by Michael O. Maduagwu

Paper presented at the International Roundtable on the Challenges of Globalization (University of Munich, 18-19 March 1999)



 Globalization, 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.

 The 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).

 The 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, ibid).

 Given 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.



 In 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.

 For Robinson (1991:1),

   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 attention.[1]

 Browsing 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.

   Hence, 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 its "primitivism". (Wilfred 1997: 42).

 Against 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).


To 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).

 The 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.

 Again, 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.

 In 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.

 One 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 educated elite.

 The 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.

 The 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 domestic contexts.



 From 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.

 Malcolm 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. (ibid).

 Waters 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 West" (ibid).

 For 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.

 The 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.

 With 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.

 Against 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.

  2.  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.

   3.  In addition, there are significant new issues generated by the working of the world economy which require North-South dialogue and strengthened international co-operation.

   4.  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.



Implicit 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).

 It 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.

 Taking 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.

 A 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.

 The 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 personal problem:

   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? (ibid).

 In 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?

 With 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 non-Africans.




Amin, Samir (1997), Capitalism in the Age of Globalization,   London & New Jersey: Zed Books.

Ayandele, E.A. (1998), "African Renaissance: The Cultural Dimension" (An unpublished paper presented at the Symposium on The African Renaissance to Celebrate the Eightieth Birthday of President Nelson Mandela).

Bello, Sule (1998), "Africa's Cultures - Paradigm for African Technological Development" (Unpublished paper delivered at the 2nd Memorial Lecture in Honour of K.C. Murray organised by the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, May 1998).

Elaigwu, Isawa J., (1995), From Might to Money: The Challenging Dimensions of Global Transition to the 21st Century (1995 NIPSS Distinguished Annual Lecture), Kuru: National Institute.

Gourevitch, Philip (1998), We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Shall Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1991), The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Odozor, Paulinus I. (1997), "Globalisation and Mission in Africa in the Third Millenium", Bulletin of Ecumenical Theology, Vol.9, Nos. 1-2.

Robertson, Roland (1991), "Globalisation, Modernisation and Postmodernisation: The Ambiguous Position of Religion" in: Religion and Global Order, edited by Roland Roberston and William R. Garrett, New York: Paragon House Publishers.

Robinson, Peter (October 1991), in Futures.

South Centre (1996), Liberalization and Globalization: Drawing Conclusions for Development, Geneva: South Centre.

Waters, Malcolm (1995), Globalization, London: Routledge, Key Ideas Series.

Wilfred, Felix (1997), "Globalisation and Cultures - The Other     Voice", Bulletin of Ecumenical Theology, Vol.9: 1-2.   


[1] There 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.