Untangling Africa's Inferiority Complex

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
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By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

8/16/2008 2:23:47 PM -

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
process.

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
trade.”

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
round.

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
today.”

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.

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