In the quest to seek clarification, two Africanists continue to debate relevant issues:
George: Your apology has been accepted. I would also request your forgiveness
for my tempestuousness. I get irritated when I feel I have to defend
Africa's heritage to an African.
Moses: No problem. Discussions can get heated sometimes, leading to frayed nerves on all sides. Forgiveness is granted.
George: It is obvious from your write-up that you do not subscribe to President
Thabo Mbeki's "African Renaissance," nor the aphorism: "African
solutions for African problems," which, by the way I coined in 1993 when
Moses: I believe in the idea of "African renaissance" but only to the extent that the referential Africa being deployed is not an "invented," pristine, or stable one but an Africa that is complex and dynamic-an Africa in which the experiences generated by many centuries of Africa's and Africans' mutually beneficial, albeit unequal, interactions with the Western world are acknowledged and their indelible legacies valued or at least underlined. As for your idea of "African solutions for African problems" I believe that it is a beautiful rhetorical coinage but it is impracticable and unrealistic-at least in the context of current global geopolitical configurations. It works as a futuristic statement of where Africa needs to be, and the vision implicit in it is noble. But it conceals more than it reveals. It conceals, for instance, the fact that, for good or ill, Africa has been a scene of global ideological confrontations and that as a result there is hardly any African crisis today that lacks a global or international dimension. Even in cases of political or economic reengineering, the Western powers do not just have a stake; they are often heavily invested. Simple logic dictates that you do not exclude parties to a conflict in its resolution. The rhetoric of Africanization is thus a little removed from reality and is a prisoner to its own overly futuristic significations. Whether one celebrates or laments Western socio-political and economic investments in Africa, one does have to accept it as a reality.
I have often wondered why some African politicians and thinkers who believe that a massive infusion of Western capital and management expertise is necessary for the economic reinvigoration of the continent would disapprove of a conflict resolution model that simply accommodates (and does not privilege) the entrenched Western interests and investments in Africa.
George: Regarding the sovereign national conference (SNC), I think you need to
realize that EVERY model or solution has its own limitations. Even the
U.S. electoral college system has its limitations. Fact that a model may
have limitations doesn't mean we should not try it. More disturbing is
your call for "MORE foreign engagement and involvement in African crisis
resolution efforts and political engineering" because you feel the
indigenous SNC requires immense foreign pressure and involvement to
Moses: Yes, by all means we should try an imperfect model of conflict resolution in Africa. No model is perfect; I made that clear in my last response. My main points here are:
1. That the SNC idea can be defended in its own right by invoking its immanent and putative benefits and by stressing the fact that its appeal emanates more from a lack of a more workable alternative and its successes than from its supposed roots in traditional African political heritage.
2. That the SNC is not a traditional idea either in origin or by mutation; that, as a result, trying to empty it of its Western content by insisting on excluding foreign pressure from its implementation is a tad inconsequential and unnecessary.
Since you don't believe in any foreign involvement in African conflict resolution, my question to you would be: how do we ensure that those recalcitrant incumbents who are resistant to either the convening of an SNC or to the implementation of its outcomes are made to yield their defiance a la De Klerk and the National Party in South Africa?
George: Moses, this is where you and I part ways because this is exactly the
mentality of African leaders. They "internationalize" every African
problem, making its solution require foreign involvement or
international participation and cooperation. This is why they are
constantly appealing, appealing and begging and begging the
international community for assistance. You will never, ever hear or see
me calling for foreign involvement in an African crisis situation. Ever!
It deprecates my dignity and pride as an African, which is why I coined
the _expression, "African solutions for African problems" in 1993.
