Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: May 13, 2019
Forster Sallah, Ngonidzashe Magaya & Emmanuel Ndorimana
Arrupe Jesuit Universty (School of Philosophy and Humanities)
Journal Full Text PDF: Hybridity: A Realistic Forward-Directed African Foundation for Manoeuvring the Modern World.
We live in and experience a continent, which is bedevilled by imbalances in almost all aspects of life—religious, social, political, economic, intellectual, scientific, technological, etc. The penetration of foreign worlds into the African continent has introduced many changes to the original ways of being and doing. This penetration is so overwhelming that an imbalance is created wherein the traditional local African ways of life easily give way to the foreign without much opportunity for prior reflection. As a result, one could refer to Africa as a hybridized society. However, the kind of hybridity prevalent in the continent is unbalanced; it is highly skewed towards the foreign world’s principles and values to the detriment of the traditional local African ones. Given that a good number of these principles and values do not fit well into the African environment and culture, a lot of evils emerge. The prevalence of many such evils in the continent draws attention to the fact that it is time we rethink some principles and values. We argue that rational hybridity which constitutes an embrace of the best, and only the best, of both worlds is the ideal for this continent. If we could discern and choose what is good from both the foreign and the traditional local worlds, we would be able to solve a great deal of our problems. It is by this rational hybridity that Africa can embrace globalization without toppling and becoming more vulnerable to the pressures accompanying globalization.
Keywords: Africa, hybridity, the best of both worlds, foundation, globalization
After reading Maat, Zara Yacub, Ukama, Ubuntu and other African philosophy writings, one would definitely discover a lot of good religious, cultural, moral, ethical, economic, political and social theories, values, and principles that are enshrined in traditional African thought. At the same time, one would notice that the encounters Africa had had with foreign nations made some foreign-derived values and principles available to African societies. The modern world and its global orientation is making national and continental boundaries more and more non-existent. The question now is: What exactly should the African do in all these? How should Africa and the African approach this kind of world? Should the foreign package be adopted at the expense of the traditional local? Should the traditional local be adopted at the expense of the foreign? What kind of foundation does Africa need if it should effectively handle the increasingly global future? In this paper, we will propose and argue that hybridity is the most realistic way to go in dealing with all these questions. By the end of this paper, we will have demonstrated how this hybridity can be achieved if it is to serve as a strong foundation for Africa in handling the increasingly global world.
2. Defining Key Terms
The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines hybridization as ‘the process of producing a plant or animal from two different types of plant or animal’ (dictionary.cambridge.org web). A hybrid is basically an organism that has been produced from at least two different types usually for the purpose of engendering better characteristics. Hybridity, as applied to human society, is the “emergence of new cultural forms from multiculturalism…or… the acceptance of irrevocable mixture as starting-point, rather than as a problem” (qtd. in Reounodji 37). Homi Bhabha sees hybridity as “in-between spaces that provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood—singular or communal—that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself” (Bhabha 2). That is to say, “hybridity offers a fluid playing space where old and new identities can coexist in a form of mutual critique” (Reounodji 38). In the case of Africa, hybridity serves to promote an African and Western cultural blend so as to merge the past and the present in the effort to ‘imagine’ or ‘refashion’ a positive and productive vision of Africa (40). This paper defines hybridity as the blend of different cultures or traditions in terms of the religious, cultural, social, intellectual, ethical, moral, economic, political, and scientific/technological spheres.
3. Current Situation
Undeniably, Africa is a hybridized continent. Africa’s encounters with foreign peoples brought about new ways of thinking, being and doing. African societies are no longer what they used to be prior to these encounters. However, the kind of hybridity we experience in this continent is unpleasantly unbalanced; it is highly skewed towards the foreign spheres to the detriment of the traditional local. Evidently, the imperialists have promoted this kind of skewness by their undermining of what prevailed in the continent at their arrival. This is clear in most of Western scholars’ writings, some of which even contend that Africa has no history. For example, Hegel argues, “What we properly understand by Africa, is the unhistorical, undeveloped spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the world’s history” (99). That is why Enoch Reounodji describes the Western attitude towards Africa as a disparagement. For him, the reason why the West distorted African culture, tradition, and people, was to advance its own “cultural hegemony, economic control, colonial influence, and overall dominance by substituting human consideration with economic exploitation” (Reounodji 1). This has distorted the way African cultures and family life are esteemed. For instance, we experience a situation where families do not speak the local language. Traditional festivals are seen as heathen, in line with the foreign biases. Anyone who practises traditional religions is considered evil by default. On the other hand, imported products are readily accepted and consumed without the slightest reflection. African education system favours foreign curricula and tolerates close to no local and traditional thought. This kind of hybridity is imbalanced, and thus not worth promoting. It is problematic on its own. Therefore, it needs to be adjusted so as to be more suitable and beneficial to contemporary Africa.
