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What are the reasons for this sad fate of Africa?

  1. Aug 26, 2010 #1
    As the world countries can be divided into developed, underdeveloped, developing nations, etc. I belong to the part which would be described as a developing one. There is a huge degree of difference between the level of development between many parts of Asia and most of African countries, with Asian countries being more developed. The low level of development and life standards in a country like Mongolia is understandable both due to its geographical location and being far from central trade routes, etc. Africa occupies central location between Asia and the West, and all historical trade routes and information channels flow through Africa. Although it may sound somewhat strange to a few Westerns that many of the Asian countries have a rich history since ancient times. The republic of Iran, formerly known as Persia, and India are two typical examples of this.

    Thomas Macaulay, an arch-racist, once said this: "It is, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England". I would say Macaulay's statement tells more about his mentality rather than his knowledge of history of India. Now coming again to Africa. I have researched this topic a little and it seems that Africa has never attained any impressive level in any kind of history at any stage, let it be literary or cultural.

    Please note that I'm a learner of English, so please excuse my poor choice of words. I'm sorry for any offense which my language shortcomings could cause. I'm making an honest enquiry for the sake of knowledge. What do you think are the reasons for this sad fate of Africa? I've a firm belief that in near future Africa will take on a route of progress and prosperity which will make it stand at par with other countries. Please let me know your opinions on this. Thanks.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2010 #2


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    Tribalism + power vacuum due to decolonization = anarchy
  4. Aug 26, 2010 #3
    Guns, Germs, and Steel. Read it; at the time I read it in college, it was considered the best hypothesis for the disparity in development in the Old World between Europe, and Africa/Asia. It is just a story, though - we can't really say with any kind of experimental accuracy why things developed the way they did. It's a reasonable sounding story, though!

    His arguments boils down to this:

    1) Population density - continental Europe had this, Africa and Asia did not.
    2) Climate heterogenity - continental Europe is an East/West continent, and the climate varies relatively little.
    3) Balkanization - Europe developed into a number of smaller, competing nation states. Whenever there were large, dominant central powers, cultural and technical stagnation followed.
    4) Resources - Europe had an ideal combination of sufficient resources to encourage diversity of economic development, but sufficient scarcity to encourage technological and economic progress. Life was neither to easy nor to hard.

    It was all set in motion by the collapse of the Roman Empire. Under the Empire, there was the kind of stagnation we observe in China in later centuries. When it collapsed, the fractured states were forced to innovate to survive.

    EDIT: I said heterogenity, but I meant homogeneity, of course.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 26, 2010
  5. Aug 26, 2010 #4
    Did your research take you here?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Africa" [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  6. Aug 26, 2010 #5


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    Well, I would certainly disagree with Macaulay. Is he referring to historical information in the sense of the objective or impartial recording of historical events, as opposed to commentary or interpretive works?

    One has to investigate the exogenous factors, such as invasion and colonialization, and the endogenous factors, such as culture (e.g., the value a culture puts on learning and knowledge, as opposed to superstitions or traditions) and geography (I include climate, resources, etc in this category).

    In the broader context, how is it that some individuals, groups, nations advance intellectually, i.e., expand knowledge, while others stagnate or regress?
  7. Aug 26, 2010 #6
    That is an excellent book talk2glenn .... glad you mentioned it.

    Did not Ethiopia have an advanced civilization, equal to the Egyptians, at a time when Europeans were still making cave drawings? 'Course, remember that Egypt IS in Africa ....
  8. Aug 26, 2010 #7
    It passes for the most part uncritically when the world is classified according to the economic states of nations relative to each other, but I don't believe there are any national regions that don't harbor vast discrepancies in levels of education, prosperity, economic participation, etc. The wealth elite or the isolated pockets of poverty may be hidden, but that doesn't mean they are absent.

    The idea that Africa has never developed is an old stereotype. Ever heard the Paul Simon song, "Diamonds on the Soles of Their Shoes?" I believe this refers to a western prejudice that Africans had access to the diamonds but never bothered to collect and trade them, which was presumed to be a mark of lacking interest in gaining prosperity. I'm no expert but this was my impression. If you want to read more about the perspective that argues against this logic as being Eurocentric and promoting an Afrocentric alternative, you can google "Afrocentrism" and/or Molefi Asante'. The claim is that Africa has traditionally failed to "measure up" because the ruler used was European/Eurocentric.
  9. Aug 26, 2010 #8
    Perhaps you mean the Kush kingdoms, in modern day Sudan? It is generally believed that the Kugarbagees developed nationally before the Egyptians, at least to some extent, but they never independently developed writing, so very little is known about them today. Most of our knowledge comes from Hebrew and Egyptian texts, and it is thought that the concept of statehood was introduced later by the Egyptians, not developed by the Kugarbagees independently.

