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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The African Dimension (Extension 1)

In my past career as a teacher in the UK it was all I could do to try to instil some objective, professional, goal-oriented thinking into the heads of my students. They were of course, almost wholly preoccupied with their developing social relationships. This was even bFb (before Facebook). Students eventually, although reluctantly, acceded to my requests and many went on to their respective professional careers (or not). By contrast, in Tanzania where I have spent much of my time recently and, I hazard to guess in many African countries, personal relationships and social networking (even without Facebook) are paramount. Greetings and face-to-face contact, knowledge of extended family and clan networks, tribal affiliations (see Arab Spring in 60 Posts) and many other manifestations of social, personal, networking, they all trump professional responsibilities. Contracts are valued for the paper they are written on. Policies are kept neatly or not-so-neatly on the shelves. Seminars and workshops are reluctantly attended and delegates require a reward for their inconveniences. Professional commitment takes a back seat to personal goals and aspirations. People feel aggrieved for instance, if they are not allowed to use their mobile phones for personal calls at work (not unlike students sneaking their phones into class to text their friends).

The propensity for corruption in Africa is, I believe, an extension of the personal bonding that is such an important feature in social relationships there. How does this play out in practice? A typical scenario might go like this:

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has ordered the office of the Controller and Auditor general (CAG) to conduct a forensic audit on the release of $574 million […] meant for agricultural subsidies.
[…] many PAC members expressed concern that the money didn’t reach farmers as intended due to dishonesty of some inputs agencies and crooked public officials. An MP [… stated that] the CAG conducted a special audit in [one] district, which revealed that names of people who had died a long time ago were included as beneficiaries of the agricultural subsidies (The Citizen [Tanzania], Wednesday, 29 January, 2014).

The perpetrators are aware of their actions and collude in the practice. They remain mum and of course deny any malpractice, in just the same way as the mafioso practice their code of silence, ‘Omerta’. This story is common in other sectors, such as with ‘ghost teachers’ in the Ministry of Education. Knowledge of the practice is shared within a trusted network but is kept hidden away from the prying eyes of the law or the endless ‘forensic audits’. In many cases, the law itself takes a slice of the action.

Even though a reported 60% of the $574 million went to elected officials (see the above reference) the remainder may well have benefited the farmers although even they were guilty of selling on the vouchers. In other cases being made public as I write, many more significant sums regularly go missing at higher levels of government. For example,

Malawi’s president [Joyce Banda] has sacked her Cabinet in the wake of reports of worsening corruption in her government.

A statement signed by presidential press secretary Steven Nhlane says President Joyce Banda dissolved the Cabinet on Thursday and will announce a new one “in due course.”
The dissolution comes amid revelations of high-level corruption and plunder of government money following the shooting three weeks ago of Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo, who was taken to South Africa to be treated for his injuries.
Banda has said Mphwiyo was targeted because of his efforts to curb graft.
Corruption is endemic in Malawi, which ranks among Africa’s poorest countries. The former director of public prosecution, Fahad Assani, has said over 30 per cent of the national budget is lost through corruption (see here for reference).

I could cite more examples, even here in Tanzania, from where I write. And that is only one African country. The problem is, what can be done about it? If the corruption goes right to the top as it has done in many African states, as well as in Turkey, in Russia, in Thailand, in China, etc. it remains very difficult to contain. Cases continue to emerge, show trials are arranged, small fry go to jail while VIP’s walk away with the loot. While personal networking remains the basis of corruption and is protected by a conspiracy of silence, the corruption that emanates from it becomes an invisible cancer eating at the tissues of the society. More soon.

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The African Dimension

Looking at deceit and deception from a moral perspective we know what is right and wrong, even from an early age (at least most of us do). Faced with a choice we look at the cost of an action or decision with reference to our social standing and more often than not we choose to take a risk. If that risk crosses a moral divide we then fabricate a story to justify our actions – we lie. Some transgressions are petty, such as in the case of the chicken thief and some are major, as with the Ministry officials (see Deceit and Deception above). Like lies, our transgressions grow as we continue to not get caught. Somewhere along this line greed comes knocking and we step over the threshold. We experience the thrill of acquisition or of ‘getting away with it’ and we’re away, wherever our greed takes us. We lose our selves within the greed, eventually failing to ‘see’ how we have transgressed.

