Establishing The United States Of Africa - An introduction on economic worldviews and human nature (II)
Let us look at a brief and very general schematic of core features of capitalism and socialism in order to think deeply into the above. Here is Chapra's depiction of both economic systems, at their core:
Capitalism may be said to have the following five distinguishing features: (a) it considers accelerated wealth expansion and maximum production and 'want' satisfaction in accordance with individual preferences to be of primary importance in human well-being; (b) it deems unhindered individual freedom to pursue pecuniary self-interest and to own and manage private property to be necessary for individual initiative; (c) it assumes individual initiative along with decentralized decision-making in freely operating competitive markets to be sufficient conditions for realizing optimum efficiency in the allocation of resources; (d) it does not recognize the necessity of a significant role for government or collective value judgements in either allocative efficiency or distributive equity; and (e) it claims that serving the self-interest by all individuals will also automatically serve the collective social interest.
On socialism he writes:
The Marxist strategy in its post-revolution phase - state ownership of means of production and centrall planning - hoped to bring about such 'efficiency' and 'equity' in the allocation of the resources that its vision of "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs" would be realized. The rationale was that once the privileges that private property provides had been eliminated, the state machinery would be able to end the distortions, misallocations and inequities that the blind operation of market forces introduces. In practice this hope has proved to be misplaced because of serious flaws in the reasoning.
Firstly, while the Marxist analysis implied a total distrust in the ability of human beings to manage private property within the constraints of social well-being. It was tacitly assumed that, after the introduction of socialism, the same human beings in their capacity as consumers, workers, managers of enterprises, and government officials, would always be motivated to do their best for the social good without caring for their self-interest. This implied that: (a) workers would work efficiently, honestly and selflessly without the incentive of proportionate material rewards; (b) managers of enterprises would operate efficiently without being able to serve their self-interest, without being exposed to the pressures of competition, and without having the ability to take their own decisions and purchase and sell their inputs and outputs wherever they consider best; and (c) government officials would not take undue advantage of their enormous decision-making and executive powers. It also implied that in return for all this they would, in their capacity as consumers, restrict their claims on resources to only what fulfilled their needs, to avoid excessive pressure on resources.
How many African policymakers or even mainstream economists have really thought of the view of human nature implied in both capitalist and socialist economic models? It is very revealing to see how economists make confident and authoritative judgments and predictions in a field that they call a "soft" science. Economists say that it is impossible to predict human behavior but yet and still, that is what they do, all of the time. Few politicians challenge the basis of their models and the foundation upon which they stand, even in light of their own admitted inability to predict human behavior. Interesting.
But are socialist and capitalist economists justified in not considering other sources of insight on human nature. It is peculiar to watch economists admit their gross ignorance in understanding human beings and then dismiss and reject other sources of understanding into the minds, and hearts of human beings. They do this with special arrogance where Africa is concerned, with the help of African policymakers in many cases.
Could it be that the keys and critical insights that the capitalist and socialist worldview lack can be found in the Yoruba, Dinka,and Zulu belief systems, for example, or in the Bible and Holy Qur'an? Have African policymakers, especially after colonialism, erred in their choice of economic models for their countries - failing to critique socialism and capitalism worldviews in terms of theologies, indigeneous belief systems, and practices dominant in African societies?
George Ayittey considered that possibility, in terms of indigeneous African belief systems and practices when he wrote the following in his book Africa In Chaos:
Foreign observers who came upon African natives' profit-sharing schemes hastily denigrated them as "primitive communism". Many African leaders also considered the same schemes as proof that the indigeneous system was "socialism". Both groups were wrong. Many tribal societies had no state planning or direction of economic activity. Nor were there state enterprises and widespread state ownership. The means of production were privately owned. Huts, spears, and agricultural implements were all private property. The profit motive was present in most market transactions. Free enterprise and free trade were the rule in indigeneous Africa. The natives went about their economic activities on their own initiative and free will. They did not line up at the entrance of the chief's hut to apply for permits before engaging in trade or production. The African woman who produced kenley, garri, or semolina herself decided to produce those items. No one forced her to do so. Nor did anyone order the fishermen, artisans, craftsmen, or even hunters what to produce.
In modern parlance, those who go about their economic activities on their own free will are called free enterprisers. By this definition, the kente weavers of Ghana, the Yoruba sculptors, the gold, silver, and blacksmiths as well as the various indigenous craftsmen, traders, farmers, and all were free enterprisers. And the natives had been so for centuries. The Masai, Somali, Fulani, and other pastoralists who herded cattle over long distances in search of water and pasture to fatten them also were free enterprisers. So were the African traders who traveled great distances to buy and sell commodities - an economic, risk-taking venture.
