Micah Stephen: Africa and Knowledge Production

“for a mind that knows is a mind that is free………” Unibadan Anthem

Writing is such a costly and exerting endeavour. Out of the abundance of the mind, the hand writeth. The writer at crucial times faces the challenges of paucity of events that rightly catch his fancy or a ridiculous surplusage or torrents of issues to battle. He either sets at dawn or he gets smacked down. Cerebral Achebe felt that it is the job of a writer to engage in a bit of activism, not to just be there, to partake in his own little way as his nation battles with the crisis of self-actualization or self-immolation. He must be the gauge of a collective conscience. The writer must engage his reality head on, not just drag the audience along the road of fantastic presentation and representations, but he must address and redress the immediate concern of his environment. Writing is “righting”. In Africa, there are too many wrongs to right. This is why writing is writhing to the African writer.

Something is inherently different about Africa. If evolution were true, it is either the black man evolved prematurely or evolved differently. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution deserves a revisit. What is referred to as Africa must be recognized as a tapestry of European settlements. It is hardly an apt description of a group of people as they had always been. Africa is a product of alien bargaining not native consensus. It was first alienated, emasculated, mutilated and then delineated over bottles of scotch at the Berlin |Conference of 1885. Licenses and assignments were created in favour of interested merchants, hardly by any beneficial owner. It was the first classic case of giving what one does not have; mortgages were granted colonial slave holders to ingratiate economic rewards. Hitherto, the African had been a master of himself far before Europe’s incursion into its body polity, up till Arab incursion at least. The Kingdom of Songhai was established in 1350 Years AD and lasted until 1600 AD when the kingdom was invaded and ransacked by forces from Morocco with substantial financial and military support from the English Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth 1st.  There were two hundred English artillery mercenaries in the invading force. Arabs had rattled and decimated much of old Mali, Gao, Djenne and Timbuktu by the 12th century. Universities were established at Timbuktu and Sankore. After Arabian hegemony was toppled around the 14th century by transatlantic trade, the resulting carcass was to be the object of the frenetic carnivorous appetite of the marauding Europeans from the beginning of 14th century. The image Africa presently bears is the image of Europe. It may change tomorrow. There was no Nigeria, at the beginning of the 20th century. It can cease to exist before the end of the 21st century. States are made not divinely created. Humans nurture states; they hardly have the imprimatur of gods.

After the departure of the European imperialists from its colonial plantations, it has been a disaster for the infantile states to assume a different shade from what was its original design; a European banana plantation. Europeans did not owe their settlements the duty to look after their political wellbeing, once their economic interests were safe. After a night of amorous torrid passion, Frederick Luggard foisted more than 200 polities together to form Nigeria. He learned from the Bismark chaired conference in 1885. One of the participants even stated that they knew not what they were doing; they only drew straight lines across the map. Over 20, 000 different empires and tribes were coupled that day. What was birthed was a leprosed continent constantly battling with itself, a collage of ethnic chauvinism, acute human depravity, extreme corruption, animalistic pogroms of unimaginable scale and scope, exceptional level of bad governance, biting unemployment rate , all scattered and shattered along primordial ethnic  lines, combining to form human suffering of epic proportion.

