A scholarly sidebar

Global Societies: An Introduction is a good sidebar to the main article on this page.  It is coauthored by Drs Akwasi  Osei and F. Odun Balogun, both at Delaware State University.

The second edition of the book published in 2007 covers subjects ranging from the global past to the global present, from global marketplace to global trends.  Specific chapters include “The Politics of Globalization” (by Kofi Annan), On the Margins  of the Global Village (Asgede Hagos), Theorizing Women’s Access to Power in the Global State (Ifeyinwa E. Umerah-Udezulu), Transitional Crime (Yaw Ackah), and Religion in the Future Global Civilization (Thomas R. McFaul).

“The necessity to produce this text[book] has been forced on us by the realities of our time,” wrote the editors.  “Ours is a time when the world, as is now universally acknowledged, has become a global village, within which the human population in all its diversities lives much closer and share much more in common than was possible half a century ago.”

Global Societies is published by Pearson (Boston, MA). ISBN  0-536-32221.









Africa:  Where do we go from here?

By Akwasi Osei, Ph.D.

This is the age of Globalism and Globalization.  Now more than ever, we must all have an acute sense of the world as we go about our daily business.  We need to do this because every day we carry with us--through our clothing, accessories, book bags, handbags, shoes sneakers—you name it—items made all over the world. It is a most concrete form of the interconnectedness of our globe. We are living a global reality an understanding of which is critical to our survival.

Where does Africa stand in these times?  It is a question worth asking in these critical times as the struggles to find its way.  More importantly, the continent will have to assume control of its destiny if it is to continue to play a decisive role globally.  After all, Africa has always been at the global table, and the time has come for it to chart an engaged self reliant and independent course in world affairs.

Let me situate Africa within the global setting by establishing three major propositions:

-that the continent of Africa has been at the global table –so to speak—since the beginning of humanity.

-that the continent of Africa has been an integral part of the development of the global political economy in the last 500 years;

-that in the 21st century, Africa will continue to be indispensable globally, and therefore we all have an interest in making it healthy

In order to bring about a healthy and prosperous Africa which is in control of its destiny, the continent has to gain ultimate control of its resources.

Most discussions about Africa in the world usually start anywhere from the middle of the 15th Century through the latter part of the 19th Century.  This time frame mirrors the beginnings of the notorious trade in humans all the way to the start of the European colonization of Africa.  This is erroneous and ahistorical.  It is necessary to begin from the beginning. And the beginning is in the indisputable fact that the oldest dated human fossil was found in the Rift valley of Africa.  

What are the implications of this fact? One is that humanity began in Africa, and a second may be that we are all, in one sense, African.  Whether we are talking about Nile Valley civilizations, or the great civilizations of Western Sudan; or those of the Central, East and Southern Africa, history has recorded thriving, growing, developing cultures that arguably were in the forefront in their days.

If this is so, then how do we explain the contemporary image of the continent as one of gloom and doom?  What happened?  Was it always the case that when one spoke of Africa, one evoked chaos, immiseration, and instability?  When did the continent go from giving birth to humanity, the beginning of the pack, to being the very representation of everything that is broken, at the rear of the pack?

When Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79), made his famous statementSemper aliquid novi Africam adferre (Africa always brings [us] something new.) often quoted as " Ex Africa semper aliquid novi [Always something new out of Africa), he was signaling Africa’s importance to the world since millennia.

From its status as the birthplace of humanity, through nurturing enduring civilizations, to supplying the labor that essentially powered the development of what we now call “developed societies”,(also referred to as more developed, industrialized, the north), the continent has maintained a constant and continuous relationship with peoples and places around the world.

The continent seemed to have always held an attraction to cultures from across the globe.  Its cultures and civilizations such as Nubia, Kerma, Meroe, Napata, Egypt, Abyssinia, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, great Zimbabwe, Kongo, and the Zulu were among some of the more established cultures that eventually influenced areas far beyond their borders (Davidson, 1993).  For instance, much of the world does not hesitate to acknowledge perhaps the greatest of civilizations, Egypt.  With its unbroken growth over three thousand years, it was able to absorb other cultures.  What is not generally known is that Egypt’s beginnings, its birth, was Nubia, to the south.  As Basil Davidson says, “.. Egypt in fact may have been the world’s first multicultural society, with Africans, people from Asia, Arabs from the East”. Is Egypt African?  Empires big and small dotted the length and breadth of the continent through 1400 AD.  At its height in the fifteenth century, for instance, the Songhai Empire was twice the size of present-day United States, and was known all over the world.  Prior to the beginning of the 16th Century, therefore, one can see a dynamic continent that saw the rise and fall of countless civilizations that managed to connect with peoples from all corners of the world. 