Besides, this approach is flawed in many ways:
Moses: No responsible African would endorse the beggarly mentality of the African ruling elite. That said, I do not think that a realistic acknowledgement of the fact that foreign powers do in fact hold major levers in the power struggles of Africa is tantamount to encouraging the deplorable habit of begging on the part of African politicians. You have to remember that, for the most part, Africans did not chose-at least not freely-the terms of their engagement with the West. Decolonizations were rigged to produce, as you yourself acknowledged here, to produce the kinds of state structures that Europe wanted, or, to be precise, the kind of states that mimicked their colonial predecessors. Well, the corollary of this external determinism was the inevitable integration of postcolonial African states into global systems of Western dominated exchanges and intercourse. Where choices were available, they were acutely constrained by the self-interested maneuverings of former colonial and now hegemonic powers. So that Africans were interpellated, if you will, into relationships which caused their economies and politics to become imbricated with the Western world. This prognosis does not de-inculpate African ruling elites who stand guilty of sheepishly, not to say strategically and greedily, accepting this reality, and for their refusal to negotiate maneuverability within this admittedly constraining international political economy.
I am not a part of the blame-the-white-man brigade or the colonialism-as-alibi theorists. I am just explicating a historical political and economic reality that got us, with the helping hand of elite inertia, corruption, and incompetence, into this quagmire, and therefore makes any idea of wholly African solutions for African problems rather phantasmatic. The problems that we are discussing, as I have shown, are only African in geographical manifestation and in terms of felt impacts. Otherwise, they are global.
George: "Internationalization" of an African problem allows the leaders to
escape taking full responsibility for the problem. If the problem
remains unsolved, they can blame the international community for not
Moses: I expect African leaders to take responsibility for African problems. But clearly, some responsibility belongs to the disruptive and amoral economic and political adventures of Western powers, corporations, and mercenaries in Africa. Insisting on a system of international accountability is no more a refuge for failed African leaders than the insistence on removing foreign, internationally-accepted systems of political and economic oversight and scrutiny in the name of returning to African tradition. It seems to me that these terrible African leaders stand to gain more from isolation and the absence of foreign pressure than from the involvement of supra-national systems of accountability in African affairs.
George: We cannot rail against "foreign meddling in African affairs,"
"Western neo-colonialism and imperialism" and then invite foreigners to
be part of the solution. If colonialists and imperialists caused our
problems, as some claim, what is the point inviting them to be part of
Moses: I believe that blaming colonialism and imperialism or slavery for Africa's present woes is another form of escapism. I am not an escapist. But if people who make that argument are calling for Western involvement in African conflict resolution, they are to be commended, not vilified, for being realistic enough to know that the Western powers have to sometimes be invited back to undo the damage and mistakes that they made. Africa today is littered with political relics of Cold War intrigues that continue to fuel war and crisis. It is a bold move to demand moral accountability from the powers that mischievously set up infrastructures that are now the subject of many political crises on the continent. We live in a uni-polar world, with the West commanding the overwhelming amount of political, economic, and military clout necessary to bring relief, however ephemeral, to Africa's trouble spots.
George: Common sense should tell us that, if we allow them to be part of the
solution, they will solve the problem to THEIR ADVANTAGE. Have we not
learned anything from our historical relationship with them? Even today,
over 80 percent of U.S. aid is spent on American contractors,
sub-contractors and goods and services. So who is helping who?
4. Foreign solutions do not work well in Africa. Witness Somalia. What
happened when we relied on foreign intervention to save Rwanda? In July
2000 at the OAU Summit in Lome, African leaders demanded $13 billion in
compensation from the U.S. and France for their FAILURE to intervene in
Moses: Yes, maybe foreign involvement in the search for solutions will result in outcomes that are skewed in favor of Western interests. But what are the alternatives in some cases: inaction, stagnancy, deadly stalemates, raging wars of attrition, untold human catastrophes, and a deepening orgy of violence. A solution, no matter how compromised, is better than no solution, which is sometimes what we have without the requisite international pressure to force compliance and seriousness on the part of warring parties.
George: Experience should tell us this: Introduce a "foreign element" or
internationalize an African problem and you render the problem
INSOLUBLE. This is because you introduce into the equation an element
over which you have absolutely NO CONTROL. Remember this Fanti proverb:
"If you rely on someone else for food, you will go without breakfast."
6. Has it occurred to us that the international community is thoroughly
FED UP with Africa? They use the more diplomatic term "donor fatigue."
