Why Africa should De-Westernise

By Mkhosana Bingweni

The way Europe and America have from being one province of the world turned themselves into a centre of the world is a weighty matter and one that is important in the re-imagination of African futures.

Prominently, it is the German sociologist Max Weber who popularised the idea of the “uniqueness of western civilisation,” an idea that he used to explain the political and economic prosperity of the West in the world. As lately as 1996, an advisor to the government of the United States of America and a political scientist, Samuel Huntington wrote to declare that “the West Unique, not Universal.”

In that essay, Huntington advised the West led by North America to fortify themselves, preserve their unity and uniqueness in the world or “hang.”

Both Weber and Huntington as prophets of Eurocentricism and Americanism are deafeningly silent on how the West enslaved, colonised and exploited the rest in the world in order to achieve political and economic prosperity.

Huntington and Weber’s views on Europe and America as unique and special have a unique importance currently as Donald Trump is effectively feeding fat from their work and the work of other Eurocentric thinkers.

In imagining African political and economic futures, African thinkers and leaders should explore the Eurocentric mindset, the philosophy of Empire and the strategies of the Empire builders.

The constituent ingredients of the Empire that is ruling the world must be probed and understood if the excesses and crimes of the Empire are to be confronted and resisted if those parts of the world that Empire enslaved, colonised and exploited are to liberate themselves.

Decolonial thinking has the political and cultural burden to provide reading practices and critical tools that unmask Empire and its workings. African liberation movements, if they are to live up to their name, have a task to de-Westernise Africa so that it can effectively be decolonialised.

When Empire Leaves

When Western scholars write of the way the West has westernised the world they enjoy a generous privilege of blindness and deafness.

What they witness and narrate is the glorious departure of Empire and its grand spreading across the planet through such processes as globalisation, processes that conceal rather than reveal that the Western world globalised itself through violence, genocides and epistemicides of conquest, enslavement and colonisation. Samuel Huntington, for instance suggests that the effort of universalism has been carried out by the West through two processes, relatively peaceful processes, that is cocacolonisation of the world and modernisation.

In cocacolonisation, Western popular culture, food, music, dress and the coca cola drink itself have been turned into global culture.

In modernisation, Western institutions, including the nation state, knowledge, industrialisation, urbanisation, political systems that include liberal and neoliberal democracy, and other furnitures of modernity have been spread out and naturalised throughout the globe. Western thinkers and Western leaders have something to be proud of in the internationalisation of their civilisation.

What they have a clear view of is the back of a triumphal civilisation that has gone to overcome the whole planet and re-imagined it after its own image and interests.

In the Third World, to use a term of Empire or in the Global South to use a more decolonial term, thinkers and leaders have over centuries witnessed the crushing arrival of a violent Empire that has enslaved, colonised and conquered.

The Westernisation of the world was not achieved through dialogue or negotiation. It was a cataclysmic imposition of power, culture and even spirituality.

It involved dispossession and displacement. It was one of the most unhygienic and evil political processes since biblical times.

Eric Williams and Frantz Fanon are but two of the many thinkers of the Global South who emphatically made the point that the political and economic prosperity of the West was directly connected to the exploitation of the labour and natural resources of the rest, Western advancement is therefore a proceed of crimes against humanity, whether Western philosophers and leaders admit it or not.

Thanks to the West and its civilisation, the entire planet is one big crime scene.

In the Euro-American historical and philosophical propaganda the West has given to the rest the gifts of classical legacies in art, thought and knowledge.

The gift of Christianity and God, fine languages of the world, representative systems and institutions such as democracy and parliaments, individualism, civil society, the rule of law and separation of the sacred from the secular are but some of the gifts the West has showered the rest with.

Boastfully, Huntington can state that America has given the world “Magna Cater” not just “Magna Mac” referring to liberties beyond McDonalds.

In their historical and existential experiences, however, the peoples of the Global South do not know the West as generous giver but a cruel exploiter who has invented donations and aid as rhetoric to cover the theft and pillage that is still going on.

Myths of Modernity

That modernity is an invention of the West is a myth of the centuries. In actuality, as Enrique Dussel has prominently stated, modernity is the property of humanity that Euro-America has like all other things monopolised.

At one point or another all societies of the planet have been traditional and basically in a “state of nature.”

What is in the world in truth are modernities, the dominance and hegemony of the Western modernity is explicable in terms of Western imperialism, conquest, colonialism, and lately expansionism disguised as cosmopolitan globalisation.

About itself, its culture and power the West has created and circulated a great enchantment in the world where as Homi Bhabha says “signs have been taken for wonders” and the ordinary elevated to the miraculous.

The pain of enslavement, colonisation and exploitation suffered in the Global South, the Hellen Zilles of this world will argue, was the natural pain that comes before the gain of modernity and civilisation.

What in South Africa they popularly call as the problem of white monopoly capital is actually a world systemic and structural problem where Europeans and Americans, where ever they are in the world, have monopolised the goods and services of modernity.

White South Africans presently are crying out and loud about the recently awarded junk status of the economy and the country, yet the people of Tembisa, Alexandra, Khayelistha and many other poor locations and rural areas of Africa have always lived junk lives in a junk colonial world. Black people have been, over centuries reduced to junk people.

De-Westernise in order to Decolonialise

Perhaps the limit of decolonisation that was carried out by liberation movements in the Global South is that they tried to decolonise without de-Westernising.

Decoloniality as the thinking that benefits from observing the failures and limits of decolonisation is able to propose decolonialisation as an enhanced pursuit of liberation from Western domination and exploitation of the Global South.

Africa, in order to Decolonialise has a task to de-Westernise, explode Western myths of modernity and reject those furnitures of modernity that perpetuate Euro-American sensibility.  Even Huntington himself admits that societies of the world can and have to be modern without being Western.

China has done it, India too and most Islamic nations have embraced modernity without ever aspiring to be Western. Africa, politically, culturally, spiritually and economically has a duty to consciously cultivate and naturalise popular disenchantment with the West.

The young people of Africa should grow up with the knowledge that it is by force and fraud that the West became the centre of the world.

The centrality of the West in the world is not a natural given but a condition that can be undone.

The uniqueness of America that Donald Trump seeks to claim, and his insistence that America must mind its own business cannot forever conceal where and how America stole her power and prosperity, politically and philosophically in  Africa and the entire Global South, this is the time to de-westernise in order to Decolonialise, time to provincialise the West. • Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni is a senior researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

April 2017
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