4. A Commendable Kind of Hybridity
In an attempt to lay down a philosophical foundation for Africa, we recommend a balanced and rational hybridity, which can consider the best of both worlds. This is the kind of hybridity that, according to Diop, will enable us “to define the image of modern Africa reconciled with its past and preparing for its future” (Diop xvi). What kinds of materials should we allow into this foundation to make it strong and rich enough to handle the modern world that promises to become even more globalized than it is at the moment? Obviously, it seems impossible to attempt going back to adopt only the traditional local, no matter how good they might be. This would be like trying to get back the flour (mealy mill) from cooked sadza (stiff porridge). It is impractical and unrealistic in the current and future world. No matter how hard we close the doors to our shells, they will be forced open by globalization. At the same time, we cannot simply adopt the foreign alone; a number of the foreign values and principles just do not fit well into our context. It is equally impractical and unrealistic. So, on what kind of ground should we stand such that we do not fall when we are hit by the demands of globalization? The well-balanced hybridized ground seems appropriate.
Zara Yacub urges us to always act as rational beings (Sumner 179). This implies that in every situation, we should be rationally disposed to choose what is good and to reject what is bad, no matter where it originates. This is what a rational being should do. When we look at traditional local values and principles, not all of them are good and not all of them are bad. Similarly, not all of the foreign values and principles are good and not all of them are bad. Following Zara’s advice, the rational African should always separate the good and/or helpful from the bad and/or useless and adopt the good/helpful from both worlds—local and foreign. In doing so, one becomes rich and multi-dimensional enough for the global world in general, and for the local African world in particular. How, then, should this idea of hybridity be implemented in the various spheres of life in Africa? How should the selection of materials for the African foundation be carried out such that we do not jeopardize its strength? How do we get the peoples of Africa to embrace this local-foreign balance? Who are to be responsible for promoting this idea? By way of answering these important questions, we demonstrate, in the following paragraphs, how the balanced and rational hybridity can be achieved in Africa by pursuing the best of both worlds.
4.1. Religious Hybridity
One branch of this foundation is the hybridized religious enterprise. Should we abandon African God/gods and adopt the foreign ones, or vice versa? What if we adopt both? If both our God/gods and the foreign ones answer our needs, then there is really no problem adopting both. Experience teaches us that one who has two good parents will most likely enjoy better than one who has only one good parent. If we pray to our gods and they are silent or angry (as we are often told), we should not resist going to the foreign ones. And, as it usually seems to be the case, if the foreign ones appear powerless, let us turn to ours. The most important thing is that our prayer should be answered by whichever god is on duty at the time we pray.
Just as with the God/gods, the same goes for religious beliefs and practices. It is rational to adopt the best of both religious worlds. Surely, we do not want the religious practice which upholds human sacrifices. Similarly, we do not need a religious belief, which promises many possibly non-existent virgins in some heaven as reward for murdering infidels. Human life is valuable; hence, any religious belief/practice that hinders life should be rejected. This is the basic teaching of Zara Yacub, Ukama and Ubuntu. Also, if our rational enquiry convinces us that fasting is detrimental to health, at least in the long term, then we should reject it. The importance of family in African cultures means that we should take up the familial religious beliefs in the traditional local and reject the celibacy-infested beliefs of Catholicism and other such religions. Basically, it is good and rational to embrace the best religious beliefs and practices in both worlds in forming the religious part of the foundation we are building. Accordingly, we need to inspect our traditions critically and open rooms for new possibilities if need be. This implies that we should do away with stubbornness, which leads some people to blindly stick to their traditions and resist all other alternatives without justification. In fact, Enoch Reounodji asserts that there is a difference between respecting or clinging to traditions, and relying on traditions, especially if they inconvenience one and their opportunity to grow. For him, no matter how attractive such practices and beliefs might appear, it is sometimes important to look beyond the ‘comfortable zone’ to the ‘dangerous realm’ (Reounodji 10).
