Consciousness, having evolved over millions of years of life and death struggle, and moreover because of that struggle, was not designed for self-examination. It was designed for survival and reproduction. Conscious thought is driven by emotion; to the purpose of survival and reproduction, it is ultimately and wholly committed (E. O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth, 2013).
In the context of this essay, I would like to disagree in part with Wilson’s claim. I believe that consciousness is evolving and that self-examination emerges as a result of that evolution. Self-examination may have been afforded to some of us because the “life and death” struggle is not such a struggle any more. Perhaps if we can understand this process more clearly then we can get closer to the root and stem of corruption and deceit, not only in Africa but elsewhere in the developing (and developed) world.
Firstly, let me back-track a little. In my last post I noted that perhaps part of the reason for the problem of corruption in Africa is vestigial tribalism. I observed that this is linked to the smaller group sizes and affiliations which still predominate in African social organisation. Meredith (2011) finds that, shortly after the independence of many African states
Politicians and voters alike came to rely on ethnic solidarity. For politicians it was the route to power. They became, in effect ethnic entrepreneurs. For voters it was their main hope of getting a local representative at the centre of power – an ethnic patron who could capture a share of the spoils and bring it back to their community (Meredith, M., The State of Africa; 2011)
I indicated earlier that people may use the excuse of endemic poverty and struggle for resources, even lack of education as a justification for corrupt practice. Poverty or censure at the lack of education must be the cause of some quite deep-seated fears. There may well be some mileage in pursuing this as a line of inquiry. For instance, it may be fear of poverty or simply the memory of that fear that drives folks to become greedy and selfish – looking to individual gratification at the expense of the wider community. However, I do not believe we can blame only poverty or the lack of education for this. We need to go still deeper than fear of poverty or even the social organisation that I discussed in The African Dimension 3 above. I believe we need to go into group or national psyche and the evolution of consciousness.
How best to tackle such a huge topic? Anecdote or allegory may be best. The divisive to-ing and fro-ing of self-interest versus community responsibility requires us to find a balance that will be good for both the individual and the group. I believe we can say that in some communities the balance tends to favour group responsibility while in others, the individual. Witness the collective struggle against floods in Britain and in Tanzania in the past few years. In the British example I saw a picture of a young man piggy-backing an elderly woman across a flooded way. I am absolutely certain that he would not have asked for anything in return. This is conjecture of course but it would be unthinkable in Britain under these circumstances. People pull together to get through a natural disaster. Here we see group solidarity at work – ‘we’re all in this together so let’s help each other’. Meanwhile in Morogoro, Tanzania I watched a young man carrying an older woman across a flooded river. He was rendering a service for which he charged a fee.
I see this as an indication not only of different cultural values but of a different psyche – that of the individual ahead of the group. In the Tanzanian example we have someone not only helping another but also helping himself, with no expectation of return of favour, only immediate gratification. You could blame this on poverty. You could blame it on tribal differences – the older woman was not known to the young man so he had no hesitation in charging for his service. In a culture such as this, where almost everything has monetary value, even social exchanges, we have a pathway to profiteering and corruption. Of course the pathway remains only compelling, not inevitable. To explain the differing cultural values between any two societies and the psyche expressed by these values is to generalise, of course. I could find examples of the reverse in both Tanzania and Britain – the British man asking for pay and the Tanzanian displaying true altruism but somehow I don’t believe this would be indicative of the social differences. More soon.