Africa is the only continent that is constantly unloading its problems
onto the international stage. Even Kofi Annan is fed up with African
Moses: I disagree. It is not usually a simple matter of introducing a foreign element into our crisis. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of an element-a factor-that is already there. Whether we like it or not, foreign interests are rife in African conflicts and political struggles. As far as donor fatigue is concerned, it is a hypocritical discourse because the Western donors have until recently done nothing about the lack of accountability in the process of aid utilization in Africa, secretly celebrating the fact that most aid monies end right back in their financial systems. And, it seems to me that nothing provides a better ideological alibi for donor fatigue-a euphemism for Western financial disengagement from non-profitable African ventures-than the rhetoric of "African solutions to African problems."
George: Peter Bauer wrote that: "Despotism and kleptocracy do not inhere in the
nature of African cultures or in the African character; but they are now
rife in what was once called British colonial Africa, notably West
Africa" (Reality and Rhetoric: Studies in Economics of Development.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984; p.104). Is Bauer distorting
African political heritage? So what kind of "despotism" prevailed in
those states? Most historians would affirm that one notable feature of
African traditional polities was great devolution of authority and great
DECENTRALIZATION of power. Almost all the ancient African empires were
CONFEDERACIES. You can organize a society along 3 basic lines:
1. The Unitary system, with centralization of power at the capital (the
2. The Federal system, where the center is strong but there is
decentralization of power to the states.
3. The Confederal system, where the center is weak and the constituent
states have more power. The larger traditional African polities, such as
Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Great Zimbabwe were confederacies. Even the Ga and
Ashanti Kingdoms were confederacies of six republics. This explains the
tendency of African empires to splinter.
When Ayittey talks about DECENTRALIZATION OF POWER as an article of
Africa's political heritage he is not romanticizing about Africa's past.
He is suggesting this as a possible SOLUTION to our political problems.
Note that modern-day Switzerland, where bandit African heads of state
keep their loot, is a CONFEDERATION of 9 cantons. The mistake we made
after independence was to retain the European UNITARY system with
centralization of power. Even Nigeria, which was supposed to be
"federal" became centralized.
Moses: I will agree with you that confederacies of different stripes were a common fixture on the precolonial African political landscape. But let's not romanticize them. When they worked, they ensured stability, inclusion, and harmony. When they failed, they led to spirals of secessions and destabilizations. We historians are not fond of valorizing institutions because we appreciate change more than other disciplines. Precolonial African confederacies went through cycles of efficiency and centrifugal chaos. Confederacies were as much a recipe for stability as they were for instability. In fact, many states became more despotic under certain rulers precisely because confederacy was considered a recipe for weakness. A good example here is Dahomey during the reign of Agaja. Similarly, Shaka's Zulu empire was a confederacy only in name as Shaka, from what we know, emasculated his vassals and reserved ultimate say on all important state matters.
Yes, the colonial powers bequeathed the centralist nation-state model to newly independent African states, a model which ruling elites did not discard because it disciplined its confederal rivals and thus helped the elites check challenges to their power and to their nationalist visions. That said, however, one must locate the substitution of centrist structures for confederal beginnings in the adventures of the military in politics. This is true for Nigeria and several other places.
George: Of course, we must be careful about generalizing about traditional Africa. But despite Africa's immense cultural diversity, certain
commonalities can be isolated. The Village Meeting is one of them. You
are wrong when you say that it was occasionally convened in some states and that in some "republican" states it was an anathema. Moreover, the ultimate verdicts resided with the kings. Could you name these "republican states" where the village meeting was anathema? And where were the verdicts subject to the ultimate approval of kings.
Moses: This is a serious distortion of my position. You're raising a straw man here. I said that in states that were a hybrid of "republicanism" and "despotism" like the Niger Delta States, Old Calabar, etc, village meetings were only occasionally convened. Even here, the tendency after the 17th century was towards monarchism. Your other assertion is the direct opposite of what I argued, which is that in despotic states, the idea of a village meeting was anathema. I haven't read about any village meetings in Dahomey, Bornu, Buganda, Kongo, Bunyoro, etc. Village meetings were features, for the most part, of the so-called stateless or semi-stateless societies. I could therefore not have said what you attributed to me above. I think that you are erroneously lumping republicanism and confederacy together: two political features that coexisted only in the so-called stateless or semi-stateless societies-Igbo, Tiv, etc.
