Science, Culture and Dependency in Africa
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May I at the very outset state that I am neither a scientist nor a technologist. My only qualification for discussing science and technology in Africa is that for over thirty years I have been involved in the establishment of several science, technological and research institutes, I am a fellow of several science academies, and at the international level, I have participated in the formulation of science policies for the Africa region.
Beginning in the late 1940s, the East-West conflict molded the international system into an essentially bipolar structure. However, this basic structure was only established to its full extent in the field of nuclear confrontation, while on other levels of conflict it was obscured and distorted by other developments. Decolonization, for example, allowed the programmatic build-up of the Third World outside the Cold War. Furthermore, both camps contained more-or-less large minorities who modelled themselves on the pattern of society taken from the other side — the socialists and communists in the West, and the Trotskyists in the East.
Furthermore, although it has been emphasized by students of international relations that the main thematic issues during the period of the Cold War (1945-1989) were power, economic strength, and ideology, which produced a “warped stability” and a “code of acceptable behavior, which helped spare humanity the devastation of a Third World War,” it should not be forgotten that the dominant issue for the majority of the world’s population during this period was colonialism and the aspirations for freedom embedded in the Atlantic Charter. The people of Asia, the Middle East and Africa were more concerned about the control of their lives, land and resources by Western Europeans than they were about communism. Their struggles were often subsumed within the bipolar struggle in which the notion of freedom was often reduced to a simplistic anti-communism. This is the sense in which Western powers talked about maintaining a stable and unified “free world.” Thus, due to political or economic priorities, the Western powers offered a type of freedom that rested on a negative sense of freedom from communism. The positive aspects of liberty and justice for individuals and nations were subsumed under Cold War power imperatives. That is why, for the majority of people on the earth, the same period of history produced ferocious and hot regional wars, fought either through proxy armies, as, for example, in Angola, or directly, as in Vietnam, Korea and Afghanistan.
The structural imposition of the Cold War through superpower interests and the attempt to extend the ideological conflict inflicted behavior that was far from acceptable, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 million people. These struggles, in the case of Africa, resulted in the attainment of political independence by new nation- states between 1951 and 1991.
In addition, as Geoffrey Barraclough has argued in his book, Introduction to Contemporary History, the “rise of the masses” is one of the most important features of the world since 1945. But this rise in democratic participation has at times been offset by the power imperatives of the North, and the severely limited economic power of the masses is counterbalanced by the dominance in the world economy of the United States, the European Union, and Japan. The development strategies applied in the Third World were those from the West. And in Africa the dynamics of social reality were still seen through what Paul Richards refers to as the “refracting lenses of ‘mainstream’ debates in European social philosophy or comparative historiography.”
Then there came the years of wonder, 1989-1991. The Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was unified, Russia headed towards becoming a normal nation, and communism died. These three years truly ushered in a new phase in world politics.
Yet the impact of the end of the Cold War has not been unidirectional. The tense confrontation between the two armed camps has disappeared, and, in this sense, ideological conflict seems to have come to an end, at least for the moment. But conflicts of economic and political interests are becoming more and more common among the major nations of the world, and more and more tense. The Cold War has ended, but hot wars rage in more than thirty countries and regions.
The wave of immigrants from poor countries to rich countries and the influx of people from rural areas to cities have reached an unprecedented scale, forming what the U.N. Population Fund has called the “current crisis of mankind.” It is also the age of “everyone for themselves,” where the strongest trample down the weakest.
Financial and economic strategies are formulated primarily on a world scale, without taking any account of each country’s special socio-cultural circumstances. The same economic medicine is prescribed for all socio-economic ailments. Diversity is treated uniformly, irrespective of the country’s natural and human resources, culture, history, or vision of the future.
The concept of security in the post-Cold-War era has also changed. It is no longer looked at in terms only of inter-state relations. The maintenance of world security and stability requires strategies to combat poverty, ignorance and exclusion (exclusion of the masses, of intellectuals, of women and of youth from democracy, and exclusion of many nations from global decision-making). Hence, international security can only be maintained today by promoting education and the transfer of knowledge; by helping countries to help themselves so that they become partners in world trade; raising standards of living in rural areas; arresting urban decay; enforcing the rule of law and effecting the operation of justice; guaranteeing freedom of expression and the establishment of democracy. In short, it is the happiness of citizens that we must seek in order to have a more stable, less unbalanced world.
There are two discernible trends which have become more pronounced with the end of the Cold War. First, there is the trend towards the globalization of the international system. Globalization means that more and more aspects of life on the part of increasing numbers of people are being integrated into the interrelations and chains of action that currently or potentially stretch around the world. The economic data of stock exchanges and the investment decisions of those in charge of capital, the migration consideration of those living under difficult circumstances, the tourist horizons of the comfortable middle classes, drug-dealing and forms of organized crime, the AIDS menace, the danger of ecological catastrophe such as the gradual disappearance of the tropical rainforest or the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer, the international and transnational exchange of culture — these and many others are examples of the intensifying movement towards the globalization of social relations.
But who should form and control these relations? What institutions and organizations can effectively meet the challenge of globalization? How do we legitimize decisions made by a few people or a few nations in the Security Council or in the G7? These are some of the issues which still await solution. The world has witnessed tremendous material progress in the second half of the twentieth century, but unfortunately the benefits have not been distributed equally, causing greater division than ever between the rich nations of the North and the poor nations of the South.
But globalization has created a second and opposite trend — fragmentation. This is because globalization triggers widespread insecurity, because it dissolves structures which have been in existence for a long time, and melts traditional collective identities. Hence, the process is met by resistance, which has in the meantime become so strong that a trend against globalization may now be discerned, namely the increasing fragmentation of larger political units. This is something which should not only be interpreted as the break-up of multi-national state organization, although this is indeed a particularly explosive force (not only in Eastern Europe, but also in parts of Asia, Africa and Canada). Fragmentation is also taking place where the acknowledgement of global or universal values is being delayed or rejected out of hand in the name of cultural independence. This attitude can, for example, be observed in the debate on the protection of human rights or on democracy.
This means that the idea of a “global village” invented by Marshall McLuhan is only partly true. People have a primary need to belong, to have a sense of place, context, safety. Today, accompanying the rise of a world economy and culture, we are seeing a kind of collapsing going on, a pulling-in, a coming together. As people feel more than ever surrounded by expanding, uniform horizons of often cruel socio-economic seas, they more keenly hunt out sheltered coves in which to feel secure. Wherever we look today, we see this happening. In the old Soviet empire, small communities are killing each other over claims to pieces of earth. In the United States, the “multiculturalist” movement, now entrenched in major universities, seeks to inculcate heightened ethnic and racial awareness in students. Everybody is looking for symbols on which they can get a hold.
The search for belonging often leads to separation, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, racism, fascism, and relgious and ethnic fundamentalism. And today, this new irrationality threatens our societies; the hopes we have fostered of curbing this via the spread of enlightenment and humanism, the internationalization of trade and the adoption of liberal democracy remain illusions.
Explanations for the current world scene and attempts to comprehend it culturally and politically have emerged in several ways. Fundamentalism and a return to extreme nationalism have been responses to the current cultural and political malaise. In societies with appalling disparities of income, with traditional family and communal life put under severe stress by new economic and financial imperatives, and with rampant corruption among business and ruling classes, movements which appeal to “old values,” such as Christian or Islamic fundamentalism have gained ascendancy. And recently Samuel P. Huntington has advanced in the July/August 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs the provocative argument that the Cold War bipolarism has been superseded by what he called the “clash of civilizations,” a thesis based on the premise that Western, Confucian, Islamic, Slavic-Orthodox, Japanese and Hindu civilizations, among others, were rather like water-tight compartments whose adherents were, at bottom, mainly interested in fending off all the others. He is concerned about the “de-Westernization” of societies, their “indigenization,” and apparent willingness to go their own way. In an alarmist way, he concludes that, “the next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.” The attempt to force cultures and people into separate and distinct essences is, of course, an obsolete idea, since cultures are hybrid and heterogeneous.
Before Professor Huntington, we had Francis Fukuyama. His book, The End of History and the Last Man (New York, 1992) was acclaimed by George Gilder in The Washington Post Book World as “awesome... a landmark — profoundly realistic and important — supremely timely and cogent.” Whether one accepts its arguments or not, Fukuyama’s book is definitely important in that it deals with the forces that have shaped and will continue to influence the course of world history. He contends that the end of the Cold War and the triumph of liberal democracy constitute the “end of history,” “the end of mankind’s ideological evolution,” and the “final form of human government.” In analyzing this issues, Fukuyama gives Africa very casual and spurious treatment, a practice which he shares with Hegel and Marx. The kind of liberal democracy and mature capitalism he talks about do not exist in Africa. The Westminster and other foreign models of government that were bequeathed to Africa by the European colonialists have failed to work. And so have single-party systems and military regimes. The multi-party systems are not doing any better because they are nothing more than perverted forms of Western models which continue to ignore African history. There is also the crisis of the state itself. The kind of liberal state he refers to is non-existent in Africa. It would therefore appear that, in accordance with Fukuyama’s own prescription, Africa has not yet reached the end of history.
