Not long after I got to Germany – close to three years ago – someone called me and, among other things, we talked a bit about what I was doing in Germany. This is a rough presentation of an interesting part of the conversation.
The Other Person aka TOP: So, what exactly are you studying?
TOP: Like Anthology of poems? (Part of the legacy of British rule is that we have to study English poems that are compiled in anthologies in secondary schools.)
TOP: Oh, sorry, that is different from anthropology. So, what exactly is anthropology?
Me: Ehm… It is the study of cultures and societies.
TOP: So you are studying the German culture and society?
Me: No, I am not. I will actually be coming back to Nigeria in some months to do the fieldwork for my PhD.
TOP: If your PhD is about Nigeria what are you doing in Germany?
Sometime ago, I wrote a paper on development and the African culture for a PhD level course at the Centre for Development Studies (CEMUS), Uppsala University. The paper tried to examine the debate on the impact of the African culture on development. It is not very easy to engage an argument that presupposes that there is an ‘African Culture’…. Anyway, I read the paper again this morning and I felt like sharing it. I have quoted the last paragraph in this post; if you would like to read the whole paper you could send me an email through the Contact page. Have a nice week.
“Compared to the rest of the world Africa has been described as the atypical, both economically and politically. The relationship of dependence that exists between the aid donors and Africa also fuels the discourse of docility, laziness and dependence. For instance, Joseph Hanlon (2004: 382) raises, ‘… the fundamental question that has dogged charity and aid in the West for more than a century: are the poor poor simply because they lack money, or are they poor because of their own stupidity and cupidity?’ However, as I said earlier, the way these discourses are structured almost make them immune to critical reviews. I will toe the trail of Mbembe on this point. These studies of Africa have been in relation to what is lacking in Africa, and this in itself is a product of the comparison of Africa to the West, using paradigms that are products of Western modernisation. As Mbembe (2001: 9) writes, this has led to the paradoxes that ‘we know nearly everything that African states, societies, and economies are not, we still know absolutely nothing about what they actually are.’ I will join my voice to that of Mbembe for the call for studies of Africa that do not pitch her against the west, and do not use western paradigms; studies that consider the realities of Africans, their experiences and interactions with globalisation and ‘westernisation’; studies that do not take Africa as a single culture but look at the nuances in the identity of Africans and their constant negotiation of a place for themselves. Until African studies are approached in this way certain formulations will keep showing that the African is ‘docile’, ‘passive’ and ‘lazy’.
Works Cited Hanlon Joseph, 2002. ‘It is possible to just give money to the poor.’ Development and Change 35 (2): 375 – 383
Mbembe, Achille.2001. Introduction: Time on the move. In: Mbembe, Achille, On the Postcolony. (Berkeley: University of California Press).“