I watched ‘Pocahontas’ with my boys this afternoon. We got to the point where John Smith tried to convince Pocahontas, the heroine, that they (the English) will build better houses for them (the Red Indians). I couldn’t help wondering why John Smith felt that these natives need to be ‘civilised’. Weren’t they living comfortably before the invasion? Does it mean that their system of life was truly ‘savage’? Why would John Smith and the other explorers measure civilisation based on their own society? Ok, let me rephrase it, why does the whole world measure the development of Africa using their different cultures?
Now I’ve set off the alarm in somebody’s head. Before you come for me I’ll like you to ask yourself this question – by what standard should we measure the level of civilisation or ‘development’ of any given society? You can also reflect on this question – is it proper to measure a society using the standards set by foreign bodies or organisations?
Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of works still need to be done in African countries, just the way the countries in other continents need works too. But, don’t you think we are actually measuring up Africa using the standards set by these other continents? Ok, let me put this differently, what if we measure civilisation of the different countries of the world using Africa as a standard? How many countries will pass this test?
Ok, look at the basis of my argument. Every community has a set of cultures, values and thoughts that guide it. It will be improper to ask this community to drop its personality to pick up a foreign one in the name of civilisation. Now, let’s look at Africa as a civilised world.
I didn’t do geography in school, but I have a little knowledge of it to know that Africa is the oldest continent in the world. That means civilisation actually started from here. In Nigeria for instance, we have archaeological findings that proved this. A good example is the terracotta artefacts found in Nok. We also have the soapstone figures of Esie, the beautiful bronze works of Igbo-Ukwu, the ivory and bronze works of Benin, and so many others.
So, I will ask, how come tide has shifted and Africa is now grouped among the Global South? I will tell you why. The reason is because the colonisers came with their own ‘civilisation’ and made Africans believe they are savages and needed to be rescued. The result of this is that Africans started seeing themselves as underdeveloped because they are judging themselves using a foreign standard.
The effect of this double-standard of a thing is that Africans are finding it difficult adjusting to a life that is not their own. They are having difficulties living different cultures at the same time. Believe me, Africans are really confused. With the way things are going, we will not get anywhere in the nearest or farthest future. The only thing I’m seeing is Africa being the continent of the confused, unless something is done and done fast too.
Well, we can’t reverse the hands of time, but we can still make some changes. We have already opened the door for other cultures to come in so we can’t close those doors again; and we are enjoying the open door. But, we have to tailor and modify whatever that comes in.
Alright, let me explain what I mean by citing some examples. English came into Nigeria through that open door. The language became associated with the elites, and it’s still holding that position till date. But then, Nigerians have tailored that language to the extent that the English that is existing in Nigeria today is no longer the one that came in with the colonialists. Now we have our own English known as Nigerian English, which we can use to depict our culture, values, thoughts and experiences within Nigeria.
Another example I want to cite is our dressing. What we wear in Nigeria today came in through that open door. Before then, in Igbo land, unmarried girls only wear beads around their waist while married women tie clothes to cover up just their privates (as a sign that it belongs to someone, I think). When the foreigners brought in clothes and all, men dropped their loin clothes and went for trousers, while women went for wrapper, skirts and the rest(remember oyinbo people don’t tie wrappers like our women do). I know you will say that our women wear trousers these days but that is because our culture is gradually adjusting to the introduction of foreign ways of life. But then, have you seen any woman working down the Nigerian street in bikini? Don’t worry, I know the answer already.
The point I am only trying to make is that when new things come into a society, that society either rejects them out rightly or modifies them to suit its way of life. There is no way that community can adopt those foreign objects entirely without changing them unless its inhabitants have been annihilated and replaced by the owners of the new culture.
Now, let’s bring this down to the business world. What have you tried to introduce to Nigeria that isn’t working? Have you made out time to find out if that idea is in line with the Nigerian culture? Did you bring in something entirely foreign or did you make some adjustments to suit the people? Are you forcing a foreign idea on Nigerians?
I once presented a paper in a conference where I advocated that Nigeria should develop a test system like IELTS (on Nigerian English), which should be made a prerequisite for visa applications into Nigeria. I could remember the house was divided because a lot of elites felt they don’t need Nigerian English (not knowing they were speaking it. lol). One argument someone raised then that is making me tell this here is that most foreigners coming into Nigeria will definitely meet people that speak Nigerian English because only a few people don’t speak it.
This is also the same thing with bringing ideas into any African society. If you are targeting the very few that you believe are not affected by the African culture, you can go ahead and introduce that foreign concept without modifying it.
But if you target the masses, here is my advice for you:
Spend time to carry out a lot of researches on how your idea will and could be accepted in Africa. Ensure that you don’t send in foreign researchers to do this work because they will use alien methods and standards in doing that. Find people from within who can help you do proper investigations and analyses of situations. Don’t be in a hurry to set yours ideas into motion without being sure that they will work here. Remember, Africans have been there long before these other new continents, so they are deeply rooted in their culture.
As for we Africans, we should stop feeling inferior because other people judge us using their own way of life. We are different from them. We should learn to be ourselves and bring back that old dignity with which Africans are known for. Remember, a true African isn’t a thief, a killer or a destroyer.
Stay black and be happy.