Culture according to Oxford dictionary, is the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organisation of a particular country or group of people. Hill (1998), also defined culture as a system of values and norms that are shared among a group of people and that when taken together constitute a design for living.
Many, as a result of their narrow views of what culture is all about, have reduced it to mean mere fetishism and other archaic and anachronistic art perhaps only good for the Museum, but culture is far more than such irrational conclusion. Culture is the grease that keeps the society moving.
The importance of culture to modern development of African nations, have opened the Pandora’s Box of intellectual vagueness among African and non-African scholars. While many African and other developing countries, believe that African culture has vital roles to play in Africa development, the opposite, is the stand of the developed western nations, who believe that African culture has retarded her development.
Does the stand of the latter, truly reflect the causes of African under-development?
In reality, no culture without its positive and negative practices both in developed, developing and under-developed nations.
In Africa, there is diverse culture but many of them, have a meeting point, which is strictness to moral behaviour, complete frown to immoral attitudes, and the society in general in the upbringing of young ones. Other values in African culture include; maintenance of community owned infrastructure that is maintenance culture (which is one of the major challenges developing countries like Nigeria has), community self-help projects like roads, village square, market, etc executed by the community.
In fact, African culture promotes people’s welfare, this aspect of African culture, is what is manifesting in the attitudes of Africans in Diaspora, who see improving the living conditions of their people as their duty, sending part of their income home in order to improve the living standard of the people at home. Some went further to form town union association and through such organised body; they make contribution (mandatory to every member) and send them home for a specified community project. For instance, in the second quarter of 2012, the indigenes of Anambra State in the United States of America came home with team of medical professionals and offered free medical treatment to thousands of Anambrarians.
When I was in the primary school too, I was opportune to be a beneficiary of fund and educational materials sent from my home town (Achi improvement Union Lagos Branch). Later, my junior ones also benefitted from the same Achi improvement union, United States of America Branch. Similarly, in 2008, some of my colleagues in University of Nigeria and others in other Nigerian universities who were from my local government, benefitted from bursary and scholarships given by indigenes of the local government living in United States of America, whose headquarter was then at Boston.
In the later part of 2012, press TV, in Iran, interviewed some young African men living in France who were from Mali and other Francophone countries and they narrated how they did send part of their income in France to their people at home in Africa.
Those examples above are the few out of many which logically prove that African culture is rooted, promotes, encourages and inculcates the sense of development among the Africans.
Today, many blamed the African culture for development challenges facing Africa. The fact is that whenever any two or more different cultures meet, there are bound to be some reactions which will produce great challenges that require time, thorough research, rational reasoning and actions to surmount.
The Europeans, Americans, Arabians and Asian cultures, met with African culture, many of which are presently in Africa for one reason or the other; and the consequences like gross mismanagement, corruption, wars, dictatorship, which resulted from the cultural collision, the developed nations hastily blamed African culture as the cause.
The foregoing is not to conclude that African culture is without its own imperfection just as every other culture. One of the developmental challenges facing African culture is that African abandoned their cultural moral values and norms which encourage and promote development and maintenance of culture.
ASPECTS OF AFRICAN CULTURE THAT CAN HELP TO BRING AND PROMOTE DEVELOPMENT
We can see and judge from individual experiences that culture is far beyond mere idol worshipping and fetishism rather culture is oil that keeps the society running. Aspects of the African culture listed below can help to promote development if reawakened from its present lane.
Prior to invasion, conquest and colonization of Africa by Arabians and Europeans, there were established, generally acceptable norms and values of each group of people of a given culture that determine how community leaders emerged and the acceptable conduct of such leaders. Leaders in those days were enthroned base on the societal norms and values. Such leaders derived their authority from the tradition and enjoy wide legitimacy once they rule and meet the moral standard.
But in a situation whereby the community leader continually goes against the norms and values of the community, the people would see that he is dethroned.
A typical example was on Yoruba culture in South-Western region. In the Yoruba culture, once the ‘Oba’ (the King), continually goes against the norms and values of the Yoruba society, they were to checkmate the ‘Oba’. Once the ‘Oba’ is rejected by the society because of misconduct against the norms and values of the Yoruba society, he will be given an empty Calabash. An ‘Oba’, knows the unavoidable consequences of receiving empty calabash from the society which signifies total rejection and at the worst of it, that the ‘Oba’ should end his reign and life. Yes, the ‘Oba’ would end his life because of the value placed on the legitimacy of his authority derived from the public, he could not afford to be known as failure and a leader who betrayed the societal trust on him. The ‘Oba’ prefers to die rather than betraying the society trust on him in many African cultures.
