GLOBALIZATION AND ITS CHALLENGES TO NATIONAL CULTURES AND VALUES: A PERSPECTIVE FROM SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
by Michael O. Maduagwu
presented at the International Roundtable on the Challenges of Globalization
(University of Munich, 18-19 March 1999)
which has gained currency particularly in international economic discourse in
the last two decades, is tending towards becoming the dominant feature of
world economic relations in the next century.
For better or worse, globalization is already straddling all aspects of
human life in many countries of the world.
Though it is essentially an ideology of economic liberalization, it no
less impacts on economic systems of all nations as on their political, social
and cultural systems.
engine of globalization is the revolutionary advances in information
technology. Especially through
its communication dimension, globalization is fast bringing the vast diverse
countries into a truly global village. It
is no longer news that any occurrence in the remotest parts of the world could
simultaneously and potentially be shared in virtually all homes throughout the
world. Whether it is the US-led
bombing of Iraq in 1990, the senseless genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the
judicial killing of the Nigerian writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa in
1995, or the sex scandal of the American President, the Western media, if they
so wish, can elavate them to "global" issues.
The reality of this was recently stated by one Nigerian political
scientist when he observed that from "Coca-colonization of the world, we
have arrived at the CNNization of the world" (Elaigwu 1995:7).
communication dimension of globalization has the potential of eroding national
cultures and values and replacing them with the cultural values of more
technologically and economically advanced countries, particularly the United
States and members of the European Union.
Thus, the Western (but especially the American)
values, politics and business culture are being powerfully transmitted
across nations; while their concepts of democracy, human rights, market
economy and life styles are being disseminated around the world as models (Elaigwu,
the reality of extreme poverty and technological underdevelopment of Third
World countries, particularly Africa, how can their distinct cultural entities
be preserved under the pressures of a one world concept in the economy?
As the world enters another century and another millennium, are African
countries destined to undergo another form of slavery and colonialism through
the loss of what is left of their national languages, cultures and values?
What can African countries do to meet the challenges of globalization
to their cultures and social values? Do
they in fact have any choice? The
foregoing are among the pertinent issues that agitate African scholars in the
face of the current onslaught of globalization.
PHENOMENON OF GLOBALIZATION
an interesting exploration of the term, "globalization", Malcolm
Waters (1995: 3), defined it as
A social process in which the contraints of geography on social and
cultural arrangements recede and in which people become increasingly aware
that they are receding.
globalization is a highly dynamic process of growing interdependence
among nation states, with the implication that issues are becoming global
rather than national, and that they demand global rather than national
through some literature on globalization and paying attention to the its three
essential dimensions: the economic, political and cultural, one comes out with
the following impressions. Globalization,
even though it has undergone a long historical process, is an unprecedented
new phenomenon (Waters 1995). The
process of globalization is sweeping across the whole world, turning it into a
"global village" (McLuhan 1964: 93).
Although it is consciously being engineered by capitalist economic
ideology, its political and cultural dimensions are self-propelling.
The forces of globalization are such that individual cultures will be
unable to resist them.
the questions could be how can these cultures and traditions be integrated
within the "mainstream" constituted by the process of globalisation;
how can there be integration of local and global; how within the framework
provided by globalization could inter-cultural communication take place today?
If any local culture or people fail to get integrated to this
all-embracing process, it will be left behind, suffer isolation and stay in
(Wilfred 1997: 42).
this view, some Third World scholars and their sympathisers argue that
globalization is not as value-free as it is being portrayed in the West.
Globalization is only the latest stage of European economic and
cultural domination of the rest of the world which started with colonialism,
went through imperialism and have now arrived at globalization stage.
Thus, Wilfred could assert that:
Present-day globalisation is but a continuation of a long tradition of
over five hundred years, the tradition of imperialism.
Globalisation is only the latest phase and expression of this
uninterrupted history of domination and subjugation of peoples, nations and
cultures through the conquistadors and colonisers.
It is a tradition of political, economic and cultural domination of
some nations over others (42-43).
IN A CULTURAL DILEMMA
make more vivid the issue at stake, namely, the danger of possible erosion of
national cultures and values by the forces of globalization, it might be
appropriate to make some illustrations. Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan
Africa, has been in cultural dilemma ever since its forceful integration or
rather subjugation by European countries through colonialism and slavery.
