Development and Culture (Final)

20 August 2006 at 20:25 | 697 views

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong(photo), in Ottawa, says the reason why African values and experiences have not gained prominence in the continent’s policy making and development process is that her elites do not know what progress means.

It’s not for nothing that Dr. Raphael Odom, a Nigerian-Canadian former policy planner with Human Resources Canada and currently assistant professor of public service at America’s DePaul University told me that Africans don’t want to be Europeans.

Incidentally, Dr. Daniel Osabu-Kle, a political scientist at Canada’s Carleton University, also has the same feelings. Such views have come about because in the wake of Africa’s development process and the continent’s encounter with the Western world dating back to the 19th century, the impression is to make Africa like the West.

This notion, which is wrong, in the first place, has seen African elites and their Western counterparts dump all kinds of Western-created development paradigms on African soil without considering Africa’s values and experiences.

Clearly dominated by foreign development paradigms in her development process since her encounter with the Western world, as Dr. Y.K Amoako, the former UN Economic Commission for Africa secretary-general would tell you, Africa has seen all kinds of development paradigms that have never fully factored in her rich values and experiences, unlike other places like Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.

Africa has been awash with theories: from modernization theory to development theory to dependency theory without her superbly rich values directing these theories. Why should Africa be made to go through all these non-African-created development paradigms? Because the Western world thought, wrongly, that Africans are not developed, or more appropriately, not “civilized,” and that they could replicate their values and experiences in Africa in their self-imposed “civilizing mission” or what they pompously and pathetically call the "White Man’s Burden". They did this without factoring in Africa’s values and experiences because they wanted to play God by re-creating Africans in their development image.

The French, for instance, created their “assimilation” policy, based on their concept of “mission civilisatrice,” which aimed to re-create Africans in their colonies as French people. This failed because it failed to factor in African culture and experiences. Confused, the French abandoned their African assimilation project and floated the concept of “association,” that attempted to “instill French pride and love of the mother country in Africans without forcing them to abandon all native ideas and culture.”

Like assimilation, association also failed because the French could not mix African values with theirs. Generally, Africans elites, too, failed, creatively, to either tell the West to mix its values with Africa’s or African elites themselves mix their innate values with the West’s, as the Japanese and other ex-colonies have done, and this has created long-running distortions and confusion in Africa’s development process driven by foreign development values.

Still, in terms of Africa’s development progress, almost all the foreign development paradigms are not bad. The problems have been how to integrate Africa’s environment within these development paradigms so as to facilitate better sustainable development, as advocates of the modernization theory say. This inability of African elites to creatively mix their values and experiences with their colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global development values, have seen not only Western governments continuing largely with the modernization theory but also international development agencies’ programs that come in the form of foreign development aid.

Recently, I happened to work with some white Canadians in Ghana in a development program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which, like such prominent international development outfits like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is an extension of the West’s development paradigms, with their in-built values and experiences.

Not only do Canadians not know Ghanaians values well enough to help Ghana and Ghanaian values and experiences were missing in their work. They almost always demonstrated serious misunderstanding of Ghana’s development process and attempted to replicate Canadian values and experiences in Ghana in an arrogant way (some of the things I saw or heard are not printable).

CIDA is under intensive criticisms from such global international development experts like Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, to re-think its African foreign aid programs by factoring in African values and experiences. And so should be thoughtful African governments, the private sector, elites, non-governmental organizations, bureaucrats and policy makers as key directors of Africa’s progress.

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