential of African Local Cultures


© Siendou Konaté

Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY

First posted: 11 September 2006

I argue in this paper that culture is a plausible tool of resistance in a situation such as the world becoming global under the terms of particular parts of the world or “globalism”. Culture has some ideological, scientific and historical manifestations, which, when detected and used by a marginalized community or people, can result in taking back their right place in world history.

I propose to think and re-analyze the potential of culture (as a comprehensive practice that encompasses the economic, political and social layers in the life of a people) to counter the ever-growing force of the notion of the world becoming a global village. Behind this idea is European and Euro-American neo-imperialism that seeks not to allow for the expression of other voices and ways than those of the so-called developed or First World . For the world to be a true global village, those who are on the periphery of the Global Culture (Euro-American and European culture) need to be included, because a globalized world is one that is polycentric and has more than one voice. The questions I seek to answer are the following: What is the place of Africa in this so-called global village that our world is becoming? How can Africa tap into her own cultural stock to become an active participant of a truly global village? In other words, how can Africa contribute to defeat world monoculturalism or mono-voicedness as spearheaded by the United States and Europe ?



European invasion and the disruption of the life of the people they subjugated around the world were rationalized as a mission that God bestowed on the West vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Accordingly, the mission consisted in drawing the other parts of the world from darkness to the light of civilization; and from underdevelopment and backwardness to the height of development. In carrying out this selfish and inhuman project of salvaging the non-western, Western imperialist powers disrupted and demonized the cultures, traditions, and history, of the people they encountered. For instance, the French colonial rule in West Africa decided to make out of their African subjects, French citizens by what is known as the assimilation policy. In other words, the colonial subjects had to strip themselves of anything that sounded or smelt African on behalf of French tastes and manners. On the other hand, the British colonial rule, which was more subtle in its denial of the natural rights of its subjects, allowed some space to the subjects as long as this space did not endanger British hegemony, that is, the domination of “its African territories.”

The “mission civilisatrice,” as the French called their intrusion into the political, economic and social life and organization of African people, was not really a mission of civilization, or of taking Africans from the depths of darkness to light of modernity and development (concepts that are anyway problematic). Rather, it was a mission of domination, expropriation and dehumanization (as it was decided by the Berlin conference in 1888).

Of course, the imperialist and colonialist powers attacked the cultural foundations of the people they were dealing with. They were cognizant of the fact that the easiest way to subjugate a people was, and still is, to cut them off from their own selves, their identities, and their cultures. Therefore, they homogenize their subjects by denying what they were standing on through what they called civilization. For, what is to civilize? And what is civilization? To civilize a people is to refine their culture; that is, “the customary beliefs, social forms, the material traits characteristic of a racial, religious, or social group” (Merriam-Webster 192). According to some dictionaries, civilization is a) a relatively high level of cultural and technological development, b) it is the culture characteristic of a time or place. Clearly, this dictionary definition of culture appears to be somewhat all-encompassing, globalizing so much so that it even includes civilization. As for the latter, it rests on culture as its substance. In particular, by culture here I mean social practices that unite members of a given community that differentiate them from others. These practices are well-summarized by Jan Vansina when he defines culture as “what is common in the minds of a given group of people; it refers to a community of society. People in a community share many ideas, values, and images, in short, responsibilities which are collective to them and differ from others”(Vansina, Oral Tradition as History 214 ).

If culture has been under assault in order for the imperialists to make their inroads into Africa and the rest of the world other than the West, culture then is recognized as a force that can frustrate exterior domination. Thus, culture can be re-appropriated as it has once been by the nationalists of the era of independence and liberation struggle so as to deal with the new configuration of colonialism. This new configuration is what we call global capitalism or globalization. For, the same capital that animated the imperialist moves is what makes the backbone and foundation of the rhetoric of the world as a global village. The fallacy of such a rhetoric is summarized in the word “globalism”, which Manfred B. Steger defines as “a political ideology that endows the concepts of globalization with market-oriented norms, values, and meanings.”[1]



Western imperialism (economic, political and importantly cultural) has been the Europeanization of the non-European world; in other words, the project was aimed at the homogenization of those who have been “otherized” by the colonialist discourse. The homogenization makes those who are declared “underdeveloped” to desire to imitate, and hence fail device their own ways and means of advancement. Thus, the European model of social enhancement has been mirrored as the only viable way to get out of this quagmire of “backwardness”. It confines the poor countries to the alternative that Samir Amin sums up that is: “either they accept Europeanization and internalize its demands or if they decide against it, they will lead themselves to an impasse that inevitably leads to their decline” (Amin, Eurocentrism 107 ). Amin posits an alternative, which consists on the one hand in the disconnection of the marginalized and oppressed people from the usually assumed centers of domination and power, and on the other, in remaining dependent on their oppressors. The second term of the alternative might be called adjustment to the standards of the center.