Ever since their experience with colonialism, African countries have
been unable to, independently, articulate or chart their own history, culture
and identity. The point being
made here has been vividly captured by the recent observation of a Nigerian
Director of the National Council of Arts and Culture:
Our attitude today is largely influenced by the perception and view
points cultivated as a result of slavery as well as colonial and post colonial
education. As a result of this,
we tend not to appreciate ourselves or our cultures and therefore disregard or
undervalue the potential contributions this heritage can make to our
contemporary development efforts. We
thus tend not to believe and have confidence in ourselves our endemic
capabilities and potentials. (Bello
1998: 12; emphasis added).
present-day extreme individualism of the West, the outcome of centuries of
laissez-faire capitalism, is being transmitted across the world as the final
stage of world civilisation to which all cultures must strive to attain.
On the other hand, the age-long communal life of the Africans, which is
generally known as extended-family system, is being looked down upon as
primitive. Under the extended
family system, everyone is intrinsically tied up with all members of the
society. The orphans and the poor
are not abandoned. Those who are
well-placed have obligations towards the community, but especially towards the
less privileged members. There
could be tensions for the individual in this cultural system.
It could lead to dependency, corruption and perpetuation of ethnicity
or sectionality. The dilemma for
Africa is how to reconcile the positive cultural value of being "thy
brother's keeper" with its possible negative consequences.
One could also contrast this cultural value with the "humanitarian
aid" preferred in the West. The
issue is which is preferable: charity towards anonymous individuals (who mean
little more than statistics) as championed in the West, or charity starting at
home, where real persons in need are met on daily basis.
development in the West is conceived almost exclusively from material or
technological perspectives, with little or no consideration for the human
persons who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of these developmnents.
For the ordinary modern African, development, as being transmitted by
the CNN and other Western media means: fast cars, sky-scrappers, mobile
telephones, punk hair styles, extravagantly luxurious houses with imported
furnishings, international designers wears from clothing to shoes to
hand-bags, wrist-watches and perfumes, and weekend jamborees in five-star
hotels in and outside the country - especially at public expense.
traditional Africa, education was essentially functional: preparation to meet
the challenges of the society. The
colonial educational system, on the other hand, was designed to alienate the
African from his or her culture, to loathe his or her language and manual
work. The African was taught to
view education as emancipation from village life and a passport to white-colar
job in the cities. Education was
no longer a way of life.
essential negative influence of colonial education was emphasis on technical
and secularistic acquisition of skills as against character formation.
The traditional African informal education was first and foremost
communalistic, promotion of unity and harmony of communal experiences where
the individual is a unit within the organic whole.
The emphasis on traditional education was character formation.
The colonial education both at its beginning in Africa and as it has
been maintained by African leaders since de-colonization neglected the
character formation aspect of education.
The neglect of character formation has given rise to moral depravity
which now characterize the present-day African society.
This is manifested in the virtual collapse of family values, rampant
corruption in public life and excessive materialism among the so-called
African elite have blindly and in toto copied Western cultural values
especially as transmitted through Western educational system and media.
Forgetting that every cultural system is naturally ethno-centric,
African leaders have failed to integrate the positive African cultural values
into the borrowed Western values. Nowhere
is the disorientation of the African cultural values manifest as in the
educational system. Africa has
continued to adhere to the colonial educational system which was deliberately
designed for the mental and material exploitation of Africans.
As noted earlier, the African child was taught to loathe manual labour
in favour of white-collar jobs. Whereas
African traditional educational system was essentially vocational, the
so-called modern educational system in Africa has succeeded in producing
"useless" educated Africans who cannot be gainfully employed in
the society. The neglect
of traditional educational values has led, for example, to the total collapse
of agricultural production. Due
to the Western type of education, the average educated African considers farm
work as infradig. Thus in many African states, the urban elite are today
completely dependent on largely illiterate and aging rural dwellers for the
production of their agricultural needs. The
agricultural products from the rural areas are no longer sufficient for the
feeding of the ever-growing population. African states now devote a large
percentage of their foreign earnings, including the so-called development aid,
for the importation of food. In
traditional African societies, everyone, no matter his or her special
profession, was basically a farmer. The historian Ayandele (1998) states:
Indeed, in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, artisans, religious
leaders as well as artists were involved in part-time farming.
Besides, society trained, through apprenticeship, all the technocrats
and artisans that were required, compatible with a slow but sure life rhythm.
greatest consequence of globalization is that, like colonialism, it is going
to spell the doom of weak indigenous cultures.
Already African traditional religions and rituals have virtually
disappeared due to the onslaught of Islam and Christianity.
The same is true of its languages most of which have been completely
rendered ineffective in the sense that they cannot be used for scientific
work. African languages have been
reduced to mere ethnic or cultural artistic performances.