The transformation of Africa from colonial serfs into post-colonial modern states have been nigh improbable, if not impossible. The primordialism, archaism, obsoleteness of the mode of organization in most African states in the 21st century is befuddling, if not graphic. The challenge with Africa is knowledge. This is the reason for the adoption of the epigraph at the beginning of the article. It is the last verse of the University of Ibadan’s anthem. The challenge with Africa as a continent sequestered along alienating nation states is that of knowledge production i.e a continent midwifed by intellectual and philosophical exertion. I must state that most nations are hardly consummated with amicable resolutions. But they are ceaselessly and meticulously nurtured by deep philosophies that make them look immutable. To be precise, I do not mean that no form of knowledge has ever come out Africa. In fact, to the contrary, this piece is written to ensure that African states emphasize the need for production of autochthonous knowledge. Knowledge production sits at the base of any human advancement. By knowledge, we talk first about the mental agility by which the environment is explored, exploited by human reasoning. We are not talking about the collection of wise sayings, idioms; all strung together into a coherent cosmogony. To be exact we are talking about the need to build thoughts and philosophies as we engage our environment, battle savagery and barbarism in the production of a “native” civilization. After God created man, He left re-creation to him. Man therefore can only dominate his environment with the knowledge of his environment. The most advanced states are those who use knowledge of their world to better their lots. Civilization is simply the state in which a society is able to solve its problems with knowledge and scientific certitude. Civilization therefore has nothing to do with westernization. In Tataalo Alamu’s words, “we are talking of the capacity for conceptual formulation and rigorous abstractions; the ability for sustained intellection and paradigmatic speculation”. We are not talking about the echoing or regurgitation of knowledge from other centres of civilization. While that itself is not avoidable, it should not be the only consumable.

Nations with the greatest advancements are also the ones with the most developed means of knowledge production. There is nothing divinely orchestrated in western ascension to world dominance and its current and ongoing displacement by the Asians, it is conditioned by knowledge production. Japan negotiated its way to the top after Meiji Restoration of 1868 through a radical reform of its educational system and her political institutions. Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore by transforming the mind. You must know before you are known. Africa is still largely crude, absolutely unrefined. Recently, as the Fulani marauders unleashed mayhem on hapless compatriots across the nation, the reaction of the government to it showed a stark clarity regarding the dominant mode of mind-set that powers our polity. The orgy of bloodletting notwithstanding, the government opted to continue funding programmes that encourage herding as against the urbane method of ranching. A state government decided to pay thirsty murderers to placate them. At play was the interplay of ethnic loyalty, religious sentiments and intoxicating ignorance. Knowledge was entirely displaced in arriving at the conclusion. This was when Americans, having conquered the earth are conquering mars. Modern societies with pre modern mode of existence are ravaged by the conflict between knowledge and myth. The infestation and manifestation of myth and its superior logic is evident in Africa’s mode of grappling with realities. Subsistence mode of agriculture, evasive form of democratic bargaining, tired and wearied political institutions, crippled madrasahs, mangled understanding of religion, a total and shambled organization of geographical space. These are exactly what to expect from societies with the mind-set to dominate nature and reality with myth not knowledge. The current mode of reasoning is that of voracious consumption powered by myth. Reliance on brawn not brain, mediocrity is ahead of meritocracy. We feed on all, we produce nothing. Africa is Africans’ greatest inhibition. Indeed, our people perish because of lack of knowledge…

to be continued.

Micah Stephen, combines his love for law with a deep appreciation of history and classical studies. He considers himself to be an admixture of a lawyer, classicist, historian and entrepreneur.

MICAH STEPHEN: Africa And The Globe (Part Two)

[Continued from Part One]

Consequently, globalization created by liberalization, continues to be maintained by the liberalization of economic policies in several key areas. This presupposes that globalization is part of a broader trend called Marketization, which by its nature tends to generate international market failures, because it is uneven in intensity and scope and also because it impacts differently on different classes of people.

The paradox implicit in this point is underscored by Irene Fernandes, in “Globalization, the Economic Crisis & the Challenges to women”, when she attributed to globalization a three stage historical process. To her, Globalization, for the economies of the South, has three phases; the first phase came with Colonization where the North plundered the resources of the South. Colonization was fought and independence was presumably gained. However, the universalization of production and consumption patterns of already industrialized North which typified the second phase made the joy of independence pale out. What this phase did was to substitute traditional consumption patterns with contrived western states accentuated by the process of industrialization of essentially the North (the growing penchant of Africa of abandoning “local” markets, stalls and imbibing the glorified culture of shopping in Spar, Shoprites, Walmart not only changes consumption patterns but stifles the growth of small and medium enterprises which consequentially further deepens the rate of unemployment of the unsuspecting many).

The third present stage of globalization is that which emphasizes commercialization, trade liberalization and deregulation of most facets of life under the auspices of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization. This phase in terms of production techniques is marked by the tension in genetic engineering technologies.
Therefore, the tragedy is that Africa has to develop in tandem with the discretion, whims and caprices of her imperialists and their goons. So it was in 1885 in Berlin, so shall it continually be. In establishing the current order, the mind of Africa must be eroded, its essence must be distorted that she no longer recognises her own. What we are grappling with is a fundamental defect of pre-creation (as imperialists wove hitherto contrasting ethnic habitats into inconvenient states), pro-creation (inability of nationalists to answer or reconstitute the new states anew during creation) and post-creation (the complicity between the rudderless African leaders and the insistence of the imperialists to forge Africa to their taste). Thus to recreate Africa, Africans must be recreated through the process of acculturation.

Globalization therefore has a toxic effect on a continent trying to understand herself after years in the imperialists’ animal farm. It is still stagnated and left to clear the debris of misconception and misinformation that has pinned her down.
Ali Magrui captured the resultant paradoxes of the acculturation of Africa relative to Asia, and the consequential impact on economic growth of the two continents. First, he noted that despite a shared experience between the two continents (territorially almost the whole of Africa was colonized, while only 60 per cent of Asia was Temporally, however, Africa was colonized for a much shorter period than Asia), African values and cultures were disrupted much faster in spite of the brevity of the colonial experience.
So if Africa was culturally westernizing faster than Asia, why was Asia economically westernizing faster than Africa? While western culture may be good for economic performance in the west, this is not necessarily the case outside the west.

To be meaningful, there has to be the right balance between western technique and indigenous culture as the example after the Meiji restoration of 1868 shows. Singapore under Lee Kwon Yew also epitomizes the importance of not surrendering your cultural initiative in the face of spiralling interdependence of nations. Simply put, the more globalized the world gets, the more you deepen your indigenous values to withstand the erosive tendencies of the western ideologies.

To borrow, you may compromise on certain fronts, but you must not surrender. However in Africa, what is happening is cultural westernization without economic modernization. Thus, Africa is suffering from double jeopardy; westernizing too fast, and in the wrong areas of western culture. The effect is what Mazrui called Mal-modernization – a state of urbanization without industrialization, western states without western skills, capitalist greed without capitalist discipline, western consumption patterns without western production techniques.
With these negative indices, the competitive edge needed to cope with and derive the benefits of the globalization phenomenon, is lacking. This will make nonsense whatever economic and political structures or processes are inherited from the phenomenon.

For there to be the entrenchment of the essence of Africa in the consciousness of the globe, in order to accentuate the necessity of the development of Africa as a continent and as a people, the mind of the African must be imbued with the substance of knowledge of self. The environment of Africa must be explored with the support of other nations as colleagues, not as bosses who sit in Hague, New York or London to create a typhoon that Africa has to battle with. Africa must be wary of the toxic nature of globalization. In seeking for “a good society”, we need to be careful as to what constitutes it. Development antecedents have shown that culture, tradition and indeed values of the society in question are imperatives, as the Asian example typifies. This means that we should avoid the reflexibility belief that excessive individualism, freedom and western political systems are prerequisites to economic success.
Societal values and culture must be part of the political process so that a sense of belonging is felt by the people. Before political subjugation comes mental and intellectual subordination. African intellectual elites must be at the vanguard of leading the restoration of the continent and in the formulation of sound political ideas, ideals and ideologies.

Micah Stephen is a practising Lawyer. He tweets via @Micahesq

MICAH STEPHEN: Africa And The Globe. Part One

It is time to be bothered about fatherland. We might have coiled into a cave of denial just to escape from the corrosive effect of our malady: from the distasteful effect of colonialism on our psyche, the near impossibility of Africa to transform from a plundered, pillaged and thieved hemisphere, into a genuine modern state. Let us go the full cycle to acceptance, we are in a limbo. What she has as reality is a beehive of political bedlam, inter-tribal hubbubs caused by the forceful union of diverse empires into nation states. Unity achieved by the cudgel of force. But of more importance is the fate of this continent, in the hands of her former masters and their cohorts. We are being globalized, changed and short changed. They are the first world, we are the third world.

