The African Dimension (Extension 2)

My last two posts have been pretty disparaging about the people of Africa. Of course, generalisations are faulty by their very nature. The exception will always disprove the rule. When we look at the news coming out of any region we naturally extrapolate from what we see and tar the whole region with the same brush. I should counter what I’ve been saying in light of the recent news about Kumla Domar, the Ghanian BBC Africa correspondent who died suddenly in his home. Not only was he an exemplary correspondent but by all accounts he gave wholly of himself to everything he did. His commitment to promoting a positive image of Africa has been reflected many times over by many more Africans. His fellow countryman, Kofi Anan, South Africa’s Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, the presidents of Malawi and Liberia Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf respectively, entrepreneurs such as Mo Ibrahim and many more, all have contributed and continue to contribute to liberal, honest progress not only in Africa but on the world stage. Unfortunately, they are in the minority in a continent blighted by corrupt leadership.

How then, can we have these two extreme contrasts between people of world stature such as Nelson Mandela and people of acknowledged disrepute such as Robert Mugabe or the presidents of failed or failing states such as the inappropriately named Democratic Republic of Congo, along with many, many others. Although we have here two contrasting examples from Africa, we could just as easily choose from western or Asian societies. Could the evolution of the ego outlined earlier have a role to play? Perhaps if we can understand this process we can get closer to the root of the problem, not only in Africa but all over the globe.

We are guided by our emotions. They influence our decisions and actions. Emotions are a by-product of our physical drives – the motivations of our animal past and which are still with us today. Our sexual motivation, our need for food and water, our need for love and nurture which in turn drives our need for engagement with the others in our communities, all are critical for our survival and our successful propagation. Our physical needs determine how we engage with others in our communities and our emotions guide us through our social commitments. Through it all we have developed a sense of self that we consider to be who we are within the group. Despite Bruce Hood (2102) debunking this vision of self I believe that the ego and the self, entwined to give us the illusion of self, assists us in our cultural development. Moreover, the projection of ego through our cultures creates the poisonous ideologies and corrupt practices that still plague 66-75% of our world (see Prosocial and Antisocial above). Perhaps the African ego, if I may again generalise, due to its “historical identity, religious concepts, relational patterns, and shared experiences” (see The African Dimension above) is driven to be more acquisitive, more self-oriented, creating a more self-interested culture.

Theories of ego and self must be tempered with skepticism, however. Bruce Hood (2012), as I’ve mentioned above, argues persuasively that the ‘self’ is an illusion inculcated by our culture, our up-bringing and our genetic inheritance. This view is reflected in Susan Blackmore’s (1999) thesis on memetic evolution, The Meme Machine, but more of this later. I would like to continue to believe that we have created an illusion of self for good reason. The illusion of self (if indeed, it is an illusion) sustains us as social animals. The self defines us as individuals within our groups. If the self is driven out as it may have been in Germany in the late 1930’s and early ‘40’s, if it is driven out by self-flagellation as in some traditional cultures (see here and here for reference), if the self is lost as in George Orwell’s 1984, then what are we left with? We have collective madness; self-destruction for the sake of the common cause, whatever that may be. And this leads us to the petty dictatorships that have plagued Africa and many other parts of the world during the last half century and continue, as in Russia, to plague us today.

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About johnderonde

UK-based charity worker in Tanzania
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