The Way Forward: Modernisation without Development

 

Many of us go about analysing various African problems in the wrong way. In our pursuit for solutions to Africa’s current degrading socio-economic service providing institutions, it has become evident that in order to overcome such a state, we need to realise that many of our beliefs are in actuality misconceptions. Here we assume the notion that the world is indeed filled with many ‘truths’, yet philosophy teaches us that certain knowledge is only attainable through reason, ergo, one of the best instruments to employ in solving problems, is reasoning. 

Culture 

The initial focus of this week’s analysis is culture and how it exerts influence over a people, society, nation etc. Pascoal (2013) states that, “culture helps us understand and, therefore, adequately position ourselves in our environments; it acts as a set of rules and principles that facilitate communication among a specific group”. Robert Murphy concurs when he states that, “culture is pre-eminently a means of communicating with others, it is culture that stabilises the social environment and makes it possible for people to associate with each other”. Culture is, therefore, a common ‘language’, perceptible by those involved in the communication. 

Despite the fact that culture acts as a breeding ground for types of behaviour, mannerisms, values, belief systems, etc., it nonetheless remains susceptible to change over time. Nothing is immutable. Chabal and Daloz argue that their “approach to culture is not just an allusion to given ‘values’ but refers to a general framework, a matrix, which, however, constraining, is liable to change over time” (p. 132). 

Culture being the vehicle for ‘human realities’ over time and space, makes it a crucial component in our attempts to improve the quality of services provided by our socio-economic institutions. Taking the status quo as the result of an operating culture, one then realises that changing a society for the people, entails a thorough analysis or even critique of existing cultures.

Chabal and Daloz draw attention to the continuing influence that certain cultural characteristics or mannerisms exert on the continent. “Our view of the enduring force of certain cultural characteristics on the continent rests on an interpretation of their instrumental significance, rather than simply on the weight of African inertia”, in other words, why things persist the way they do in Africa is accountable to more than just Africans inability to learn or it’s stagnant socio-economic institutions.

As we dispel various misconceptions in the process leading up to here, we come to the crucial realisation that we must firstly analyse problems for what they are and not what they ought to be, or what someone ‘out there’ said they ought to. We must attempt to remedy problems based on the realities on the ground.

The realisations mentioned above, should be eminent throughout discussions of the current condition of Africa’s socio-economic service providing institutions. Chabal and Daloz clarify what is important to analyse in this regard. 

“The first [thing] is that the African post-colonial cultural order […] constitutes a distinct universe, the understanding of which helps to account for the events and processes with which we are here concerned. What we observe in Africa is not a resort to ‘imagined’ or frozen cultural customs […] it is a spontaneous and rational recourse to a deeply rooted cultural environment”. There is more to our problems than meets the eye. 

Throughout their work, Chabal and Daloz show significant proof of a reluctance from Africa to formalise. 

How is it that despite decades of independence, many African countries still shows clear signs of sluggish ‘development’ and dubious economic expansion, and yet in the midst of all this, the informal economy still remains the most effective popular caretaker despite formalisation headlining developmental agenda’s all over the country. 

Although a reality of poverty and disorder is one that all African’s seem concerned with, it clearly seems to be effective and therefore a reality t be reckoned with. 

The Primacy of the Informal Economy 

The 103rd session of the International Labour Conference held in Geneva, produced a report that defined the informal economy as thriving, “in a context of high unemployment, poverty, gender inequality and precarious working conditions. It plays a significant role in such circumstances, especially in income generation, because of the relative ease of entry and low requirements for education, skills, technology and capital. Ample empirical research has shown that workers in the informal economy face higher risks of poverty than those in the formal economy”.

In 2007, for a project titled: ‘Housing Microfinance in Post-Conflict Angola: Overcoming Socio-economic Exclusion…, Allan Cain, the director of Development Workshop in Angola since 1981, argued that the informal (self-employment) economy in Luanda, Angola, represents 43 percent of the working population, with 16 percent representing unpaid family employees and 6  percent representing those in informal businesses. 

At its micro/meso level, Angola like many African countries, testifies to how despite: underdevelopment and poverty, the informal economy caters to a large part of the population. Cain opened discussion in his article by stating that: “The war has urbanised Angola, with an estimated 60 percent of the population now living in the cities, three-quarters of them in informal, peri-urban ‘musseque’ settlements”.

As for Namibia, research was carried out in 2001 by the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), which stated that: “Despite the estimates of the latest informal economy survey, which states that– Namibian informal economy is composed of over 132 000 workers (53 percent of them women) – trade union organisation still seems to be limited to the formal economy (280 000 workers)”. In October 2006, LaRRi published another report stating that, “findings indicate that most informal economy operators had been formal economy workers who lost their jobs and thus were forced to enter the informal economy.

The informal sector is, therefore, not to be side-lined or denigrated because it caters for people who could not be absorbed in the formal economy. Ergo, in Africa’s pursuit of progress and not ‘development’ as we know it, it should formulate policies that take into principal consideration the realities of the citizens on the ground, and not the ideals/aims of said policies. “The informal economy is important to national economy because it accommodates at least two-thirds of [the] economically active population in developing countries, thus, being a major job provider, it provides about a quarter to a third of all urban incomes in Sub-Saharan African countries (LaRRi, 2001). 

In distinguishing between the world of the ‘air-conditioner’ and the world of the ‘veranda’, Terray (1986) illustrated that, the former’s function was more ceremonial and aimed to keep up appearances with influential onlookers, both national and international. The latter occupied a much more concealed, “subterranean realm of reciprocity. The metaphor is useful if, as the author stresses, it is not taken to be a simplistic contradiction between modernity and tradition. 

Chabal and Daloz write, “From our viewpoint, a large proportion of Africanist literature has failed to understand the extent to which the formal domain of the air-conditioner was superficial and conversely how fundamental that of the veranda continued to be. An interpretation of the African political order based in the apparent institutional similarity with the West, must therefore be seen either as uninspired or uninformed, incapable as it is of assessing the symbol of the air-conditioner, which comforts both the African elite and the outside world.”

Jover et al, give numerous examples of the key business sectors in Angola post-2002. They show in their analyses that Angola has attracted a lot of international investment over the last decade – China, Spain, Portugal, et cetra. yet: “the informal retail market – which refers to the traditional formats of low cost retailing, such as local owner-managed shops and pavement vendors – remains sizeable. The market of ‘Roque Santeiro’, once the heartbeat of the countries informal economy, was closed and relocated in 2010. This severely affected the informal sector, as the market was relocated 20 km north of the city, connected only by a potholed and frequently congested road. 

“As far as we are concerned, it is inaccurate to speak of the ‘deligitimation of public services’ since it gives the erroneous impression that the state was at some stage properly regulated. There has not been a ‘deliquescence’ of political processes simply because they were never institutionalised in the first place. The informal has always been dominant”, argue Chabal and Daloz.

In other words, we need a political orientation that upon making transparent progressive decisions, takes not only recent statistics into consideration but also the realities of the ‘disorder’ it is attempting to improve, for said disorder keeps people fed. 

 

Solutions

Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of hybridity is instrumental in highlighting how change (cultural change) or non-stagnation is beneficial for contemporary Africa. Hybridity stems from the realisation that in post-colonial discourse, the notion that any culture or identity is pure or essential is disputable, writes Ashcroft et al. Bhabha himself is aware of the dangers of fixity and fetishism of identities within dual colonial thinking, arguing that “all forms of culture are continually in a process of Hybridity”, adds Rutherford. 

For Bhabha, analysts should focus on the unfixed spaces in-between subject-master relationships, for it is there where disruption and displacement of hegemonic ‘colonial narratives’ of cultural structures and popular practices stem from. (Here we are solely interested on the theory and not its implications with colonialism).

Bhabha posits hybridity as a form of in-between space, where the ‘cutting edge of translation and negotiation’ occur, [a space] which he terms the third space, writes Rutherford 1990. The third space is a mode of articulation, a way of describing a productive and not merely reflective space that brings about new possibilities. It is an ‘interruptive, interrogative, and enunciative’ space of new forms of cultural meaning and production blurring the limitations of existing boundaries and calling into question established categorisations of culture and identity. 