It must be noted that the largest chunk of the Third World is powerless and backward and will continue to be powerless and backward because it lacks the production of organic and indigenous knowledge to power its political, economic and technological development. Yet, the very notion of a huge chunk of Africa and some parts of Asia and Latin America as the Third World is steeped in remarkable ironies. Before it became a veritable and enduring marker of backwardness and underdevelopment, the radical and progressive leaders of these countries such as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Surkarno of India, proposed the term at the Bandung conference as a way of distinguishing countries within their spheres of authority – countries which pursued a middle road policy of mixed economy as against capitalist and socialist countries which belong to the first and second worlds respectively.

Yet after the collapse of the Second World and actually existing socialist countries, one would have thought the term “Third World” would itself disappear, but it has clung to these countries like an ugly limpet. Tataalo Alamu has opined that the fact is that if knowledge is power, the production of knowledge is the production of power. Those societies that cannot produce organic and authentic knowledge will only produce powerlessness and utter poverty. This is because poverty of knowledge cannot lead to knowledge of poverty.

This poverty of knowledge is at the roots of Nigeria’s and Africa’s abysmal poverty and its continuous production of powerlessness in all its dimensions and ramifications despite outlandish oil riches. So the question is why has Africa been unable to produce her own knowledge? An endless list of corruption, nepotism, tribalism and at the apex of this pyramid is globalization.

There is a general agreement that the history of mankind (as of the world) is a history of one world order or the other. As Popoola puts it, “man’s existence has been one continuous struggle for the maintenance of an existing world order or the search to create a new world order”. To begin with, even though, globalisation as Ohiorhenuan, Mowlana, and Oyejide, Grieco and Holmes respectively opined, is a positive or powerful force for the improved material well-being of humankind, that would aid developing countries to “create better economic environments”, to “leapfrog” into the information age; improve their access to technology; speed development and enhance global harmony”, its effects on the political, economic, social and cultural nerves of the weaker member states cannot be ignored without severe consequences. In other words, the seeming near-consensus on the agenda of globalisation, notwithstanding the unrelenting encouragement of its “uneven thesis” does not give room for comfort, as it is exorbitantly costly to the developing nations. This is particularly so. in that globalisation affects developmental thinking and actions of the developing polities; relegates ethical equity and social concerns behind market consideration and reduces the autonomy of the independence states. According to Ohiorhenuan , it challenges the mediative role of the state vis-à-vis external pressures. It threatens the discretion of the state everywhere. Not only this, globalisation encourages “decreasing National control and increasing control over the (Internal) economy (of the state) by outside players. In fact, the gospel of globalisation through its economic liberalism “has been elevated to the position of absolute truth, a sort of pensee unique (or single theory) against which there is no credible alternative”. Indeed, globalisation is an awesome and terrifying phenomenon for African countries.

Concretely put, the planetary phenomenon of globalisation is nothing but a new order of marginalisation of the African continent. Its universalization of communication, mass production, market exchanges and redistribution, rather than engendering new ideas and developmental orientation in Africa, subverts its autonomy and powers of self-determination. It is rather by design than by accident that poverty has become a major institution in Africa despite this continent’s stupendous resources. Indeed, the developing countries/world burden of external debt has reached two trillion dollars (World Bank, 1994). In the process, it has enlivened the venomous potency of mass poverty and, its accompanying multidimensional depravity of the citizenry of all the requisite essence of meaningful living. It has disintegrated or disarticulated the industrial sector of most, if not all polities in Africa. This has been particularly evident in the areas of cost of production which has become uncomfortably high in most of the developing countries (e.g. Nigeria); also in the lack of government’s incentives to encourage local production; subversion of local products through high importation, currency devaluation; and depletion of foreign reserves. This clearly raises the problems of marginalization which is in reality, the dynamics of under development – the development of under development by the agents of development, Akindele, Gidado and Olaopo have submitted.