Again, I refer here to the moral perspective. Our basic sense of morality is the same all over the world. I don’t believe there are people on this planet who do not appreciate the premise that we ‘do unto others as we would have them do to us’. In all human societies, even the more primitive, we develop some basic moral value system. Some of the values are adopted and distorted by religious ideologies depending on the society but this does not alter the basic values. From this perspective we can see that everyone should know when they are doing something morally wrong.

The Corruption Perceptions Index map below (CPI 2010) shows that during 2010, across nearly 75% of our planet we chose to transgress morally through bribery and corruption and, like a web of lies, we can’t seem to shake them off.

The map shown here has not changed significantly since 2002. But why were nearly 2 in 3 of that 75% of corrupt countries in Africa? An analysis of the problem by the Consultancy Africa Intelligence (see here for reference) reveals that

Transparency International’s (TI) 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released in October 2010, identified Africa as the most corrupt region in the world

and that

Forty-four of the 47 African nations surveyed scored less than five on the index, indicating serious levels of corruption. The severity of Africa’s corruption problem is further evidenced by the least corrupt African nation, Botswana, only achieving a score of 5.8.

In terms of the number of principalities, Africa has got it beat. However, Africa is not alone. It shares the same number of corrupt principalities as the Middle East. Moreover, the middle or near east and the far south-east as well as the central Asian mainland (Russia), not forgetting South America, all share the problem with Africa. Perhaps we should not look at the problem from the point of view of the number of principalities. Maybe we should measure the comparative extent of corruption by population distribution. In this way we could say that the Asian continent beats the African. But then, corruption is corruption, comparing its extent by location is pointless.

Looking at the African problem, there may be underlying social, political and cultural justifications for the extent of corruption, including higher levels of poverty as well as deficiencies in education. However, as I stated earlier, some of these are only the justifications for corrupt practices. We need to look more closely at cultural differences to understand what goes on informally, socially. In his paper DEALING WITH CULTURAL DIFFERENCES: Contrasting the African and European Worldviews, O. B. Jenkins (2007) observes that

A society or cultural group is an extremely complex collection of historical identity, religious concepts, relational patterns, and shared experiences of all kinds. The present character of an ethnic group or a political entity is the result of centuries of shared experiences, and entails a coherent thought-system [ToM?] that helps make sense of those experiences and maintain the values developed over the history of that group.

and that

The African view of the world is relational. Events and relationships are seen as the main components of reality. People and social relationships and obligations are the overwhelming considerations.

Maybe I am being too harsh on the African people. What we see in the west as bribery and corruption, Africans see as reinforcement of a relationship, a friendly reminder, an incentive to help a process, anything but corruption. More soon.

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Interlude 2

Open letter to The President of Tanzania

Right Honourable President Jakiya M. Kikwete of Tanzania


Thank you firstly on your recent stand regarding the East African Community (EAC). Working together for an EAC common market is a distinguished goal for the whole community. Everyone in the community will benefit. Perhaps the restless steps taken by 3 of your neighbours are just signs of their growing impatience with delayed EAC development. I believe everyone appreciates that the common aspirations within the community are much more beneficial than unilateral or even trilateral actions by only some of its members. Development of a political, infrastructural and financial union for the common good is, I believe, the goal of everyone in East Africa.

