Africa: in search of development

Since our existence as the oldest culture and civilization in the world, over thousands of years of gradual advancement, we have developed substantial knowledge of our terrain and its dangers. We have understood medicine, science, and technology to deal with our harsh environment, for example in science, the sausage tree “Kigelia Africana” is a highly poisonous tree, when unripe, yet we were able not only to use it as food, for cosmetic use but also to extract it for its medicinal purposes and there are so many other examples. African cultures are as rich and dynamic, as they are varied. We have a rich store house of oral history, tradition, customs, culture and languages to draw from, and this should provide the momentum for constructive integrative growth, development and change.

Historically, Africa on the whole, has no written chronicles of our own history and achievements, (except Ethiopia, Sudan or (Nubia in ancient times), and a few others, as well as Muslim north African countries), and our traditional buildings have either been destroyed or have crumbled with age example Great Zimbabwe, so we have no “physical reference points” to draw from and teach our children about. Sources come from mainly Arab and Portuguese travellers, who marvelled at the neat and orderly streets of the Calabari and the Oyo kingdoms amongst many others for example and through oral tradition.

This on a psychological level makes it hard for Africans “not to be swayed and overpowered by western or outside influences”. Western power is everywhere to see, in technology, buildings, in the language we communicate in and so on. Many of us even think in English and not our traditional tongues, showing the huge inroads of western culture. Our rich oral tradition is now dying out, as are our griots (oral poets) and customs.

Archaeological finds in Africa reveal a richness, genius and ancientness, which is highly sought after the world over. From the Nok, Iboukwu, Benin bronzes in Nigeria, West Africa to the Nubian Ta Seti of Sudan in the North and Swahili in the East. What can be done to reverse this, can we reverse it?

When the west colonized Africa, they brought their culture with them, their names, food, dress, language, ideas, values, attitudes amongst others. With the deliberate undermining of African achievement and accomplishments, Africans began to doubt their authenticity.

Other cultures have experienced domination/colonization, yet have made deliberate efforts at re- establishing or continuing with cultural development, or should I say at least harmonization? Countries like India and Indonesia are exporting their traditional medicines and making huge inroads, whilst hiding their home grown recipes. Income from traditional medicine is second only to its main export in Indonesia, for instance and India has successfully exported its Ayurveda medicine, making millions if not billions.

Africans have had traditional cures for malaria and so many other tropical illnesses/diseases for thousands of years, yet today, fails to develop them, why? For example, my father, whilst a child was cured from malaria using the traditional herb called “bambalishe”, a plant (I don’t know what its called in English) which is boiled and the vapours are inhaled, and it cures malaria within a few hours. He has never had malaria since. Also my grand- aunt told me about another plant where the leaves used to be placed in a corner of the room, and this killed the mosquitoes within the radius of the room.

Western corporations have patented and claimed ownership on thousands upon thousands of indigenous medicines, and sciences and knowledge bases, from communities all over the world and not just from Africa, claiming ownership of their uses. They will probably continue to do so.

Cheik Anta Diop, Marcus Garvey, Anthony Browder and many others tried to reverse this trend by documenting the achievements of Africans from a black or African perspective. They stated that the African needs to be taught in his indigenous traditions and cultures, to dismiss this, is to destroy the identity of the African. There needs to be dual educational system, taught in African languages, which should be carefully documented, updated and developed.

Little effort has been done in this regard so far. When an old person or traditional leader dies, the virtual equivalent of a whole library dies with him or her, because for the most part, their knowledge was never investigated or recorded. If we don’t value and take pride in our culture, why should others? We must be faithful to ourselves first, if we want respect from others too. People who have truly liberated their minds can never be held back or oppressed for very long.

We have made huge inroads in religion; yet the more religious we are, the more barbaric and inhuman we become. Rarely will you find a Nigerian businessman or pastor who doesn’t accept backhand deals and bribes. Yet whilst we romance with religion, the West, and Asia are taking over our technology, services, industries and others, in the new scramble for Africa. Our leaders can only regulate and direct, but its up to us as a people to bring about change and to hold our leaders accountable.

Our search for development must come from within, and must not be sought from external sources alone. Without it, we are running a race to the bottom of the development ladder. Will it be achieved in our life time?

