Afro-Responsibility Course, Part 3

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Theories that influenced Perceptions of Africa

This mindset of inferiority was influenced by many factors but world systems theories were a major part of education and shaped the way people thought. We are going to look at development theories that sought to explain how world systems work.

1) Modernisation Theory - 1950s

This theory describing advancement of civilisation argued on the following

all societies advance through identical development paths. 

It considered technological growth a synonym for development, which all traditional communities were expected to gradually attain (Kuznets, 1973; Monaghan, 2009; Peredo et al., 2004).

Traditional social structures, languages and cultures were viewed as obstacles to advancement (Agrawal, 1995; Kuznets, 1973; Peredo et al., 2004) 

Monetary income and economic growth were imposed as the fundamentals that determine quality of life. 

Further, modernisation theory  argued that self-interest and rational economic behaviour should be the motivating factor for all individuals (Peredo et al., 2004). 

From this, economic development frameworks were created and they were biased to Western contexts, and therefore a difficult model for African countries to trail. This theory was also very contrary the way Africans were building their civilisations as described by Ubuntu philosophy which champions the importance preserving culture and of collective gain over personal benefit. We shall look at this philosophy later.

Impact of the Modernisation Theory

The mordernisation theory failed to deliver any progress to developing countries. This was mostly because it neglected the importance of existing value systems in those developing countries. However, it is important to note how this philosophy continued to influence the thinking of many people from all walks of life, including Africans, to date. Many Africans eagerly embrace western beliefs, which are considered to provide significantly more economic benefits to the detriment of indigenous knowledge and value systems. Also, many Africans believe that their indigenous knowledge is inferior and sometimes it is even viewed as demonic (e.g. traditional medicine and traditional music instruments like the mbira from Zimbabwe) More advantages could have been derived by valuing the indigenous knowledge and combining this knowledge with the advantages of western technologies, rather than writing off the indigenous.

To prevent the loss of the valuable information found in indigenous knowledge, more participatory approaches that recognise value and integrate indigenous knowledge systems need to be embraced. Social Entrepreneurs can also be at the forefront of taking advantage of indigenous knowledge to create modern innovations because of the previously mentioned advantages of indigenous knowledge and indigenous innovations.

2) Dependancy Theory - 1960s

As the Modernisation Theory lost popularity another theory came. The dependence theory explains why developing countries are dependant on developed countries and is based on the following;

It argued that the modernisation theory enforced a top-down approach that could be regarded as a new form of colonisation

It stated that this top-down approach created more inequality leading to more underdevelopment of developing countries 

It argues that resources flow from poor countries to wealthy countries, enriching those wealthy countries at the expense of poor countries

It acknowledged the value of the knowledge and peculiarities in developing countries. 

Dependency theory was against the view that all societies should follow the same pattern of advancement to development

Believed that the unique features and structures of the different countries should determine  their distinctive development paths (Cardoso & Faletto, 1979).

This theory appears to have gained ground because it embraced the valuable role of indigenous knowledge at local, national and international levels. The theory also got favored because of how it rightly describes the dependancy resulting from Foreign Direct Investment and development aid being handed out to developing countries. This "charity" further enslaved developing countries to rely on the west instead of creating sustainable solutions to their problems and drained natural resources from Africa which were used to create products that were sold back to Africans. For these reasons, western countries accumulated wealth at the expense of developed countries.

Now that we have described some of the reasons why indigenous innovations became viewed as inferior we can now move on to the Ubuntu Philosophy that teaches us to embrace our heritage as Africans.