    But the first civilization (defined as nation states with written language) did indeed arise in Africa, specifically North and East Africa - the Egyptians. At this time, there was nothing of note (literally, nothing being written :) in Europe.
  10. Aug 26, 2010 #9
    Terrific point there, brainstorm - yet at least part of the metric to judge development came from Africa .... The very Bibical Queen of Sheeba, leader of a strong and important nation in the (current) European sense (certainly at the time of King David).

    Even if they came from Lebanon to begin with, Hannibal in the Punic wars came close to destroying Rome - and they came from north Africa. Elephants were a very african addition to the list of war instruments.

    Still your overall point is well made and valid .... Europe has dictated the metrics,
  11. Aug 26, 2010 #10
    Ironically, you're supporting the first point of my post to point out the flaws in the second. Well done indeed. I think if you dissect the Afrocentrism approach a bit you would come to the conclusion that what Asante' and others who take such an approach are doing is to judge cultural practices from the perspective of someone who practices and therefore knows them intimately.

    A decade ago, I would have called this cultural relativism but I no longer thing that culture belongs to "societies" but that the reverse is true, that "society" is defined as part of culture. So ultimately, anyone can judge themselves or others according to any cultural measuring tape they have access to. Ethnocentrism, in other words, is not a natural attribute of people according to ethnic identity - it's just culture learned and practiced at the individual level.

    It just so happens that many people who identify as African nevertheless evaluate culture they also identify as African as primitive according to Eurocentrist views (or maybe modernist would be a better term, I don't know). The issue really comes down to identifying how culture works at the (inter)individual level and how any given individual comes to acquire and practice certain forms of culture, certain identities, and certain views and evaluative judgments regarding certain identities and cultural practices.

    At the superficial level of everyday identity and intercultural reflection, it's easy to just assume that some people all share the same homogeneous culture and others have distinct but also homogeneous culture, and cultures don't overlap or influence each other. In reality, though, culture is as complex as individuality and the various activity-spheres of their everyday lives; but it's easy to gloss over all that complexity to make simple comparisons at the caricature level.
  12. Aug 27, 2010 #11
    Have you ever read The Poisonwood Bible? I sort of rebelled at first as it was heavily recommended by OPRA - but it is an excellent exposition of how (central) African society, culture and habits are attuned to their surroundings and of the innate imperialism of those that would 'civilize' them.
  13. Aug 27, 2010 #12
    No, but I don't really enjoy post-colonialist literature that much. I can't judge without reading it, of course, but it sounds like it reproduces dichotomies of civilized/primitive, society-inside/outside, imperialism/self-governance, etc. I was trying to present a view of culture that is post-deconstruction but it sounds like you're not quite through the deconstruction process yet. Apologies if I'm assuming too much.
  14. Aug 27, 2010 #13
    Again I agree with you .... can't judge without reading it, and find it a shame that you would dismiss an excellent exposition of the effects of western colonial imperialism (Belgian in this case) upon a culture that is (was) perfectly suited for its' environment.

    and yes (I feel) you are assuming too much.
  15. Aug 27, 2010 #14
    I have no doubt that the book details the replacement of indigenous culture with modernism in a way that marginalized perfectly useful indigenous culture. What I would find more interesting, however, would be to read about the process whereby migrants from Belgium/EU interacted with indigenous people in a way that failed to acknowledge and learn from them. There is, for example, the ever so romantic story of the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims who made it through the harsh winter by learning from the indigenous people. In other words, the interesting story is how individuals became familiar with previously unfamiliar culture, in either direction, and what process they used to evaluate whether and which aspects to adopt or reject. Looking at the interaction as a story of one group imperializing another with foreign culture is too simplistic to be empirically plausible, imo. Plus, there are political interests involved with defining one group as the imperialist invaders and another as the hapless victims. Since WWII at least, there is an anti-imperialism ideology that seeks to render foreigners as invaders in order to legitimate their eviction. Nomadism and free migration are pathologized within this ideology.
  16. Aug 27, 2010 #15
    Perhaps you had best check your doubt closet - that is exactly what does not happen.
    The Belgians were indeed the ones that suddenly departed (it was owned, personally, by the King) and left the Congo in such a bad shape .... but the story is about an American 'born again' preacher who comes to 'enlighten the dark and ignorant' masses. Had you not been so anxious to throw about constructions and deconstructions and all those pseudo-enlightened terms you would have seen that this precisely is what the book is about. The 'missionary' is the one to be enlightened.

    May I suggest load your gun before you start shooting.
  17. Aug 27, 2010 #16
    I just paraphrased exactly what you said about the book.

    But you still dichotomize the individuals in the story into indigenous and non-indigenous colonizers. You fail to see how cultural domination occurs among indigenous people "internally" and how colonizers or any other migrants become "naturalized" to varying degrees by interacting with indigenous people and culture. Unless this book treats the Belgians who departed as natural residents and the born-again preacher as an enculturating/naturalizing member of the citizenry, I don't see how the book's language could possibly convey the same framework of cultural-relations as I am talking about.

    What I am saying is that when you radically deconstruct the group-identity distinctions between the individuals, cultural differences and exchanges aren't as clearly definable either. Too often we are assuming cultural difference because of identity differentiation and are not able to see culture for what it is, i.e. simply everyday ways of living. Identity politics are part of cultural interaction, but not the most important part. They just seem to be because that's how people define themselves and what they hate, dominate, and/or kill each other over.
  18. Aug 27, 2010 #17
    brainstorm! brainstorm - you have to stop making judgments about a book you have not read. There are no Belgians in the books, old son. They have departed by the time the narrative begins - and I am not sure they were there in any numbers anyway. (As well they should have, of all the colonizing powers they were the worst.)

    It is less a text about how colonizers or any other migrants become "naturalized" to varying degrees by interacting with indigenous people and culture than about cultural imperialism and misplaced paternalism - think of Albert Schweitzer, than it is a celebration of how the indigenous culture is apt for the circumstances.

    It is about the dichotomy between the (erroneous and paternal) beliefs of a preacher from Georgia and the settled and evolved culture of the Congo. (The famoushttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rumble_in_the_Jungle" [Broken]plays an important part in the narrative.) Ali was, and indeed is, a very popular personality in the Congo and the match was heavily supported by Mobutu Sese Seko, the ruler. It is famous in boxing circles for Ali's rope-a-dope tactic - what is less well known was that Seko used the tunnels under the stadium to torture opponents.

    If anything is 'dichotomized' (to create a verb from a noun :rolleyes:) it is how the successful fundamental preacher from Georgia fails to see the appropriateness and the glories of the culture he intrudes upon, and how his daughters observe and accept the habits of the land they are thrust into. The book begins as the preacher and family arrive and ends just after they leave.
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  19. Aug 27, 2010 #18
    I'm not judging the book but the conceptual categories you are using to describe it. You keep talking in terms of colonizers and colonized, which is a dichotomy I'm trying to show you can be deconstructed if you want to look at things another way, but I don't think you do or can.

    My whole point is that EVERYONE becomes naturalized to some degree through cultural contact. There is no such thing as a true foreigner because cultural contact and exchange has to occur for the 'foreigner's' existence to even be recognized in the first place. This is why I'm saying I'm not interested in reading prose that reproduces the dichotomy foreign/native because I am more interested in reading accounts that frame people in terms of actual cultural acquisition instead of essential identities and the assumptions that come with those.

    I wouldn't assume this preacher was "intruding" into any other culture with his own. It sounds like he simply moved to the same region and started practicing the culture he knew. It is doubtful that he would of his own accord be able to force others to adopt his cultural practices or beliefs. My question would be what kind of interactions took place between himself and others that involved cultural transfers and what exactly were the terms of those transfers and the social contact through which they occurred.
  20. Aug 27, 2010 #19
    Now we're getting somewhere. Half the point of the book is that there is no transference of ideas/culture in the life of the father/preacher. He is so sure of the righteousness of his cause he allows no room for any nuance or deviation. His daughters (and wife) manage to develop an appreciation of the people about them. (As people not sociological specimens.)

    The metaphor of the title is of a bush the locals call the poisonwood - it is toxic to touch, and friend preacher is warned to beware. Yet his belief in Jesus allows him to go ahead and clear the weed convinced nothing bad will happen. Of course it does. (Is it in Camelot where Lancelot sings: "I fear nothing when I am in the right....")

    This extends to the whole book .. the daughters manage to get along well within the indigenous culture as they accept and learn from it: he, unwilling to deviate in his firm convictions continually gets caught in similar situations.

    I would not characterize anything in the book as holding the philosophy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_%28Star_Trek%29" [Broken] - assimilation is inevitable - but when the children accept and participate in the culture about them they have a chance to become mature and independent adults; Papa never does.
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  21. Aug 27, 2010 #20
    It sounds like a typical story meant to supplant religious faith with a healthy fear of nature. That is another old dichotomy between mastering nature and submitting to it. In reality, if that preacher didn't die from his brush with the poisonous plant, he would learn how to deal with it and by doing so be developing mastery in dealing with the plant the same as others who had knowledge of it. I think you're assuming that people either have to submit to the cultural authority of others or suffer the consequences, but sometimes cultural competencies can develop in parallel.
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