CULTURE is one thing that I find intriguing. Geopolitics is another. The way the two concepts intersect regularly provides fascinating material for conjecture.
But more importantly, it is how an understanding of the nuances of culture and communication affects our societies as Africans that bodes either well or badly for our fortunes in the struggle of nations to survive. This week on BBC, I watched a hard-hitting interview between a Chinese ambassador with Stephen Sackur that made me think.
Philosophically, the Western world is informed by a Darwinist ethos in which survival is of the fittest. As a result, an understanding of the underpinning principles of societies is critical in framing our discourse with them.
According to the business dictionary, Social Darwinism is social selection that attempts to explain the success of certain social groups. Based on the laissez faire doctrine with heavily racial bias, it interprets “survival of the fittest” concept to mean that only the best adapted (those already well off) survive the “natural conflict” between social groups, thereby enhancing the survival capacity of the remaining society.
Some may even credit the worldview to the rise of capitalism with its corollary: imperialism. But I would not dismiss everything Western in origin.
There are many things culturally Western that I ardently believe in: such as the aversion to autocrats or god-men within their own political establishments. They battled to eradicate despotism and were willing to wage war for freedom within their societies.
Of course, the Nazis tried and failed to roll back the progress using social Darwinism. Intriguingly, however, the far right is raising its head once again and heaven only knows how far they will go with it.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius.“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential . . . these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” — Confucius.
Confucius’ political maxims were premised upon the principle of self-discipline. According to the system, a leader needs to demonstrate self-discipline, remain humble and treat his followers with compassion.
He must lead by example. Does this sound like something we could use or that we already have within the culture? Confucius emphasised that leaders follow the law virtuously supported by the galvanising power of ritual propriety (Zanu PF tried the leadership code in the 1980s, but greed overpowered them). Overwhelming evidence shows that the words mercenary and beggarly aptly describe the party more than the beloved epithet of revolutionary.
Hard Talk and blows
The Hard Talk interview was almost finished when the electricity came back on, but the gist of it was Chinese handling of the ongoing Hong Kong demonstrations. Basically, the West (Britain and the United States) are not too happy with whatever is happening.
Hong Kong used to be a British colony by the way. Hard Talk is not for sissies. When you go there, you take a pounding from the British maxim gun. I use that symbol deliberately for there is a sense in which Sackur sometimes sounds like a hatchet man for the establishment. Well, he does work for the BBC! I remember him with MDC leader Nelson Chamisa.
Art of war
At some point the Chinese diplomat seemed to lose his cool and said words to the effect that China is not a country to kick around to his interviewer Sackur.
Later he regained his composure and, with customary humility, told Sackur that China is a developing country, which has struggling citizens in some parts of its territory etc. But Sackur was not falling for it.
His retort was that China’s policy is to “hide your strength, bide your time and refrain from leading”. So, basically, I watched a duel, a clash of cultures. Self-effacing as they might be, the Chinese can no longer hide their strength and there is a lot of Western unhappiness with China these days. Some of it is gamesmanship and some of it is based on genuine concerns. How does one “hide that which is horned” as my people say?
I am unhappy with Africa’s seemingly simpleton approach to issues. Either-or propositions in foreign relations do not make sense to me. We need to work with everyone.
In order to do so effectively, we need to develop a new ethos of excellence. In all that is happening in the world, I cannot help feeling that we ought to have our own think-tanks to study and evolve our own informed responses to these geopolitical titans as they battle.
The concept of the Non-Aligned Movement perhaps needs to be reimagined and culture needs deeper introspection as we grapple with the existential matters of national progress.
Suffice to say that there is a struggle going on, a global quest for supremacy which pits East versus the West. It is getting ugly. But that is not really what this piece is about. It is about offering some insights into the conversation.We need a get up policy rather than a “look East” or “look West” policy!