The extended family system offered them security they needed to take the risks associated with entrepreneurial activity. Many development experts overlooked these positive economic aspects of the much-maligned extended family system. Although this system entailed some "sharing" (not forced or proportionate), it also provided the springboard for Africans to launch themselves into highly risky ventures. If they failed, the extended family system was available to support them. By the same token, if they were successful, they had some obligation to the system that supported them. The Fanti have this proverb: "Obra nyi woara abo" (Life is as you make it within the community).
State intervention in the economy was not the general policy, except in the kingdoms of Dahomey and Asante. Even in commerce, African states lacked state controls and ownership. In Gold Coast, for example, gold-mining was open to all subjects of the states of Adanse, Assin, Denkkyira, and Mampong. Some chiefs taxed mining operations at the rate of one-fifth of the annual ouput. In some states, all gold mined on certain days was ceded to the throne. But the mines were in general not owned and operated by the chiefs. Rather, they granted mining concessions.
Much of the indigeneous economic system still exists today, where African governments have not destroyed it through misguided policies and civil wars. Female traders still can be found at the markets. They still trade their wares for profit. And in virtually all African markets today, one still bargains over prices - an ancient tradition.
Rather strangely, postcolonial African leaders and elites came to believe that they had to abandon their traditional heritage in order to develop. It is worth noting, however, that the economically vibrant Japanese did not do so. "Its postwar success is not due to Westernization. Although Japan has modernized spectacularly, it remains utterly different from the West. Economic success in Japan has occurred through pure discipline - the people's ability to work in groups and to conform; it has nothing to do with individualism" (editorial in Bangkok Post cited by The Washington Times, 9 November 1996, A8). In fact, the traditional Japanese heritage working in groups bears remarkable similarity to Africa's.
After independence, the economic systems established by African leaders and elites, just as the political systems, bore no resemblance to the indigenous systems. In the aftermath of independence, the nationalist leaders were in a hurry to develop Africa. They needed an alternative ideology, as they uniformly rejected those that had underpinned the colonial structures. Four distinct official ideologies emerged. The first was African socialism, espoused by such leaders as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Modibo Keita of Mali, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Julius Nyere of Tanzania, and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.
These leaders advocated the creation of an egalitarian, just and self-sufficient polity. The mechanism for the attainment of these goals was the state, which would furnish the pivot of critical identities, organize the economy, and supervise the second, societal phase of decolonization (Chazan et.al./ 1992, 155). They extolled political centralization and mobilization as the vehicles for real transformation.
The second ideology was political pragmatism, espoused by such leaders as Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d'Ivoire, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, Hastings Banda of Malawi, and Daniel arap Moi of Kenya. Declaring themselves to be nonideological, they stressed economic growth and prosperity. In their countries, the state was charged with the task of fostering entrepreneurship, attracting foreign investment, and creating a climate conducive to material advancement. The pragmatists were as statist as the socialists, although they wanted to use the state more for the preservation of elite privilege than for social or political transformation. "Centralization therefore was delineated not in a social or political but in an administrative sense; it nevertheless was as deeply ensconsed in the political attitudes of pragmatists as in those of self-proclaimed socialists." (Chazan et. Al., 1992, 156)
The third ideology, military nationalism, was supplied by the first batch of military leaders who burst onto the political scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Idi Amin of Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo. Mobutu, for example, wrote that "We in Zaire spent a lot of time building a strong central state which could resist Soviet aggression quickly and effectively. This enabled us to decisively make the uniform decisions that were necessary to fulfill our national defense obligations and our commitments to the United States" (The Washington Times, 14 June 1995, A23).
These military strongmen exhibited a dictatorial bent. They had not been central to the independence struggles and felt the need to develop alternative ideologies to supplant those of the leaders they overthrew. They glorified the African warrior tradition, shunned foreign ideals, and revived certain traditional practices. In the economic arena, they exercised full control over national resources, not only to deflect pressures from external creditors but also to account for statist monopolies. But their ideologies were scarcely impressive. "They are by and large bereft of intellectual content, they are replete with contradictions, they address key issues haphazardly. These orientations, at best, may be viewed as feeble attempts to legitimate their purveyors; in most instances, they have provided the cover for the exercise of brute force. Manifestations of this sort of military nationalism resurface periodically, as insecure leaders with dwindling support bases find refuge in cultural symbols in a desperate effort to gain some loyalty and legitimacy" (Chazan, et.al., 1992, 158)
The fourth ideology was Afro-Marxism, which was the official policy of Angola, Mozambique, Congo, and Ethiopia. It attributed the malaise of African economies to the lingering effects of imperialism and the continuing machinations of neocolonialism, both within and without Africa. It envisaged the creation of a totally new social order, in which private ownership of the means of production would be abolished and the state would become the supreme patron of economic destiny.
