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Time to Promote African Brandpdf print preview print preview
22/01/2007Page 1 of 1

Feature Article

By Daniel Nana Aforo

This was a paper the writer presented at the 4th Africa Resource Bank Meeting in Nairobi Kenya.

Time to Promote African Brand

Culture and politics, no doubt play a significant role in enhancing the development of a society, especially Africa.

Africa has a rich cultural system that has stood the test of time due to its dynamism.  Harnessing this culture with politics therefore stands a chance of bringing Africa out of its current development problems.

In view of this, before the arrival of the Whiteman, Africa had its own political systems which were woven into the cultural practices of the people (as well as their private life) under the directorship of their leaders.  The Whiteman then saw a perfection of the African system and this is exemplified by the Indirect Rule System introduced by the British in her colonial system of administration.

During the periods of colonial rule in the British colonies since the 15th Century, the European authorities had to endorse a traditional ruler or chief, through whose traditional institutions they administered the local people.  Under this policy of indirect Rule, the Chiefs were allowed to perform some of their traditional functions, which sometimes were further added by the colonial power such as tax collection. This made our chiefs part of the decision making process, though not as powerful as they used to be.

Our chiefs served as the bridge between the colonial administration and the population of Africa.  They served as a means by which policies of the colonial administration could be transmitted to the people and, at the same time, the means by which local reaction to the colonial policies were expressed.

Since the colonial administration saw the importance of politics interfaced with our culture, thus did they think of the usefulness of our chiefs, thereby giving them places to serve in the colonial institutions such as the Legislative Council which was the law making body.  For example, in my country Ghana, under the then Gold Coast 1925 Constitution, there were six seats reserved for chiefs in the legislative Council.

Also in Nigeria, the post of President of Native Authority Court was filled by an indigene.  In Bamenda Region of Cameroun, the Divisional Officer (D. O.) acted as the final Court of Appeal.  The educated elite Camerounians were also included in the scheme of tradition.  This is because the British believed the established tradition could have the same legitimate force in Cameroun.

Through this system of Indirect Rule which promoted relationship between the chiefs and the British, it helped in their day-to-day administration of the colonies.  Common sense told the British, that the only way out was to rely on our traditional leaders for a meaningful and peaceful co-existence, if not domination.  Even where there was the assimilation policy adopted by the French, it presupposed that the Africa resource could well blend with that of France, to their mutual interest and benefit for development.

The French Policy of Assimilation was designed to make the Francophone colonies more French through education.  In countries such as Senegal, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Togo where the Assimilation Policy was implemented, the French opened schools that taught both French culture and language, and hoped that as indigenous Africans learned the French way of life, they would adopt and adapt themselves to France, their colonial masters.

There is no doubt these two unrelated but same-directed policies  have done great harm to economies of Africa; great lessons however are that Africa still has the largest resource base that, if well chandelled can be a powerful weapon towards our emancipation in the 21st century.

The continent of Africa is indeed, blessed with natural resources which aid our production process.  Notably, one can count our mineral wealth; including the huge deposits of diamonds, copper, bauxite manganese, gold, and petroleum.

All these could be found in countries such as Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Angola, Liberia, Republic of South Africa, and others.  There is also a valuable forest area stretching across West Africa, Eastern and Central Africa; these are large stretches of land open to the harvesting timber and other products of food and medicinal value.

In addition, many African Water bodies and rivers could even be used to produce hydroelectric power apart from the immense potential of fish for the local market and export. Great rivers such as the Nile, Niger, Volta, Senegal, Limpopo and Congo have served and continent, except that their potentials have not been utilized to the fullest.

Unfortunately, the problem with Africa is issue of an economy and political and problems that the Whiteman handed over at independence.

All these have created room for the highly debatable military takeovers on our continent. Such leaders as Sanni Abacha of Nigeria, Iddi Amin of Uganda, and Mobutu Sesseko of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) abandoned the African system of governance and sadly used miniatures of colonial administrative heritage to haunt their own nationals.

Even where military dictatorship was not the rule, in most cases, a single political party emerged out of the democratic process by leaders suppressing the views of minority parties. Burkina Faso, Uganda, Gabon and Zimbabwe have had their own stories to tell in this instance.

Today, the ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes among nations continue to threaten the stability of Africa in stead of channeling our human resource base into economic brain-storming.  Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Gabon, and Cote D’Ivoire have had their brain power directed into wars rather than solving the nagging socio-economic problems of their majority population who live in abject poverty and squalor in rural communities.  

Interestingly, these modern leaders have not forgotten about the western cloak of wearing suits in the midst of the African scorching sun.  It is a clear case of misdirecting the African mind from its indigenous state to that still oppressing European snow-clad mind.

This state of instability of the mind which is not helping Africa is obviously advantageous to Europe and America, since they are unbending in carrying away our economic resources through various means such as the unfair World Trade Order, high tariffs of goods and services, subsidies to their own farmers etc.