Equally important, by the middle of the fifteenth century, all across the globe, peoples had created viable societies.  Further, most of these societies had also established contacts by building relationships through trade, exchange and communication. There was mostly a mutuality of interests.  For instance, along the coast of Africa, Portuguese and Spanish adventurers established contacts which resulted in more or less equal exchanges with the different coastal peoples from the Senegalese coast all the way to the southernmost tip of the continent. 

In what became known as the Gold Coast, Don Diego d'Azabuja established trade and other political links with the Fanti (Thompson, 1987)  There was so much gold that the Portuguese called the place "El Mina", the mine.  Pedro de Sintra went to Sierra Leone, and Prince Henry (the Navigator)’s men were all over the west coast.  Two of his men, Nina Tristao and Antam Goncalves, were so overwhelmed with all they saw that there are reports they kidnapped about twenty people from those areas and took them back to the Iberian Peninsula.
As merchants traversed on land from east to west and seafarers connected many societies from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, cultural exchanges also took place, primarily through the spread of new cultures:  Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity among others.  These commercial, cultural and civil connections were to be taken to a much higher level after1500 AD.

From that time, these contacts took on a new, negative relationship regarding Africa. The age-old relations that existed between the civilizations in Africa  and those of Europe, for instance, took a monumental turn around the middle of the 15th Century.  What had hitherto been a  relatively equal trading relationship of mutual benefit became one of decidedly unequal, imperialist control..  From trading mainly in gold, ivory, and salt, the focus quickly shifted to human cargo, as a result of the needs of European nations and their activities elsewhere.

The active incorporation of this part of Africa into a new global relationship began with the trade in humans in the early 16th Century.  It turned into a well-developed, intricate, integrated relationship that bound the continent to Europe, North America, the Caribbean, South America, and indirectly, Asia.  Its nature was global.  Since at least the middle of the 15th Century, therefore, Africa's fortunes have been globalized; and the result of this globalization has been that the continent's fortunes have essentially been held hostage to other peoples' experiences.

The African continent became an integral part of the economic take-off of the world  Ali Mazrui, the eminent intellectual, has termed this the era of the tripartite imperative:  Gold God and Glory:  In the search for wealth and resources, (GOLD, the economic imperative), the cultural, (GOD-religion) played a determining role, leading to the appropriation of land and the creation of empires (GLORY, the political).
From the 15th Century to the 19th Century, the labor that was transported across the Atlantic cultivated the sugar and cotton, and worked the mines which in turn provided the engine for the growth of the Northern hemisphere.  For over 400 years, this relationship revolved around the trade in human cargo; and then later, both primary and natural resources.

By the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, almost all of Africa had become integral parts of European empires.  As colonies, African societies provided the necessities for the imperial industrial take-off.. This is the era of the scramble for, and partition of, Africa.
This history had a devastating effect on the continent::  the transportation of African human cargo led to slavery, depopulation, dislocation, turmoil, and colonization.

As this brief history demonstrates, Africa was present at the creation of the contemporary world system, but was not at the table.  In terms of its importance, it provided the most important resource, human labor (and laster other primary resources) that others needed to grow and prosper and to build wealth.  Resource-wise, the continent has always been central.  Politically, however, it has been on the margins.  Indeed, this goes a long way to explain the unequal status that the continent occupies in the contemporary international environment.
The talk about contemporary globalization therefore must acknowledge that it really is not a new phenomenon; what has changed is the nature of global relationships.  With respect to Africa, it is clear that we must continue to trumpet that continent’s contributions.

A narrative of the history of the forces of globalization in Africa—or a perspective of African historic trajectory since the middle of the 15th Century—reveals a continent that has provided the basis for growth for others, but not, itself.  It puts in stark perspective the fact that decisions about the growth and development of African societies have largely been made by outsiders.  This in essence is colonization, which formally ended during the decolonization process in the fifties and sixties, but is still relevant in its neo—and post--colonial forms.  In other words, so-called independence was really, effectively, partial:  more “flag” independence than an actual change in the structures which governed the new states. This conclusion insists that as long as the continent continues to produce what it does not consume, and consumes what it does not produce, it will continue to wallow in dependence.