George: Fact is, African kings had no political role. Theirs was spiritual and supernatural. African philosophical belief system divided the universe into 3 parts: the cosmos, the world, and the earth. Each has a god and if any of them is "angry" , terrible things would befall the community. The king's role was to intercede to placate the gods to ensure peace, harmony, etc. To perform this role well, the king was "fortified" with supernatural powers and secluded in his palace. The Yoruba oona, for example, was forbidden to come out of his palace, except under the cover of darkness. If some calamity were to befall the village or community (such as poor harvest, drought, for example), it meant the king was not doing his job and he was BEHEADED (regicide). How I wish regicide would be brought back! Eyadema, Abacha, Mugabe, and the rest of them never had it so easy! Just hand them over to the CUTLASS!
Moses: Again, regicide was a rarity in precolonial Africa. For every state that practiced it, there were many more that did not. In fact, regicide was not practiced in MOST African precolonial states. And the truth is that some precolonial African rulers were just as capable of excess, indifference, brutality, and incompetence as their post-colonial successors. In precolonial Africa, incompetent rulers often endured. Conversely, good rulers were sometimes victims of palace intrigues. So, your effort to construct a valuational and moral asymmetry between the political structures of the past and those of the present is at best an exaggeration. There were bad and failed rulers in precolonial Africa as there are today, and not many of them had the misfortune of facing the cutlass.
George: Jan Vansina (1987), who extensively studied the kingdoms of Central
Africa, found that, "the king's (political) role is small: he is the
representative or symbol of the chiefdom and may have some religious
duties, but his participation in the political decision making process
is insignificant" (Kingdoms of the Savannah. Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1975; p.29). In fact, the king hardly made policy or
spoke. He had a spokesperson, called a linguist, through whom he
communicated. He hardly decided policy. His advisers and chiefs would
determine policies and present them for royal sanction. His role in
legislation and execution of policy was severely limited.
The Ga people of Ghana took this to the extreme. The Ga mantse (king)
had no role in political affairs or authority except only in times of
war. In many other ethnic societies, however, the king was the physical
symbol of his kingdom, a personification of sacred ancestry and the
religious head of his tribe as well as the link to the universe. As
such, the vital force of the king must never decline; nor must the king
die, since he embodies the spiritual and therefore material well being
of his people. The consequences would be devastation: droughts would
occur, women would no longer be able to bear children, epidemics would
strike the people. Great care, therefore, must be taken to prevent a
break in the line of transmitted power.
Moses: I don't see how Vansina's research becomes the last word on the issue or how two examples from Ghana and Central Africa prove the supposed preponderance of non-political traditional leadership in precolonial Africa. The truth is that there were many more African rulers in Africa who clearly dominated their realm and ruled them-sometimes exclusive of attenuating structures-than there were rulers who lacked clear-cut political roles. Examples: Kanem Bornu, Dahomey, Buganda, Kongo, ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, Lozi, Changmire, Great Zimbabwe, and pre-Jihad Hausa States.
George: In other words, the African king was not involved in the deliberations
of the Village Assembly; nor were the decisions taken there subject to
Moses: You haven't proven this, so your assertion is a huge exaggeration at best.
George: Moses, fact that this slogan has been hijacked by some corrupt African
despots does not mean it is devoid of any inherent merit. African unity
is concept that has been bandied about by even Mobutu, Abacha, Doe and
other unsavory characters. But that doesn't mean we should not pursue
Back-to-roots is the result of a brutally frank assessment of African
reality. The majority of the African people are simple illiterate folks
I would call "peasants" - a term not used derogatively. They STILL go
about their daily economic activities using CENTURIES-OLD practices,
traditions, systems and institutions. Agriculture is their primary
occupation and 80 percent of these peasant farmers are WOMEN. About 70
percent of African peasants rely on TRADITIONAL MEDICINE. They still
have their chiefs and traditional rulers, who command far more respect
and authority from the people than central governments seated hundreds
of miles away in the capital city because the chiefs are closer to the
people and understand them more.