In Africa the option of Europeanization was welcomed open-handedly so much so that the rhetoric of African nationalists was replete with words like “development” and “modernity”, which actually signify European worldviews. Besides, Europeanization denotes the inability of some of these nationalists to work out patterns of resistance to their subjugation. For, the allegiance to the Western paradigm shows that they were preaching the necessity to be free while they had no tangible clue in what they were putting forward. In other words, they proposed theories of liberation without disconnecting (or delinking) from the instruments of their subjugation.[2] The latter are the features of a capitalist society; i.e., the almost unbridgeable divide between the poor and rich, and in this specific case, between the bourgeois elite and the masses of the people – and the centralization of political power in the hands of a few people.

Cutting the umbilical cord that links the colonized with the colonizer requires the revitalization of the cultures of the colonized denied because these cultures have the capacity to frustrate or undermine the “colonizing cultures”. Culture as I wrote in the early lines, is a whole, which is social, economic and political and translates the personality and configuration of a given society. Thus, it is what attests to the historicity of a people when the latter is denied such a process. The struggle for complete liberation should therefore first and foremost engage in rejecting the denial of the history and the culture of the dominated. As Amilcar Cabral used to say, the national liberation of a people is

la reconquete de la personalite historique de ce peuple, elle est son retour a l’histoire au moyen de la destruction de la domination imperilaiste a laquelle il est soumis”

[the regaining of the historical personality of that people. It is the return to history through the destruction the imperialist domination to which they were subjugated.](Cabral, Unité et Lutte 294)[3]

According to Cabral, the real liberation of a subjugated people resides first of all in that people’s realization of the fact that they are under subjection and then their determination to return to their history, which has been denied, is the first means forward their liberation. For instance, Father Placide Temples in summarizing the whole reason that precipitated the colonization of such places as Africa states that “our civilizing mission alone can justify our occupation of the lands of uncivilized peoples.”[4]

Since the lack of civilization is the motive of the invasion, and since civilization is subsumed under culture, then, the latter is the last resort for the African people to carry out their political, economic and social independence. Let me quote here from Cabral’s definition of culture at work during the struggle of national liberation. “Culture,” Cabral says, “has a material basis at the level of the forces of production and the mode of production. It is rooted in the milieu’s material reality where it develops and reflects the organic nature of society.”[5] Elsewhere, he writes that “culture is always the life of a society (open or closed) the more or less conscious result of the economic and political activities of that society; the more or less dynamic expression of the kinds of relationships which prevail in the that society on the one hand between man (considered individually or collectively) and nature, and on the other hand among individuals, group of individuals, social strata or class” (Cabral, Return to the Sources 40). To end our references to Cabral, quoting extensively his final words on the resistance potential of culture will be of great avail in that it serves better the purpose of our discussion. According to Amilcar Cabral,

The value of culture as an element of resistance to foreign domination lies in the fact that culture is the vigorous manifestations on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical or historical reality of the society that is dominated or to be dominated. Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people’s history and a determinant of history by positive or negative influence which it exerts on the evolution of relationships between man and his environment, among men or groups of men within a society as well as among different societies. Ignorance of this fact may explain the failure of several attempts at foreign domination as well as the failure of some international liberation movements. [Italics mine] (Ibid 41)

It follows then from the points of Cabral that culture has some values to it, which can be appropriated to overthrow external domination.

In the process of colonization of Africa, the French, British and Portuguese imperialists were astutely aware of the fact that to harmonize the economic and political subjugation of Africa with the preservation of the cultural personality of African people at the same time would be a project doomed to fail. Consequently, they denied the existence of “indigenous” cultures. The attacks on African cultures is what N’gugi wa Thiong’o terms as the “cultural bomb” of the British and the French, which forbid Africans to learn and speak their mother tongues, but to learn to see themselves and their country in the eyes of H. Rider and John Buchan. Thus, Wa Thiong’o says:

The effects of the cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their environment, in their languages, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievements and it makes them want to distance themselves from the wasteland. (Decolonising the Mind 12)

What Ngugi wa Thiong’o denotes therefore, is the potentiality of culture to resist imperialism. Of course, the educated among the colonized were likewise aware of the power of their cultural personality. And this explains the urgency on the part of those intellectuals from Africa and the diasporic populations across the world to create a cultural awareness, to celebrate their African personality, or what Senghor and Cesair would call “negritude.” Negritude, which is also the movement created for this purpose, is defined by the former President of Senegal Leopold Sedar Senghor as “the whole complex of civilised values -cultural, economic, social and political -which characterise the black peoples or more precisely the Negro world”[Author’s italics] (Senghor, Aims and Attitudes 230). Negritude or negro-ness as African personality had its counterpart in the English speaking colonies in Africa under the name of Pan-Africanism, and was principally animated by such nationalists as Kwame N’Krumah of Ghana. As for the African-Americans, their cultural consciousness was crystallized into the Harlem Renaissance movement in the United States in the 1920’s. The negritude movement and the Harlem Renaissance unlike the literary and cultural movements in Anglophone Africa, however, confined themselves in the romanticization, the glamorization of the past of Africa, the affirmation of the culture and history whose existence was denied by the West. Consequently, they had to represent themselves, thereby running counter to that famous quotation from Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte: “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.”[6]

