Professor M. Fyle of Ohio State argues that indigenous cultures should form the basis of development:
I want to intervene in an issue related somewhat to the brain drain/gain debate. It has to do with the role of indigenous African culture to the project of development of the countries on the continent. Some participants have touched on it before. It is my submission that Africa cannot make any significant progress unless development is predicated on indigenous African cultural values and systems. This has to be the foundation on which we should apply whatever technological and other inputs derived from elsewhere. Without this base, it is my submission, Africa will never develop. Children in Africa must be nurtured in school to develop a sense of nationalism based on their own cultural values, symbols, images, etc. Their sense of self esteem that they grow up with should be rooted in the values of their own societies. This will lead most of them to develop a strong commitment to their own countries and become more concerned with the development of their own societies. Of course, issues of self aggrandizement and personal desire cannot be eliminated. But those in whom these latter issues become dominant will be fewer and a greater task would be accomplished in the process of moving our societies forward.
Then comes the issue of how this method of development can be achieved and the obstacles to its achievement. To meaningfully consider the issue of utilizing African values in this regard, we have to be very familiar with those values. By that I mean that we should be able to relate to African cultural values at the same level of sophistication and positive attitude that we apply to other extrinsic cultures. Unfortunately, in my impression, most of us are not equipped to do so. We have been brought up, in the urban African situation, to denigrate and regard African culture as being unrelated to ideas of 'progress'. Our western education has not taught us to regard African culture as something worthy of elevated thinking. Worse, it has led us to regard our indigenous cultures negatively, so that when we speak of Africa, it is usually to trash the continent.
This lack of intimate positive knowledge about African cultures has led most of us to become defensive, particularly when we face western institutions and societies. Western scholarship has been structured to debase and specifically deny Africa any valuable place in its conceptualization. This is the system we were all brought up with in the western education we acquired. Our advancement is based on this system and most of us are at a loss to challenge it. We are therefore concerned with defending it and showing how good we are at upholding it. That is when we get 'advancement' in the system. African scholars, for example, are little concerned with relating their sophisticated research into the 'mundane' task of rendering it into simple language that could be understood by our brethren who speak poor English, French, Portuguese, or African languages. Undoubtedly, a few of us are moving away from this morass, but it has most of us trapped.
These are only some of the problems.
I believe that we need to ensure that this sophisticated research we have engaged in should be simplified and brought into the school system in African countries so that we begin the task of properly educating another generation of Africans. The impressionable years of a child's life are very important in developing a positive attitude towards anything, in this case towards Africa. Most significantly as a child starts going to school at age five or six, the child should have a strong reinforcing element of African culture, presented in a more positive way than the most negative perceptions of Africa many of us were brought up with. Alas, most of us as parents are not equipped to do this. We are sophisticated, but at a different level, at a level where we are consciously or unconsciously determined to defend the negative perceptions of Africa that we grew up with.
This is not meant to be an indictment of the urban middle class in Africa and those who have migrated abroad. It is a way of saying what there is, what we have to combat in the road to development. Of course scholars particularly in African Literature will talk about African cultural issues of dubious value which can be inimical to development. We have to consider this problem too, but I submit that the major concern is putting cultural values in the curriculum at the early stages, following the call by Zeleza (Provision of Textbooks for schools in Africa). As children grow up, with a stronger sense of nationalism and self esteem based on their own cultural values, with a more positive attitude towards African values, they would more squarely confront those issues of African culture that some of us find difficult to live with. Perhaps they will come forward with better ways of addressing such problems.
My thinking may not be as clearly expressed as I would wish, but I am seeking comments and commentaries here, for this is an issue I have been grappling with for many years.