By any measure of development, whether in the parochially economic sense, or in the more accurate, holistic fashion, the continent has only had incremental changes largely to the disadvantage of the majority of Africans and to the advantage of an alliance of a small group of internal and external forces.  At the beginning of the 21st Century, it remains the case that how well African societies do is largely determined by others.  Indeed, it can safely be argued that all the conflicts on the continent since independence can partially be explained by this history. Age-old ethnic rivalries and animosities were exacerbated by colonialism.  The 1994 genocide in Rwanda is a clear  example.

Another example is the Congo, where beginning in 1960, the Cold War was writ large in Africa.  So was the Angolan civil war, the Somali, Ethiopia and the Nigerian crises in the Seventies and Eighties.  In the last two decade or so, however, it has been clear that greed and corruption that has characterised African leaders reached a crescendo with crises in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone.

For the last fifty years, Africa has been trying to emerge from this history by trying to at once break away from this dependence syndrome while still maintaining a modicum of friendship with the same powers that colonized it.  How does Africa fit into the contemporary global dispensation?  What would it take to reinvent itself?  In answering these questions, we need to revisit what Globalization has meant for Africa.  In other words, how has the world grown, and why has Africa not grown along with it?  Let’s start with a simple definition of the concept.

Globalization (Held et al.) is a process which embodies “transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, expressed in transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power”.  It is the

stretching of social, political, economic relations across frontiers, regions and continents; 
the intensification and the magnitude, of the inter-connectedness.

the speeding up of global interactions (as in communications technology changing by the second!)

the growing intensity, and velocity, and extensity (range)of global interactions and connections and

the deepening impact they have all over the globe.  In short, globalization is the widening, intensifying, speeding up and growing impact of worldwide interconnectedness

Developments in one region of the world profoundly affect the life chances of millions of people in other distant areas.  In this sense, globalization is uneven in its activities; as it divides and impoverishes large areas of the world, it simultaneously empowers others.
While it means an advantageous shrinking of borders, it also means the total loss of culture and life as it was known in some areas.  While it brings huge economic payoffs to some places, it leads to political instability, and the destroying of ecosystems in other places.

Globalization has led to a loss of independence and self-defined decision-making for most areas in poverty, including African societies.  The benefits of the phenomenal growth of the global economy in the last few years have not fallen equally in the world.
Globalization has had winners and losers.  It was (is) supposed to unify, and integrate, but it has become as much a divider as the Cold War ever was.  There are supposed to be more millionaires in the world today, but the numbers of poor and hungry folks have increased across the globe, according to the 2005 World Development Report put out by the World Bank.

Over 3 billion people in the world live on two dollars or less a day. The average income for the richest twenty countries in the world was fifteen times the average for the poorest twenty countries in 1960.  It is now 30 times the average!

As an integral part of this globalization process, the continent was very much integrated into the world system to performing certain functions: primarily, to provide raw material and other primary inputs for the development of the rest of the world.

In 2009, it is accurate to assert that the continent continues to perform the same functions.  The irony of all this is that arguably, the continent of Africa is the most naturally endowed of all the landmasses in the world.  That is the reason any peoples have gone to the continent of Africa sincemillennia to satisfy their resource needs:  human, mineral, agricultural, and real estate.

Between 1500 and 1885, a total of 12-100 million able-bodied Africans were removed from their homes to provide unpaid labor which effectively built America and by extension, Europe.  Indeed, it is a historical fact that both the more developed northern hemisphere and the less industrial southern hemisphere have been, and still are, involved in the same historical process out of which the present system was created.
With regard to mineral wealth, it is an undeniable fact that the bulk of the important and strategic minerals that power the world are produced in Africa Gold, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, bauxite, copper, phosphate, chromium, nickel, platinum, uranium and cobalt, coal, petroleum, natural gas, radium, lead, zinc, tin, titanium, antimony, tantalum, germanium, and lithium.