The reason for this letter is to ascertain your views on what has been regarded as heavy-handed and at times downright illegal means used by a few of your fellow citizens, even a few of your fellow CCM party members to completely disregard not only the will of the people but also the laws of the land. With journalists and journalism under threat, with the recent illegal closure of two of our media outlets, with the beating and near murder of Dk. Olombiya last year, with the several attempts on the life of one of your more righteous and effective ministers, Dk. Makyembe and more recently with the murder of Dk. Nvungi it seems to me that the several highly placed persons, whether in government or elsewhere who may be behind these incidents have lost the plot. I speak here of those whisperings that are on the lips of most of your people. Of course, they are only suspicions and those that you confront will, of course deny all involvement. These highly-placed deniers are the true traitors and cowards of this land, not the simple thugs or robbers who beat up a doctors’ representative or who went into someone’s house to steal a laptop!

I don’t need to tell you that social order in the community is the spine of a successful economy. When some in the community feel it necessary to take the law into their own hands, this is the start of the breakdown of social order. You only need look at the examples of Russia, China, Indonesia, Mexico to see the effect of the lawless minority in the top echelons of society – those that abuse the respect that is awarded them, those that are intent on maintaining their personal power-base and associated wealth – these are the ones that will let your country bleed.

You may already be aware of these issues. I will repeat that these are the whisperings on the tongues of your people. In 2015 you will be honoured as an ex-president. It is my hope and I’m sure the hope of millions of your fellow citizens that you will leave behind a legacy of goodwill, wisdom and understanding. I hope also that you will be able to walk away knowing that you have done the best for your people in stemming the tide of inequity that seems now to be growing relentlessly (see also The Guardian, January 1, 2014). Those who are benefiting will certainly not stop themselves. The positive leadership and accountability initiated by your first president, Julius Nyerere in his time are still remembered now. Perhaps your final year of leadership will also show us the way to a more positive and accountable future for everyone in Tanzania.

Yours sincerely, a concerned visitor

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Deceit and Deception

All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things (Robert Southey Quotes).

Deceit and deception guide many of our social actions. Do we tell the truth about something and pay the consequences or do we avoid it and create an  alternative story i.e. a lie? How many times are we confronted with this dilemma even on a daily basis? If the lie is a justification of our deceitful actions can we also steal, even murder with justification? If we find someone who is willing to stand up and tell the truth we have him/her ‘dealt with’ (especially in the developing world although not unknown in ‘civilised’ society). Trouble with lying is that one story usually leads another because we hadn’t thought of everything. Then another, and so on. Are we then wholly satisfied if we feel this web of lies is working? Some of us may not even realise that we are caught up in a web, concocting new lies at every turn.

Take the case of the man in our local village in Tanzania who was a known liar and thief. He might have justified the theft of a chicken from his neighbour’s yard because of his hunger and she had plenty anyway. He might have so perfected the art of justifying his actions (through well-practiced lies) that he became a bold and forthright thief. Unfortunately, the theft of the chicken was from a woman neighbour who is held in some esteem in the village, raising her own children and grandchildren on what she earns. The thief was caught by a posse of angry villagers who beat him to death (not an uncommon practice here in Tanzania, unfortunately).

Here we have a simple person who lived a life of deceit. What is the difference between him and the Tanzanian Ministry officials who, it was alleged recently, accepted bribes originating from Chinese entrepreneurs? They were then required to facilitate the poachers to hunt (see here for reference) for more tusks. They expedited this deceit by bribing local game wardens and police who then become disposable pawns in their game. There is no difference between these two incidents except that the Ministry officials have the ways and means of staying out of jail. And like the simple thief, they have become well-practiced in story-telling. They lied and cajoled their way into high office, eyes only on the target and with little or no moral reflection. Perhaps they have courted deceit for so long they have lost sight of their original moral compass – to serve the community. Here I bring in the moral perspective – the crown of thorns we must all sometimes wear.

In 60 Posts I reflected on the moral dimension. In Compassion – who needs it? I drew attention to the moral understanding we share with the other higher primates and in Free will I suggest that

We have evolved as a species with the ability to exercise free will according to our conscience. When we practice ethically correct behaviour we actively maintain the balance between self-interest and moral propriety. In underdeveloped countries the balance easily tips in favour of self-interest due to the history of poverty and lack of resources.