However, the application of such labels as "pro-capitalist", "military nationalist," "Afro-Marxist" and "socialist" to postcolonial African governments is not particularly useful and probably more apt to create confusion. The relevant ideology always has been statism. State hegemony in the economy was the common feature, although its precise characteristics and rationale varied according to the social, economic, and political conditions within particular countries and also over time in response to changing internal and external pressures. Virtually all African countries operated a system in which power was concentrated in the hands of the state and ultimately one individual. This has never been the case in indigenous Africa.
Mr. Ayittey's comments reflect that of Chapra's referred to previously. His concern is that the goals and strategy of the post-colonial economic models embraced by Africans do not reflect the indigeneous culture of Africans nor do they reflect a willingness to be informed by the insights on human nature provided by that culture and its belief systems.
That principle, for many who view the body of knowledge of African indigenous systems as superior where building economic systems are concerned, applies to those who see theology and religions as providing a superior worldview and insight into human nature/behavior than that which is at the foundation of the world's two dominant economic systems. Equally dismissed by the socialist and capitalist regimes that have gripped Africa in the post-colonial era are the major religions that have been embraced by Black Africans on the continent. To some, the rejection of religion and theology in the construction of economic models and government policies is deliberate and part of a larger deceptive effort designed to keep Blacks in Africa around the world physically and mentally enslaved to Whites in Africa and around the world.
Getting to the root of this belief and its basis is Minister Jabril Muhammad who openly questions the benefits received by Blacks in accepting the classification of reality and society into religious and secular categories. He openly challenges the wisdom of Blacks who defer to Whites, in leadership positions, who accept and govern according to the divided religious-secular worldview. His initial focus is on Blacks who are educated in America which is especially relevant to the droves of Black African economists, politicians and intellectuals who are educated in America and then return to Africa and assume government positions back home where they lead their people according to the education they received from White American economists, social scientists and professors. He bluntly and lucidly writes in This Is The One:
Our conclusions can be no better than the premises upon which they are formed. False conclusions formulated into programs designed to solve "social" problems will continue to be as ineffective as false findings used to solve the problems in the physical sciences. False answers not only hinder the progress of physical sciences, but can prove deadly. Just consider the consequences of miscalculations in the building of a house or a bridge. People can and often do die when builders make mistakes...
Many Black students have gone to America's colleges and taken up the social sciences, with the view of bettering their understanding of themselves and the world. Many have undertaken these studies with the intention of "helping my people." Later on they become involved in various programs said to be designed to uplift the poor and uneducated. With failure after failure with the tools provided by the social sciences of the white man to solve any social problems, there is growing awareness among Black students of "society" that there is something wrong in what and how they are taught.
The principles of the social sciences are supposed to be based on an understanding of the nature of man. However, the social scientists would be the first to admit that their disciplines are incomplete, as their knowledge of man is not perfect. But the social sciences, as taught in America, ultimately rest on assumptions which cannot be proven true. One such assumption is that all people have a common origin or God.
One's understanding of a society can be no better than one's grasp of the nature of the people constituting that society. One does not know man's nature unless one knows man's origin. To come to know man's origin is to come face to face with man's God. It is at this point that the social scientist backs off. He claims that all answers pertaining to man's origin is beyond the realm of the knowable. God, if He exists, is in the realm of the unknowable. He reasons that the ultimate source of truth and false, good and evil, cannot be known. Therefore, he cannot accept any presently proposed standard said to be divine to serve as the unifying base of society. Generally he regards religion as important only in certain secondary respects: that it satisfies certain mental and emotional needs. He sees religion as irrelevant to the economic, political, educational and social realities of the modern world. Of course, there are scholars who are exceptions to this picture. However, this writer can say that almost every social scientist he has met fits this description. They regard their religion as a private matter; a matter of conscience, not necessarily related to the real problems of life nor to the God governing the universe. Some of these white social scientists even claim to be atheists. Black students study under such people.
The Black social scientist, social workers, etc., have labored under the profound weight of pondering the nature of a society, while ignorant of the nature of the Whites who rule it. They have sought to understand and do good in a society which does them and their people continuous evil. Moreover, in all of their studies they never come to truly know themselves.
Combine the lack of the knowledge of self and others, with the built-in limitations of the social sciences, and it is easy to see why Brothers and Sisters who come out of the social sciences to "help my people" are so frustrated.
Regardless of the sincerity of their intent, the Black social scientists, scholars, and workers have a very weak tool to grasp and explain reality - especially the problems of Black people. Furthermore, they cannot build effective programs which solve the Black man's problems with the white man's social sciences. They can't do it because of the effect of that aspect of the spirit of the White man's knowledge by which he has ruled produces is a mentality which is contrary to the Black man's nature and best interests. A Black man without the knowledge of self can't resist this effect.