 

gloria

Gloria Uzo Nweke

I studied Third World development studies at Birkbeck College University of London and went on to do a Certificate of Higher Education at Middlesex University. I am keenly interested in political affairs and how economic interests shape the world and how Africans to influence this dynamics

Gloria Uzo Nweke

Gloria Uzo Nweke

Gloria Uzo Nweke

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you Gloria Uzo Nweke! Really great post!
    I must agree that things like national pride, self-worth and self-recognition very often starts at home at the very basic level – do you speak your traditional mother tongue at home – with your mum, dad, siblings or children? Do you wear traditional or national dress with pride? Do you cook your traditional dishes? Do you use traditional methods to treat illnesses?
    Only when we feel good about ourselves at home, when we have high self-esteem and self-confidence we can lift up others too. Then people can rise as cultures and nations. Only when you value your own things at home, you will be willing to ‘sell’ that to ‘western cultures’ and the rest of the world.
    Therefore it is so sad to see many African families (and not only African!) not speaking their traditional tongues at home, shying away from traditional dresses and cuisines, ridiculing knowledge of traditional medicine. I wish people would take more pride in themselves and start it at home. Once we will be happy and confident about things at home, all nations will raise!
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    • GLORIA UZO NWEKE says

      Thanks for your comments. Yes I do agree, the mindset of Africans needs to change. We need to have more confidence in ourselves. Until we free ourselves from the shackles of small mindedness, there will be no difference in our lives. Also, the commercialization of western culture does make it harder. However the civil rights movement started on the backdrop of slavery, oppression and discrimination yet many African-Americans have managed to lift themselves out of poverty and destitution. We must learn from others in order to free ourselves. Gloria Uzo Nweke

  2. says

    I do agree, but very often we have to distinguish when these problems are nationwide/continent-wide and when there are problems of certain individuals, their own mindset and beliefs.
    Even though I am not African myself, but I am from a small nation and I know very well this mindset of low self-confidence ‘oh, we are small and insignificant, there is nothing we can do, there is nothing much we can achieve, look at these big and rich countries… we will never be like them, we are here to wash their feet’. But this way of thinking is not helpful in any way. It is actually damaging.
    As a Latvian I know how damaging can be this nationwide mindset of blaming others for our own lack of confidence. Latvians love to blame Russians for 50 years of occupation and Germans for 700 years of earning our lands and making Latvians to be their servants. Similarly I have also seen so many Africans still blaming their colonisers and remembering all the bad things that happened when slavery was allowed. This is a mindset of victimisation. We victimise ourselves, we pass it to our children, we spread it in our communities, and we spread it nationwide. By doing so we damage all our society.
    The thing that we have to remember is that we cannot re-write the history, but we have to ask ourselves – how does this thinking helps us to succeed in future? Will low self-confidence and blaming culture help us to make us a better person?
    Each one of us should stop looking at others with jealousy of other’s success, but should be willing to be a better and more successful person themselves. And again – very often that starts at home – feeling good about themselves, having high self-esteem, confidence and faith in success.
    I am proud to say that my employers are very good example of extremely successful Africans in London. I work for Ghanaian owned Solicitor firm who is one of the biggest and most successful solicitor firms in the UK. By the time you will know it the firm will expand and be international. The ambitions they have, the way they do business and encourage their staff to succeed is really inspiring. They employ people from all backgrounds and everybody is judged by their performance and not their background. I have never seen them saying ‘we cannot succeed because they are Africans, or we will not achieve something because we are Africans’. They have their ambition and they go for it!
    And we should all do the same! We have to follow our dreams and achieve them. We have to get ourselves out from mindset of low confidence and victimization. We should stop seeing ‘western’ or ‘big &rich’ countries as our enemies or beasts. We have to learn the best from them and use it in combination of deeper knowledge of our own cultures and backgrounds. This magic combination of both makes us wiser, stronger and more successful. We just need to realize that and use that in the right direction. :)

    • Gloria Uzo Nweke says

      Hello, my point actually was that Africans can learn from history. slavery is a fact, it happened whether we like it or not. Westerners mark the end of the first and second world wars and Jews also mark the Holocaust, not as an act of self pity or victimization, but as a way of teaching people what happened, in order to make sure that it never happens again, and this is not questioned. The Jews got restitution. African Americans havent and Africans have no such commemoration, even though we lost over 10 million and more. Not to talk of the great human suffering of the slaves themselves over the course of 500 years. The danger of this is that it can happen again. As i said earlier, many African Americans have overcome their circumstances and made huge successes of themselves, but history should not repeat itself. Gloria Uzo Nweke

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