Nation-states in Africa today, rarely define the rules and regulations of their economy, production, credits and exchanges of goods and services due to the rampaging menace of globalisation. They are hardly now capable of volitionally managing their political, economic and socio-cultural development. S.T. Akindele, Ph.D; T.O. Gidado, M.Sc; and O.R. Olaopo; Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University in their article; “Globalisation, Its Implications and Consequences for Africa” explain that” globalisation has imposed heavy constraints on the internal management dynamics of most if not all the polities in Africa (e.g., Nigeria) where the government now finds it difficult in most cases to meet the genuine demands of the governed on many issues of national urgency (e.g., the June 1st, 2000, 50% hike in the prices of petroleum and related products and its attendant crippling national strike by the Nigerian workers). The reality in Nigeria today, as it is for most African nations, is that globalisation has made it immensely difficult for governments to provide social insurance – one of their central functions and one that has helped many developed nations to maintain social cohesion and domestic political support”. Trends like this have been largely dictated by the asymmetry of powers that accompany globalisation (i.e., inequality in the status of the members of the “villagized world” and, their inability to resist imposed policy options). In fact, this asymmetry which is undergirded by a system of production where capital rules has been clearly amplified by Madunagu (1999) when he claimed that ; “the result of globalisation in Africa, is basically a competition between the palatial centres (Developed World) and the slums (Africa) of the village where a preponderant majority of the people daily sink deeper into poverty and misery.”

The transition of the world from a bipolar to a unipolar world particularly in the last decade or two of the 20th century, in reinforcing the dominance of the US in world affairs, means the dominance of liberal philosophy regarding the political or economic or even legal affairs of man- a necessary offshoot of the present globalization process. Consequently, development today seems to be the adoption of liberal processes (democracy, human rights and liberal (market) economics) especially with the “demise” of communist world led by Russia and the gradual assimilation of China in the field of liberal economics. This imperialistic cultural dimension of globalisation, particularly in the area of “internet connectivity” which has often been used as a bait for luring Africa and other developing polities into the villagized world, has recently been put into perspective; thus the world is gradually moving in a unidirectional manner and, the tendency towards uniformity has never been so appealing as it is now. Consequently, there is a serious concern that nations like Nigeria whose contributions to the internet pool are high may lose their identity. A sort of cultural imperialism which will seek to enslave the African mind, leaving in its wake a cultureless or culturally-disoriented people may become a permanent feature of Africa and her people.

Two issues, consequently, stand out for clarification here. The one as to the type of development necessary for the people of the developing economies (including Nigeria) and the other as to whether globalization impacts positively on these peoples so as to attain that type of development. This analysis is necessary if we are to have a better picture of how we should build our state.

First and foremost, globalization is understood in economic and financial terms, where it seeks to broaden and deepen linkages of national economies into a worldwide market for goods, services and particularly capital. With the revolution in telecommunications and information technologies, dramatic increases in trade linkages, cross border capital flows as well as changes in form, structure and location of production have been witnessed. Benedict Kanyip in the book, “Consumer protection in Nigeria: Law, Theory and Policy” explains that these national linkages have however brought two additional impacts. The first is that because of developments in media technology and communication, globalization brings with it a growing tendency towards the universal homogenization of ideas, cultures, values and even lifestyles. He explained further that the second is a corollary of the first, which is, given the homogenization of ideas and indeed the dominance of western liberalism as exemplified by the United States, it is now fashionable to the economic growth and development with liberal democracy and its attending imperatives such as human rights. Although good governance is stressed, the impression given is that a necessary fall-out of liberal economics which emphasises such imperatives as privatization, deregulation and commercialization of developing economies is indispensable if they are to come out of their relative underdevelopment. This is in addition to other imperatives like right-sizing and retooling the civil service, upgrading the standard of personnel management, decentralizing and rationalizing government structures etc

………to be continued