4.2. Political/Economic Hybridity
The economic and political parts of the foundation requires a special attention. Given the many political and economic problems that we experience in Africa today, could it be that we have adopted (or are given) foreign styles which might not be ideal for us? Is the type of democracy we are battling with now really conducive to our context, which is heavily ethnic? Could socialism or communism or mixed economy have worked better for us? African heroes for African political independence fought against dictatorship in order to effect the ideal democracy in the continent. However, most African countries continue to face political instabilities that are manifest in corruption, economic poverty and dependency, nepotism, criminal impunity, armed conflict, among others (Reounodji 18-19).
Thus, Reounodji continues to argue that European leaders have preserved their domination over Africa through economic threats and implanted fear in African leaders. In return, in order to guarantee their own power, African leaders deny their fellow Africans their political rights and civil liberties such that the latter cannot turn against the brutality of the colonial state lest they endure severe tortures. On the other hand, African leaders who try to center their politics on the people, experience resistance and violence (14-15). If Reounodji is right, then it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for African political instability to be overcome “unless the neo-colonial state is deconstructed, rethought, and democratically reconstituted” (Kieth 15). It seems that the colonial legacy and domination of the European settlement in Africa, the institution of colonial rule, and especially the Christian religion have left Africans without roots. Indeed, their African heritage and land have been swapped with the Bible and Western civilization (Reounodji 33). Probably, that is why Religion is constantly progressing in Africa whereas inclusive political and economic situations are more or less deteriorating.
On the other hand, no one would want to adopt a monarchical government in which one family monopolizes power such that a lunatic born to a royal family has a higher chance of ruling the country than a competent person born to some other family. Perhaps, the best thing to do is to tailor these spheres to fit our own context wherein the foreign meets the traditional local in a balanced embrace—the best of both worlds. Therefore, every ideal African nation should be “imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 7). In other words, the nation should reflect a certain relationship of members who share a particular vision of the community. For this kind of community and nation to happen, African leaders should, for example, establish free societies and foster bonds of belonging for their citizens (Reounodji 19-20). Therefore, African leaders need to pursue some hybrid settings where the best of Africa and the best of Europe can merge in the effort to generate the decolonization of African minds and the decolonization of Africa as a whole. This requires them to cooperate with the people in order to handle current realities of Africa. The collaboration of the leaders and subjects of a particular society would enable them to build a more just and affluent nation (36).
Accordingly, some traditional views need to be amended. For example, women emancipation, social inclusion, among others, should be achieved in the continent. This implies the need for balance in everything. Quality education should be offered to everyone regardless of gender or social status. Curriculum adjustments should occur according to the real needs rather than political or racial influences. To promote a tolerant vision, both traditionalists and modernists should participate in the “in-between space” for the pursuit of inclusive solutions. Hopefully, such an attitude would permit the voice of all to be effectively heard. Then, “Ballots would triumph over bullets; past wrongs might be righted, with common people respected and the ruling class rehabilitated” (Reounodji 32). For example, in Chad, according to Anderson, one of the solutions to be achieved could be the establishment of a common language spoken in the whole country, or at least by the majority of the citizens. This will not only unite the people, but also enlighten them. In fact, a cohesive and common language promotes the spirit of nationalism or patriotism by binding people together. Otherwise, “unless committed civic work is done, people living in the same country will continue to feel distanced from one another and will feel no national allegiance” (Anderson 4). That is why Ousmane Sembène calls the leaders who exploit their subjects for ‘inner change’. On the other hand, for him, “it is not those who are taken by force, put in chains and sold as slaves who are real slaves, but it is those who will accept it, morally and physically” (Sembene 20).