Clearly, culture matters for development. And it is one of the factors that underpin the relative underdevelopment of African countries. Studies show individualist cultures engender higher economic growth, relative to collectivist cultures. A high level of trust is a cultural trait associated with rich countries. Incidentally, African countries are characterised by low trust, owing to slavery and colonialism. Institutions, intercultural exchange and cultural entrepreneurship are means by which the negative aspects of sub-optimal cultural practices could be mitigated, reformed or eliminated.
I propose an action-plan that includes critical-thinking in school curricula, laws against negative cultural practices, incentivisation of the arts to promote progressive values, special economic zones in partnership with successful countries, allocation of some senior government positions to citizens in the diaspora, and national orientation programmes to promote proven innovation-enhancing values. These are discussed below:
Critical-thinking School Curricula for Early Education
Rote-learning remains the dominant teaching method in many African countries. To become innovation-focused, young Africans need to acquire critical thinking skills early on. It is not as difficult as it may seem. Affluent and middle-class Africans already differentiate their kids by sending them to foreign-affilliated “international” schools to learn these critical skills. While it would be a herculean task to re-orient local teachers towards this type of pedagogy, there are already affordable tech-based solutions. Pre-recorded classes by teachers already skilled in critical thinking pedagogical methods abroad could be played to local students. Parents with means could also stream or download such educational materials for their wards via the internet.
…special economic zones have been successfully used to transfer knowledge and technology from developed countries to developing ones in Asian countries; no less, African countries could easily find in them a quick and effective way of not only acquiring knowledge and technology but desirable work cultures as well.
Promulgation and Enforcement of Laws Against Negative Cultural Practices
Corporal punishment is unconstitutional in South Africa. It could be so everywhere else on the continent. Female genital mutilation is also increasingly illegal across Africa. These are few examples of how laws could be used to change negative cultural practices.
Progressive and Liberalist Approach To Censorship of the Arts
As celebrities – artists, actors, etc. – have a huge influence on the African youth, there should be a deliberate effort by African governments to faciliate collaboration between local and foreign celebrities, with a view to achieving intercultural exchanges. Local ones could also be incentivised and encouraged to espouse values that engender innovation in their works. Governments can signal this intent by how they approve works of art – music, movies, etc. – for airing to the public.
Special Economic Zones In Partnership With Successful Countries
As evidence shows, special economic zones have been successfully used to transfer knowledge and technology from developed countries to developing ones in Asian countries; no less, African countries could easily find in them a quick and effective way of not only acquiring knowledge and technology but desirable work cultures as well.
In China, patriotic zeal is instilled in citizens at a very early age in schools, at work, and so on. Patriotic songs and messages are aired from speakers on the streets for the continued indoctrination of citizens, as they go about their daily businesses. It is not suggested that such extremes should be applied in African countries.
Allocation of Government Positions To Africans In the Diaspora By Statute
There are many successful Africans in the diaspora. To succeed, they had to attune themselves to the cultures of the foreign lands they found themselves in. Incidentally, they are also best positioned to bring about cultural change in their home countries. Already familiar with their home cultures, they are likely to be more persuasive in their transmission of their newly acquired innovation-enhancing norms and habits. To be sure, they do not always succeed in doing so. Still, their understanding of “both worlds” makes them compelling advocates of new ways.
National Orientation Programmes To Promote Proven Innovation-enhancing Values
In China, patriotic zeal is instilled in citizens at a very early age in schools, at work, and so on. Patriotic songs and messages are aired from speakers on the streets for the continued indoctrination of citizens, as they go about their daily businesses. It is not suggested that such extremes should be applied in African countries. Thankfully, there are more creative and effective ways nowadays. For instance, Burna Boy, a popular African music artiste, recently released a song about Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man. In the song, the musician uses the example of Mr. Dangote, whose reputation for hard work is well-known, to espouse the virtue of hard work. In a melodious tune now sang by millions, Mr. Burna Boy wonders why anyone would be lazy if Africa’s richest man continues to work hard than most people. This is a striking example of the many creative ways that cultural change could be facilitated.
Rafiq Raji, a writer and researcher, is based in Lagos, Nigeria. Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji