Globalization and the Need for Unifying African Cultural Identity

Globalization is a broad and comprehensive term that encompasses many aspects of the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life and the process of homogenization that governs them. The Encarta Encyclopedia for instance defines globalization as a comprehensive term for the emergence of a global society in which economic, political, environmental, and cultural events in one part of the world quickly come to have significance for people in other parts of the world.

For our purpose here, we are going to deal with globalization in its narrower perspective as cultural globalization defined as the transmission of ideas, meanings and values around the world in such a way as to extend and intensify social relations. This process is marked by the common consumption of cultures that have been diffused by the Internet, popular culture media, and international travel. Popular cultural media include radio, television, cinema and other modern means of transmitting culture nationally, regionally and internationally.

Theoretically speaking, cultural globalization extends ideas and cultures across all of the civilizations of the world and encourages, in other expressions, cosmopolitan engagement across boundaries of difference, among other things. Some of the contributing factors to the growth of cultural globalization are new technology and forms of communication around the world that help to integrate different cultures into each other, as well as transportation technologies and services along with mass migration and individual travel contribute to this form of globalization allowing for cross-cultural exchanges.

The benefits of cultural globalization are many; some of which include less stereotypes and misconception about other people and cultures, access to other cultures products and access to other cultures products. Although globalization is a process that started in the 15th century, it has reached its peak in the 20th and now in the 21st centuries that are the eras of greatest globalization.

Although globalization in general and cultural globalization in particular tend to expedite the homogenization and distribution of political, economic and other opportunities among all countries of the world, critics often argue by saying that the pace of the homogenization process is uneven and tend to favor rich countries over poorer ones.

The spread cultural globalization on is said to undermine national cultures in less developed countries by forcing them to adopt the cultural influences of richer ones that are backed by digital communication technology and by making it cheaper to own in poorer countries. This in turn tends to threaten the sovereignty and freedom of so-called Third World countries to develop their cultures and prove competitive in the global arena.

Africa is by any standards the least benefitting area of the world in terms of cultural globalization due to its low rate of technological development and the availability of skilled manpower. Developing countries of Africa are at a disadvantage when it comes to resisting the negative impacts of cultural globalization. The low level of technological development makes it disadvantageous of even impossible for them to compete with advanced countries and by implication they prove vulnerable to the cultural influences from the rich countries.

African countries often lack the modern means of spreading their cultures and values to make them known in other parts of the world or make them universal values like those of the developed countries. Consequently, they are mostly at the receiving end of whatever benefits cultural globalization might bring to the other parts of the world. Global culture is growing and spreading at such a high speed that African countries often lack the means of making proper selection of the grain from the chaff and therefore consume Western and other cultures without making a critical choice. The pace of global culture is so powerful that developing countries are overwhelmed by its changes and have no choice but consume whatever is thrown to them.

In this way, they become the cultural victims of global technology that often tends to undermine their autonomous and natural cultural emancipation by imposing on them the politically motivated Western cultural choices. The music, movies, books and other entertainment outlets that are produced by Western multinational companies in tandem with technology companies force Africans to overlook their own potentials and adopt a short cut by adopting and consuming all the good, the bad and garbage that is thrown at them by the global cultural market.

This is what critics call the neocolonial cultural domination of the West over Africa that is part and parcel of the political, economic and military domination of rich countries over the rest of the world. As a direct consequence of all this, the growth of an authentically African media and entertainment businesses are undermined or their contents dictated or shaped by Western preferences or choices.

The best African entertainment and cultural establishments can do in these circumstances is to imitate the Western model and become their docile followers at the cost of their autonomous cultural development. The globalization of culture has therefore positive as well as negative elements in general. As far as Arica is concerned the negative aspects far outweigh the negative ones as reflected by the current struggles waged by African countries to get out of the neocolonial lock jam in which they are kept for so long.

African countries may have little option at least in the short run to counter the Irresistible advance of cultural globalization and its negative impacts. But they can start by identifying their common interests in order to forge a collective world view and cultural identity in order to withstand the negative impacts of globalization.

Many critics of globalization in general focus on political and mainly on economic globalization, that they consider unfair or uneven or even detrimental to the interests of developing countries that have much to lose from what some of them call globalization without a human face.

One of America’s prominent economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz is famous for his salient criticism against economic globalization by arguing that there needed to be regulation and government restraints to prevent globalization from victimizing the countries of the developing world. No such criticism is heard when it comes to cultural globalization which is equally victimizing people in African countries by imposing on them alternatives that are often detrimental to their cultures and values.

One such area affected by cultural globalization is the global advertising business. Advertising can affect cultural values. Some advertising messages, for example, encourage aggressive individualism, which may clash with the traditional cultural values of a country where the collective or group is emphasized over the individual or humility or modesty is preferred to aggressiveness.

With the globalization of the world economy, multinational corporations often use the same advertising to sell to consumers around the world. Some critics argue that advertising messages are thus helping to break down distinct cultural differences and traditional values, causing the world to become increasingly homogeneous.

The effect of cultural globalization on Africa can be debated indefinitely because there are powerful arguments for or against the effects of global culture on Africa. However, the overwhelming effect of cultural globalization is more negative than positive in Africa. As one opinion has it, “The effect of globalization on African culture, indicates that the integration of Africa through the conduit of globalization has already eroded the sovereign power of Africa, infused African culture and the democratic system of government, retarded their economic and educational systems…”

The above quotation succinctly reflects the reality in Africa where collectivist world view is dominant over the Western individualism and the advance in globalization which tends to disregard cultural collective values may sometimes turn out to be not in favor of the development of African societies. It may take them out of their isolation and integrate them to the big global march towards universality but in doing so it may erase their positive cultures that form the very foundations of these societies.

According to one African scholar, “The concept of globalization and its application to human development have been significantly more pronounced in relationship between the developed rich western worlds, which are the new technologies, and the poor developing countries. Globalization has continued to engender enormous debate, controversy, protests and demonstrations that are sometimes violent.

Africa is a continent blessed with abundant human and material resources; globalization is a reality which no country can run away from. With globalization the whole world is tending towards a homogeneous culture, we (African) have failed to integrate the positive African values into the borrowed western values. The issue of globalization is a serious matter for concern; the way people live and work are changing both positively and negatively as a result of globalization. Efforts should therefore be made to identify and isolate the foreign practices that have negative consequences on the cherished values of Africans. This requires a conscientious re-orientation of African to intensify efforts in redeeming whatever is redeemable from its rich cultural heritage.

This, we think, summarizes the middle way African countries should follow in order to defend their cultures from the ravages of globalization while at the same time save whatever can be saved from their past cultures.



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