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THE COLONIAL SYSTEM AND ITS POST-COLONIAL AFTERMATH

The colonial system, on the other hand, created a distance between the government and the governed, and the same pattern seems to have been followed in post-colonial Africa. This, in turn, has engendered attitudes of unconcern and insensitivity in affairs of state on the part of the governed. Consequently, the general attitude of the citizen is that it has been possible to injure the state without injuring oneself, an attitude that opens the floodgates of bribery and corruption, something that goes directly against traditional values and practices. The African leaders who took over from the colonial regimes failed to adapt and evolve the traditional policies and practices to suit the needs of the new African, multinational state. The political values of consensus and consultation should have been given institutional expression in preference to a simple version of majority-based party politics.

The conception of democracy, in Western political thought, though, places a premium on political rights, and has failed to elevate social and economic rights to the same level of concern. Hence the fulfilment of social and economic needs is left to the private sphere. Democracy, is therefore confined to protecting and furthering such political rights. This, for Gyekye, is a narrow approach to democracy that needs to be broadened. What needs to be done, in pursuit of democracy and political stability, is to find ingenious ways and means of hammering the indigenous democratic elements – together with exogenous ones – on the anvil of prudence, common sense, imagination, creative spirit and a sense of history in the setting of the modern world.

African culture – and experience – may yet bring much needed political salvation. Between the two, in fact, capitalist and socialist concepts, there is a division of emphasis between, on the one hand, individuality and, on the other, social equality. The two values should not be held as incompatible. This was the great problem during the so-called "socialist interlude", where one ideology was pursued in isolation of the other, as a kind of post-colonial reaction to the colonial regimes that had come before.

THE SOCIALIST INTERLUDE

Difference between communalism and Marxism

On regaining the political independence of their nations, African political leaders, according to Gyekye, in search of ideologies to guide their policies and actions in matters of the development of their societies, had the options of pursuing capitalism – the free enterprise economic system – and socialism – the system of public ownership of the means of production and distribution. The ideological system chosen by all but a few was socialism. But they preferred to call it "African socialism" to invest it with, for Gyekye, a spurious patina of African ancestry and justification. Their main argument was that socialism was foreshadowed in traditional African thought and practice. However, communalism in Africa is essentially a socio-ethical doctrine and not a narrowly economic one, whereas Marxist socialism had a much more strongly economic emphasis. Also the modern conception of state ownership is different from the traditional conception of communitarian ownership. For example, traditional ownership of the land includes the rights of an individual to use the land but not to own it. There is no room for such in state ownership.

African political leaders then, in anchoring the rationalization of their choice of socialism in the African communitarian idea, misinterpreted it, according to Gyekye, in two ways. First they ignored the obvious elements of private enterprise and individuality in a traditional setting. A concept of private property, traditionally, did exist. Secondly, they made the assumption that a communitarian society could automatically evolve into a socialist economy in a modern setting, which it could not. The reason is that the communitarian doctrine is socio-ethical rather than economic. It is a doctrine about social and moral relations. Socialism, on the other hand, is primarily an economic arrangement regarding public control of the dynamics of the economy.

Wealth in fact is highly valued in African societies because of the contribution the wealthy person can make, or is expected to make, toward the welfare of the family, community or state. In African traditional conceptions therefore, religion is to be pursued also for its material or social relevance. Supernatural beings are to be worshipped because of the succour they could, and are expected to provide, for the human-being in his worldly pursuits. The derivation of Marxian socialism then, from the pre-colonial economic culture of Africa, could only have resulted from incomplete historical, as well as conceptual, inquiries into the traditional economic culture and from a distorted interpretation, for Gyekye, of the traditional socio-ethical system. In fact the traditional economic culture exhibited features of both "socialist" and capitalist methods in the management of economic life.

That having been said, the European colonial governments had not been enthusiastic about developing the indigenous free enterprise system in colonial Africa; that is, even though they themselves practised the free enterprise system, they strangely enough did not want their colonial subjects to pursue such an economic arrangement; the European colonial governments found any emerging social and political power of African business people threatening; state controlled businesses were started by the colonial rulers; state monopolies, too, were pursued by colonial powers.

If one were to look for a pervasive and fundamental concept in African socio-ethical thought generally – a concept that animates other intellectual activities and forms of behaviour, including religious behaviour, and provides continuity, resilience, nourishment and meaning in life – that concept would probably be, as continually advocated by South African political philosopher Mfuniselwa Bhengu, African humanism (4). Such a philosophy sees human needs, interests and dignity as of fundamental importance and concern. For the art, actions, thought and institutions of African people, at least in the traditional setting, reverberate with expressions of concern for human welfare.

Nkrumah in Ghana, like Nyerere (5) in Tanzania if not also Kaunda (6) in Zambia, saw a logical relation between humanism and socialism. However, it could be argued, Gyekye claims, that such humanistic principles are intrinsic to the capitalist system, which has been more successful in the creation of wealth, which is fundamental to the fulfilment of human needs. The humanist ethic will certainly pursue a far reaching social programme, but such a programme needs to be supported by a productive economic system. It is clear then, that in the post-colonial era, African nations have been groping in an ideological labyrinth, due to a misinterpretation of the communitarian system and the lack of profound inquiry into ideology itself.

Political Corruption: A Moral Pollution

Gyekye's central thesis, then, is that patterns of corruption can be related to the character of the political system and to the nature and rate of socio-economic change. In post- colonial states, governments are generally perceived as distant entities. In Chinua Achebe's (7) novel No Longer at Ease, the hero, Obi, is asked "Have they given you a job yet?" The narrator immediately comments "Government was an alien institution and people's business was to get as much out of it as possible without getting into trouble". What then are the causes of such corruption? One is the nature of the extended family system, where an individual may bear onerous responsibility for the welfare of his group. Second, the extended family with its web of relatives gives rise to patronage. Third, a communitarian culture encourages the reciprocal exchange of gifts. Poverty itself is a fourth cause, with inflation and the erosion of salaries taking its due toll. Finally, there may be a lack of adequate controls.

For Gyekye, corruption is fundamentally a moral problem and should be grappled with from that standpoint. In the African context, the growth of colonial and then postcolonial bureaucracies, with their complicated set-ups, gave rise to fresh opportunities for immoral gains. But corruption also existed in traditional regimes. Some kind of moral revolution is therefore required to deal with such. For example when Jesus substituted "turn the other cheek" for the Judaic "eye for an eye" he was instigating a moral revolution. Similarly, Mohammed sought to institute values of hospitality and generosity beyond the tribe. Some features of the traditional African system of values, in the interest of progress and success in politics in a heterogeneous state, would need to undergo a substantive moral revolution. Gyekye then turns to a major, emergent theme of his book, that of tradition and modernity.

 
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