This is an important point because in all our lives, we depend on these minerals.  From the food we eat, the homes in which we live, how we travel, how we communicate, we are dependent one way or the other on these minerals.  They are vital and essential to our survival.  This makes Africa indispensable. 

Two examples illustrate this.  In South Africa, for instance, the protracted nature of apartheid was not only to maintain white supremacy, but also the economic benefits the state enjoyed.  South Africa is wealthy, and in all of the years of apartheid, the whites in South Africa had the highest standard of living in the world.  The country’s mineral wealth—South Africa has every major mineral imaginable--guaranteed this.   
In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, interest in its vast natural resources has led to over forty years of instability and death.  For the last one hundred and twenty years, the world has appreciated the natural riches of this vast land.  Initially, the Belgians won control, when King Leopold took personal control of what became the “Belgian Congo”.
I would suggest all to read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold's Ghost, a harrowing story of how a European monarch savagely brutalized a whole people.  It clearly puts the present crisis in that country in perspective.  Since 1960, the DRC has known no peace;  its immense resources has led to attempts by various groups—both external and internal-- to control it.  When one reviewer suggested that the book “shows among many other things the roots of the chaos and bloodshed ravaging the Congo today’ (Luc Sante, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, September 27, 1998), he was right on the money. 
Coltan is one of the world’s strategic minerals today.  It is the main ingredient in the manufacturing of electronic devices such as computers, game consoles, DVD players, and the cell phone.  The DRC has eighty percent of the known reserves of coltan.  Our lives are now ruled by these electronic devises; we need cell phones, so we need the DRC and its coltan.  We need our uranium, diamonds, gold, platinum, and bauxite, so we need Africa.
By any measure, however, in spite of Africa’s resources, it is also the poorest continent--in production, manufacturing, agricultural production, and health status.  There is a consensus that the continent of Africa is the only part of the global landscape that has not “benefited” from these last two decades of globalization—or globalism-- which has the world ever more so entangled in complex political, economic, cultural and social relations and relationships.
This is the painful paradox of African development in a globalized world: rich, but chronically poor!

Indeed, there is widespread evidence that globalization has exacerbated the age-old inequality in the international system, continuing to widen the gap between the rich minority global elite and the mass of the global poor.

How does severe inequality help contribute to a fairer system?  Can the global agenda (here defined as the primary issues, problems, and controversies on which states and humanity concentrate their attention and to which they allocate resources) succeed?

For Africa to prosper, we will have to address the imbalance in political, economic and cultural inequality.  Future international relations—and relationships—which maximize these inequalities and thereby deepen cultural divides will not work.  This is truly a challenge of the Twenty First Century.

As in the past, Africa has a central role to play.  What would it have to do?  What would we all have to do?  First, it will have to begin with Africans resolving its crises of leadership.  There is a crisis, for the most part, :  the continent has endured leadership crises since independence.  Unresolved, we will go nowhere

Second, and related to the first, the continent must regain its independence.  The post-independence era must move from “flag independence” to a true social revolution, what has been called a second independence.  This has been the other side of the African revolution the leaders of which have in the last forty years have been eliminated:  leaders such as Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Sheik Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, and Thomas Sankara. 

Instead we have been cursed with leaders such as Mobutu, Idi Amin, Bokassa, Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, Eyadema, Savimbi, and Charles Taylor.
Pushing a self reliant, liberated Africa will perforce lead to an Africa that has more control over its resources.  Africa’s needs will drive African development.

Third, there must be a radically changed international environment; the present system where ‘some nations are more equal than others’ must give way to a more balanced one.  Globalization, in as much as it has made us more connected across boundaries, must strive to be more equitable.  The chances of this happening are enhanced especially in a globalized economy which seems certain to lead to the gradual creation of a true multi-polar world.

China’s presence around the globe will ensure this.  In November 2006, when China held its first China-Africa forum, there were more African heads of state (48 out of the 53) present than at an African Union meeting!  China’s billions of dollars has become a true third source of foreign direct investment for Africa.  The West took notice.

Fourth, the latest democratic experiments gaining hold must be accelerated into many more African countries.  Genuine democratization must obtain in all spheres of life. The creation and sustenance of consistent democracy will help the institutions necessary to create the space for true social development in Africa.  The continent will be well on its way to and prosperity.

The past is our heritage
The present is our responsibility
The future is our challenge

~author unknown~