But perhaps, Africans need not for ever bemoan this unfortunate
experience. If globalization
succeeds, the world may eventually become mono-lingual.
Sooner or later, perhaps in another millenium, there may be just only
one world language - the English language.
Other languages may be reduced to varnacular status.
This trend has already been observed to be likely consequence of the
globalization of mass media (Waters 1995: 149):
A specific consequence is that, insofar as much of the hardware is
American-owned and much of the programming is American in origin, English is
becoming the lingua franca of the
global communications system. This
has proved a particular problem for the territiorially small nations of Europe
but the failure of Euronews, a multilingual satelite news channel, to dent the
market shares of CNN and Sky News that broadcast exclusively in English,
indicates that English may well become the common public language of the
globalized system and that vernaculars may be restricted to localized and
CHALLENGES OF GLOBALIZATION TO NATIONAL CULTURES AND VALUES
cultural perspective, there is no doubt that the two positions taken for and
against the phenomenon of globalization, as presented earlier in this paper,
are the extremes. Like most cases
in real life, an extreme position, though it may contain some truth, tends to
exaggerate issues to the extent of jeopardizing its case.
Waters may be taken as a typical representative of the Western view of
globalization. He is, however, not unaware of what he calls the ideological
suspicion of globalization. The
concept of globalization, as it is generally being propagated in the West,
namely, as "[invisible] forces operating beyond human control that are
transforming the world", is deceitful.
Propagated in this form, globalization might be an attempt "to
justify the spread of Western culture and of capitalist society" (Waters
1995: 3). Waters admits:
Globalization is the direct consequence of the expansion of European
culture across the planet via settlement, colonization and cultural mimesis.
It is also bound up intrinsically with the pattern of capitalist
development as it has ramified through political and cultural arenas.
argues, however, that the goal of globalization (perhaps unlike that of
colonialism, one may add?) is not that all the world would become Westernized
and capitalist. The implication
is rather that Western culture has become the standard by which all other
cultures must be measured, or as he puts it, "every set of social
arrangements must establish its position in relation to the capitalist
the critics of globalization, it is mere deception to suggest that
globalization is a self-propelling social dynamics.
It is not. In the economic sphere, it is being directed by the World
Trade Organization (WTO), with its underlying goal of economic liberalization;
and in political and cultural spheres, through the powerful means of
information technology, dominated by the West.
The weak cultures may not be able to resist the
forces of globalization but Third World countries should not be unaware
of the "hidden agenda" of globalization.
apparent truth about globalization is that it is the latest under-current
principle of economic exploitation of the Third World by the technological
advanced countries, particularly of the West.
It is no wonder that Third World scholars have concentrated their
reaction to globalization to its economic dimension (South Centre 1996).
For the Third World, the conclusion of the Uruguay Round negotiations
and the establishment of the WTO have given rise to a new world order
extending far beyond traditional international trade relations.
Globalization from its economic perspective is being presented to the
Third World in the form of economic liberalization which is said to hold the
panacea for its rapid development. Third
World countries should not only liberalize through imports and exports, they
should also allow foreign direct investment (FDI) and capital flows.
globalization, it is argued, the problem of North-South has been overtaken.
The consensus appears to be that the way forward for developing
countries is to enhance the role of the market while diminishing that of the
state. At the international
level, the role of multilateral institutions should be merely creating global
frameworks that facilitate the unhindered functioning of the markets.
this view, South Centre (1996: 1-2), speaking on behalf of Third World
interests, argues as follows:
1. The development debate is far from over: a diminished role for the state and an unfettered role for the market do not constitute a universal recipe for achieving faster economic growth, resolving social problems or dealing with many other contemporary challenges such as, for instance, environmental problems.
There are long-standing unresolved issues on the international
development agenda which cannot be resolved by purely market approaches and
which require international development co-operation.
In addition, there are significant new issues generated by the working
of the world economy which require North-South dialogue and strengthened
Although there are divergent interests among developing countries, the
concept of the South is, if anything, more important today in the post-Cold
War era than it was previously.
