The Battle for the World
Graham Knight believes there is a battle of worldviews taking place and that it’s time for Africa to stand up and fight.
“The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time … In this imaginary world, where everything starts over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavour, nor for the idea of progress.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, Sengal 2007
In 2007, the French President, Sarkozy, made comments about Africa which were called racist. I felt the condemnation of racism missed the point and masked something far more insidious; an ideological battle to impose one worldview, one way of seeing and understanding the world and, ultimately, one culture and one market. Sarkozy’s assertion that the circular view of time is “imaginary” is but an attempt to impose his culture’s way of life on everyone else. Africans have not only failed to defend their position but they have immediately submitted to the other side.
For those who live in Africa there are things that are obviously true about life that to outsiders seem false. The limited horizons of Sarkozy’s thinking (and those like him) make it impossible for him to envision that any other world exists outside of that created by the French Enlightenment and Revolution. The failed project of the French Revolution as the exporter of ‘universal liberation’ was taken over by the USA and it is perhaps no accident that Sarkozy forged an alliance with Bush. It is now America and its allies that are attempting to impose their civilisation on the rest of the world. They want to export their version of ‘democracy’ and their ‘universal values’ and definition of ‘human rights’. The failure of Africa to realise the fundamentally different worldview of the West, with its notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’, has allowed Africa to voluntarily accept this new form of colonialism.
The West sees time in a linear way. It believes it has a starting point and continues in a straight line for eternity. It is the same outlook that influences the idea that traditional societies are primitive and immature: that moving further down a fictitious road, from tribal societies to ‘developed’ ones, is a measure of ‘progress’. Many Africans have accepted this view, most uncritically, and so it follows that they see themselves as ‘backward’ and ‘un-advanced’. Unsurprisingly, those African cultures that have successfully avoided Western education have refused to accept that their way of life is inferior. We continue to see cases brought against African governments by nomadic tribes who simply do not want to change the way they live their lives.
The dangerous situation for Africa is that the world is being shaped by those influenced by the ideals and worldview of the French Enlightenment and Revolution. It is a world, perhaps, unsuited to Africa but demands that Africa give up is African worldview, if it is to survive in it. It is a difficult dilemma.
The first stage to finding a way forward is for Africa to regain confidence in herself. Africans have to rediscover their greatness and uniqueness not in order to feel superior but in order to meet the West as equals. They need to understand the strengths of their worldview and culture and to be more forceful about propagating its worth. They need to challenge Western notions of progress and development and the economic system that underlies it. They need to show how, amongst other things, their way of living is more sustainable and puts less strain on resources and how the extended family provides economic and emotional security. All these advantages make Africa more developed not less.
It is time for Africa to challenge and redefine the terms of the debate. If Africa is ever to take its place in the world, it is not by taking on Western concepts. Rather, it has to assert an African perspective and consciousness in order to make informed decisions about which direction it wishes to go.