The problem with these movements–the Negritude as well as the Harlem Renaissance– is that they did not push to the fullest their self-representation by devising new patterns, new attitudes to their situation as colonized peoples – based on the teachings and mode of life of their ancestors. In other words, theirs was simply a rhetoric – if not an empty one - insofar as it had no practical dimension, and no real political significance and influence on the life of the people. These cultural movements were rather the things of those Africans or people of African descent who were absorbed by other cultures, assimilated and yet rejected by the cultures in question. In Africa, it was the case of the French-speaking intellectuals for, in the Anglophone areas where imperialism had its expression in economic terms to reconnect with the African past, was not a sacrosanct necessity. It is in that respect that Ezekiel Mphalele from South Africa says:

it is rather the assimilated African, who has absorbed French culture who is now passionately wanting to recapture his past. In his poetry he extols his ancestors, ancestral masks, African wood carvings and bronze art and tries to recover moorings of his oral literature…. If there is any negritude in Black man’s art in South Africa, it is because we are African(sic)….We who grew up and were educated in Africa do not find any thing new in them…(Mpahlele, Aims and Attitudes 236-37)

It is absolutely true that the charges that Mpahlele levies against the Negritude are grounded. However, in his diatribe against the Negritude, Mpahlele does overlook the fact that the assimilation of the natives of the French colonies into the French culture was part and parcel of the imperialist agenda of France. The French were practicing direct rule and did not acknowledge the existence of African cultures, say, unlike the British who allowed some rooms for these cultures to thrive. Therefore, the cultural “revivalists” of the independence struggle era can have the benefit of doubt.

However, they ought to have gone past the glorification of the past by extracting from the past new patterns and modes of social advancement for their people. For, “to validate one’s heritage, to explore one’s culture, to examine thoroughly those institutions which have persisted through centuries, is perhaps the first step in a people’s search for independence, in their quest for freedom from foreign domination” (W.Cartey and M. Kilson, The African Reader 3).

The cultural defenders made a mistake, which consisted in not only looking at culture as something static, something non-evolutionary and which does not take the form of society as the latter moves forward. Culture in Africa is not definitely the same as it was before the encounter with the imperialist West. New elements got added to the existing components of culture and they need to be reckoned with. The environment has changed and new aspects are present in the economy, politics, and thought patterns of people, (that is owing to the struggle to wage in order to control the new circumstances). Put differently, culture is not to be viewed as the folklore, artistic expressions of a society. Such is what Fanon is warning against when he calls the attention of “negro-ists” to a rethinking of national culture. According to Fanon:

A national culture is not a folklore, nor an abstract populism that believes it can discover the true nature of people… A national culture is a whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify and praise the action through which a people has created itself and keep itself in existence .”(The Wretched of the Earth 233)

Culture, or better national culture -in the sense of Frantz Fanon -is a dialectical process; it builds on the mode of life, the relation of the individual in the community and their environment, the influence that they exert on each other. Culture, then, is not static; and in the African case, it is not solely the old vestiges of Ancient Africa to be rescued from oblivion, it is also the idea of the past, as well as the knowledge and influence of the present situation of the individuals within a given community. If culture takes into consideration the interaction of individuals and groups of individuals, it therefore includes the influence that the cultures and modes of thought of these different groups impact on each other. This dialectical character of culture is what I believe deserve much attention and thought if culture is to be retained as a tool of social change. If culture is what we have just described, then, how can the goal of advancement be achieved, that is to say, the liberation from the real political, economic and cultural dependence of Africa upon the West? How can as the reassessment of the cultural heritage of a people open into the de-homogenization of the world, knowing that the process of globalization–Euro-American neo-imperialism–is speeding up?

