African Culture in Mainstream Thinking

Published on 21st November 2011

King Mswati of Swaziland             Photo courtesy

The “City Forum on Culture and Development,” a policy orientated venture held in Accra to openly strategize the African culture for African progress reveals the increasing attention being given to the African culture. For almost 50 years, the African culture, either because of colonialism or bad intellectual savvy by African elites, has not been purposely appropriated for policy development and bureaucratization.

An enlightenment campaign is under way in Ghana. Driven by the mass media, some religious leaders and some academics, it seeks not only to advocate for the appropriation of African culture in policy development and civil service but also the refinement of the inhibitions within the culture that stifle progress. The prominent Ghana Academy of Science and Arts, among other credible institutions and non-governmental institutions, recently trained Ghanaian journalists about how to deal with inhibitions within the Ghanaian culture.

The Accra culture forum, with UNESCO as some of its prominent participants, said it aims are to “strategize on ways to put the cultural and creative industries at the heart of Ghana's national policy agendas by exploring development policies, funding modalities and programming approaches.”

That’s a good start. But missing here are traditional institutions, the main sources of deep and practical cultural knowledge, as the sounding board to review the place of the Ghanaian/African culture in progress. While the creative industries are well known in Ghana’s/Africa’s development process, the core culture as the hub of policy development tool is still insubstantial in the larger thinking of Ghana’s/Africa’s progress.

George Clifford Owusu, of the Accra-based Daily Guide, part of the journalists in the forefront of Ghana’s enlightenment campaigns, in a report of the Accra cultural conference, quoted the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development data that says “cultural creative industries grew at an average of 8.7% annually.” George Clifford Owusu does acknowledge this but says that “culture is not mainstreamed into Ghana’s development policies.”

The management and organizational contents of Ghana/Africa existence are still tremendously Western despite huge African cultural values such as South Africa’s ubuntu: “I am because we are,” that could be appropriated as management tools that fit the African moral, psychology and environment.

Also welcomed by the on-going enlightenment movement is “enhancing the knowledge of public authorities, private sector institutions and representatives of civil society about the unique characteristics of the cultural economy.” The Ghanaian/African bureaucracy as the sense, eyes and ears of the African people and their struggles, needs radical overhaul to reflect Ghanaian/African ways of life. The African bureaucracy doesn’t reflect the real African and the mechanisms of the continent’s mainstream development process. This has impacted on the private sector that is supposed to be influenced the public sector. Though the long-running African authoritarianism is responsible for this climate, Africa’s emerging democracy is quickly changing this, as the Accra cultural forum, under Ghana’s democratic dispensation, show.

Akin to the Ghanaian/African bureaucracy, the African traditional informal sector, of which most Africans are economically, morally and psychologically situated, has not been thought about and integrated into the formal sector. This makes the entire African development process impracticable.

The chair of Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission, P. V. Obeng, has lamented the lack of the informal sector in the financial sector. This has made majority (over 70 percent) of the wealth of Ghanaians (and by extension Africans) stuck in the informal sector that battles constantly with the formal segment of the development process. The non-strategizing of the informal sector into development had had severe repercussions on the general economy, especially the formal sector.

In mainstreaming the Ghanaian/African culture into policy development and bureaucratization, the informal sector would be empowered and refined as one of the key drivers of progress. The Accra City Forum on Culture and Development exposes how democracy is opening Ghana/Africa from all fronts for progress. This is powered by the unprecedented technological and social change across Africa. The Accra forum should finally stay pertinent and react to Africa’s developmental challenges, and seriously help improve the living conditions of Africans in the long term.

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