Moses: Back-to-roots projects have always been a refuge for troubled rulers who must whip up nationalist and xenophobic sentiments to maintain power and distract attention from their misrule. This is not only true of Africa. Milosevic is a poster child of this phenomenon. The best argument against back-to-roots advocacy remains the fact that it is a gross distortion and denial of human dynamism and change and seeks a romantic return to a supposed cultural essence. My trouble with essentialist claims such as yours turns on this question: at what point did Africa ever possess a normative essence subscribed to by all Africans? In fact, at what point was there ever one Africa with a shared social or political imaginary? How far back do we have to dig to discover a pure African essence worth adopting for programmatic purposes in the present? I ask these questions because in all my readings on African history, anthropology, and historical sociology, Africa has emerged as a receptacle of and a contributor to Western, Mediterranean, and Indian influences-influences that make any talk of an African political or cultural essence a half-truth. Most of what we have normalized as African culture are hybrids and syncretistic in nature, reflecting multicultural and/or multi-racial experiences. Instead of searching for a non-existent African essence, why can't we accept Africa as is: a multi-racial, multi-cultural complexity, which is the reason why it is such a beautiful (and enigmatic) continent. Achille Mbembe, in his essay, "African Modes of Self-Writing" makes this point eloquently. I will not bore you with the many theoretical repudiations of essentialism.
George: This is not romanticizing about antiquity. This is still a reality in
Africa. In my view, the chiefs are Africa's most important human
resource but African elites saw them as a threat to their power. So they
stripped the chiefs of much of their traditional authority and
marginalized them. But in South Africa, they are fighting back fiercely.
Says Benjamin Makhanaya: "The ANC [government of South Africa] wants to
transplant customs from other countries here, and that will destroy the
Zulu nation and all that we value. We are poor, but do you see any
beggars in the streets like you do in the cities? The inkhosi
(traditional chief) makes sure that we are all provided for. The
municipality will make beggars of us. When I have a problem, I can go
see the inkhosi any time, day or night. I don't need an appointment.
They can have their civilization, brother " (The Washington Post, Dec
18, 2000; p.A1).
Moses: First of all, traditional rulers are economic leeches, regardless of their wonderful symbolic roles. The erosion of their political powers during the post-colonial era is the logical consequence of the kind post-colonial states that former colonial powers bequeathed to us by design. So, there is no surprise there. Second, that traditional rulers are fighting back tells us nothing other than the fact that they want to protect their turf and, if I may say so, their relevance and access to resources. Third, the quote you have above presumably from a South African traditional ruler is a terrible example, since it reads like a how-to manual for setting up a patrimonial government of cronyism and nepotism, where resources are obtained by complaint and by performing allegiance to the traditional ruler. Read that quote again and you will see the outlines of all that is wrong in African politics today-the emphasis on personalities and rulers rather than enduring institutions and structures.
George: More than a third of South Africa's 44 million people live under the
jurisdiction of one or another of the nation's 800 tribal chiefs, or
amakhosi as they are referred to in the Zulu language. "Traditional
leaders here have endured colonialism, war and nearly 50 years of
oppressive white minority rule, only to face extinction at the hands of
the black-majority government that vanquished apartheid six years ago
and installed democracy" (The Washington Post, Dec 18, 2000; p.A1).
"Africans want change because there is so much suffering here", said
Patekile Holomisa, an inkhosi and head of the Congress of Traditional
Leaders in South Africa. "But Africans are above all else devoted to
their ancestors, and they do not want to betray that by becoming
something that they are not". (The Washington Post, Dec 18, 2000; p.A1).
Moses: This is again a very bad example. It is appalling that you are trying to pass off the universally-maligned creation of Bantustans and village despotisms by the Apartheid regime, and its legacy in the present, as a positive thing to be emulated or replicated across the continent. Mahmood Mamdani's "Citizen and Subject" does justice to the origin of South Africa's "800 tribal chiefs" and their "tribal" enclaves. The consequence of this racist creation of Apartheid has been mass poverty, denial of access to land, lavish privileges for the quiescent and collaborating traditional rulers amidst debilitating poverty for their subjects, gross inequalities, and economic and social segregation. Africa does not need more of these problems. And we certainly do not need to copy an Apartheid or colonial model of ethnic reification.
George: Development means improving the lives of the PEASANTS, not developing
the pockets of the elites. To improve their lives, you must start from
the BOTTOM-UP. You must go down to THEIR level, understand the way THEY
do things, not how they should do it. Like I said, these peasants still
go by activities using ancient practices and systems. You cannot improve
their lot if you do not understand their systems. Dispute this. Going
back to roots is NOT romanticizing about antiquity; it is a PRACTICAL
imperative if you want to improve the lot of the African people. But we,
the elites, NEVER did this.
Moses: I totally disagree. This sounds more like pandering to outmoded practices, ignorance, and technological backwardness in the name of returning to one's roots. There is nothing ennobling about dissipating energy to understand what common sense and cursory observation shows to be grossly out of tune with modern, efficient agricultural practices. George, have you used one of those crude agricultural implements that most of African peasants use for cultivating the soil? I have, and I can tell you that peasant farming in Africa is a little more than a delayed death sentence. The combination of lack of capital, use of crude implements, which takes a huge toll on the body, lack of higher yielding seed varieties, lack of fertilizers, and weed-control chemicals, etc, makes African peasant farming largely obsolete and unprofitable. Barring a serious agricultural revolution involving massive diffusion of technology, expertise, and other resources, African peasant farming will not suffice to feed our countries or prosper the cultivators, not to talk of giving them a competitive edge in a global agricultural market. The small pockets of exceptions that exist in Africa do not alter this reality.
George: Take agriculture, for example. Today, Africa cannot feed itself. It
imports food worth $18.9 billion a year. This is about the same amount
of FOREIGN AID Africa receives from all sources in a year. In other
words, we turn around and use the SAME foreign aid we receive to import
food! Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Africa not only fed itself but
exported food. Not anymore. What happened?
So many factors explain the decline in agriculture (collapsed
infrastructure, senseless civil wars, price controls, marketing boards,
etc.) but the elite approach to agriculture was "TOP-DOWN". We read
about or saw how food is produced in say the U.S. and therefore, our
peasant farmers must adopt the same techniques (the tractor mentality).
Moses: The tractor mentality that you condemn in your writings can be a burden rather than an asset in our effort to develop our agricultural and industrial infrastructure. But it is not caused solely by inferiority complex, incompetence, greed, and misplaced priorities. The desire to import Western technology is sometimes a product of the realization, however unpalatable, that we have nothing better. It is the management (or lack thereof) of these technological importations and massive corruption that have often led to the failures of these kinds of technology transfer schemes, not the unsuitability of our people, soil, or climate to the foreign technologies. Let's not be too relativist in our thinking. Let's instead locate the problem in the mismanagement and sloppy planning of elites who initiate and implement these schemes. Pandering to the deplorable state of our local technology is not a good substitute for failed or poorly conceived technology transfer schemes or the more serious failure to encourage and fund research and innovation in our universities and research institutes. We must strive to do things right rather than try to reinvent the wheel or rehabilitate crude local technologies.
There are many ways to attain technological development. You invent, steal, or transfer technology. The choice that a country makes and how well it executes that choice is crucial for its technological take-off. The Japanese stole Western technology; the Russian stole and innovated at the same time. What they stole, they sometimes modified. Transfers have been more difficult and messy for the simple reason that the countries of origin will try to protect the international technological status quo if, and for as long as, they can. In each case however, the precursor to making a choice is the courageous acknowledgement that indigenous technology has failed, is crude and outdated, and must be DISCARDED, not improved.
George: Take Nigeria. Unable to feed itself, Nigeria gave up and turned to
imports. By 2004, the country was spending $3 billlion a year on food
imports - including rice, chickens, and dairy products (The Washington
Times, July 18, 2004; p.A6). In July, 2004, President Olusegun Obasanjo
invited about 200 white farmers, whose farmlands have been violently
seized by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, to resettle in in Kwara state.