Culture, as a mode of political economic and social thought and action of a people’s past and present can be explored by examining the social, political and economic institutions upon which traditional African societies were grounded. In West Africa, by way of example, there were various empires and kingdoms, which managed to keep themselves up to their apogee because of the visionary and leading characteristics of their kings. The empires of Mali, of Sonrai(or Songhai), of Ghana, the kingdoms in Nigeria, the Mossi kingdoms in Upper Volta or present-day Burkina-Faso, the Dahomey or Abomey, and the Ashanti kingdom in present-day Ghana, to cite but these, still remain the pride of Africans to the extent that at least they have historical references and facts to affirm that there was, and still is, a civilization in Black Africa. For these states had strong political, administrative and military apparatuses, which during their days could be pointed at as proofs of cultural development. Obviously, these vertically structured societies were somewhat based on castes, class or social stratification and therefore on the exploitation of some members by others. Be that as it may seem, their model of social, political and economic organization is still appealing. They did not depend on the outside to wield political power, or to do trade and agriculture. They relied on their own capacities and creativity. Choosing this model offhand is not what I am advising, however, I am suggesting that such models are worth exploring as avenues for alternative frameworks.

Beside the vertical-structured societies in Africa there was another model, which served as a source of inspiration for some African nationalists. That model is communalism, which was practiced in almost the whole of Africa, but more specifically in horizontally structured societies. In these communal societies different communities enjoyed a kind of independence from one another, they managed their own affairs and were self-governing and self-accounting. Importantly, each member of the community without exception took part in running the affairs of the community directly or indirectly. The most important characteristics of these communal societies are the absence of classes; the absence of exploitative or antagonistic social relations; the existence of equal access to the land and other means of production, the equality at the level of distribution of products, and ultimately the fact that “familyhood” and kinship formed the foundation of social life. Because these societies were fundamentally agricultural and subsistence-based they were self-reliant and they would exchange the surpluses they produced, through barter for the items they were short of.

The political organization under communal societies was horizontal and characterized by a strong diffusion of power. Political leadership was built on the basis of family and kinship and exercised by the elders who in Africa are equated with wisdom and fair judgment. Elders presided at meetings and at the settlement of disputes but did hardly show a sense of superiority. Their responsibility did not confer them the sociopolitical authority seen in state systems whether modern or feudal.

These examples of social, political and economic life can inspire present-day Africa in getting rid of the models forced on Africans by Europeans. The communal mode has been explored by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, who like many other African leaders of the early post-independence era set out to use admixture European models with African realities in order to achieve “development.” In other words, they tried to Africanize socialism. As an example, let me give some of the reasons that actuated African leaders to buy into socialism in the words of one of them before turning back to Nyerere.

Leopold Senghor of Senegal in “Negritude and African Socialism” explains their choice of Socialism with an African face in these terms:

We decided to borrow from the socialist experiments -both theoretical and practical -only certain elements, certain scientific and technical values, which we have grafted like scions on to the wild stock of negritude. For this latter, as a complex of civilised values, is traditionally socialist in character. In this sense, our Negro-African society is a classless society, which is not the same as saying that it has no hierarchy or division of labour. It is a community-based society in which hierarchy -and therefore power -is founded on spiritual and democratic values: on the law of primogeniture and election; in which decisions of all kind are deliberated in a Palaver, after the ancestral gods have been consulted; in which work is shared out among the sexes and among technico-professional groups based on religion. A community-based society, communal, not collectivist.

Thus in the working out of an African mode of socialism, the problem is not how to put an end to the exploitation of man by his fellow, but to prevent its ever happening, by bringing political and economic democracy back to life; our problem is not how to satisfy spiritual, that is cultural needs, but how to keep the fervour of the black soul alive. It is a question, once again, of modernising our values by borrowing from European Socialism its science and technical skill, above all its spirit of Progress.(Senghor, Aims and Attitudes 232-33 )

Generalizing Mr. Senghor’s explications to socialism in African might not be fair, however, they are the basis of the attempts to turn into African things that foreign. The sad part of Senghor’s points, is that while he pretends to avail himself of African values, he denies them any potential for advancement; they are to be modernized with European “science and technical skill, and above all its spirit of Progress.” In other words, the values he intends to use and Africanize Socialism are obscurantist and reactionary. What a paradox! These lines of Senghor’s attest to the fact that African leadership could and cannot do away with externally imposed models on Africa . Why socialism at all?

As for Nyerere, he actually tried the Africanization of socialism in Tanzania by laying a heavy emphasis on land, which was (is) very central in the life of Africans. Nyerere tried his socialism through a program that is called ujamaa villagization, which was predicated on simplicity, freedom and egalitarianism that used to be hallmarks of African traditional societies. The village, according to this program, is the laboratory of the socialism of the future because in villages people live and work together for the good of the community and government is established and led by the working force. In the ujamaa villages, Nyerere says:

Most of our farming would be done by groups of people who live as a community and work as a community. They would live together in a village and; they would farm together; market together; and undertake the provision of local services and small local requirements as a community. Their community would be the traditional family group, or any other group of people living according the ujamaa principles, large enough to take into account modern methods and the needs of the twentieth century needs of man.( Neyerere, Aims and Attitudes 90)

