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Untangling Africa's Inferiority Complex

Situating Africa’s development plights in “confidence” and “inferiority

complex” are increasingly gaining currency continent-wide. Nowhere is

“confidence” and “inferiority complex” discussed openly than in Ghana, which

pride itself as the “Black Star of Africa,” and home to all that you can

think about of Pan Africanism, such as the “African Personality” discourse,

which had been more or less an international anti-imperialism political

rhetoric than translation into confidence growth and the extrication of

Africans from inferiority complex in their progress.

Still, for the past 51 years the “Black Star of Africa” has not projected

any brilliant African development philosophy driven by the idiosyncrasies of

African cultural values as the Southeast Asians have done. The Southeast

Asians minted the “Asian Way” by blending their cultural peculiarities with

the global prosperity and that has helped developed the Asians’ remarkable

confidence and disentangle any inferiority complex in their development

Recently politicians such as Nana Akufo-Addo, presidential candidate of

Ghana’s ruling National Patriotic Party for the December 2008 general

elections, have spoken seriously about the confidence dilemma within Ghana’s

progress. Traditional rulers such as the Asantehene (King of the Asante

ethnic group) Osei Tutu 11, too, are coming to terms with the confidence and

the inferiority complex concerns. Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II, Omanhene of

Ghana’s Oguaa Traditional Area, argues worryingly that “the inferiority

complex syndrome” is a serious matter caused by centuries of the “slave

Such views, as Africa’s progress unbolts, Africans are acknowledging that

their progress journey lacks deep-rooted confidence, which should flow from

within their core cultural values first, and is mired in disturbing

inferiority complex in relation to global prosperity. This has prompted

Kenya’s James Shikwati, director of the Nairobi-based Inter Region Economic

Network, yell that “Africa urgently needs its own Age of Enlightenment.”

Shikwati makes the case, citing Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Alms,

that "The majority of Africans today are poorer than those who lived in the

Stone Age Era," and this means today’s “Africans ought to drive their own

age of enlightenment by asking such basic questions as to why a continent

rich in minerals is perceived to be poorer than the rest of the world.”

In this circumstance, either in Nana Akuffo-Addo, Osabarimba Kwesi Atta II

or Shikwati, the main view is that African elites have not being thinking

deeply enough in relation to their cultural peculiarities and progress, an

idea that partially echoes the late Senegalese President Leopold Senghor’s

view that Africans find it difficult to think but are good at expressing

their emotions. This may be debatable today in the face of boom in

intelligence and knowledge across borders, but such view may explain Y.K.

Amoakoh, former chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, analysis

that Africa is the only region in the world where its development process is

dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its rich

cultural values. That tells African elites’ degree of thinking, in relation

to the continent’s development process. But the daunting developmental

challenges facing Africa demands remarkable thinking, from within Africa’s

cultural values up to the global level - it shouldn’t be the other way

How well African elites, as directors of progress, think and project

confidence and untie the inferiority complex in their progress, as Nana

Akuffo-Addo is demonstrating in Ghana, is answered by Osabarimba Kwesi Atta

II, who offers that “this could be done by ensuring that all African

children are educated to believe in themselves, and to have confidence in

African values, in order to dispel the notion that anything African was

inferior.” For Shikwati, who uses the primitively dark period of Europe to

buttress his African Enlightenment case, “European history is dotted with

tribalism, ethnicity, superstition, extreme religious beliefs, repressive

kingdoms and wars, but that ought not to be an excuse for Africans to

celebrate. The lesson Europe offers, however, is that the exploitation of an

inquiring mind, a mind that was willing to be rebellious and give reason the

power to shape people's lives is what gave birth to Europe as we know it

The key element in tackling Africa’s confidence and inferiority complex

dilemma is with the African elites’ minds – it’s the African’s mind, nothing

but the African elites’ minds, as directors of advancement. It is from the

African mind,
which have being shaped, sociologically and psychologically, by the African

culture from birth but which culture have not being considered in thinking

about Africa’s progress (that has created the long-running crisis of

confidence and inferiority complex), that need to be transformed, as Nana

Akuffo-Addo has intimated to Ghanaians, for progress.

As expected of African elites, whether in Europe or Asia, they had

transformative elites who were able to think deeply from within their

cultural values by transforming their cultural ideals to the global

prosperity level for progress. Psychologically, their continuing confidence

grew from this. In Southeast Asia, bold thinking in the face of dare

developmental challenges transformed into their progress came to be called

the “Asian Way.” Whether in Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, Japan’s Akio

Morita, South Korea’s Gen. Park Chung Hee, Taiwan’s Gen. Chiang Kai-shek,

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew or China’s Deng Xiaoping, Southeast Asian

transformative elites had outstanding grasp of their cultural principles and

were able to weave them into the global prosperity ideals.

Expectedly, though there were some rifts between the Southeast Asian

indigenous tradition and the dominant Western neo-liberal capitalism in

Asia’s march to prosperity, since 1949, as Daniel Yergin and Joseph

Stanislaw argue in The Commanding Height, “the Asian miracle is now

sometimes called “Confucian capitalism,” a reminder of their elites’ ability

to blend their cultural values and the neo-liberal development paradigms.

The outcome, as Robert Kagan indicates in his new The Return of History And

The End of Dreams, is an “Asian arc of freedom and prosperity” stretching

from Japan to Indonesia to India.
Africa’s confidence crisis in its development process and its ensuing

inferiority complex have come about because African elites have not being

able to think deeply through their culture, that informs their historical

and psychological origin, for the continent’s progress. As Kwaku

Atuahene-Gima, of the Beijing-based China Europe International Business

School, argues, Africa’s cultural idiosyncrasies, through its historical and

psychological context, should be considered as a way of injecting confidence

in the continent’s progress and unscrambling Africa’s inferiority complex.

Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article." © Kofi Akosah-Sarpong.