Africa’s culture – is it fit for purpose or Not?

Africa’s culture – is it fit for purpose or Not?


Dr Richard MUNANG 

“Send your child where he wants to go, and you will see his pace”.

This African proverb underscores the importance of passion. The importance of working with passion in everything we do. This critical ingredient unlocks other values, that are equally important – selflessness and humility. These are what I would consider the critical factors for success in any venture in life. We need to ask the question whether these critical factors do feature in the afterthoughts of most of us and if the answer is no why must ask- why?

While Africa is applauded as a continent with a rich cultural heritage which truly it is, we must ask whether the culture has evolved with time. Culture needs to evolve and embrace some aspects of modernity. If not, we will be left behind with aspects that can retrogress progress which sometimes I find very misplaced. And I say so because in my considered opinion, culture should be a tool for good. It should be a tool that inspires others to do good and solve problems and progress development for the collective benefit of all.  We should never allow any culture anywhere to gain notoriety in whatever form for “normalising abnormalities”.

Modernity or Mediocrity?
Let’s face it. We need to interrogate Africa’s culture reality check in this 2020.  Is the romanticising enough? The diverse dressing, the drum beating, the song & dances around fireplaces, the story telling, the diverse languages – these are amazing, and I am very proud of this as a son from this part of the world. But we must ask whether this culture has evolved with modernity to drive transformational progress for all. If we fail to do this, we might be oblivious to reality and all these beautiful cultures we have will count for nothing. We need to answer some sobering questions to ensure we leverage culture as a tool to turn challenges into opportunities.  What is there for us to write home about leveraging culture for good when we have 257million of our people going to bed hungry? What is there to applaud, of a culture that has remained silent as we see children die before their 5th birthday simply for lack of food? What manner of culture, remains silent as its future generation, its youth, wallow in disenfranchisement, as they see themselves wasted and grow old with no jobs?

Your guess is as good as mine – African culture being the fabric of society must adapt and maintain its relevance, with the times.  It must move from a culture that is great to greatest weaved within modernity. It must move from a culture that has some mediocre aspects still championed today in certain quarters, to a culture of innovations where focus is to solve problems using what we have. This must become the norm and not the exception.

My African Roots and My Culture

As I wrote in my book “Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism”, I was born in 1978 and it was a glorious time for my little village, Jinkfuin. Life in Jinkfuin typified the common traditional African setting. There was a chief who ruled in union with a council of elders. Everyone was helpful to each other and hospitable to visitors to the village, despite the injection of Western education systems. A child belonged to the community, and the whole community participated in raising that child. My arrival into this world was characterised by the usual celebration of joyous revelling and feasting. Our village epitomised the African values of togetherness and loyalty to the various cultural festivals we, as a people, performed to mark different occasions. These traditions were quite vibrant, as they were passed down from generation to generation. It was the duty of the village elders to teach the upcoming generations. Growing up, I looked forward to these teachings, where I got to learn the history of our people and the values, we hold dear. When I was quite young, about six years of age, others my age and I gathered around a fire in the night as one of the elders told us stories. The stories were tailored to teach us important values to aid us in our later lives. Values such as respect of elders, hard work, diligence, humility, integrity, passion and unity were imparted to us at an early age through these nightly stories.

As I grew up, like many before me, my time came to be initiated into young adulthood according to our traditions. This was an important transition in the lives of many of us in the village. It was marked with great pomp and feasting. After the ceremony, the whole village broke into song and dance. Later in the afternoon, we sat to eat together. Here, I learned to like my people. They rejoiced with us for our achievement. As we danced, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment –having crossed over to adulthood. We spent our time engaged in traditional wrestling games. To win, one had to form the strongest alliance; I was quite good at forming these alliances. These games went on till evening, when each of us retreated for supper. We regrouped later in the night for a session of storytelling with the elders. We all huddled together around a fire and told stories till late in the night.  Till today, I always reflect on my early childhood, the values I learned, and the rich African heritage imparted by my elders. I smiled; thankful I was born in this part of the world. Africa was truly born in me.

Normalising Abnormality with culture is WRONG
 Many cultures have still not evolved to live with the reality of our times. As we speak now, many have been conditioned by some mediocre elements of culture. This is why for instance, most of us are not convicted to the point of action, by the mere fact that we grew up expecting others to solve our problems. This is a fallacy of the highest order and must be changed. Normalising abnormality is not right. The terrible attitude that anything new especially new knowledge to solve problems needs to be opposed just because it has never been there before is a fallacy and must be changed. That it’s okay to see a village not having lights provided all neighbouring villages are equally in the dark. But if there is any house that “dares” to have lights, they are considered an outcast, instead of being a model to be emulated. This is abnormal. This is unacceptable in this day and age and must be changed. Collective “retrogression” is abnormal and should never be normalised. That failure to prioritise our strengths and our best, and instead embrace anything that doesn’t come from within is seen as okay is another regrettable conduct in Africa. This is unacceptable by every standard. . That putting money and material before people and logic is okay. This is not okay. This is unacceptable and self-defeatist. If we go with this, we will be ushering ourselves into self-devaluation. We are totally oblivious of these truths and that is why our progress has been where it is today

Breaking the culture cycle of Mediocrity and Normalising Abnormalities
The time to break this cycle of mediocrity, of normalising abnormalities, is now. 
Let’s break it by;
  • Prioritising to invest people who are loyal to a cause, as the biggest investment we can make on the planet;
  • Prioritising humility as the foundation for success on the planet, knowing that humility simply means selfless service to others;
  • Breaking from the cycle of self-doubt, where we despise our efforts if not validated by others, and instead chose to be our own cheer leaders;  
  • Breaking from the dependency syndrome, where we look at ourselves as poor for lacking money, but fail to see that our existence represents the sovereign capital we need to generate wealth;
  • Embracing our best, edifying them and learning from them. Not fighting and vilifying them;
  • Embracing honest self-reflection, every step of the way and being quick to recalibrate and remedy our errors;
  • Treasuring new knowledge and being ready to learn at every opportunity.
Let the above, be the African culture we celebrate day in and day out. Always remember that only you can be your own cheerleader. Let us cheer lead a culture that can make meaningful difference in the lives of those mothers who bury their kids before they reach the age of 5. Let us usher ourselves to a culture that can help us turn challenges into opportunities where we create wealth and jobs for our unemployed youths. Where we turn the pain and suffering of the 257 million citizens who go to bed hungry with their stomach aching of hunger to a joy of having sufficient food. Let’s use culture as a tool for progress and not retrogression regardless. Yes, it’s possible. Let’s do it now

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