Come to think of it deeply, most of our politicians and traditional institutions live ostentatious lives at the expense of the poor masses.  Sale of custodian lands, putting up mighty buildings in the cities, sending their wards to better schools abroad, and opening fat bank accounts, both home and abroad in the name of their relatives are instances  of misuse of the African resource to the sad advantage of the privileged few.

There are other African rulers who only sit at their palaces and in the name of tradition force women and young teenagers into marriages.  Additionally, other traditional rulers before coming to power were perceived to have bad character.  Despite confinement and training, they continue to associate themselves with crooks and criminals in the naked of day.

Much as this canker has created a lot of chaos in most parts of Africa, there is still good potential in our traditional systems that have stood the test of time and are therefore relevant in our development efforts.  Indeed, the only way out is for Africans to realize their capacity and capability as far as their good value of their culture is concerned, and eventually promoting it in the midst of rampaging globalization.

Hence, there is the need for appositive kind of political system that would ensure                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the stable environmental climate for a sound pursuit of African economies. A few suggestions to this may suffice:

Training the people in ethical values:  Ethics is a set of moral principles or values. Being ethical is a situation whereby people follow standards for the conduct and practices of group members (being a society, community, club, etc.)  Ethics is required to counter the image of those who are perpetually interested in making Africans say or do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. It is a guide to avoid unpleasant situations that may go to tarnish the image or good name of the people of Africa so as to channel and therefore concentrate on their own development the ‘African Way’.

Every effort needs to be made to train the youth to embrace, adopt and adapt themselves to the uniqueness of African ethical values, especially of respect for authority and the aged, so as to be in line and thus in places of work and of course play grounds.

Development of Traditional Science and Technology:  Science and technology play vital roles in the utilization of indigenous minds to harness local endowments – both natural and artificial.  A lot of resources in Africa remain un-harnessed, making it the richest continent in the world.

The great traditional earthenware in potteries, cloth-weaving, gold and iron-smitheries, and the various preservative methods of our foods could be revisited if the necessary training and facilities of such natural and acquired knowledge and skills were tapped to our advantage.

The revival, and paying due attention to use of our traditional medical practices, that of our traditional medical practices that emphasize more on preventive than curative could be of tremendous advantage to the containing of the numerous diseases afflicting Africans by importing global foods, clothes, and even medicines.

Policy makers could be challenged to churn out a framework that underscores comprehensive programmes to ensure that schools, from the basic to tertiary levels, carry along teaching/learning modern African science and technology syllabi.

Community Mobilization: Africa has survived under its time-tested communal system of living and livelihoods.  Governments and traditional authorities could easily but aggressively trace back the spirit that sustained our economies even in times of wars.  Community entry programmes have succeeded with non-governmental organizations’ activities whereby the people become part of the decision-making and implementation processes of projects.

If such approaches are adopted by central governments, and traditional authorities, through annual festivals and homecoming activities, indigenes even from urban areas would treasure the need to participate in their community’s development.

More often than not, and in the name of modern ways of accounting and procurement, funds generated for projects are properly accounted for. So is there any need for our traditional leaders to wait for government’s assistance? Rather, they could mobilize their community to undertake the development projects in their areas such as schools, hospitals, roads, markets, etc.

Because traditional leaders serve as instrument of mobilization, they could easily be referred to as the engine of development to give meaning to the oft-said maxim that the private sector is engine of growth.  Being a chief is not only staying at palaces and putting on regalia to celebrate festivals but also to go all out and seek for investors both within and outside their countries to push development.

Political Courage and Good-will:  Without political leadership that is bold, courageous and willingness to sacrifice political expediency for the sound economic and social development if its people, Africa will continue to wobble in the appendaged policy framework of the cold-north.  There is tremendous good-will of our people except that they are often disappointed by political leadership.

How many African leaders can’t one count on the fingers who have been very exceptional in their approach to nationalism?  Can we easily remember leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela and all those who sacrificed their personal lives and comfort for the sake of Mother Africa?

There is the need for political leaders to have the good will and political courage to provide the much-needed support in terms of funding, platforming  and living by example; in fact, living up to the expectation of showcasing what Africa can do for it self rather than what Africa can copy from the industrial world.

After all, the Asian tigers looked inward, blended their cultural heritage with those imported from outside; and now, they are hailed by those who are telling us to forget our Africanness.  This is unacceptable since it would be suicidal to pursue such a course.

Critically looking at the role of the Whites and the legacy that they have left after colonial rule, it was the view of this paper that unless Africa went back for its naturally endowed values, it would be extremely difficult to effectively tap the resources of the continent to develop.

To promote the ‘African Brand’ therefore would mean to ensure that the good aspects of our traditions and traditional heritage were revisited aimed at incorporating them into our modern systems of governance.

The key to succeeding in breaking through was critically assessed to be the good-will and courage with which our modern leaders carried that task, despite obvious opposition and, though subtle sometimes, by the industrial West.


Source: Daily Graphic

             22 January 2007.  Page 24.

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