Conceptually, Nyerere’s program is laudable in that it retrieves the values and achievements of African traditional societies for a practical purpose. However, the problem with the program has stemmed from things that the program was aiming to eradicate, the features of capitalism: coercion and centralization of power in the hands of few people and bureaucracy. Whereas Nyerere says that in order to achieve the goal of the ujamaa program, no force was to be used but persuasion, peasants were receiving orders from higher-up to grow crops that the administration deemed necessary. As Nyerere argued, the success of the ujamaa “depends on willingness to cooperate, and an understanding of the different kind of life which can be obtained by participants if they want to work hard together”(Ibid 91). This means that in order for the program to be successful it had to be in the hand of the peasants, which was certainly not the case. One should also note that despite the good intentions of the ujamaa, the program was overburdened with the same evils it was meant to combat; i.e., the concentration of power in the hands of the State and bureaucracy finally “suffocated” the program.

By reactivating the hallmarks of traditional African values and achievements, undoubtedly, Nyerere was undertaking the sine qua non of delinking with Western patterns because of the stress he placed on African models, even though he wanted to reach his goal by an African version of socialism – at least, he is to be praised for trying while others simply dwelt in rhetorics. Thus, Nyerere’s example must be re-tried while taking into account the errors that were committed.

The main way to go or to carry out the task of delinking is for Africans to first of all believe in their potentialities, their abilities and the achievements of their ancestors. But in order to better carry out this “disconnection” of Africa from models that bears germs of Western domination, there is a need to build a strong unitary consciousness among Africans. This way was already indicated by African nationalists who viewed Africa not in terms of their respective of territories, but rather in terms of Africa’s unity. Prominent among the proponent of African unity is Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. About the necessity of African unity Nkrumah says:

There is strength in the political unity of our continent and that is why the Convention People’s Party, as the vanguard for African liberation, is always against any policy for the balkanization of the Africa in small weak and unstable states. We believe that considerations of mutual security and prosperity of our people demand that all the independent states in Africa should work together to create a Union of African states…

So deep is our faith in African unity that we have declared our preparedness to surrender the sovereignty of Ghana, in whole or in part, in the interest of a Union of African States and Territories as soon as ever such a union becomes practicable .( Nkrumah, Aims and Attitudes 213-14)

However, the idea of African Unity was itself derided by the African Unity Organization, because if in the statement of purpose, the organization stipulates that the organization is meant “to promote the unity and solidarity of African states, to coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa,”[7] the statement no less includes the defense of the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, and the independence of the country members. This means that no one was (is) ready to surrender his territory for the building of the unity Nkrumah was referring to. It is therefore clear that the only integration that is possible in the whole of Africa seems to be an economic one. The revolution should have started from there rather from the political unity of Africa.

As argued earlier, imperialism in order to achieve its economic aims set out to disrupt and to deny the cultures of African people, such that they do not believe in their own ways and means to help their continent evolve. But much has been said as regards the question of culture. The other side of the African problem is economic, and it is part and parcel of the idea of culture. After the independence of the former colonies, leaders and their fellow countrymen realized that if they were “politically” independent, i.e., they have their national sovereignty, they did not have economic independence. For, the former masters were becoming new masters in that they controlled the economy of the emerging nations.

According to Fanon, in Towards the African Revolution, the people in the colonial countries, who are struggling for liberation, must know that their political independence “…is only a snare and a delusion, that the second phase of liberation [economic] because required by the popular masses.” And he thinks that at this stage of the struggle “it is necessary to take the world strategy of coalition into account, for the West simultaneously faces a double problem: the communist danger and the coming into being of the third neutral coalition represented essentially by the underdeveloped countries.”[8]

As for the Pan-Africanists of the breed of Sékou Touré of Guinea-Conakry the solution lies in the delinking pure and simple. For keeping the old structures of colonial power and pretend to enhance the life of the people is not possible. The political independence of the former colonies should be followed by an economy by and for the people of the former colonies. Like his colleague and friend N’Krumah, Sékou Touré believed in Africa’s forming her own economic zones and refusing any politics of alignment with the West. For that purpose he proposes African unity, the unitary consciousness he thinks is the key to the African problem. Late president Touré on the issue of economic independence and African unity says:

To win and proclaim a nation’s independence but keep its old structures is to plough a field but not sow it with grain for a harvest. Africa’s political independence is a means to which must be used to create and develop the new African economy. Our continent possesses tremendous reserves of raw materials and they, together with its potential sources of power, give excellent conditions for the industrialization. That’s why, though it would be unrealistic and irrational to think of associating African nations with European Common Market or any other form of economic monopoly, it is to be hoped that an African common market will be organized which eventually can cooperate on the basis of equality and solidarity with other economic zones .(Touré, Aims and Attitudes 223)

The economic question thus articulated by Sékou Touré, touched on the question that African states are still struggling to answer. The economic zones were set up few years after the political independence of many African countries, but there was a lack good will and determination on the part of the leaders who bound themselves in these engagements.

