This post is a reproduction of a WhatsApp chat I had with an On Air Personality (OAP). He has given me permission to quote him verbatim.
Good evening Tony (Not real name). I was introduced to you yesterday by Gabriel (Not real name). My name is Abdul (Real name). I really enjoyed the conversation we were having yesterday. I wish we could have completed it. I just want to recap on some things I said and respond to the things you said…
I had mentioned that I had a difference of opinion with Walter Rodney (Author of How Europe underdeveloped Africa). I do not believe that the exploitation of Africa, criminal though it was, is the main factor for the mass prosperity that Europe started to have in the 18th century. It certainly helped but it wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was the aggressive development of science and technology and the development of political, legal, economic and social institutions that enabled western society to derive the maximum benefits from their investment in science and technology. The resources they criminally got from us was just an input into this vast industrial complex. Without the input of African resources, they would have still gotten to their wealthy destination though it might have taken a longer time and I will prove it….
The East Asians, particularly Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan have managed to become just as rich as the west even though they did not copy the west’s plunder and rape of other continents. What they did copy from the west was the aggressive development of science and technology and the institutions required to obtain maximum benefit from the scientific investments made.
Which now brings me to the point you made about some academics positing that the reason the Asians succeeded was their retention of their traditional religions. I do not accept this hypothesis. As stated above, the reason for Asian success was the aggressive development of science and technology and the accompanying institutions and I will prove this with the example of Europe. Christianity wasn’t the traditional religion of Europe. They originally believed in various small gods like us Africans. A well-known example as a result of the Marvel movies is the Old English/German/Scandinavian/Norse god called Thor, who is the god of thunder like our Shango or Amadioha. In fact, 4 days in the week are named after old English gods. Thursday is named after Thor (Thor’s day). Wednesday is named after his father, Odin (Odin is the Scandinavian/Norse version of the name). Odin in old English is Woden and Wednesday is Woden’s day. Friday is named after Odin’s wife (but not Thor’s mother) Frigg and Tuesday is named after an old English god called either Tiw or Tyr. The remaining days are obviously named after heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies in ancient times have often been worshipped as gods. Swapping out their traditional religions for Christianity didn’t stop the west from developing the science and technology that made them wealthy, neither should it stop us.
By the way, Islam is not even the traditional religion of the Arabs. Like Africans and Europeans, the Arabs believed in a variety of small gods until the Prophet Muhammad introduced them to Allah and Islam.
You mentioned Karl Marx’ quote about ‘Religion being the opiate of the masses’ and what we can do to change this. My answer would be the Enlightenment. I briefly describe the Enlightenment in this post of mine. Briefly, the Enlightenment forms the intellectual foundation of western society. It provides the foundational values of the western institutions that we have tried to copy in Africa in the hope of emulating western material success. These values are scientific in outlook and they are reason, skepticism and individualism. Not individualism in the sense of being selfish, but in the sense of there being respect for the individual and recognizing individual rights. You would agree with me that this value system has hardly penetrated the African psyche. Contemporary African values are more based on faith, tradition and group orientation. So the way I see it, there is a fundamental clash between the current African value system and the institutions we have borrowed in the hope of solving our material problems. The question now is how do we resolve the conflict?
Which brings me to the last comment you made about the difference in culture but we didn’t have time to discuss it. Given the way I have laid out the central conflict of contemporary African society, you might be tempted to conclude those academics were right about our need to return to traditional African culture. Forgive me for sounding ignorant but what exactly is traditional African culture? Traditional African culture is one of those terms constantly thrown around and everybody assumes they know what it means but there is little critical examination of what it really means. Is African culture having many children? Europeans did exactly the same thing 200-300 years ago for the exact same reasons Africa’s poor have large families today. They were locked out of regular jobs and so didn’t have access to a regular salary and pensions and a significant number of their children succumbed to disease. They needed many children to provide labour on the family farm and as pension/insurance when they were old and could no longer work. Is it respect for elders? East Asians are also big on that. Is it tribalism? Just as we have Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, the English at one time had the Jutes, Celts (The names of Scottish football club, Celtic and NBA franchise, Boston Celtics are derived from this tribe), Angles (This tribe eventually gave its name to the whole of England. England means “Land of Angles”) and Saxons (If you watched Robin Hood when you were small or Robin Hood associated TV series like Ivanhoe and you were paying attention, there is a good chance that you might have heard about this tribe. Robin Hood is often portrayed as being a Saxon. By the way, Game of Thrones is partly based on Ivanhoe. Robin Hood’s battles with his chief antagonists of The Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisborne can be cast in the terms of inter-tribal conflict as his antagonists were Normans, who were a group that migrated from France and captured the English crown and placed the Saxons under their yoke of oppression). Just like the British forced us into one nation, The Romans forced the various English tribes into one nation around the time of the Lord, Jesus Christ. When the Roman Empire fell 400-500 years later, these English tribes scattered. It took them about 600 years to develop the political maturity required of them to come together of their own volition as one nation. The spread of Christianity in Europe played a crucial part in making this happen.
The Prophet Muhammad had much trouble unifying the quarreling tribes of first, Medina and then those of Mecca and then ultimately unifying them together with other related environs into a nation-state. His teachings were in a certain sense deliberately anti-tribal, in that his teachings proclaimed the existence of a universal umma or community of believers whose first loyalty was to God and God’s word and not to their tribe. One major advantage of large-scale religions like Christianity and Islam over much smaller ones, is that they help to build solidarity among a large number of people who otherwise may see themselves as having nothing in common. The west has gone ahead to build a rigorous system of thought, conduct, social norms and governance on something ALL human beings have in common and that is the concept of humanity itself and humanity’s capacity for reason. These were the fruits of the Enlightenment era I referred to earlier. Something similar to it would be required for any other part of the world hoping to win a decisive victory over tribalism.
China has been struggling with tribalism for like 2,000 years even though 92% of the people come from one tribe, the Han tribe. The Uighurs in China are a group that suffers severe discrimination to the point that even former Real Madrid baller, Mesut Ozil (I hate Arsenal. So I only recognize Ozil as a Real Madrid player. GGMU…if you know, you know) talked about it. Tribalism remains a significant problem in much of the world (though of course to different degrees) except in Western Europe and among people of European descent (I am here largely referring to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). They are the only ones so far to achieve a rather complete and decisive victory over tribalism.
I have mentioned all these to elucidate two general points. 1. Culture is not static. It is always changing, as culture is significantly a response to one’s environment, which is always changing. 2. What we consider the specific culture of one group is actually more generic and is more of a human trait. It is just that different parts of the world are at different stages of development so they exhibit different traits at any specific point in time but all of mankind is capable of exhibiting those traits.
So in response to your echoing Karl Marx, I believe the average African needs to become more rational, more scientific in his/her worldview, in his/her outlook and approach to life in general. This takes time and it also takes education. This is why I take the time to write in general and the reason I have written this long monologue to you. Sorry 4 not letting u get in a word edgewise (Smiling emoji).
BEFORE YOU GO: Please share this post with as many people as possible and check out my book Why Africa is not rich like America and Europe. Thank you.