By using the excuse of poverty and lack of resources do those in the third world justify their greed? Another similar justification is lack of appropriate education. I’ve heard it often here. “When we were young we were taught moral behaviours.”

And in another example

We can choose to do the right thing and bring a lost wallet to it’s rightful owner, including its contents or we can take the money and throw away the wallet (see here for reference).

Can we justify taking the wallet by saying that we are hungry, that we can pay some debts, that s/he didn’t need the money anyway, that some of us didn’t benefit from a moral education? These justifications all serve the same purpose – to cover moral indiscretion. The bottom line is that we are doing the wrong thing and that when we reflect on it, we know it is bad. The lie keeps us safe from being discovered, at least for the time being. How many times as kids do we do something wrong and come up with something like -”let’s say we were doing this and then this happened”, shifting the blame elsewhere. More soon.

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So Here We Are

Firstly, we have the three stages of man in the lecture notes of S. A. Mwanahewa, Makerere University, Uganda (1997):

Man as a Vegetative Being
We find man sharing into the lowest level of beings […] in the fact that man reproduces, eats, breathes and dies.

Man as an Animal Being
This is the second level into which man shares membership. [Here] man shares into the emotional elements of animals.

Man as a Transcendental Being
This is when man is guided by abstract reason rather than emotion.

Secondly, we see from Matthew Parrish in The Times, November 23, 2014 that:

However, old ideas are sticky, and humans cling. Belief systems do not form and flow, rise and fall on their inherent properties alone […]
With some religions in some ages – and I think that Islam today is one – the veil is truly symbolic because a kind of curtain comes down between you and another individual, as individuals.

There seems to be a correlation between Mwanahewa’s three different stages of man and Freud’s id, ego and super ego. Freud’s id is Mwanahema’s vegetative man and so on. But where do we get this fixation on religious ideologies in Parrish’s analysis? How does it develop and become so socially poisonous? In the light of this inquiry I agree with Parrish’s assessment of Islam. In 60 Posts I spoke of fixed mindsets and how they colour our worldview (see Reasons to be Cheerful). Ideological fundamentalists of any persuasion may close their minds to new or modified ideas. My reading of Islam makes it a closed system – a system based on fear – fear at what might happen if one disobeys sharia as interpreted by the imam, like the early Catholic church and its espousal of hell for the damned.

What part of our psyche compels us to oppose the transformation of old ideas? Why do we let ourselves fall into the trap of Baptist hardliners in America opposing gays and lesbians, the Taliban in Afghanistan who murder women and girls if they stand up for their human rights, the Tea Party Christians of Middle America fighting for some lost ideal of freedom at any cost, middle class Islamic jihadists in Leeds, UK and so on? Are most of us stuck in the middle phase of human development where, according to Mwanahema, we are governed by emotional responses – responses of love or hate, fear of hell and damnation, etc.? Can we not have a world governed by transcendental aspirations rather than by the baser instincts and emotions?

For my third reference, we can look at Byrne and Whitten (1988) quoted in Robin Dunbar (1996) who

argued that what makes primate social groups quite different from those of other species is the fact that monkeys and apes are able to use very sophisticated forms of social knowledge about each other. They use this knowledge about how others behave to predict how they might behave in the future, and then use these predictions to structure their relationships (remember Theory of Mind?)

With primate survival so bound up with social relationships it’s easy to see that our second level of existence, that of our emotionally motivated state, plays a major influence in our societies. We are angry or sad, convivial and happy, fearsome and cautious within social relationships. Who is doing what to whom and with what consequence? This is not so far removed from the great apes and their machinations (see F. de Waal’s various observations, including his 1998 Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes). Yes, we have evolved emotionally and socially but we sustain ourselves in the emotional realm to the exclusion of the transcendental. Maybe some are not yet ready for this stage. Social mobility (guided by our emotions) drives us to connive, manipulate, rearrange social engagements, even lie in order to climb the social ladder. And we do this through fear of being outranked by our rivals! And fear turns to anger if we are not vindicated.