For example, in West Africa, the Economic Community of West Africa including fifteen countries, which include Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Guinea-Conakry, Togo, Niger, Benin, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania – which pulled out of the Community five years or so. Yet, the community is basically for the economic integration of these regions, which share the same cultures, languages across the artificially drawn borders.

One of the main objectives here is to reach a borderless space for the circulation of the goods and persons. A similar community was set up in almost all the four corners of the continent. In East Africa, we have the East African Community created in the early 1960’s and used to pull together three countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Like the West African community, the east African counterpart was set up for the integration of these countries. However, the community could not survive the personal interests and political orientation of the leaders involved. Nyerere got along well with Milton Obote of Uganda but could not condone the rule of Idi Amin Dada. The community broke down for these reasons. Fortunately, these days the East African Community is on the agenda of the countries that delivered the idea and brought it into form. Notwithstanding the realization that sub-regional integration is necessary at this moment in African history, this integration has some way to go because no state in Africa as a whole, let alone in West African states, is ready to surrender their national sovereignty on behalf of a political integration or unification. The economic integration (and political integration) should encouraged, reinforced by involving those who are really laboring towards this togetherness; the masses of people. For, most of the time, they are left out of the talks of integration, which are nothing but decisions reached by Heads of States.

Besides, the biggest problem seems to be that of language. The arbitrary partition of Africa among colonial and imperial powers went along with the imposition of the languages of these powers on Africans. Consequently, in West Africa, there is a plethora of foreign languages used as the official languages of the former colonies: Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are English-speaking countries and they are bordered by either French-speaking people; Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Mali, Niger, Senegal; or lusophone countries such as Equato-Guinea and Guinea-Bissau with Portuguese as their official language. Aside from these foreign languages, these territories have more than ten different nations, which Europeans would call tribes or ethnic communities. The issue of language –chiefly our national languages –is of importance in that it is one of the factors impeding the political unification of Africa. And yet, in the stride toward development, or better, the advancement of Africa through the de-homogenization of the world, the same languages stand as the main tool. As Ngugi wa Thong’o says, the cultural rehabilitation of African countries is the way to say “NO” to the attempts of capitalist Europe and America to impose themselves upon the rest of the world, and specifically on Africa. Ngugi believes that the way out in the global context, the minds and the imagination of Africans should be decolonized by the re-affirmation of their national languages. He set the example for his fellow writers for instance by writing some novels in Gikiyu; N’gahika n’denda was written in a national language, read to the aimed audience, which is the Kenyan peasantry. It has been translated as I will Mary When I want. Ngugi casts an appeal for the indigenization of literature –for him there is no African literature per se, but literature of European expression –, and communication in general, which will re-create the atmosphere of participation otherwise called “democracy”, which is not really alien to African societies if we take a retrospective look at those societies. He addresses the same issue in The Allegory of the Cave: Language, Democracy and a New WorldOrder by saying that since the working class is the basis of economy in Africa, they must be addressed in national languages, be given back their voice, which has been taken away by both the western-educated Africans and the West. The lack of voice for the majority, which is the working class, owing to the fact that European languages rule the everyday life of people result in what N’gugi calls “the rise of two nations in the same territory.” For, “a small minority speaking and conducting the affairs of the nation in European languages, [while] the majority [speaks] their own different African-nationality or communal languages”(Wa Thiong’O “The Allegory of the Cave” 12).

This proposition seems to be one of the best in order to carry out the mission of decolonization. And yet, the problem, as I raised it earlier, is that of the multiplicity of languages in Africa, which does not facilitate the task of cultural fight against (neo-) colonialism under its new cloak of globalization.[9] In order for our struggle to be easy people should be willing to accept one national language as the official language of the continent, a lingua franca. Whose language to use? What will be the consequences for national unity since in Africa today the problem of nationalism, which I call our national extremism, is tearing apart such countries as Burundi and Rwanda? The answer is that Tanzania, Kenya, and to some extent Uganda, experimented it, and it worked well since all the students in the rural area almost speak Kiswahili. But even so, can that experiment succeed for instance in some West African countries where we have more than fifty nationalities? Nigeria alone counts more than eighty national languages, so is the Ivory Coast with fifty-three.