in the concept of globalization, from cultural perspective, is the belief that
the whole world is tending towards a homogenous culture. This is particularly
so with regard to political culture, as has been eloquently illustrated by
Waters (1995: 118-122), based on works of Fukuyama (1992) and Huntington
(1991). In summary, it is argued
that national societies of the world are moving towards a political culture of
liberal democracy. The essential
contents of the political culture are encapsulated in the Western concept of
human rights which emphasises political and social rights as against the
economic and cultural rights. Underpinning the liberal democracy is commitment
to market capitalism because, it is argued, this guarantees individual rights
in the economic sphere. The
protagonists maintain, however, that it is the culture rather than practice of
liberal democracy that is crucial. Thus,
Fukuyama (1992: 45) could assert:
What is emerging victorious ... is not so much liberal practice, as
liberal idea. That is to
say, for a very large part of the world, there is now no ideology with
pretensions to universality that is in a position to challenge liberal
democracy (original emphasis).
is especially in the light of the present apparent triumph of Western liberal
democracy that the idea that the world has become a global village could be
appreciated but also challenged.
the specific issue of human rights, the question could be raised as to which
human and whose rights? Are
the peoples of industrially more advanced countries, particularly the West,
actually ready to extend the human rights concept to peoples of other
cultures? What has happened to
the idea of right to development of the Third World countries?
What happened to the idea of human rights during the Rwanda genocide in
1994? Did the United Nations, the
United States and European Union not stand by during the senseless and
preventable massacre of Rwandans? And
why? The answer is obvious -
Rwandans are black and therefore less than human beings.
Any African who seriously reflects on the Rwandan episode, to name just
one obvious recent case, (see e.g. Gourevitch 1998), cannot accept that
globalization means anything positive for the black race.
similar consideration has been made by Robertson in the consideration of the
problem of what he calls the "societal and individual location in a
broader context of humankind" (1991: 228).
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a "New World Order" of
Pax Americana seems to have emerged.
The Third World, but particularly Africa, is uncertain of its place in
this American global hegemony. Is
the qualification for participation in the American kingdom not determined by
the economic strength of the various regions of the world?
The order of admission seems to be thus: After Europe come the Asian
Tigers, then the former Communist block countries of Eastern Europe, followed
by Australia and Latin America. Africa
seems to have no place in the globalizing New World Order.
neglect or outright rejection of Africa and Africans is not only in the
secular sphere. A Nigerian
Christian cleric has observed how "even religious communities that once
sent missionaries in droves to Africa from Europe and elsewhere are now
alarmed at the prospect of African missionaries coming to Europe and North
America to evangelize their peoples" (Odozor 1997: 13).
For this African cleric, the globalization discourse raises a very
Who am I in relation to the rest of the world?
Is globalisation hastening that day when, to paraphrase Martin Luther
King Jr., I will not be judged merely on the basis of the colour of my skin
but on more objective criteria such as character, aptitudes and capabilities,
or is it merely postponing it?
these few remarks lie the crux of the issue of globalization, at least from
the perspective of Sub-Saharan Africa. The
view in Africa seems to be that the salvation of the African peoples does not
lie in globalization in the sense of uncritical striving towards one world
culture. Africans are suspicious
of the emerging economic, political and cultural ideology now being labeled
globalization. In this context,
Samir Amin could say that "interventions of the developed West in the
affairs of the Third World, whatever the motives involved, are always
negative" (Amin 1997: 73). Indeed,
many African scholars are not certain of the motives of both (Western) critics
and supporters of the globalization processes.
They ask: for whom or whose interest is being served by globalization,
in the long run?
regard to the threat to indigenous cultures by globalization, what Africa
needs to do is to intensify efforts in redeeming whatever is redeemable from
its rich cultural heritage. One
critical area suggested for intensification of these efforts is in the
indigenization of its educational system.
The revival of African cultures which have been virtually overwhelmed
by Euro-American culture through centuries of slavery, colonialism and
imperialism are most urgent before they will be completely wiped away by the
new forces of globalization. As
already mentioned, a good starting point would be to indigenize African
educational systems which, in the case of Sub-Saharan African, had been too
long neglected by the leaders and the elite.
For, according to Ayandele (1998: 30-32):
The truth that should ring incessantly in the ears of ... educated
reformers is that ... to date the greatest disservice of the misleaders and
misbuilders of the African edifice is their [failure] to recognise the
cornerstone status of Africa's cultural heritage.
For the soul of a nation, its pride, its quintessence and
distinctiveness, is its cultural heritage, its birthright and self-identity.
It is that nation's only badge of respectability, the essence of its
being, the mainspring of its spirituality, the past to merge with the present
and the future; the transcendental corporate achievement of a people through
which continuity is transmitted from generation to generation.
It is the trump-card in their dealings with other peoples and the
primary reason for their being respectable by truly educated unprejudiced
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are numerous definitions of the term globalization which will be unnecessary
to reproduce here; in fact a good number of them are listed in various
chapters in this volume.