The imperial domination of Africa by the West through colonialism and subsequently neocolonialism has been the premise of societal, economical, and political structures in the continent. The West has always played the savior role in its relations with Africa, with the sole purpose of maintaining its ‘inferiority’ status as perceived in the global north countries. In turn, Africa has always looked towards the West for all the aspects of its citizens’ spheres of life. The African has thus modeled his contemporary lifestyle based on Western standards, ideals, and values in his attempt to fit in the neoliberal global economy.
‘Modernity,’ as dictated by the imperial powers, carried one major implication for the African way of life – everything to do with African civilization was abhorrent, barbaric, paganistic and thus had to be completely wiped away from the face of the Earth. African customs and traditions were replaced by Western religions, values, and norms – most of which were alien to Africans. Including alien systems of political governance. Faced with this permanently reconfigured way of existence, the African found himself alienated from his immediate surroundings; wanting more to be recognized by the colonizer rather than being organically proud in his roots and heritage.
Every facet of African existence came to be judged against Western standards and values. African cultures, traditions, languages, identities, history, art – literally everything – could only make sense if they conformed to what the West had set, and what the West approved as ‘civilized.’ Africans inherited everything the West had established through colonialization, paying scant attention to their contradictions. The bourgeoisie complex set up by the colonizers was simply inherited by Africans, to the detriment of our organic process relating to our wholesome and independent identities.
This state of affairs has been aggravated by the biases that are pushed by global Western media houses to their mass audiences. Whilst Africans ceaselessly hunt for affirmation from Western countries, negative attitudes about Africa still find space in mainstream media. And through the technology of social media.
It is not surprising that for instance when an election is done in an African country, it has to be weighed against the standards of Western ‘democracy,’ without paying regard to the context of this much-vaunted democracy and its apparent cracks. This is as seen in the recent American election, where Donald Trump has refused to concede power. Yet, African countries are told to mold their ‘democracy’ against this backdrop. But because the African political establishment which contests for this power, both ruling and opposition parties, are desperate for the West’s approval and recognition, they pander to the interests of such a global neoliberal order.
Africans, in the post-colonial epoch, have not done much to decolonize cultural, societal, political, and financial institutions that venerate Western power. This is why Africans are always hungry for the West to recognize them be it in the arts, sciences, economics, politics, finance, literature, music, and film.
For an artistic piece of work from Africa to be considered meaningful, it must first be validated by the West. This is why many artists from Africa will jubilate endlessly about being afforded an interview at a radio/TV station from a global north, or when their works get played/aired in the global north. Almost as if their value has increased manifold. A recognition in London is treated as more important than recognition in Nairobi or Harare.
This desire for recognition globally has resulted in Africans putting little work as regards protecting the inherent value of their cultural products, and the fundamental intellectual property aspect of their cultural work. There is no regard for context anymore, in the quest to be recognized in Paris, London, New York, etc. Local recognition is of limited value in contemporary Africa, where neoliberalism is the order of the day. Africa has turned to mimic the cultures of the West at the expense of its own, which is a regrettable reality showing the contradictions arising from entrenched neocolonial capitalism.
An artist will laud a Grammy award as the greatest feat of their career more than the awards in their home country. The prestige which that certain artist feels is unmatched, and the feeling of ‘arrival’ at individual success is unparalleled. And this raises critical questions on why we continually judge ourselves against Western benchmarks and what it means for the relationship between the African continent and the West. Or whether we can create our institutions that are fully cognizant of African realities and contexts.
As it stands, African competence is nothing without being affirmed by the West. But is such validation that important? Or this manifests an inability to shake off the legacies of colonialism (which metamorphosed into neocolonialism)? To borrow from Socrates Mbamalu, “The question to ponder on is why do Africans continue to seek such validation and are our achievements incomplete without the Western affirmation?”
The same West which is looked at by Africans as the ‘promised land’ is undergoing neoliberal failures, and this explains the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe and the United States of America. And COVID-19 has amplified the inequalities rife in the advanced global north countries, evidence that capitalism, admired without context by some in the global south, views other people as expendable. Quality social services, being the inalienable rights of everyone, are reserved for the elite few.
These failings which the West is experiencing should help Africans structure their roadmap, guided by ideology and pragmatism, which speaks specifically to the contextual needs of Africans. Without waiting for Western validation. Economically, African leaders have failed to be confident in themselves as they wait for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to tell them what to do with their economies, as well receiving unpayable loans, perpetuating Western hegemony over Africa’s political economy. These are the realities that must be countered by Africans on all fronts.
There are many things Africans can learn from each other and understand that it is not everything from the West which must be emulated/mimicked. Context is always key for African realities. And we must create institutions that are not dependent on Western validation. Our struggles must not be reliant on Western validation. The same goes for our cultures, traditions, intellectual and scientific achievements, sports, music, politics, literature – we do not need Western validation to exist.