Far from advocating for foreign languages, which we must acknowledge as part and parcel of our culture, if culture is a complex made of the past, the present, and the making of the future, these foreign languages used to be, and still constitute as a unifying factor for the African countries with multiple nationalities. Unless the national communities accept to go beyond nationalism, the question of language will be a thorny one. And yet, the empowerment of these languages, i.e., raising them to the status of official languages is feasible. By way of example, let me cite a personal example or incident, which impressed in the market of Adjame-Gare, one of the most celebrated commercial centers of the economic capital of Ivory Coast. I went to the market where women sell vegetables. An old lady came, she was buying some tomatoes. She had no clue of French, neither the seller. Since jula –a national language with lots of variants in West Africa–is a commercial language, she did not wait long to speak jula to the seller. The seller, however, is not jula, she is Guro but it was more convenient for both of them to communicate in that language. I brought in this story in order to show the potential of some national languages to both ease up inter-community communication and to partake in the project of re-Africanization of Africa. Such cases abound in West Africa. In Burkina-Faso Moore is spoken by a lot of people and this probably because it is the language of the Naba, the Moore king. Senegal, Wolof is popular and vies with French. Hausa is spoken in Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and in Ghana. Each of the mentioned national languages can therefore be turned into a lingua franca. However, I doubt this solution will engender a re-mapping of Africa; people of the same nationalities getting together. The solution therefore lies on the one hand, in the hands of the people, the majority as opposed to those who lead them. On the other, it lies in the hands of those political leaders, who instead of using this national and sociological diversity for good ends use them to further widen the gap of difference. Unfortunately, the leaders capable of exploiting linguistic differences, are certainly not those who run the affairs of African countries today, but a new breed of leadership that is willing to abandon ego and personal interests on behalf of the well being of Africa.



In the final analysis I should say that culture as the African intellectuals we cited have defined it, keeps intact its potential for the subversion of imperialism. It did it yesterday in Africa when people were subjugated, dehumanized by the West, and it is still capable of it today when the world is defined in Euro-American terms, that is globalism. Power (political and economic) has been monopolized by the West all the time; it will be consolidated in the hands of Westerners thereby averting any chance of a polycentric world, to use Samir Amin’s term, if those who suffer exclusion, exploitation and oppression do nothing. In the African context, the actions to be undertaken are to draw from within the achievements of our forebears, to set up “new patterns, new social customs, new attitudes to life so that while we seek the material, cultural and economic advancement of our people, while we raise their standard of life, we shall not sacrifice their fundamental happiness.”[10]

In keeping with the recommendations of Frantz Fanon, Africa and the oppressed of the so-called third world should take on the responsibility to re-humanize the world. Such is the black person and the oppressed people’s burden. For, as he says, “let us decide not to imitate Europe, let us try to create the whole man, […] we do not want to catch up with anyone, what we want to do is go forward all the time, night and day, in the company of man, in the company of all man” (Wretched of the Earth 253-5). In order to create the “new man” the oppressed in Africa, if not Africa as a whole, and the victimized worldwide, should react with either insiduous or overt counter-violence to the violence of the capitalistic and bourgeois democratic nations of the West against them. The subtle form of violence that Africa is capable of using in this situation is breaking up with the standards of the West. To break up with the West means to call into question its standards, which can only be appropriately done through the reaffirmation of the cultural identities of the oppressed.[11] Local and/or minor identities are what that globalization seeks to deny through attempts of phagocytosis. Thus, one could not agree more with Samir Amin when he aptly says that “the people in the periphery, who are victims of this never ending imperialism, have no choice but to struggle to bring it to an end by any means necessary”(Amin, Empire of Chaos 100). Thus, resorting to overt violence as a way to counteract Western neo-imperialism is not to be discarded. I must hasten to add that I am in no way endorsing acts of gratuitous and irresponsible violence. It consists of the logic of successful liberation movements around the world. It has worked, and it will now and in the future. One could not agree more with Albert Memmi when, back in 1957 in his Portrait du Colonisé précédé du Portrait du colonisateur (The Colonizer and the Colonized), he observed that the colonial context and/or circle frustrated the colonized in such a way that the latter resolved to take action by rupture or explosion. According to Memmi, “the colonial situation, by its own internal inevitability, brings revolt. For the colonial condition cannot be adjusted to; like an iron collar, it can only be broken”(Memmi 128 ). Besides, he remarks that the less peaceful disconnection of the colonized from the standards of the colonizer (the rejection of the colonizer) is necessary for the recovery of the lost self of the colonized. The latter assimilated the values of the colonizer. The same perspective is seen in Frederick Douglass’s activities and pronouncements. In fact, he aptly points out that when people long for freedom they must not deprecate agitation and protest. If they do, they will look like “men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters… power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and never will.”[12]

