Culture, Respect, and Development

Thu, 12 Sep 2013 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

Where are we? I mean, where were we? What drove Ama Mazama, Molefi Kete Asante, and Tsehlaone C. Keto to develop the theory of Afrocentricity to neutralize the historiographic-epistemological hegemony of Hegelian Eurocentrism? What drove Chinua Achebe to challenge the narrative minstrelsy of Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness” with his Afrocentric narrative critique “Things Fall Apart”? What drove Cheikh Anta Diop to turn the West upside down with his magnum opus “African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality”? What drove the Afro-Brazilian, Machado de Assis, to beat the odds of racism and second-class citizenship to become, according to Wikipedia, a man “widely regarded as the greatest writer of Brazilian literature,” or in the words of the American critic Harold Bloom “the supreme black literary artist to date” (Wikipedia)? What drove the creative “homeless” thinkers—the Afro-Brazilian Abdias do Nascimento and the Somali Farah Nuruddin—to earn formal kowtows from the Nobel Committee? What drove the Empire of Mali’s King Abubakar ll to get to the Americas before Christopher Columbus, according to Ivan Van Sertima’s “They Came Before Columbus”? How did Pele breeze through the fog of racism to become one of the world’s most apotheosized sports icons of all time? What drove George Alfred Paa Grant and Kwame Nkrumah, both Nzemas, to found Ghana, while Busia, J.B. Danquah, and the CIA tore it down?

Is it through the accident of birth? Wealth? Accident of circumstance? Class? Accident of history? Culture? Personal drive? Personal biology or genetics? Plagiarism? Ethnicity? Stochastic manipulations? Pedigree? Geography? Race? Paternalistic favoritism? Hard work? One, two, or combinations and permutations, either deterministic or stochastic, of the afore-cited are possible for creative success and intellectual preeminence. But, unlike the “somewhat” ready predictability of the technology and scientific engineering of cloning, is it possible for the vast possibilities of human imagination to anticipate the material phenomenology of the afore-mentioned? Maybe. Maybe not.

My focus here today is not the arithmetic of phenomenology but the arithmetic of psychosocial and cultural actualities. Culture, culture of tolerance, to be precise. What is culture? Some say it is the totality or quantum of the products of human creativity, material and spiritual, passed down the social conveyor belt from one social unit to the next in a given historical or chronological space. Others say it is “a way of life.” Fortunately, the simplex nature of the latter formulation makes for better analytic simplicity in our case. What does “a way of life” mean? Is Osama bin Laden’s idea of Islamic terrorism part of the pageantry of “a way of life?” What about the “nonviolent” social-moral philosophies of Leo Tolstoy and Henry Thoreau? Of Bayard Rustin, of Gandhi, and of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is the post-emptive atomic-bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima when the Japanese had already formally surrendered part of the glamour of “a way of life”? Are Garveyism, Afrocentricity, and Nkrumahism part of the package insert of “a way of life”? Is the historical actuality that not less than hundred Japanese cities, not two, were, in fact, bombed and destroyed, not part of “a way of life”? Are Aparthied, Jim-Crowism, Eurocentrism, racism, ethnic nationalism, sexism, lynching, and pederasty part of the pornography of “a way of life”? Whose “a way of life” takes precedence over the other’s?

Surely, questions of social geography, of relativism, and of the political economics of epistemology and historiography come to play in the evaluation of what constitutes “culture.” If that is the case, then cultural expressions must find their “voice” in the matrix of psychosocial interactions. In other words, human agency is that such “voice.” Plus, the “voice” of human agency assumes the structural transmogrification of what social scientists and sociologists call “society.” Let us subject the anthropological definition of “society” to ideational or conceptual atomism: Family, marriage, friendship, fraternity, body politic, clan, community, church, school, nation-state, mosque, etc. In that case, we must move from the authoritarianism of “singularized or minoritarian voice” to the commonwealth of “pluralized or majoritarian voice.” The transition, therefore, calls for rhetorical democracy or ideational tolerance in the marketplace of intellectual production and social communication. But tolerance comes with it social, personal, and community responsibility: Tolerance to diversity in thought and speech from without.

Now, we must be worried about as well as critical, even suspicious, of Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” The fascist Benito Mussolini based his doctoral dissertation on it. Both Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin all used it at one point. The product of their perusal of it is there for all to see: The near-annihilation of human civilization! This explains why Afrocentric theory rejects its arguments of social and political control of the ruled by the ruler—as it refuses to accept them as suitable moral-theoretical response to Africa’s political problems. A word of caution, however. The genocidal proclivities of Adolf Hitler had their antecedence in the historical Holocaust of the Nama and Herero Peoples of what is presently called Namibia. Moreover, the historicity of the Nama and Herero Genocide, which ran from 1914 via 1917, is the first recorded genocide in modern history. Unfortunately, Holocaust scholarship ignores this aspect of the colonial roots of Hitlerite Nazism. Surprisingly, the Jewish Holocaust came a stretch of 19 years later, beginning in 1933 and running via 1945. David Olusoga’s and Casper Erichsen’s “The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism” brings all the salient facts about the Nama and Herero Genocide to light. Ben Kiernan’s “Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur” is another comprehensive source material on the historiography of genocide. Finally, even the 6 million Jews allegedly killed in the Holocaust pales in comparison to what Adam Hochschild tells us happened to the Congolese in “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa”: Upwards of 10 million!

Let’s move onto a higher rung of argumentation. True, “intolerance” is the genesis of many, if not most, of the evil happenings in the last five hundred years, even before. Let’s not deceive ourselves, however. Ironically, both “tolerance” and “intolerance” can be synonymous in certain situational peculiarities, too. “Tolerance” can equally be problematic. For instance, tolerance of pre-Nazi excesses by the natives led to the Herero and Nama Genocide in the first place. And intolerance to questions of racial equality by the pre-Nazi colonists led to the Herero and Nama Genocide. Questions of “intolerance” by Hutu ethnic nationalists and of “tolerance” by Tutsi “moderates” ignited the tinder of the Rwandan Genocide. In Ghana, belated applications of Akufo-Addo’s “All die be die” battle cry and Kennedy Agyapong’s alleged declaration of war on Gas and Ewes by Akans may have led to the snuffing of lives out of fellow Ghanaians in the turbulent aftermath of the elections. Ironically, Ayikoi Otoo, himself a Ga, would legally represent Agyapong in court after his indictment on charges of inciting ethnic animosity. As an aside, an anonymous commentator on Ghanaweb practically joked that Ayikoi Otoo’s legal representation of Agyapong justified the latter’s call to Akans to attack Gas, because, among other things, Ayikoi Otto’s pugilistic revisionism against Kwame Nkrumah was morally despicable, to say the least. But Ghana’s a free country and Ayikoi Otoo could do as he wishes.

In fact, such precedential rhetorical responsibilities do not bode well for either inter-ethnic plurality or inter-ethnic social contiguity within the body politic. Besides, the carcinogen of ethnic slurs have the intended and unintended tendency to resolve into metastasis in the body politic. We also know that the disparate anatomies of the body politic demands collectivized physiological collaboration in order to activize the engine of homeostasis. As a result, any heuristic methodology short of this prescribed “physiological regimen” seriously disrupts the smooth operationalizability of the systems biology of the body politic. Certainly, the hiccoughed rhetorical indiscretions of Agyapong has a Cartesian parallel in the geopolitical pudenda of the Rwandan Genocide. The Hutus’ merely calling Tutsis “cockroaches” was all the spark needed to set off the conflagration of inter-ethnic animus. At the end of the genocide, the voiced “cockroaches” had transubstantiated into hundreds of thousands of human carcasses. This is not what we need as a people. Actually, we need the spark of human imagination, of human creativity, of human ingenuity, to set off the conflagration of development on the continent, as Richard Poe does in his beautiful work “Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilize Ancient Europe?”

Now, what has the political economy of “tolerance” and “intolerance” got to do with development, with human creative spontaneity, with the incontinence of human originality? Everything. Knowledge economy, knowledge management, and the supply chain of knowledge economy all depend on them. But that is not our immediate concern here. Two indispensable articles compel us to take a diversionary tour from our preoccupation: One is Abdul Sidibe’s “Re: Nana-Addo Is ‘Proudly Un-Ghanaian’”; the other is Tony Anum’s “The Okoampa-Ahoofe Articles,” both published on Ghanaweb. Additionally, both write-ups represent mordant syllabi of Prof. Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe’s revisionist and Lefkowitzian journalistic profile. The authors lament his deliberate slanting of political news in favor of the NPP and his rigid ethnicization of Ghanaian politics, sort of the exercise of “ethnic phototropism” in the direction of the sunny Akyem. Anum, for instance, believes his ethnocentric journalism has the potential to throw the nation into war and, therefore, admonishes him to consider evaluating reader feedbacks to gauge the temperature of public reaction—public acceptance or rejection of his controversial views.

But Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe’s is not the kind of creative journalism Milton Allimadi calls for in his journalism monologue “The Heart of Darkness: How White Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa” and Neil Henry’s demands in “American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media.” It’s as though investigative journalism had lost its pedigree of respectability, eventually descending into the pit of extinction with the dinosaurs and mammoths of irresponsibility. Further, Anum’s and Sidibe’s cumulative critique constitutes the moral crossroads where the responsible critique of Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe meets the vehicle of ethical substantiation in the political pothole of irresponsible journalism!

It looks as if the tail of the sleeping tiger of journalistic irresponsibility had finally been awakened and, therefore, the awakener must face the Hitlerite smile of the awakened tiger. In fact, men and women of goodwill must rise to the occasion and make sure the gravitational pull of reprobation finds its rightful place in the conscience of such men. Therefore, let’s do right by our people by hearkening to the elderly wisdom of Mr. Sam Jonah and Mr. Kojo Yankah to do something about irresponsible journalism. Against this backdrop, responsible journalistic muckraking as well as the investigative journalism of Manasseh Azure Awuni and of Anas Ameyaw Anas must be encouraged and rewarded. Let us not rob the people of their moral intelligence and the body politic of its democratic shine. After all, a journalism of insults, of intimidation, of ethnic jingoism, of abuse of any kind, of cheap sensationalism, of political partisanship, and of twisted propaganda is not the way forward. Remember, a journalism of insults and intimidation, for instance, stifles the agoraphobic flow and utility of emotional intelligence. Besides, we do not need the culture of intimidation for the actuation of Howard Gardner’s “Theory of multiple intelligences.”

That brings us to the topological relationship between the political economy of “tolerance” and “intolerance” and personal, community, and national developments. First, we must recognize that both Christological economics and Mohammedological economics have not served Africa well in the political economy of Africa’s existence vis-a-vis her psychoanalytic stability. Both introduced colonialism and slavery into Africa. Moreover, the intoxicating chokehold these religions wield on the psychology of Africa is akin to the pharmacologic effects of opiate. Marxism was yet another. Second, Eurocentrism followed suit. But Eurocentrism does not tell us that medically “female genital mutilation” in Africa can procedurally be equated with “penile elongation,” “episiotomy,” and “vaginoplasty” in the West. Eurocentrism does not tell us ballet is the Afrocentrist’s Adowa. Eurocentrism does not tell us William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, Nadine Gordimer, and Shakespeare are the Afrocentrist’s Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, Toni Morrison, and Chinua Achebe. Eurocentrism does not tell us Bob Dylan is the Afrocentrist’s Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Mutabaruka, or Peter Tosh. Eurocentrism does not tell us Elvis Presley is the Afrocentrist’s Michael Jackson, and so forth. That is why we need to put our psycho-historiographic house in order.

What is the point of all that? “Know Thyself,” as the ancient Egyptians put it on their templed lintels. Why don’t we learn to tolerate each other? Why don’t we learn to tolerate healthy “intolerance” amongst us? Could the exclusivist “intolerance” of African Americans by White Americans, per se, have released the floodgates of creativity in the American body politic, producing the tactile fluidity of Thelonious Monk on the piano, the leggy calisthenics and terpsichorean skills of James Brown, the dribbling and juggling dexterity of Michael Jordan, the social and vocational sense of Booker T. Washington, the preeminent organizational skills of Marcus Garvey, the literary and scholarly prolificacy of WEB Du Bois, the trumpeting whispery of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and of Miles Davis, the hissing saxophonics of John Coltrane…

Brothers and sisters, the exclusivist “intolerance” of one social unit by another can either inadvertently or inevitably lead to the parturition of “untaught” learning and “survival skills.” Therefore, I am obliged to pontificate on the theory that since both “tolerance” and “intolerance” internally harbor the potentialities of progressive transformation, then it’s up to us to use them in critically healthy, measured, and creative contexts. Later, we shall attempt a demonstration of the degree to which the “independent” social and political variables of “tolerance” and “intolerance” are related to the “dependent” variables of personal, community, and national development in an equation of social “tolerance”—in other words, under the “culture of tolerance.” Also, it’s not farfetched to claim that “tolerance” and “intolerance” are related to “respect” in every way. Let us trade ideas in an atmosphere of psychosocial tolerability. Remember, brothers and sisters, that “social justice,” “intolerance,”” freedom, “tolerance,” “shame,” “respect,” and “social responsibility” are nativist paradigms. Recall, finally, that my articles “Afrocentricity and the Future of Ghana” and “Decolonizing the African Mind,” as well as this piece, “Culture, Respect, and Development,” do not exist in vacuum. Please try and read them in contextual simultaneity if you can.

Finally, the America spiritual leader, Rick Warren, used the promotional platform of his international bestselling book—“The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?”—to advance the foreign policy statement that if China wants to join the brotherhood of nations—under conditions of economic and political liberalism—then it must be prepared to embrace Americanism wholesale—with all of its implied frailties (the latter is my own inference!).

Is Warren’s foreign policy preoccupation applicable to the Ghanaian, or African, situation, as well? Whatever answer you give us, please, must be construed as food for thought in the social context of iterative digestion. Long Live Ghana!

Love Africa!


Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis