Neglected Values: Recipes for Growth in Africa

Published on 9th January 2007

Is Africa a huge value desert? Looking at the socio-economic state of this continent, one is excused to answer in the affirmative. African people are greatly lacking home-grown values in their quest for foreign values.

Once upon a time, Africa had vibrant and hallowed values by which they lived and went about their socio-economic chores. Regrettably, with the coming of foreign masters, these values were indiscriminately rubbished and Africans described as empty husks, dark and uninformed. The foreign masters embarked on systematic destruction of these values through their mode of education, neglect and opposition. This unfortunate state continues as African elites seek to perfect the art of their foreign teachers.  

Freedom is a fundamental human value. Its concept as we know it today in Africa is alien because Africa looks to the West to define everything.  The West deigns the indicators for freedom and judges Africa by them in spite of the continent’s uniqueness. Think of the much worshipped democracy. The so called democratic ideals find no basis within African traditional value systems. The utter confusion in most African governments ought to have made the propagators of these ideals to stop and think again but it has not. Why? The confusion serves foreign interests. 

Freedom in Africa meant master and servant living in peace. It meant the absence of war and animosity. It meant a time to plant, tend and harvest one’s crops. Freedom meant laughter and celebration. Freedom was not measured in terms of the majority vote (which is often rigged in Africa) or a five-year term leadership. Neither was freedom measured by elite dictatorship based on foreign constitutions which even the supposed professional interpreters fumble to read and understand. It is disconcerting to hear the West talk about freedom and war in the same breath. Democracy as practiced in Africa today is the least indicator of freedom. 

Western education has been the easiest and surest way used by foreign masters to entrench themselves. With this, they replaced wisdom which was greatly valued in Africa. Wisdom was hinged on a person’s grasp of his people’s way of life. It was largely verbalised in the richness of the person’s ability in the use of wise sayings. The wise were at the same time educators, physicians, religious leaders, historians and linguists. Wisdom was the greatest measure of one’s leadership abilities as opposed to the number of drunkards that stagger to the ballot box and vote with their stomachs rather than their heads. Leadership was not cheap as it is in the so called democratic elections across Africa where incumbents corruptly buy their way to positions of power.  

The foreign masters are not foolish. They tactfully destroyed this fundamental African value by introducing their compartmentalized education. The all-round African leaders were told that they were not good enough after the introduction of book-knowledge. Young, inexperienced elites were praised and honoured by simply counting the number of certificates acquired and the stretch of letters after their foreign names. They were taught that nothing good can come from Africa; not even names! They were called economists, biologists, physicists, theologians et cetera. African wisdom based on experience was ridiculed. African medicines were relegated to the bush from whence they had come and those who administered them called magicians and witches! Decision making processes shifted from councils of elders to the educated young elites. The elders were shunned for their inability to speak the foreign language and called fools because they had not graduated from given West-sponsored schools.  African elders and leaders were to say the least, greatly humiliated. 

The African people did not measure integrity in terms of secrecy or ability to argue one’s case logically in a court of law. Africa knew right from wrong. Integrity and a clear conscience were close partners. One had to keep a promise as illustrated in the oath taking process. People did not rush to take oaths as honourable elites do today. An oath was not a hollow statement that could be overlooked with impunity. It was a matter of life and death. African democratic leaders with Western training take oaths and sign memoranda of understanding but flout them as soon as it is convenient for them. They take oaths of service to the electorate but demand slavish service from them. The oaths are empty words spoken by Western created specialists, baptised politicians. 

In my opinion the greatest value lost in Africa, which has great implication on the African value system, is the African religious disposition. Religion was not a profession like teaching or nursing. To live was to be religious. Religion was at hand to answer life threatening and mind boggling experiences of everyday life. It brought order in the lives of individuals and communities. Foreign religions are yet to fill the vacuum left by African peoples’ shift from their traditional African religious understanding. The spiritual mix-up can be witnessed in many who claim to be Christians or Muslims but visit traditional healers or abasayi when faced with sickness or other misfortunes. They are Christians on Christmas day and Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan but Africans the rest of the year in their dreams and distress. The foreign religions’ focus on afterlife in a foreign heaven is largely irrelevant. Appropriating these religions has been made difficult with the theological school propagated ways of rationalism. Take Christianity for example. It was brought to Africa with a huge baggage of European traditional ways which have nothing to do with what Christ taught. The African religious values have been largely lost with the introduction of the foreign masters’ rationalism. 

Expression of respect in Africa has been warped. Age, for example, was celebrated and the aged highly honoured. The older a person, the more respect he commanded. Age spelt maturity and wisdom. However, respect was earned. A village thief, for instance, commanded no respect despite his age. With the coming of the foreign masters, age was made suspect. Arguing from the evolution theory (African never taught their young that they originated from apes), older members of the society were made to feel closer to anthrolopithecus and were ashamed! African men who worked for foreign masters were referred to as ‘boys’ irrespective of their age and initiation into manhood. This dealt negatively with their personality.  

Charity as expressed in foreign aid to Africa is a foreign value. This form of economic neo-colonialism is based on off-loading excess. I must not be misunderstood to be saying that Africans did not know giving. On the contrary, African hospitality is proverbial. Africans do no just show acts of charity like the Westerners do. Acts of charity are done grudgingly and come with strings attached. In many cases, foreign aid is used on projects approved by donors whether or not they are priority areas for the recipients. Project implementers are often foreign multinationals with foreign directors. African giving is relational. It is a matter of the heart, not dependent on how much a person has and is willing to give away. This relational obligation meant that a person in need found shelter and food by sharing with his or her hosts. It was hospitality, not charity or aid. This value which underpinned social well being has been eroded with the introduction of the impersonal charity and foreign aid. 

Nothing thrives in a value vacuum – not even profit inspired trade. Africa is lagging behind economically because of imbibing foreign values thoughtlessly. African leaders lead the rest of the continent on this dangerous quick-sand. All is not lost. Africa can learn from the Far East. Although the Asian Tigers score poorly on the Western democratic freedom board, they are doing well economically. They have their own values that are serving them well. Values distinguish a people. They spell out what the people stand for. Without them; we will remain perpetual slaves.

African people have been floored. It is of little consequence whether they have been floored using orthodox means or otherwise. Following this knockout, African people have readily knelt and raised their wounded hands in submission to foreign gods and their lieutenants, and said ‘amen,’ let it be so. The gods’ main agenda is revealed in one term; consumerism.  

For the Western gods’ values, everything sells because what goes in is not bad after all! On the contrary, the Eastern gods are very selective; not everything sells. There are clean animals and dirty ones. Why are African gods silent? They have been terribly let down by their runaway children.

Africans must rise to the occasion now. First, they must consciously refuse to take part in the wars perpetrated by  foreign gods and  lieutenants. Second, they must reject the common trend of subjection to foreign gods and their lieutenants. Thirdly, and perhaps most important, Africans need value‘re-engineering.’ African people ought to curve their position in the value struggle and adapt the wealth creation value to the contemporary world of production and consumption.

By Rev. Benjamin S. Keya
African Institute for Contemporary Mission and Research
Kenya


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