The world as a global village, if it is to be achieved, should be inclusive of different marginal cultural groups on the face of the Earth, thereby breaking the hegemony of the West from the oppressed and exploited of the world. Thus, Samir Amin is right when he claims that “[T]he world polycentrism […] is the only realistic basis for a new internationalism, and only the understanding that flows from its paradigm will equip us to recognize the objective diversity of our conditions and problems, to lay the foundations for reconstructing our world, and to acknowledge the common destiny of the peoples of our planet” (Amin, Ibid 30). In other words, to have a truly globalized world, the globalization project should be humane. To have a global village, one must first and foremost seek to establish an equal and plain field where all the members of the global family have a portion of the power to make decisions that concern them. That implies that they are recognized as different people with different perspectives on the issues that affect them as a whole. Conversely, when defending radical disconnection or delinking as a countering weapon to globalism, one should not lose sight of the following:

Un peuple qui se libère de la domination étrangère ne sera culturellement libre que si, sans complexe et sans sous-estimer l’importance des apports positifs de la culture de l’oppresseur et des autres cultures, il reprend les chemins ascendants de sa propre culture, qui se nourrit de la réalité vivante du milieu et nie aussi bien les influences nocives que toute espèce de sujétion à des cultures étrangères. On voit donc que, si la domination imperialiste a pour nécessité vitale de pratiquer l’oppression culturelle, la libération nationale est nécessairement un acte de culture.(Cabral, Unité et Lutte I 322)

[A people that seeks to liberate itself from foreign domination will only be culturally free if, without any shame and without underestimating the positive aspects of the oppressor’s culture and those of other cultures, it resolutely treads the path of its own culture; which is nurtured by the live experience of the milieu, while it opposes both negative influence and subjection to foreign cultures. One can therefore see that if the vital necessity of imperialist domination is to perform cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture.]

While Cabral talks about national liberation, his pronouncement can be applied to continental liberation, which after solving or curbing its inner contradictions, can be informed by local and diversified forms of cultural expressions that could humanize globalization, and thereby yield a more truly global village. Once again, keeping our doors open to external positive cultural influences will get the struggle easier as late Cabral envisioned many years ago.



[1] Steger points at Anglo-Saxon America with her market ideology cloaked in pretentious and universalistic dressings. In reality, globalization with the American thrust and motivations is an attempt to Americanize the world order. See Stegger, “Roots of Globalism” in Globalism: Market Ideology Meets Terrorism, pp.12-7.

[2] I am using delinking in the sense that Samir ascribes to disconnection, which is the word he uses in the French version of déconnexion. The word in French implies usually the link between two entities of unequal relationship or value, whereas “link” usually suggests equal elements of the same chain, for instance. In the relationship between the (former) colonized and his (former) master, there is disconnection instead of delinking. However, since the word delinking is prominent in the English language, I use it in this essay in the sense of disconnection as explained above. See the French version, La déconnexion published with Editions La Decouverte in 1985.

[3] For translation see Unity and Struggle, p.130.

[4] Father Placide Temples is quoted by Tsenay Serequeberham. The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy: Horizon and Discourse, p. 61.

[5] Amilcar Cabral in Unity and Culture quoted by Ronald Chilcote in Amilcar Cabral’s Revolutionary Theory and Practice, p. 38.

[6] Edward Said quotes Marx Orientalism, xiii. Undoubtedly and very clearly, this quote shows how European rationalized their invasion of certain parts of the world, which they believed, could or did not know how to see and represent themselves. Also See Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869), New York : International Publishers, 1994.

[7] Here, The Charter of Unity reproduced by Basil Davidson. Which Way Africa?: the Search for a New Society, p.186.

[8] See Frantz Fanon’s Towards the African Revolution. The chapter is reproduced in African Aims and Attitudes p.343.

[9] When the process of global villagization is one-directional, i.e., serving the interest of a miniscule group of interests, the best terminology that fits in describing globalization is globalism.

[10] Kwame Nkrumah in Motion of Destiny Speech quoted by Festus Ogboade in Nationalism in Colonial and Neocolonial Africa p. 2.

[11] Amin adamantly makes a similar claim in L’Accumulation à l’échelle mondiale, where he believes that the only way to be part of the global world is the self-affirmation of peripheral nations. He says that the precondition for a global village is to have a world devoid of the periphery/center paradigm, and “…le chemin qui y conduit passe par l’affirmation des Nations victimes du présent qui ne peuvent réunir les conditions de leur épanouissement et de leur pleine participation au monde moderne qu’en s’affirmant d’abord comme telles, c’est-à-dire comme des Nations achévées.” […the path leading to this goal passes by the self-affirmation of victim Nations of the present moment, which cannot meet the conditions of their development and full participation in the modern world without primarily being proud of who they are, that is, as fulfilled Nations.” (Samir 44) Also see Samir Amin’s “Self-Reliance and the New International Economic Order” in Monthly Review. 29:3 July/August (1977): 1-21, where he couples self-affirmation with economic self-reliance.

[12] Frederick Douglass’s West India Emancipation Celebration Speech quoted by Kwame Toure(formerly Stockley Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton . See Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, xviii.



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