Bukola Saraki, the governor of the state, said: AWhen we found oil [in
the Niger delta], we didn=t ask people in southern Nigeria to look for
shovels to dig for it. We brought in foreigners with expertise. Our land
is an asset that is not being utilized. The only way to do that is to
bring in people with the necessary skills.@ In Kwara, we don't have oil,
but we have 2.3 million hectares [5.7 million acres] available for
agriculture" (The Washington Times, July 18, 2004; p.A6).
Moses: I have no fundamental problem with the decision of the Kwara state government. My anxieties regarding the decision to import the white farmers have nothing to do with what you claim the decision represents: a giving up on Kwara state peasants. My anxieties have to do with the possible social, economic, and political tensions that such a vast project of human transplantation might create. If the white farmers do not usurp the lands of Kwara peasant farmers, then I see no problem. But I am told that in addition to the land belonging to a defunct sugar processing company, the state government also plans to lease to the white farmers lands currently being cultivated by indigenous peasants. This is my problem with the scheme.
George: Much of that land along the Niger River is fertile and is seldom farmed
and the governor has been spearheading a national drive to wean Nigeria
off its oil-based revenue and make itself self-sufficient in food. But
the governor's "Back to the Farm" campaign launched in 2003 flopped
miserably. The governor discovered that "Kwara's peasant farmers, most
in their 60s and 70s, were unfamiliar with modern technology and had no
capital to buy tractors" (The Washington Times, July 18, 2004; p.A6).
Moses: Yes, the governor miscalculated. But how does that by itself constitute an indictment of the idea of introducing modern farming technology into African agriculture? If the governor had chosen young, educated Kwara people for his experiment as the governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, is doing successfully, would you or the Washington Times be making this claim? One man's mistake does not discredit an idea. I know that there are other examples all over Africa, but instead of pandering to Africa's supposed agricultural exoticism, let's do the technology transfer the right way. And let us back it up with access to capital. There are no short cuts to improving agricultural production on the continent.
George: You see the "tractor mentality"? The governor's approach to peasant
agriculture defies common sense. First, illiterate peasant farmers
cannot be expected to be familiar with modern technology and have the
capital to buy tractors! An agricultural program involving peasant
farmers, based upon such ridiculous premises cannot be expected to
succeed. Second, the governor's solution to the agricultural debacle was
to invite white commercial farmers from Zimbabwe. This meant that he was
ABANDONING his own peasant farmers in his state. He should have asked
why the land was not being utilized. Did he think of giving incentives
to his peasant farmers?
Moses: Again, I don't see how the governor's invitation of the white farmers amounts to an abandoning of Kwara peasant farmers. This is an analytical leap on your part. You are casting this as a zero-sum game, an either/or situation in which you either choose foreign or indigenous technology and expertise, one choice excluding the other. This is too simplistic. We can combine the good elements of indigenous and foreign technology and expertise.
Conclusion: there are three major groups of people who advocate a return-to-our-roots ideology of development:
1. Foreign thinkers and political leaders who do not want the West to make any financial sacrifice towards a strategically unimportant continent. The agenda of these people are helped by African intellectual testimony to the back-to-roots and "African solutions for African problems" ideas.
2. African leaders who take refuge in these slogans to avoid being forced to account for their misrule. Abacha's "home-grown" democracy comes to mind here.
3. Naïve pan-African and negritudist holdouts who refuse to acknowledge the ways in which African realities have become interwoven with trans-national realities along different axes of interaction.
4. African intellectuals whose disillusionment with the blunders of the African ruling elite and their foreign allies has forced them into an unfortunate endorsement of smug relativism and essentialism.
What unites these different strands is their belief in an Africa that is at variance with the actually existing Africa. Theirs is a utopian, futuristic, and nostalgic Africa, united in its cultural unanimity and social singularity-an Africa that is supposedly being marginalized in preference for foreign influences. This would be a sound analysis were it not for the fact that such an Africa has never really existed.