Friday 14 May 2021
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In Search of an African Cultural Narrative for Development

Africa’s history of slavery and colonialism have left the continent with devastating social effects which continue to affect generations of Africans – till today. Today, post-colonial Africa continues to be as if it’s but an extension of Western countries, with delegated political and economic autonomy.
Within few years countries with limited resources compared to the African continent have risen from the dust of underdevelopment to be global economic hubs. Yet Africa with all its wealth has been on a downward socio-economic and socio-political spiral.
Although we’ve witnessed few moments of glory, these are often short-lived or merely an increase in consumer habits and eventually evaporated by corruption and maladministration.
We have and continue the old song of how Africa has gained political independence but not economic independence. The political independence that is being propagated, requires that we admit that so far, it is a fluid independence, perhaps with the exception of Mauritius. Africa’s challenge of politics and economics could be as a result of the absence of something fundamental to development – its own cultural narrative. Although the continent has had a surge of academics in various fields, it has not been able to translate these skilled and trained men and women into drivers and informers of culture.
The absence of a narrative of who we are as a people is our greatest challenge as a continent and there is no amount of education and external assistance that can help us.
Unless we begin to consider a radical cultural revolution and that individual countries should be driven by such cultural consciousness, we are in to be developing countries for centuries to come.
While African states remain to be countries, we cannot confidently say that they have become nations. An example, each time I seek to describe myself as a Namibian to those who ask of me, they aren’t satisfied until, I’ve stated what tribe I am too. We don’t talk of ourselves as ‘Zambians, Namibians, Zimbabweans’ (ethonocentric-identities) etc, people from Japan call themselves Japanese, Germany-Germans, India-Indians, Brazil-Brazilians (collective-identies) etc.
This kind of absence of a cultural narrative robs us from doing things in way we want them to be as a people, rather than constantly playing to the tunes of advance political and economic systems.
The ghost of becoming without being is our greatest battle and unless we first be a people with a collective cultural identity, we cannot become contributors to the progress of the world’s progress.
Let me bring the situation closer home. Although we’ve made great progress in developing policies of various kinds, there is no theoretical evidence in our papers that indicates our collective cultural identity.
That we still think of ourselves in terms of our tribal categories has much to say, that much of what we have set as national goals, will never be achieved. For example, Vision 2030, can only be a national vision, within the context of a unified cultural identity.
Our political leaders still think deeply tribal and racial and whatever language of oneness being employed is simply for political expediency. I’m not aware of any of our politicians that has deliberately sought to develop a cultural narrative except when sloganeering for the sake of votes.
A cultural narrative for development is primarily focused on the development of our humanity. First, it has to address our deeply divided and painful history and deliberately orchestrate how we are to progress as a people – together.
Instead, this history is now being used as an instrument to advance personal, party and tribal politics. An example is the rise of the Landless People’s Movement headed by Mr. Swartbooi, in as much as it thinks of itself as a Namibian movement, it is a movement with a tribalist-racialist-regionalist agenda.
Another example, with Dr. Hage Geingob as president, many are still not satisfied that he is not from a different tribe other than Damara.
Secondly, a cultural narrative for development should seek to write its own history, politics and blueprint for progress. Come to think of a simple thing such as ‘Namibian music’ – we literally have none, it’s not because of multi-culturalism but we’ve borrowed every means of even entertaining ourselves as a people.
Our policies for education, politics, environment, human rights etc are all imported without our own input except that we’ve modified it to look like its ours. But what exactly is a Namibian education? We can’t even proudly point out as to what kinds of values we deliberately seek to instil in our children across the country.
Thirdly, a cultural narrative for development should empower that which is available within it own society and create a market for it.
We all want to trade in diamonds, gold, fish etc. Why has Chinese alternative healing become a viable market? They embraced what they had.
While as here at home, we despise everything that is African and that has not gone through the approval of bodies that are accepted by the European Union but European products don’t need to be approved by African bodies.
In conclusion, unless Africa begins to write and drive her own course of development that takes into consideration the uniqueness of her own context, we will forever be a developing continent. Societies should also emancipate themselves from the political captivity that has caused them to relinquish their ability to come together and forge a way forward.
Politicians aren’t the makers of our cultures therefore they shouldn’t be given the power to determine it.
It our own realisation and need for progress that will create the platform to write an African narrative of how we want to be be remembered as a continent. The developed countries do not have our interest at heart, and no matter the agreements we sign with them, it is to advance their own causes, never ours.

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