In this Africa in Fact edition dedicated to culture, Fred Khumalo paraphrases our mutual friend Mondli Makhanya who, in the midst of a debate with a right-of-centre interlocutor, asserted that, “I am a South African and that’s where it ends”. Much as this position is apt within a national discourse on identity politics, if we zoom out to the continent, Africanness has to be our departure point; for in one simple sense, culture is the outwardly radiating manifestation of our being in the world.
To elaborate, Max, a cab driver in DC who hails from Ghana, shares the following insight, “African culture teaches us from the earliest days to have respect for other people; you would think that with money and technology we would be happy and content but we have lost that culture. There is no respect for other people.” Culture often portrays more than a colourful aesthetic or funky tone, instead promoting a value base to what we represent, what we do, and who we are in the world. Hence the lament when culture loses its charge.
As our readers will appreciate from our zesty cover, however, the manifestation of culture on the African continent, as we have presented it, is all-embracing and flies effortlessly across the spectrum from food to fashion, soccer to the sounds of Afrobeat, religion to the Congolese rumba and beyond. Challenges may abound, but it’s an exciting time to be African.
Recent work events confirm the current fuss over all things African. At the Africa Transformation Forum in Accra, dazzling shades of Kente cloth were proudly worn by overseas delegates, while a more recent event at Ikoyi in St James, London, verified the hype associated with this West African inspired menu of plantains, jollof rice, efo, suya and other culinary treats, with cuisine fit for a lady and a lord; literally. South African wines are increasingly fêted in North America, as confirmed by Cape Classic wines recently wining a prestigious award in the US.
In short, there is increasing traction for Africa’s cultural sharing and export. With this comes the tension of protecting local intellectual property rights and balancing this with an expanding global market of incremental consumers. Nicky B highlights this in a poignant piece on African music, with respect to songs such as Wimoweh and Soul Makossa. Charmain Naidoo picks up on the issue of cultural contestation in her presentation on African fashion, while Anna Trapido suggests that on the foodie savoir-faire front, pitted against the EU’s 837 Geographical Indicator (GI) protected goods, Africa has only four. These inequalities are palpable.
Yet, as Andrew Panton recognises, in Africa the beat goes on, at least in the DRC where music sustains society. And it is not only melodies, food and fashion that take to the stage; African film is a niche market in the industry that holds much potential for development. Verónica Pamoukaghlián tells us that Nigeria and South Africa contribute $1 billion to the continent’s annual GDP. Whereas the former’s production dwarfs the latter’s, in box office revenue the southerners pull in 7.5 times as much, at $90 million.
Analytically, the very notion of culture, which John Kakonge engages in detail in his piece, needs to be retraced back to its beginnings and this necessitates some attention to history. This, coupled to the mantra that “Africa is not a country”, leads Luke Mulunda to suggest that we refer to “cultures of Africa” instead of “African culture” to promote an appreciation of the diversity and magnitude of the phenomena at hand.
Taking history at its broadest reach, we present an article by Delme Cupido on the plight of Africa’s “first peoples” with notable challenges and significant advances to recognise their human dignity before focusing more specifically on the San in Zimbabwe in a provocative piece by Owen Gagare that exposes their difficulties. Keeping with the theme of migrant peoples, Ini Ekott dives into the lives of Fulani pastoralists who since time immemorial have been nomadic and who now face major adaptive pressure in an existential threat to their culture.
In terms of concomitant diversity, we see Khumalo’s “Afropolitan” squaring off with so-called “white” Africans, who are, according to Kevin Bloom, still in the process of negotiating the identity of their Africanness. Meanwhile, Terence Corrigan and Vaughan Dutton find no evidence of a consistent religion-governance nexus, which flies somewhat in the face of intuition given the significance of faith-based traditions proselytised onto the continent and their cultural richness.
Ronak Gopaldas unpacks the “reverse flow” migration of sporting Africans onto the terroir of old colonial masters, with reference to France’s recent victory in the FIFA World Cup, using this as an exemplification of the outflux of some of Africa’s best and brightest human and cultural capital. Tom Osanjo provides the flipside of this coin, discussing the success of ex-pat sports stars back in their home countries, such as footballer Dennis Oliech from Kenya.
After all, our African identity is only the beginning, the rest is what we choose to retain, create, inspire. In January, the world lost one of its most talented sons, the late, great, Hugh Ramapolo Masekela. I still remember him turning to me during a live performance of The Boy’s Doin’ It in England, pointing and belting out “and this Durban boy’s doing it here in Cambridge”. I felt proud of being African and proud of the funky Africa Bra’ Hugh was representing on the global stage. In the face of adversity, racism and inequality, those warm, colourful, cultural strains of Africa streamed out sweetly through his lyrical trumpet on that cold, frosty, northern night. “Africa’s century is only just beginning,” I thought to myself, as I smiled infectiously.
“Young, dumb, broke, high school kids.” These lyrics from a contemporary pop song often heard on repeat do not exactly inspire confidence. On the contrary, Africa’s youth, while they are obviously young, are bright and “woke”, to use another trending word. That is, they are highly aware of the social world around them and conscious of the injustices that prevail. Sadly, however, many of our continent’s children will neither make it to high school nor complete their secondary education, through no fault of their own. So is this cause to lie down, curl up and resign ourselves to a fait accompli?
When I recently asked several young people at the African Transformation Forum in Accra, Ghana what they regarded as their biggest challenge and as their biggest opportunity, many of their answers came as little surprise. A young gentleman responded “job opportunities” and “education” respectively, while the first young woman suggested “health” and “self-advancement”. Another youth mentioned “sustained self-sufficiency” and the “innovative use of existing resources”. These voices confirm that African youth are aware, creative, highly adaptive, resilient and responsive to the life challenges facing them. Far from a dejected pessimism, there is an open attempt to engage reality.
Much like our upbeat cover, adapted and used with permission, the box-office hit Black Panther provides an apt portrayal of what might transpire should a fantasy world become real. In one of the chapters of the above forum – Youth Employment and Skills (YES) – we have been sharing animated debates on what practical policy developments might entail to make the aspirations of young Africans for a better life real. Like the main figure and heroes of Wakanda, key decisions revolve around leadership and choice. And it isn’t just leaders but the youth themselves who often act as superheroes, albeit unrecognised and often in disguise.
Dilemmas confronting our young people are like moving targets: the changing nature of work, labour supply and market demand, the fourth industrial revolution and a commensurate boom in new media and ICT services. The goodness-of-fit between an imposed, traditional (dare we say colonial?) textbook education system and the urgent need for dynamic TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) skills must be questioned, along with cultural taboos around opting for trades and enterprise over professions.
So the reality is that the profile of our African young person looks a bit like this: I am rejecting the old elite and am increasingly active in non-partisan, grassroots politics. I may live in poverty with little or no access to quality education, but I have embraced technology. While I face numerous barriers to entry to the job market, with sparse opportunities for formal employment, I am creating non-traditional jobs. I am greatly exposed to poor nutrition and communicable disease, such as HIV, but I have little access to healthcare and a wellbeing safety net. I may be fodder for criminal syndicates, extremist groups, exploitation and trafficking, yet I retain a sense of dignity and purpose and actively innovate to chart my own course. I am an African youth.
As always with Africa in Fact, the contributors to our current edition have not shied away from the stark reality facing us. Rather than to promote a gloomy outlook, the stories, positively grappled with, serve to make us, the readers, sit up and think and approach this challenging topic from different angles, mindful of history and context. We have the voices of the youth themselves, and a commensurate critique of being referred to as a dividend or a “bulge”. Besides this, we carry our trademark blend of hard news, journalistic content and academic/practitioner analysis. Instead of providing a synopsis, we have chosen to let the stories speak for themselves.
One story that does deserve mention is our own Child Development and Youth Formation programme. As the pilot roll-out features within the journal, we shan’t dwell on that here. Suffice it to say that children and youth have been identified as a key pillar of our work at Good Governance Africa (GGA), as they are unequivocally the future of our continent and of our world. Unlike a certain (non-African) administration that has taken to locking up children separated from their families, we strive to support the view of an enabling and nourishing environment; of an ecosystem that is holistic and wholesome and within which each child is located relative to their family, carers and educators, community leaders and broader societal figures.
In our preferred scenario, government at various levels affords the optimal development of the person across their lifespan, actively collaborating with the private sector and civil society. We have started young, at pre-birth, in fact. We sponsor the training of women, who represent marginalised deep rural and peri-urban communities, as internationally accredited ECD teachers with the Indaba Montessori Institute. We are engaging children, teachers, parents, and the broader community to promote inclusive participation, and in some instances we are physically redesigning schools. Our hope is that, with the support of key stakeholders and committed partners, we can extend from children aged 0-3 through to age 12 and move to scale in the years ahead.
So, with youthful enthusiasm, let us affirm that we are never too young to run!
Introductory Remarks: Extremisms in Africa – Book launch and workshop
Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, generals, officers and other dignitaries, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends;
It is my pleasure to welcome you to GGA this afternoon for the launch of our book anthology, Extremisms in Africa. When I joined in 2015, there wasn’t much material in place for this, one of our core programmes. I am therefore delighted to report that, thanks to a concerted team effort, we are here, a few years down the line with Africa’s first locally produced offering on the topic.
Extremism, as defined by Ben-Dor and Pedahzur, refers to “degrees of intensity in commitment to ideologies and the willingness to make sacrifices and remain faithful to that which appears to be worthy of belief”. As such, the term can be employed to describe a range of views, from religion and politics through to sport and recreational pastimes.
We chose to steer away from the popular term “violent extremism”, as propagated in the PVE and CVE (Preventing- and Countering- Violent Extremism) literature for a simple reason. The adoption of an extremist position in itself does some violence, to varying degrees, especially when considered from a dialectical point of view that entertains all available positions rationally before reaching a conclusion. There is, of course, a substantive difference between narratival violence and the weaponry of words, and the direct violence of an event that terminates lives.
In an honest, open attempt to move away from the prevailing Global War on Terror (GWOT) paradigm, which itself is rather extreme, at a spend of $50m/day for the US alone and with limited results, we sought to adopt a different approach and a shift of mindset, which may have scope for future application.
Our introductory anthology seeks to understand the phenomenon of extremism(s) from an informed social sciences and humanities perspective, that is necessarily multi- and trans-disciplinary in nature. We have, therefore, drawn on a diverse set of strengths, embracing journalists, anthropologists, conflict analysts, security sector specialists, academics, researchers and practitioners to produce this timely volume.
I say timely, because of the general state of poor governance globally at present. At best, a questionable “tone from the top” collides with a disturbing grassroots spread in “left and right” extremist practices that encompass ethnicity, nationalism, religion and evolving domains such as cyberspace, the world of virtual reality and AI.
Indulge for me a second, for suggesting that we consider the discipline of ethology as our point of departure for framing this workshop and our debate. Ethology, or the science of animal behaviour, examines in microscopic detail the behavioural activities of various species, and behavioural ecologists aim to understand their adaptiveness or functional relevance. Scientists such as Tinbergen and Lorenz have looked at cooperation, conflict and aggression.
My point is that whatever we observe in the world around us does not happen perhazard. There are multiple reasons informing the behaviour of different humans, at various times and across markedly different contexts. I have attended several meetings recently at which followers of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and in fact upon all of us, who express concern that in contemporary parlance extremism has become equated predominantly with Islam. Their concerns are neither unreasonable nor unfounded for, by and large, this phenomenon appears to have been interpreted reductionistically to refer to “radical Islam”.
At issue is that all religions and in fact any ideologies have elements that can be interpreted at the extremes and in radical ways. Judaism and Christianity, which started out as persecuted religions, themselves went on to have followers who persecuted others and, some might argue, have proponents who continue to do, along with members of other religions.
The 15th century conquest of the Americas is a case in point, where acts of terror and violence were dressed up as if they were acts of God. Only in 1550, did the Council of Valladolid in 1550 address this and recognise that “all humanity is one”. Various religions manifest evolutionary patterns where outbursts of violence are followed by theological refinement and a greater promotion of peace.
For this reason, our work looks at extremisms, plural. We consider various instances of extremisms comprising ethno-nationalism, such as espoused by so-called “white extremism” in South Africa, for example, although many other contexts spring to mind; and religion, where we engage extreme variants of both Christianity and Islam.
In recognition of the reality of the use of military force when all other means fail, we book-end our work with chapters on counterterrorism and military strategy. In between this, we look at popular culture, aspirations for self-determination, psycho-social support for survivors and especially children, along with analyses of the various groups operating on different parts of the African continent. In the main, these are not African extremisms but ideologies that infiltrate and permeate local contexts and promise some adaptive benefit, often financial or aspirational in nature.
Consider the notion of “endeavouring, striving, taking pain”, which, incidentally, is the etymological origin of the word Jihad, that has to be understood within the sources of Islamic teaching as well as in the lives/interpretation of individuals. When striving for good governance, in the “struggle for existence”, space is created for evil to thrive when governance fails and criminal syndication occurs, preying off – while promising to – desperate individuals and marginalised communities. A benefit of studying “divinity” in England was that all faiths were studied inclusively, under one roof. That contact between people from diverse backgrounds broke down stereotypes and negativity and promoted greater knowledge and awareness, stimulating harmonious co-existence.
We hope to have created a collegial microcosm where, for at least the next few days, we might engage together and dialogue towards creative and sustainable strategies moving forward. The first step perhaps lies in recognising our own pre-existing violence and stepping outside our comfort zones. We trust that the Chatham House Rule will facilitate this (no leaking of identity or affiliation, respecting anonymity and the confidence of the group).
Returning to behaviour, we would like to address, cooperatively, what is a difficult challenge and anticipate future trends to remain ahead of the wave. I would like to thank you all for joining us and encourage your full participation!
Alain Tschudin, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Good Governance Africa
Johannesburg, June 5, 2018
Regular readers of Africa in Fact will recall our edition on local government (April 2016), which established a new template for the journal, with more space for articles and an attractive design based on high-quality photography and useful infographics.