During my student days in the late 1960s I used to take part in a weekly programme which discussed African current affairs on the BBC’s “African Talking Point” programme.
One day the producer, Chris Cuthbertson, asked me to prepare a review of Kwame Nkrumah’s new book titled Neo-colonialism the last stage of imperialism. Although I do not recall the details of what I told my listeners on the African continent, one point still stands out in my mind.
I pointed out that Nkrumah’s book was not for those who hoped to boost their coffee or cocoa incomes by drawing on its wisdom. The book was full of philosophical platitudes which were not related to our daily lives.
Following his overthrow as President of Ghana in February 1966, Nkrumah settled in Conakry, Guinea, where he engaged himself in deep intellectual thinking and writing of a number of books.
Nkrumah was not the first philosophical African leader; that credit goes to Leopold Sedar Senghor, who after a spell as a member of the French national assembly became the first president of Senegal in 1960.
Senghor established “negritude” or dignity in blackness and African socialism as the cultural, political and economic ideologies of his government. Senghor together with his West Indian friends had developed his negritude philosophy in the 1930s.
Perhaps inspired by Nkrumah and Senghor other post-independence African leaders introduced their philosophies which were based on their concept of what they saw as African socialism. There was Nyerere’s Ujamaa, Kaunda’s African Brotherhood, Obote’s Common Man’s Charter and Kenya’s Sessional Paper No 5 which was withdrawn as soon as Parliament passed it.
African socialism saw the state and the party in power as the engines of their countries’ development which in effect led to one party systems.
Unlike Senghor most of the African leaders saw our cultures as a hindrance to their attempt to develop their countries. They sought to obliterate our cultures which they saw as expressions of tribalism.
For example, the 1967 Uganda Constitution went as far as banning the use of all cultural titles which led to some serious absurdities. As an example, in Buganda it was unconstitutional to call a father of twins by the name of Salongo or in Acholi to name a twin “Okello.”
The 1995 Constitution changed this by providing that “The State shall promote and preserve those cultural values and practices which enhance the dignity and well-being of Ugandans.”
Such culture is represented in our norms, languages, festivals, rituals, food and architecture. It gives us our identity which is a necessity for all human development and creates the fundamental building blocks in our personalities as well as providing us with paths to sociability.
According to one expert there are three broad paths to sociability, the first being based on family and kinship, the second on voluntary associations and the third is the state. In Chinese, Italian, French and Korean societies families play a central role in economic development while in German voluntary associations play the role.
In societies based on families, we are told, “virtually all economic endevours start out as family businesses that is businesses both owned and managed by families. The basic unit of social cohesion serves also as the basic unit of economic enterprise…..”
After 60 years of independence of experimentation with African socialism Africa has not been successful in uplifting its people from poverty whereas by using their socialising paths far-eastern countries leapfrogged from poverty into first-world countries within 30 years.
Perhaps the time has come for us to pay more attention to our cultures in our development strategies.
Mr Peter Mulira is a lawyer