Cultural Footprint: How Does Africa Fare?

Published on 28th January 2014

A Kentucky Fried Chicken joint in Nairobi
How do we measure the weight of our cultural presence in a globalized society? How does Africa's unique cultural capital fare in the face of globalized cultures? We can look at the global accommodation given to our individual cultures. What impact does Africa and African people generally have on the wider world? What value does Africa represent as a separate body?

The value assigned to Chinese culture and Islamic culture can be seen everywhere by the international accommodation these cultures are given. Despite Ethiopia (ኢትዮጵያ) being the cultural gem of Africa, with 70 million people, its dominance beyond its borders (Ethiopia and her Diaspora) is extremely limited. A look at Internet technology shows accommodation for all scripts: DVD subtitles come in many languages including non-Latin scripts, from Hebrew to Simplified Chinese, Arabic and even Hindi. But rarely any Amharic, beyond Ethiopian Airlines and the NHS in the UK.

The commercial value of African languages is linked to the volume or market value of African speakers purchasing DVDs, accessing in-flight services, etc. If you book a flight online, you can select Kosher (despite Jewish people being a serious minority at 13 million: less than the population of Lagos), Moslem meals {sic}, etc. These cultures have global accommodation due to their cultural and economic dominance. The economic "value" of Jews is reflective in the cultural accommodation they are given globally. The economic "value" of Muslims means that all over the world, you find accommodation for the Islamic diet, not to mention that 1/5 are Muslim.

There is a direct relationship between the economic success of cultures and their physical presence in global societies. It can be used to measure the impact or the global footprint cultures make. The indirect de-emphasis on accommodating Africans is by no means a racist plot, but moreover a measure of the outward extent of African presence in the real world. If Africa, tomorrow, became an economic giant, these markets would naturally re-orientate and accommodate African culture. DVD manufactures would include Hausa in the list of languages to capture the Hausa market. Just like Chinese restaurants in the UK realized serving Halal (حلال‎) food increased their market share. If African dress is demanded by all African elites, as opposed to the fitted Western suits of Italian designers, overnight, markets will shift to accommodate this trend. New economic opportunities will globally emerge for makers of these garments and the entire African industry will be stimulated. So there is a strong relationship between cultural agency and market forces and then ultimately the cultural footprint of Africa in a globalized world.

The reason for the low position of African cultural dominance however is another issue. The legacy of colonialism and slavery has left Africa in an endless rut. While the Asian sub-continent crawls forward, Africa is caught in a desperate loop. The only exception is South Africa as a nation, but looking at the race dynamics reaffirms the dilemma of African people. The condition in South Africa is nothing more than a Southern most European colony. South Africa is geopolitically global because of its European population and their economy. Thus all over the world, Afrikaans, despite being a minority language is more accommodated for than Zulu. Therefore, South Africa internationally is not culturally shaped by the majority the African population.

Agency in South Africa is also not the design of African politicians who manage this Southern European plantation. The cultural footprint of South Africa is expressed almost exclusively via White European cultural agents. And again in Kenya, the "Kenyan culture" that the world celebrates is not the product of African agents, but the product of European agents and their "lens" on what is and what is not Kenyan culture. The beautiful mask and ornaments sold in airports are filtered aspects of Kenyan culture and Africans are generally absent from that process.

Culture is America's biggest export. Via the mechanism of media, it has become not only the culture of America but also the world. It is maintained, promoted and protected by the Media, the merchant, the missionary and the military (4M's). The stronger the American culture, the stronger American products and services. The sushi food culture of Japan is now an aspect of globalization which makes a cultural deposit for Japan, enhancing Japan economically and socially. But the contemporary version, internationally known as "sushi" was created by Hanaya Yohei (華屋与兵衛; 19th C). The sushi invented by Hanaya was an early form of fast food and had all the components which made it compatible as ambassador of Japanese culture. Every bite into Sushi is creating wealth back somewhere in Japan. This understanding is something most of Africa (except Ethiopia) has failed to do with its cuisines.

With all the "Black" celebrities out there and governments, why is branding the African culture cuisine by internationalizing not being done? So that every time someone eats jerk chicken it creates 10 jobs back in Jamaica.

The Halal cultures of Muslim people is also another example of culture and power tied to economy. Airplanes, restaurants all over the world, to accommodate Muslims, adopt Halal standards for food. In South Africa, despite having a Muslim minority, the majority of the poultry products are Halal. This is the power of culture to impose itself in the market place. So culture is more than a fringe accessory. It is tied heavily to national development.

By Owen 'Alik Shahadah

The author is a master of the Documentary format and progressive African scholar. Shahadah uses film for social revolution.
Courtesy: The African Holocaust.

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