Recently, Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean scholar, has argued in an article in Foreign Affairs entitled, “Asian Cultural Fusion,” that the significant difference between the twenty-first century and the preceding centuries is that there will be three centers of world power (Europe, North America and East Asia) as opposed to two in the twentieth (Europe and North America) and one (Europe) from 1500 to 1900. He contends that today, East Asia has arrived on the world stage to stay. Western thinkers, he argues, have considerable difficulty in finding the right paradigms to describe a world where non-Western powers are emerging. Their natural impulse is to assume that, as they succeed, these powers will become more like Western societies (an assumption implicit in the “end of history” thesis) or that there will be a “clash of civilizations.” Neither is likely, he declares. He argues that the difficulty Western minds face in grasping the arrival of East Asia arises from the fact that we are witnessing an unprecedented historical phenomenon: a fusion of Western science and technology and East Asian cultures in the Asia-Pacific region. It is this fusion, not a renaissance of ancient Asian glories, that explains the explosive growth of the Pacific and provides the possibility of continued peace and prosperity in the region, he concludes. This should be food for thought for those of us who believe that African development must be based on an African renaissance.
The Western assumption is that all countries and regions will model themselves after Europe and North America, the natural progression of history will lead to all societies becoming liberal, democratic and capitalist. This assumption (which seems to have been validated since the end of the Cold War) creates an inability to accept that other cultures or social forms may have equal validity. A belief in the universality of one’s ideas can lead to an inability to accept the principle of diversity.
Then there is the problem of global ungovernability. We have democracy which is not prepared to take on board the views of the minorities. We have systems which want to obliterate cultural identities. We have an international situation in which the market is god and we have therefore to find a new relationship between the market and global solidarity. In the name of the freedom of the press, we have a new threat of the media taking over the political arena, a fact which is contributing to global ungovernability. Finally, we have the global problems of unemployment, urban decay and overpopulation. For example, we know that there was a link between unemployment and the rise of fascism in Germany and Spain. Are we heading for that? With regard to population growth, we know that over one million children are born every day. Will we be able to govern the world without curtailing this rate of population growth? In Africa we are net exporters of capital and manpower to the industrial North. The global institutions set up after World War II are not adequate to the situation. A new world order based on culture and moral values and not on economics or ideologies in needed. We have to relearn to live together. What contribution can science and technology make towards the realization of this dream?
In five years’ time, a new millennium will begin. It will obviously be built on new paradigms. From discernible trends, it would appear that the twenty-first century will be one of tremendous upheavals, accelerated change and unceasing renewals in a radically different economic, geopolitical and cultural context from that which humanity has known to the present day. Science, technology, communication and information technology will radically change the structure of knowledge and the individual and collective destiny of the earth’s peoples. With the globalizaiton of markets and the growing enforcement of regional blocs, the world situation will be one of exacerbated commercial, financial and cultural competition and scientific and technological rivalry on an unprecedented scale.
The West, Japan and to some extent some countries in Southeast Asia are in the post-industrial age. These societies would not exist without the impact of science and technology. Indeed, there may be a positive correlation between the growth of wealth and freedom and the production of knowledge. The new “Wealth of Nations” will not be measured in terms of capital, land and labor, but more in terms of knowledge. Major changes are taking place in the post-industrial societies in information technology, energy, and biology, resulting in major technological breakthroughs. The consequences of these scientific and technological developments is that the knowledge gap between the post- industrial societies and Africa is getting wider and wider. And in the future the major divide among nations is likely to be between those who possess knowledge and those who do not, and this is likely to be a worse division than the present economic one between the rich and the poor. This is because science and technology are increasingly playing a decisive role in shaping the future of billions of people.
Africa is at the moment largely engaged in receiving and transmitting the new scientific and technological knowledge, largely through what is usually referred to as transfer of technology. But can technology be transferred from one society to another? On the other hand, there are those who argue that since it is difficult and inappropriate to transfer advanced technology to Africa, something called intermediate technology should be transferred — that is, a technology between no technology and high technology. But is this possible? Africa is already in the high technology age: satellite television, biotechnology, electronics and computers, organ transplants, DNA, to name a few.
Not only that. Africa must not forever and ever be a consumer of finished scientific and technological products. It must contribute to the production of new science and new technology, in universities, in special industrial laboratories, and through research institutes. African universities, though facing a challenging economic situation, will have to do more than they are doing at the moment. When it comes to industrial laboratories, Africa has a problem. Most of the major industries in Africa are branches of transnational corporations which carry out most of the basic research in their countries of origin.