The example above is an epitome of African leadership culture before its invasion by foreign cultures. The example further showed the level of commitment by leaders then to serve with integrity and unity of purpose.
In such highly legitimatized leadership setting, the leader and the followers are motivated and people even gave their lives to save that of their leaders where the needs arise. The followers were ready to obey, executive any project and other decisions of their community that would alleviate their challenges (such as development).
In many parts of Eastern Nigeria people would choose a day to clear and create ways that leads to streams, market places, neighbouring communities, clearing the village square and ways within the community. Such practices in African culture are development-oriented and promote values. These and many other practices that enhance development were rooted in not only in the Eastern Nigeria rather in all African culture like that of Egypt. The great pyramid of Egypt stands as good example of developmental projects initiated and executed in African culture and tradition.
During those periods, legitimacy was in the hand of the people and not in gun powder and bullets of police, the army, thugs etc as it is presently since the invasion of African culture by foreign cultures. Then, the community leader would choose to die in the war front than to sit back and watch his people being killed and his kingdom destroyed.
Legitimacy slip from the people to the gun powder and bullets the moment African culture was invaded and polluted by foreign cultures. The enthroning and dethroning of leaders are from then determined by the forces of gun powder and bullet. Such were the forces that dealt with Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Patrice Lumumba of the Republic of Congo, when they, in their separate countries, strived to stick to the culture of legitimacy derived from the society not guns. Anyone that gets to the mantle of leadership turns to dictatorship and refuses to relinquish power. Idi-Amin of Uganda, former Zaire (Congo) President Joseph Mabutu later known as Mobutu Sese Seko, current Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Omar el-bashir of Sudan, Eyademes’s family in Togo, Hosni Mubarak the former Egypt president, Murmar Gaddaffi, the late Lybian Head of State, Omar Bongo’s family in Gabon, late Gen. Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Kabila’s family in Congo, Isah Yahatou of Confederation of African Football (CAF), the forces in Central African Republic (CAR) to mention but a few, were the experiences of African leadership culture since its collision with foreign cultures unlike in the past before the invasion of African territory and culture.
For development to thrive in Africa, the culture of legitimate leadership should once again be reinstalled into existence.
The legitimacy attached to ballot boxes and papers are not reliable and trustworthy because of their manipulation by the forces controlling guns and gun powder in many African nations. They can only work when those norms and values found in African culture that guide leaders and followers conducts are restored back into practice.
The political leadership we have today, most at times, enjoy only bias tribal and other emotional attached legitimacy, even in face of excessive corruption and unlawful conducts of such leaders. The leaders of these days unlike in ancient African culture, send people to fight while they hide, in the time of wars and crisis, rather than defending the people.
Such leadership attitudes have corrupt and change negatively, the mindset of African followers towards their leaders. And the scripture (Holy Bible) says two cannot work together unless they agree.
Development cannot be experienced in Africa except the leaders and followers agree to work together and the present leadership style that emanated from invaded and polluted cultural norms and values exterminated.
For Africa to experience development, an unpolluted and true African culture of legitimate leadership must be reawaken together with total re-orientation of the current mindset of people in leadership and followership positions. This is pivotal for the two parties to agree and work together in commitment and honesty for development to thrive in African.
Promoting African Maintenance Culture
The concept that African culture is poor or lacking in maintenance is as a result of propaganda, biasness, hatred towards thorough research and psychological disconnectivity of a sect.
When I visited a community in Ardo-Kola LGA of Taraba State, North-East Nigeria, in March, 2012, which is a typical example of rural community in African setting. I discovered that they had just a stream which was the only source of water to the entire community during dry season as was in March 2012.
The stream was well taken care of by the people, clean and tidy; they maintain and take good care of it. This case is the same in many other rural areas in Africa that are yet to experience government impact in terms of social amenities.
In several rural areas, there are locally constructed bridges, local roads, market places, village civic centresand they are properly maintained and taken care of by the people from time to time, be such in Togo, Kenya, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan etc.
In real sense, the so called lack of maintenance culture in Africa mostly exist in urban, sub-urban and slump areas or anywhere modern political authority (government) facilities are present which is the consequences of the pollution of the African maintenance culture resulting from the collision of African and foreign cultures which have promoted retards in the psyches of the leaders, thereby impact in them the culture of negligence to public facilities or embezzlement of fund made for their maintenance.
For development to take place in Africa there is need to re-awaken the maintenance culture of African people and enshrine it in the psyches of the Africans. Such can be achieved through the incorporation of issues of maintenance culture (as it was in the past in Africa) in social studies or develop a new curriculum that will include it as subject because of its importance to development. Such subject will be made compulsory from primary school to university levels in order to impact in young Africans who will lead the continent in the near future.
Social re-orientation for those who had passed through academic institutions before now and those who were not opportune to go to school is of vital necessity. The re-orientation should not be for the citizens alone but should also include the leaders.
It is only when maintenance culture rooted in the true African culture is re-awaken that health, education, communications, water supply, security, transport, industrial, agricultural produce storage and processing facilities can be maintained, protected, retained, be more useful and last longer.
Culture and Development Consciousness
Many African cultures promote development. This can either manifest at individual or group (town union associations) levels. The examples cited early about some Africans living in some parts of Europe, America sending money and material home for either individual family project or group (town union/association) for community projects clearly and logically expressed the vital place of development in the consciousness of average African man.
Such culture should be encouraged and promoted within African continent and within African in Diaspora through seminars, conferences and workshops which will be organised by African countries’ embassies overseas.
Harness the positive side of culture of ostracism against violators of moral norms and values of African society
One may ask if ostracism can be positive. The answer is YES, it can, when undue and unwarranted social stigma motivated by tribal, religious and colour hatred are taken away from it.
Embezzlement of public fund by few to the detriment of the whole society, advanced fee fraud; bribery and corruption are not part of African moral values.
African culture before its pollution by foreign cultures, frawn, isolate, punish, ostracise and fine any member of a given culture in Africa who acquire his or her wealth in immoral means.
That was the time when parents, relations and the community did question the source of wealth and reject wealth acquired by any of their sons or daughters whose wealth sources of acquisition was unknown or involved immoral dealings.
Bribery and Corruption and embezzlement of public fund, have become a sore on Africa public and private sectors’ flesh suppressing development and promoting backwardness.
Such societal actions against such morally dehydrated persons, who involves in those immoral activities like ostracism and other ways of manifesting total rejection of such persons and their immorally gotten wealth till they show remorse and total sincere repentance from their misbehaviour still proves the effective means of restoring the lost glory to African culture.
Such culture need to be restore because it will go a long way in discouraging the upcoming generations from getting involved in such immoral acts. The society should stop worshiping and honouring such persons, honour is for people with great moral favour, hardworking and who fight against immoral activities.
Through application of the culture of positive ostracism, the evil of embezzling fund made for public welfare and development will be defeated and development will be promoted in African continent.
Culture of Entertainment such as: Dancing, Wrestling, Creative Work of Art and other Entertainment Aspects of African Culture can be Harness for Tourism Purposes.
African culture has several aspects of it like the creative work of art, such as caving, moulding, painting of images, traditional dances, traditional wrestling, which can promote development through their inclusion in entertainment industries and places of tourists destination.
Such inclusion will encourage more people to get involved in practicing them consequently, promote employment and self-empowerment, attract investors in the entertainment and tourism industries which will attract more tourists to Africa thereby increasing African foreign exchange with Africa on the advantageous side.
Cultural activities of these likes, if well harnessed, will promote development in Africa.
Culture of Hospital
One of the major components well noticeable in the African Culture is its acceptability of and tolerance to strangers. A typical African man doesn’t play with a stranger. He rather defends a stranger in face of any danger even sometimes better than he will defend his people.
A National Youth Service Corps Staff in Taraba State, Nigeria, said in July, 2011 that based on his personal experience he had during his National Youth Service in one of the states in the South-Eastern Nigeria, a member of a community in that part of the country would prefer to quarrel his brother in defence of a stranger.
The African Culture is so accommodating that some people from the other continents of the world are in Africa for one reason or the other. But the main thing is that the people (of Africa) are friendly to them.
Such culture promotes and welcomes visitors like tourists, investors and foreign traders which altogether promote development when properly done.
Therefore, if this hospitality culture rooted in African culture is promoted, it will boost the tourism industries in Africa and create conducive environment for investors to invest in African soil which will increase income of Africans through employment, that will be provided and other economic activities.
The foregoing has shown and discussed ways in which African culture can be harnessed to promote development. Africans should arise and re-awaken their cultural consciousness in order to eat the fruit thereof.
In conclusion, African culture is not fetishism or a mere archaic and anachronistic thing as many especially aliens had assumed it to be. Benefit that can be derived from African culture if promoted, was what former Catholic Papal, Pope John Paul II, observed when he publicly appealed to Africans to strongly hold on to their culture which has helped African society to reject so many immoral things taking place in the cultures of other continents.
We must not ignore this call by the Catholic Papal, because he observed the true nature of African culture and confessed it without emotional attachment as many scholars and authors on African culture had done.
African culture is good and it promotes development. What it requires is to find a reliable way to overcome the shock and pollution it experienced from the foreign cultures that invaded it in the past and still invading it.