One of the unnatural concepts of the white man involves the division of reality into "religious" and the "secular." This is a traditional characteristic of the whiteman's presentation of the world through his educational system. Further, this concept is basic to the manner in which the social sciences are taught...
It is important to know how and why, this idea of the division of life into what is called the "religious" and the "secular" began...Furthermore such an artificial division of life is actually one of the deceptive supports of this world.
Minister Muhamad later goes on to write: "An important consequence of this "religious-secular" concept is that God becomes irrelevant to the practical problems of "everyday life".
We ask, isn't economics a practical problem? Don't hundreds of millions of Africans believe in God? Then isn't it relevant that the vast majority of American and European philosophers, social scientists and economists who are responsible for the two dominant economic systems - capitalism and communism/socialism designed their systems while leaving God's insights on human nature, as contained in the Bible and Holy Qur'an for example, out of the development process that undergird and shaped their economic models? Remember, everyone has a god - the source of their values. If that is the case why are gods permitted into economic development while God is not. Aren't they both, in a sense equally valid sources of insight on people? What makes the insight into human nature of a human being who does not pray anymore valid than one who does? What makes the insights written in Adam Smith's "The Wealth Of Nations" and Karl Marx's Das Capital anymore valid than those written in the Old and New Testament or the Holy Qur'an? And back to our earlier point, why are such insights and writings, of atheist economist, philosophers and social scientists any better than those that come from the Yoruba belief system?
And isn't it ultimately relevant that the world's most influential economists, including those who develop policy at the IMF, World Bank and WTO and otherwise, do not factor African indigenous culture and belief systems or the Bible and Holy Qur'an into the development or application of their policy prescriptions for Africa? Does it not matter that such economists do not even respect the said sources of insight on human nature and the behavior of African people(s)?
To think that such questions do not matter is to manifest gross ignorance of the role that worldviews play in determining and constructing economic systems. It also demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the fact that one's god or God is the source of their values and that all of their preferences, friendships, and enemyships are determined as a result.
If the African union is to survive it must conquer Africa's dependency upon the gods of the economic world who have shaped our value system and worldview from a very imperfect understanding of the nature of mankind and the nature of Africans. Essential to this process is getting at the root of the foundation of those who have influenced economic thought, particularly those who have dominated the thinking of policymakers today. At the top of the list are John Maynard Keynes, Adam Smith and Karl Marx - three non-Africans.
As we have said the base and quality of any economy is dependent upon the understanding of the nature of those within that economy. In Africa, the dominant sources of understanding on the nature of Africans can be found in the Bible, Holy Qur'an and African indigenous belief systems. We assert that these three sources contain greater insight and foresight into the actions of human beings than the accumulated knowledge of all of the political philosophers, social scientists and economists that generated the premises, assumptions and theories that dominate economic thought today. A full proof of that assertion can be provided in another forum and at another time but Africa which did not, en masse, come under the influence of the dominant European thinkers in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries must build its union from a base that is rooted in truth and which is compatible with the best principles to be found in the aforementioned sources of knowledge and understanding of human nature.
The challenge, then, is to establish an African union that is based upon freedom, justice and equality and which overcomes the legacy and imperfections of the prevailing economic worldview and regime. To that end, the best of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, and a host of others must be digested and integrated with knowledge and understanding which the general public may not currently be aware of or which the general public may understand to only a superficial degree. And lastly, such must be married with the wisdom and "common sense" recognitions that the African electorate possesses but which its policy makers, have ignored or which the electorate has been unable to communicate to its politicians.
The quest and journey are both inward and outward - as are the enemies and friends of the process. When we speak of a "war" being waged against the very real "ghosts" of Marx, Smith and Keynes, as examples, we do not wish to imply that the battle is one waged with books, alone. We also understand and hope to convey that the worst aspects of economic thought and the incomplete thoughts of economists of old which have been taken as law by the current generations of economists, are alive and well in the minds and hearts of human beings who hold positions at real institutions, such as the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization. It is from within these institutions that some of the greatest damage is done to Africa, intentionally and unintentionally, in the past, present and future tense. Overcoming the power and effect of these institutions in Africa and building an African union will require the intellectual engagement of the most influential economists - living and dead - some who have been outright enemies of African unity, others who have and may prove to be outright friends of the process and still others who are lukewarm or indifferent to the concept and theory.
Note: All of the above is an excerpt from a 200-plus page special report, "Establishing The United States Of Africa - The Economic Foundations" Volume 1, published last year by BlackElectorate.com. The complete report will be available later this year, with an additional volume added.
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
To discuss this article further enter The Deeper Look Dialogue Room
The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of BlackElectorate.com or Black Electorate Communications.