So, our social aspirations are subject to a roller-coaster ride of emotional involvement with our friends and neighbours to determine our rank or position within the group. Witness a hen party or stag do when the drink turns up the volume of conversation, then watch to see who is jockeying for top position in the group – and for what reason. Social aspirations skew the relationships we make with each other, including the relationships in the the corridors of power. More soon.

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On God

The one thing I have strayed away from both here and in 60 Posts is the god issue. I have touched on it in many places and discussed morality occasionally (see here for example) but I have avoided a detailed look. When others have spoken of dualism and monism, the reference to a spiritual dimension always seems to come up.

Moral dualism began as a theological belief. Dualism was first seen implicitly in Egyptian Religious beliefs by the contrast of the gods Set (disorder, death) and Osiris (order, life).[3] The first explicit conception of dualism came from the Ancient Persian Religion of Zoroastrianism around the mid-fifth century BC. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion that believes that Ahura Mazda is the eternal creator of all good things. Any violations of Ahura Mazda’s order arise from druj, which is everything uncreated. From this comes a significant choice for humans to make. Either they fully participate in human life for Ahura Mazda or they do not and give druj power. Personal dualism is even more distinct in the beliefs of later religions (see here for reference).

The god issue is a long and complicated story. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006) demonstrates comprehensively why we have courted mythology for so long. I will simply try to see how it fits into this story.

To an evolutionist, religious rituals ‘stand out like peacocks in a sunlit glade’ (Dan Dennett’s phrase). Religious behaviour is a writ-large human equivalent of anting or bower-building. It is time-consuming, energy-consuming, often as extravagantly ornate as the plumage of a bird of paradise. Religion can endanger the life of the pious individual, as well as the lives of others.Thousands of people have been tortured form their loyalty to a religion, persecuted by zealots for what is in many cases a scarcely distinguishable alternative faith (Dawkins, 2006).

The god space that we keep for ourselves consoles us by explaining away circumstances in our lives that are beyond our understanding (Dawkins, 2006 quoting Daniel Dennett, 1981). All the elaborate religious rituals, mating calls of the priests and the preachers, dances and machinations of the shamans, concoctions and chants of the witchdoctors, voodoo celebrations in the Caribbean, all are part of the human travesty that we call religion and all created and nurtured within the male psyche. Yes, the male psyche in it’s effort to attract a mate from amongst its female congregation.

We may need a god space. There may be something in our nature that calls for it. Where we go wrong is when we create stringent ideologies that lock us into a faith in that god. Acting on behalf of these faiths we kill and maim in the god’s name, shifting moral responsibility for the massacre onto the god’s shoulders.

We may also look upon religious faith as a hormonal reaction to feeling comfortable within a group (as in a church/synagogue/mosque). We say we are in the presence of god when in fact we are in the thrall of a serotonin release through social communion. Exercise helps in the release of these and possibly other hormones. One might say that standing up and sitting down at regular intervals for hymns or for prayer, as you do in your church services or repeatedly bowing and chanting when in a mosque may be enough gentle exercise to encourage hormonal releases, especially if it’s for the purpose of common prayer.

The god space may even have been an evolutionary necessity. Belief in some kind of mythology may have kept different groups together for a common purpose. This aspect of religion continues to play out today. Al Shabaab in Somalia use it to ‘keep the faith’ amongst their fellow henchmen. The persecuted Coptic Christians in Egypt no doubt use it to console themselves in the face of destructive Muslim extremism. The Israelis use it in the face of Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian hatred. Evangelists use it to drum up more followers (and subsequently to generate more wealth as well as more prospective sexual liaisons). Evolution continues to move on however. If the preservation of group identity leads to conflict between the various communities on our crowded planet then those groups who have adopted a more flexible, forgiving belief system, demonstrated by their ability to accommodate and tolerate, these groups will prevail. Their ability to adapt to changing circumstances will give them an edge over those groups with closed belief systems, and who are either unwilling or unable to adapt.

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