As regards research institutes, the international climate seems to be hostile to the establishment and successful operation of such institutes. The situation seems to be worse now in the post-Cold War era. To illustrate my point, I will cite two examples from Kenya. In 1978, the Kenyan government decided to establish a major international research center for archaeology, paleontology and geology in Nairobi. I was privileged to be appointed its first director. We raised a lot of funds locally and internationally, put up a magnificent building, built a research library and formulated a five-year research program. But within two years we ran into real problems: the foreign donors were extremely unhappy about my plans to train local scholars in archaeology, paleontology and geology. An ultimatum was given to the Kenyan government to prevail on me to stop the training of local people. When I refused to comply with the government directive — because I saw no reason why the Institute should only be used for training foreign students and for expatriate research — I was fired. There was a hostile reaction from the Kenyan public and from the scholars. The international committee that we had established to superintend the work of the Institute panicked: it decided to close the Institute! The African scholars I had enrolled at the Institute had to seek admission in foreign institutions. In my opinion, this was a good example of academic neo- colonialism. The foreign archaeologists and paleontologists from North American and Europe were determined to frustrate the training of African scholars from East Africa — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia — as well as from Malawi and Zambia. Fortunately, most of these scholars are now back in their countries, having completed their training abroad. But the Institute is dead. So is the local initiative.
The second institutional victim of a hostile international climate I wish to give is the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICPE) headquartered in Nairobi. This famous research center was established by a Kenyan scientist, Professor Thomas R. Odhiambo, in the early 1970s. Almost single-handedly, Professor Odhiambo created a science research center that was the equal of any in the world. Many African universities were affiliated with it, and the center trained many African scientists at doctoral and post-doctoral levels. The Center also made several major breakthroughs in research resulting in the acquisition of several patents. But Professor Odhiambo had made one fatal mistake: he had come to rely almost totally on donor funds. Last year the donors decided to act. They reorganized the Institute, got rid of Professor Odhiambo, the creator of the Institute, appointed an expatriate Director, and dismissed most of the African researchers at the Institute — all in the interest of efficiency, economy and quality! There is already a major outcry in Africa and the chances are that ICIPE — the premier research institute in Africa — will end up being closed! Such examples demoralize the scientists and kill initiative.
I have given these two examples from Kenya (I am certain there are others from different parts of Africa) to show that the development of science and technology in Africa requires the full support of the African governments and of the international scientific community. One of the problems we have had in Africa is that of separating science and technology from culture. We were made to believe that Africa had no science and technology, and hence, this was something to be imported from the West. But science and technology are integral parts of human culture and had been so even in precolonial Africa. Hence, the dichotomy that had developed between science and technology and culture must be addressed, since there is a crucial relation between science and culture.
Science Policy in Africa
In Europe, besides national councils and academies, there are regional organizations which deal with policies on science research. There is, for example, SCIENCE, whose aim is to promote exchange among research institutions in Europe. There is also the ERASMUS program. In the United States of America they have the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences to formulate scientific policy.
Although most African countries have national bodies which are supposed to formulate science policies, the fact of the matter is that most of them have a precarious existence. Instead of providing a forum for the public and the scientists to express their ideas about science policy or encouraging exchange among research institutions in Africa, these scientific bodies are desperately trying to survive. Then there are national academies of sciences — we have one in Kenya and I am a fellow of the Academy — but most of them are financially crippled. Consequently, they cannot carry out any meaningful research programs or contribute to the formulation of research policy. In fact, most of them rely on foreign funding, a fact which confirms the dependency of our science organizations on foreign sources. In such cases, the research agenda is determined by the financiers and also the results of the research belong to the donor. Moreover, Africa has become, in the light of this dependency, a major experimental ground for foreign scientific and technological researchers.
In order to tackle these problems on a continent-wide basis, the African Academy of Science headquartered in Nairobi has been formed. But even this organization depends entirely on foreign funding and can therefore not escape the negative consequences of dependency.
The current craze is the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Some of these are doing excellent work, especially in the fields of environment and health. But the fact remains that most of the NGOs rely wholly on foreign funding. The research priorities and agenda are determined by the donors and the dependency is simply pushed down to the grassroots level.
By way of conclusion, I would like to state the following. It is most probable that international aid to Africa will continue to dwindle in the coming years. And if granted, it will be on draconian terms, inspired by a thinly disguised desire to create situations of hegemony or dependency. Africa will have to rely more and more on its own strength. It will have to take its own destiny in hand, and its true future lies in its sons’ and daughters’ ability to design, forge and enhance a process of renewal of liberation and progress, without which it will never participate as a credible, responsible and respected partner in international relations. Africa, and African scholars and scientists have to cope with these problems. How can we fail to see, together with the difficulties, the enormous potential that Africa has within it, the enthusiasm held in reserve, the formidable creative force that is waiting only for the opportunity to express itself? Africa must be helped by is leaders and scholars to draw on its vital strengths and on all its future potential, so that it may pave its way to development and become a full partner in the world community. This, in my opinion, is the real alternative.
Bethwell A. Ogot, former president of the UNESCO General Assembly, is Director of the Institute of Research and Postgraduate Studies, Maseno University College, Kenya. In the winter, 1995, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Advanced Study Center of the International Institute. The following paper was delivered March 26, 1995, at the Advanced Study Center conference, “Beyond the Wall,” as part of a panel about science and technology after the Cold War.