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17.10.2006 Feature Article

AFRICAN ELITES ON THE DEVELOPMENT TABLE

AFRICAN ELITES ON THE DEVELOPMENT TABLE
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There is gradually emerging the thinking that African values should drive the continent's progress informed by her colonial legacies and, as Washington University's John W. Meyer and associates would say, enabling aspects of World Development Model via cultural and associational processes. Of recent times, millions of words have poured into these debates. From Ghana's Minister of Health, Courage Quashigah, to Kenya's africanexecutive.com to Sierra Leone's thepatrioticvanguard.com to Mozambique's the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa, there are growing advocacy continent-wide to increasingly appropriate African cultural values and experiences in her development process in order to overturn many an earlier errors in Africa's progress done by the colonialists and African elites.

As part of the on-going processes, the editor of Accra, Ghana-based Public Agenda, Amos Safo, whose bi-weekly brand itself as Ghana's sole advocacy and development newspaper, in a series of feature articles on re-branding Africa for her progress, argues that the negative branding of Africa by the colonialists, and partly deepened by her elites, some 500 years ago, as “underdeveloped, poor, primitive continent” and the ensuing pushing of “western development paradigms down the throats of Africans,” without regard to her values, has undermined Africa's progress. For in the larger development game, values and images are everything, and these values and images in Africa's progress, at the national level, are heavily foreign, resulting in the rolling misunderstandings of Africa's development process. Dr. Y.K. Amoako, former chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and some experts will tell you that part of the reasons why there are development misunderstandings in Africa is that Africa is the only region in the world where foreign development paradigms dominate her development process, resulting the continent's developmental confusion.

To extend Safo's argument, the need to re-brand Africa for her progress rests not on the overburdened media alone but also increasingly on her elites, who are yet to demonstrate a real of sense of African progress driven by their grasp of the continent's values and experiences, driven from the ground up, as the Japanese and the Chinese are doing. The thinking here is that using their home-grown values and experiences as foundation, African elites, as key directors of progress, will be able to appropriate World Development Models or the enabling aspects of global development values to fit into their environment for progress. The Japanese and other ex-colonies have done that, opening their values for progress. For the global development values are universalistic, everyone's, human, and not necessarily Western, and it is up to each nation-state's elites to appropriate them for progress. As Prof. Eda Kranakis, who teaches Understanding Development at University of Ottawa's MA International Development and Globalization program, says Western progress is an amalgam of taking values from all parts of the world to enrich their own in their development process.

Part of African elites inability to tap their values clearly and openly for national development emanate from their education systems, which do not deeply emphasis African values and have blinded the elites from seeing the relevance of their rich cultural values in their development process, especially in policy-making. In Cultural Troubles (2006), Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, renown Africanists and known for their groundbreaking work, Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (1999), as part of the growing need to give cultural meaning to progress, throw more light on the need to look more intensely at culture in the development process. Grounded in anthropology and using Nigeria, Sweden and France to illustrate how the State came to be constituted, in the development sense, and how cultural approach is crucial to appreciating the State and its progress, the writers say since culture is systems of meaning that people use to manage their every day living, it's right to factor in these meanings when talking progress, especially policy-making since the State is a the central political manager.

In this context, do African states understand Africa in development sense? If yes, then why haven't African states heavily appropriated for their political management of the progress of state, as centre of authority and order, what they know first – that's their values – before any other as other states such as Japan have done. To trouble is, and there are many troubles in Africa's development fronts, how can you develop if you don't understand yourself first and always attempting, as Africa's education system currently demonstrates, to understand somebody's. Recently, I have been receiving telephone calls and e-mail from some folks who have been trying to know why I have been critical of African elites in relation to the continent's progress.

The heavy criticism of the African elite in relation to Africa's progress is that they are the frontline directors of progress and, as intellectuals, are the main players of development ideas for progress. So they are to be questioned about Africa's development troubles. The fact is whether playing with ideas or directing development the elites should be informed by African values first, as the emerging economic giants China and India are doing, and any other second especially the appropriation of the enabling global development values. For whether because of their education system or their own inability to think within their values first, especially in policy-making, African elites have projected “debilitating intellectual incoherence” in tackling the continent's development. It seems to me that African elites are not balanced in relation to Africa's progress. They are skewed, more or less, toward talking Western values or thinking of Western values when tackling Africa's progress.

The challenge for African elites, as the continent increasingly get enmeshed in the World Development Model, is whether talking about the failed Structural Adjustment Programme or its remodeled Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, is how they re-think a new policy-making regime that seriously incorporates their indigenous values and experiences with their Western.

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, © 2006

The author has 338 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KofiAkosahSarpong

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