Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On Culture; How It Is Really The Only Way That Africa Has A Shot At Saving Itself

Screen shot of what google images thinks is African Culture. Sigh. 

On my hunt for a holistic definition of the word culture, I found this from the University of Texas;

  • Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
  • Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.
  • Culture is communication, communication is culture.
  • Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning.
  • A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
  • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action.
  • Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.
And then there was this gem;

  • The position that the ideas, meanings, beliefs and values people learn as members of society determines human nature. People are what they learn.
Over the course of the 6- weeks of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, we were made to experience "American" culture. Their politics, their family life, their economy, volunteering and so on. Then, we were made to experience the corporate culture of several organizations. In my University's case; IBM, Coca Cola and UPS. From all of this, we learnt one thing; the success of a company, family, nation at large depends solely on it's culture. Solely. The only thing that ensures that an ideal survives from one generation to the next is culture. By the end of the 6 weeks of experiential learning, the class had an ongoing discussion that got quite heated at times about culture and leadership. Who creates culture? Who ensures that it stands the test of time? The people? The Leaders?

How does this relate to Africa? Well, every time there's talk of why we are not progressing as we should, we hide behind the excuse of we were colonized and ravaged. Our nations pillaged of resources; human and natural. Yes, we were. But so were the Asians. Look at Japan, the only country to suffer a nuclear attack, 70 years later and their GDP stands at $38,633. And this story of resuscitation and growth of an economy is increasingly similar across what is now known as the Asian giants; India, China et al. And the commonality among them all; a strong adherence to their culture whatever culture that may be. 

This recent article in the Nation from Bitange Ndemo states that;

"In Japanese culture for example, the country comes first. People will die for their country without question. Friendship comes second, and people will be willing to die for the sake of their friends. The individual comes last.
Some of the theories that arise from Japan rarely focus on an individual. For example, “Kaizen,” a management theory which refers to activities that continually improve all functions, involves all employees from the Managing Director to the assembly line workers.
They trust that their country will always take care of them and a friend will always be a friend, and such assurances mitigate against wanton greed. In most cases, whenever there is such greed, it often appears misplaced.Africans were more honest when family support systems were intact. However, modernity has destroyed those systems."

We, as Africans have lost our way. We do not know who we are anymore. We do not know what we stand for and thus what unifies us. Unification can only come from; a common language (which we do not have), a common belief system/religion (Ha!) and culture. We, ourselves are rapidly erasing what is left of the last. The sharing economy began in Africa. This is why innovations like mobile money thrive. We have slowly over time unlearnt how to share. This is why looting of public coffers is rampant. For God and myself we selfishly state. A child was raised by a village we used to say. And now we look on as millions starve. Before western aid organizations come rid us of hunger, we ideally should have homegrown efforts already underway. Cleanliness is next to Godliness and yet we litter our streets happily. Women were respected, revered even.
Thankfully, there are steps being taken to avert this. The African Union has developed a Charter For African Cultural Renaissance. They recognize that despite cultural domination which during the slave trade and the colonial era led to the depersonalization of part of the African peoples, falsified their history, systematically disparaged and combated African values, and tried to replace progressively and officially, their languages by that of the colonize, the African peoples were able to find in African culture, the necessary strength for resistance and the liberation of the Continent. That the affirmation of cultural identity denotes a concern common to all peoples of Africa; That African cultural diversity and unity are a factor of equilibrium, strength in African economic development, conflict resolution and reducing inequality and injustice to promote national integration.
Thankfully, our leaders are not alone in this fight. I met a lovely professor who is curating and putting together an African calendar. Yes, that's right. Just like the Japanese, we have a calendar. All that talk of market days that your grandmother has been having. Well, every grandmother on the continent is saying the same thing. Prior to the Gregorian calendar, we had one of our own. This and many more efforts to get more African content online, to tell our stories before they are blown away by the wind will get us there. Culture constitutes for our peoples the surest means to chart Africa’s own course towards technological development, and is the most efficient response to the challenges of globalization. 
I am hopeful for Africa.

Friday, August 14, 2015

MWF Chronicles...The End and The Begininning

How does one summarize the past few weeks. It's been a whirlwind of activity. From meeting Grammy winning artists to shaking hands with the President of the most powerful nation on Earth. For me, this experience felt like Cinderella at the ball and right now it's past midnight. I'm back in my work clothes and the fancy dress has disappeared. The magic's gone. I'm left holding a glass slipper though which are the memories and lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This was meant to be an academicesque article with things I have learnt (which is what the masses want and need to read) but I thought I'd first have a feels article. Process the swarm of thoughts in my head and gain clarity that writing oh so beautifully provides.

It's taken me a week to finally write this conclusion. When I was told that this fellowship changes you, I didn't believe it. I was very skeptical. What can happen in 6 weeks that can dramatically alter one's personality, their life path?! Nothing, I thought. Alas, I have changed and dramatically so. I wonder though if it is the change that had been anticipated by the initiators of this fellowship. I travelled thousands of miles to be shown and learn about the great America, which I have but the important learning for me has been about Africa. I travelled all this way to learn that my home, my motherland is truly home. We have a proverb in my language that says that a child who has not travelled praises his mother as the best cook. I have travelled and I still maintain that my mother is the best cook. Being lumped with fellows from 17 other sub-Saharan countries has done more for me than any class, television station (I hate you international media for misinforming me so tragically my entire life) newspaper article could ever do for me.

Living with people who are deeply in love with the continent and doing amazing things to revive it has been ridiculously amazing. Stacey who's radically changing the status quo of  education in South Africa, Funmi and Sindi who want every single African child to fall in love in with reading and are doing everything in their power to get material, African centric material to these children. Dami, who was my roommate(fine babe, sha) and Tino changing the graphic landscape on the continent. Pixar and Co better watch out for these two. Tania,Thabo and Nina disrupting finance and investment. Munya,using tech to make sure there's more African content online, showcasing the intense creativity of Africans. Selly, ridiculously awesome fashion designer. Tsonam and Fanana, running Tech companies that will be the forerunners of the African tech industry. The media guys and girl; Abdallah, Napoleon and Lepang striving to make sure that African voices and stories are heard, loudly, clearly but most importantly authentically in media. I was challenged. I was and still am in awe. I was inspired. By their passion for their work and their deep deep love for the continent.

I find it funny that I went to America to become more African. I now see my continent as the West sees it, a land of opportunity. It saddens me that we it's citizens do not. It broke my heart to read of the thousands dying at sea trying to cross into Europe yet Asians are flocking to Africa like moths to light.

The best thing that this fellowship has done for me is to inspire love and passion for my work. Whatever work it may be. And that all labor has dignity. Where do I go from here?! To work, to hustle, to grind. It's like someone has poured gasoline on the fire that I already had for my startups. I am anxious to get back and get moving. So much to do, so little time. And as for the newly massively re-ignited pan-Africanism, I believe that Africa is not poor but it is poorly run. And that has to change, somehow. Africa is not just rising now. It's always been rising. It's the cradle of man-kind. We had organized kingdoms, trade systems long before the explorers/ missionaries interrupted our rise. I read recently from someone on twitter that they wished Africa had a strong immigration policy before we let Europeans land on our shores hundreds of years ago. Instead, we pitied, welcomed and fed. And then we were ravaged. We are still recovering from that and we will recover. We will rise. Let this quote from Martin Luther move you like it did me.

"In your life's blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody...However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice."