Moses picks up the thread:
Let me thank Dr. Edwards Kissi for his excellent intervention. He has provided concrete/empirical historical and contemporary examples of why "traditional" Africa was/is neither democratic nor homogenous or peaceful. His examples and personal anecdotes also demonstrate the inventedness and dynamism of tradition. Dr. Kissi has eloquently fleshed out my point about differing degrees of despotism and one-man (one-woman) rule in "traditional,' precolonial Africa---which is supposedly the source for George's back-to-roots, African village democracy, and African-solutions-to-African-problems prescriptions. The most impressive aspect of Dr. Kissi's presentation---which I personally learned a lot from---is his detailed and insightful analysis of the Ethiopia example. Ethiopia helps debunk George's propositions precisely because it was never formally subjected to the colonial institutions that George credits with the distortion (or it destruction) of what he constantly presents as "traditional African village government or democracy," sound traditional economics, and orderly and democratic African conflict resolution mechanisms.
This statement by Dr. Kissi caught my attention:
"Perhaps in our quest----in the days of African nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s---to posit some kind of democratic traditional Africa to contest colonial historiography that painted Africa as primitive, some African scholars invented some mythologies about democracy in pre-colonial Africa. That literature is sobbing for review."
Indeed, romantic renderings of precolonial Africa, which were paradoxically a reinvention of the merrie Africa of Eurocentric discourses of Otherness and difference, had its politico-intellectual uses in the heydays of anti-colonialism and the intellectual struggle for the legitimization of African history and scholarship. That literature has, however, since been subjected to reexamination and intense critique. A revisionist literature has developed along the contours of the Africa-wide disillusionment with the dismal performance of post-colonial states and political actors.
I am sure Dr. Kissi was being modest when he stated that that anti-colonial literature, which is at once nationalist and homogenizing, since it inspired individual nationalist struggles and also made the intellectual case for pan-Africanist anticolonial solidarities, "is sobbing for review." As a historian, I am sure that he is quite familiar with the on-going repudiation of that historiography by Africanist social scientists across different scholarly disciplines.
He quoted the excellent work or Appiah, which, through rigorous and painstaking analysis and argumentation, demonstrates the falsity of African cultural (and even racial) homogeneity. In it, Appiah also deploys both personal anecdotes and philosophical exploration to deconstruct and to show the conceptual and programmatic limits of the idea of "African tradition" ----the umbrella term under which George's "African political heritage" resides.
Martin Channock, in "Law, Custom, and Social Order: the Colonial Experience in Malawi and Zambia" (Cambridge, 1985) shows quite clearly how the so-called African customary law celebrated by British colonialists as a useful precolonial bequest that proved to be a pillar of Indirect Rule may NOT have been customary at all. Channock's ethnological and historical exploration uses several examples from Zambia and Malawi to construct an intriguing picture of customary law (in its conceptual and operational manifestation) in which there was hardly anything customary about what was being practiced as customary law. The "customary" legal precepts and codes compiled by naïve(?) colonial ethnographers turned out to be precepts carefully and strategically crafted (invented) by self-interested chiefs, royals, and traditional elders to protect and expand their privileges and to enable them to oppress females and young people in their societies. A more skeptical investigation of some of the provisions in the customary legal codes reveals neither precolonial precedent nor actually existing analogue.
Terrence Ranger has also warned us on the pitfalls of valorizing and reifying "tradition." In his contribution to "The Invention of Tradition," which he co-edited with Hobsbawn, Ranger discusses the making and remaking of "traditions" in colonial Africa. He shows "tradition" to be much more dynamic than George would have us believe. What's more, most of the traditions being made and remade only authenticated themselves with the discourse of precoloniality and antiquity, and hardly actually harked back to antiquity.
VY Mudimbe's "The Invention of Africa" (Bloomington, 1988) went even further. Mudimbe boldly argues that the African "tradition" and "culture" that Pan-Africanist, nationalist and Negritudist scholars gleefully accessed and invoked to counter Eurocentric representations of the continent and its people are paradoxically products of the colonial library, a corpus of ethnographic and sociological information created by European colonial science and authorized by the European (colonial) fascination with Otherness and difference in non-Occidental domains.
Massay Kebede's recent book, "Africa's Quest for a Philosophy of Decolonization" (Rodopi, 2004) is very pointed in its discussion of how avowedly Afrocentric scholarship sometimes ends up reproducing and reinforcing Eurocentric characterizations of Africa. In their effort to intellectually confront Eurocentric discourses on Africa, discourses which are founded on Otherness, cultural relativism, and difference, and which have produced in one breath an exotic, culturally pure and isolated, peaceful, different, and homogenous Africa, African and Africanist scholars have sometimes either unwittingly reinforced these representations or have invented other visions and versions of Otherness and alterity. These "alternative" characterizations of Africa remain trapped in notions of "African tradition," "African culture," African essentialism, African heritage, etc---which are the bedrock of the Eurocentric discourses that they are purportedly criticizing.
Achille Mbembe's article "African Modes of Self-writing" (Public Culture 14:1, 2002) is a radical denunciation of the notion of African essentialism, homogeneity, alterity (vis-à-vis Europe), and exoticism. In that work, Mbembe powerfully argues that the notion that Africa, either in the past of in the present, is a coherent ideological or philosophical entity and that it possesses intrinsic cultural elements defined as tradition---which is purely "African" and recoverable for either policy or heritage uses---is a pure fiction. He also puts a lie to the notion of precolonial African peace and harmony, against which images of colonial injury and destruction are usually set.
In the presence of this vibrant and growing "revisionist" literature, I am not sure that George has any excuse for sticking to a notion of precolonial or "traditional" Africa that was invented for instrumental political purposes during the struggle against colonialism---a notion that has since outlived its usefulness. Either George has not bothered to read this "new" literature because it does not present a neat, black-and-white picture of Africa or he has decided to overlook it in the interest of staying true to his numerous intellectual slogans, which, as I have argued, and this literature show, flies in the face of available historical and anthropological evidence. Either way, George's refusal to repudiate such a dated discourse and his continuous attempt to disseminate it to those who make policy in the United States concerning Africa is quite disturbing.
I want to thank Dr. Sisay for his intervention, especially his appeal for decorum. I will heed his advice in future responses to George. I may have said a few things that I should not have said to George, but as Dr. Kissi pointed out in his latest contribution, George's questioning of one's Africanness and one's knowledge of one's African heritage just because one does not subscribe to his version of African history or tradition is really a low blow, and it is responsible for taking the debate in an unfortunately personal direction. I apologize to the forum for taking George's bait.
And I agree with the thrust of this statement by Sisay:
"The fact is both African indigeneous solutions and western (or other comparative) approaches work on a selective basis. Look at Japan, and other such successful countries. So, do not waste your time on this, and move on to something of more substance. Viable societies can learn both from their own history and traditions as well as successful comparative experiences."
I think that this is the point that I have been making. A balanced combination of foreign and local initiatives is what Africa needs. It's almost embarrassing, and a waste of time, that we have to argue this point. I have not seen any country that has developed or resolved its conflicts and social crises without foreign intervention of one form or the other (financial, logistical, technological, diplomatic). Contrary to what George claims, then, Africa, in seeking and accepting foreign intervention and aid, is not an oddity. There are historical and contemporary precedents for accepting and combining foreign aid and intervention with local initiatives. My position has always been that a solution can be African and foreign at the same time and that we should do away with crude dualisms and neat binary oppositions. A more productive question, as I pointed out, is the question of how to make foreign aid and intervention more effective for African countries, how to maximize the benefits of foreign intervention and aid by doing what George himself suggests---plugging the leakages that allow most of aid money to end up in Western banks.
Ultimately, I agree with you---and this is a point that Emetulu also made---that the debate ought to move from whether foreign aid/intervention is necessary for the resolution of Africa's crises and conflicts (it clearly is) to which crises or kinds of crisis would foreign intervention work best for, and how foreign intervention could/should be harnessed and combined effectively with local initiatives and resources to solve Africa's many problems.