I know there are many good things worth celebrating on the African continent beyond what some of us in the creative and media fraternity did on Africa Day on May 25. But sometimes it is difficult to write about a sector whose very existence depends on the socio-economic and cultural condition of the society in general.
State of the Art: Admire KUDITA
As we celebrated Africa Day, what is it that we were celebrating? The question that must be asked to all pan-Africanists is: was the dream of Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere the establishment of political dynasties or the total emancipation of African people in every facet of life?
For people to patronise leisure outlets, they must have disposable income and for that to happen, they must have jobs and businesses that allow them to spend. For that to be realised, they must have a system of governance where all citizens have their their voices heard. Is it too much to desire a society in which the incompetent are not allowed to sit and decide for everyone?
We owe the word democracy to Greek culture. The word is derived from “demos” and “kratios”. Ancient Greeks were the first people to think about how society should be organised. Their philosophers reflected and recorded on how city states should be run. Their most famous contribution to human civilisation is, of course, democracy and the idea persists.
Decision-making meetings in Athens were first held in the “agora” — the main public place in the city. Later on a special meeting place called the “Pnyx” was built on a hill outside the town. All who had opinions could voice them and vote on matters that required such a process. Everyone, except women, children, slaves and foreigners could vote or work as jurists or officials. Of course, the system was not perfect in that it was exclusive. Officials were elected to ensure payment of taxes and maintenance of law and order.
We take public libraries for granted, but to the Greeks, learning was esteemed. They kept records. Initiially, they carved on stones or wrote on clayor wax. Through interraction with Egypt, papyrus was used for paper scrolls and books. Public libraries were popularised by the Greeks and the world’s first known public library was located at Alexandria around 290BC.
Some scholars assert that it was an Egyptian pharaoh who set it up. What is not in dispute, however, is that both Egyptians and Greeks loved learning. There would have been a cross-pollination of ideas among the two peoples, leading to my point. Acculturation is not only necessary, but also inevitable. All cultures produce something of value and the answers to the problems life presents.
Inside the Japanese mind
A few years ago, at the Bulawayo Public Library, I read a book about the Japanese. The author, a Westerner, was attempting to decode the reason for Japanese technological supremacy of the 80s and 90s. Remember the era in which Japan led the world in terms of technology? In those days we had the walkman (portable music players), digital watches, colour televisions (the compact ones), beat box radios.
If you did not own a Sony, you did not have a good television set, not to mention a Toshiba radio. Brand Japan was brand excellence in terms of high technology. The book I refer to was entitled; Inside the Japanese Mind. What struck me was the writer’s thesis that the supremacy of Japan in business was not just Kaizen (the philosophy of continual improvemment of processes of production), but some cultural values that drove the general pursuit of excellence. He theorised that the Samurai warrior code of honour at a psychic level influences the general mindset of these oriental people. A deeply-ingrained sense of honour informs their approach to work and life.
When a person in this society does something honourable, it cascades to the family or clan. The clan’s honour is more important than personal glory. Therefore, one has to surmise that this idea could be the reason why there was a practice of harakiri (falling upon one’s own sword). This was an act committed by a person who wished to expunge the blemish they would have brought upon the family and clan through some scandal. Losing face is something that is frowned upon in the Japanese oriental culture. So the quest for honour feeds the push for excellence.
But honour, as a value, seems generally counter-intuitive and antithetical to post-independence African society. When public officials are caught up in clear breaches of public trust, they will not resign from their posts. They even sue to be reinstated.
There is general impunity in terms of the African politicians and bureaucrats when it comes to the handling of public goods for example . . . But we are ready for true progress when we can no longer lionise fraudsters and thugs.
What values can move us forward as a people? I propose a society in which the values of excellence, diligence, industry and egalitarianism are upheld . . . For example, when we disagree as brethren across the racial and ethnic divide, let it be in the realm of civilised conduct and persuade each other with sense rather than bloodshed and violence.
Let us agree to raise our arguments and not our voices. There is much we need to learn from other cultures as a continent. If ever we needed a sense of honour and wish for a culture in which justice and excellence is highly-esteemed, now is the time! You may say that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one! Mayibuye iAfrican Renaissance.