The aforementioned definition is what makes hybridity crucial to our analysis of African socio-economic service providing institutions. Hybridity makes it possible for the new to criticise the old without dispelling the credibility of the latter. Hybridity allows for an interchangeable relationship and blend between the: radicalism, pragmatism and cost effectiveness of the youth, with the wisdom and experience of current socio-economic institutions.

Following these realisations, Bhabha opts for a contemporary theory that reconciles past shortcomings by formulating solutions in this ‘third space’ that are free of the prejudice of both, using Bhabha’s examples – ‘coloniser and colonised’.

According to Bhabha, this hybrid third space is an ambivalent site where cultural meaning and representation have no “primordial unity or fixity”, but are progressive and interactive. Hybridity thus leads to the realisation that indeed we need to acknowledge and understand history, but in order to overcome the deprave state of our contemporary service providing institutions (health, education, security) we must apply a method that goes beyond just pointing fingers.

Hybridity is that method, because as already mentioned, it allows for the enunciation of ongoing debate whilst blurring “the limitations of existing bodies”.

In Paul Meredith’s words: “Despite the exposure of the third space to contradictions and ambiguities, it provides a spatial politics of inclusion rather than exclusion that initiates new signs of identity and innovative sites of collaboration and contestation”.

Hybridity in Context

The concept of the third space is submitted as useful for analysing the enunciation, transgression and subversion of dualistic categories going beyond the realm of colonial binary thinking and oppositional positioning, writes Law. 

This logic is mirrored in contemporary African society. Without needing to touch on technology, the merits of: revision, modification, improvement and adjustment are all indisputable. Contemporary society is testament to the values of modifying the old to best serve/suit the new. 

The tools, methods and theories (arguments) used to analyse present-day African socio-economic service providing institutions must follow the same logic. It is with much pride and some understandable embarrassment that I say today that: from May 16 to 31, 2014, Angola held its first national census, the last being held in 1970, under the Portuguese colonial regime. It has taken the Angolan government 44 years to count their nationals, is this not cause for alarm?  

Cultural Mobility

By culture here, we adhere to its definition as an encompassing body of human experience, as such, it is imperative that the mechanisms that consequently arise as a result of these ever-interchanging experiences, be in-tune with and capacitated to comprehend these ongoing cultural interactions. In his works, Bhabha focuses on the intermediary and ongoing relationship between colonised and coloniser and stressed that it was there that the analyst should focus their attention. 

Pascoal, best elucidates this dilemma when he stated that: “the aspect of mobility of the [contemporary] society makes it so that truth is only credible until another is found under the same scrupulous criteria of what constitutes truth, which will then also be accepted and will replace the old. Society is not stagnant”, yet many of our remedies are outdated and impracticable.  

Modernisation without Development: Instrumentalising Disorder 

Despite the plethora of critique and analyses of Africa’s various socio-economic problems, it should now be evident that the status quo in Africa is more than just a crisis it is about to or willing overcome. This critical point we are in, Africa’s disorder, is in actuality operational. Although Africa remains historically mediocre by Western standards of development and its prerequisites, it is evident Africa that the continent is modernising, it is progressing. According to the National Agency for Private Investment (ANIP), Angola is currently known as having one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, with a private investment growth in 2013 of 330 percent, US$7.3 billion (2014). 

“Our paradigm, the political instrumentalisation of disorder, shows that politics in Africa cannot be understood in and of itself, divorced from the rest of society, as is the case with a host of approaches, most notably of the developmentalist ilk. We attempt to show that the political, social and economic logics of contemporary Africa come together in a process of modernisation which does not fit with Western experiences of development” (p. 143).  The continent is embarking on a path that remains unclear for many, which is natural. Post-colonial critiques of the continent, have hitherto adopted a stance that attempted to mirror Africa’s modernisation with western development. The likes of developmental, modernisation, dependency and stages of growth theorists, all looked at Africa from a western perspective, following popular notions of what undeveloped nations should pursue in their attempts to develop. We repudiate such analytical methods. There is an ever existing and growing presence of African theorists who concur that, Africa’s problems, should be analysed in relation to its realities and not some preconceived formulae of what it ought to be. 

Brethren, wake up and empower yourselves…

June 2014
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