Ali Mazrui, one of the foremost African intellectuals for the last fifty years, died recently. Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire reflects on Mr. Mazrui’s five strategies for taming Western-oriented imperialism disguised as globalisation.
Prof. Ali Mazrui’s intellectual life elicited so much debate and controversy, from his time as head of the Department of Political science and Dean of Social Sciences at Makerere University to his tenure as Professor at various American universities. It was always to Africa, to Makerere, that the intellectual always turned to analyse globalisation, critique the phenomenon and provide strategies for non-Western societies to claim, own and use globalisation for their ends.
In a speech to Bank of Uganda officials in Kampala, he claimed that Makerere had been a global university to start with, and had lost its globalised outlook in the latter years of its development. He told his audience:
“Globalization is much more than the Information Superhighway and the new expansion of international markets. Globalization consists of all the forces which are pushing the world towards becoming a global village. Globalization is the villagization of the globe.”
In a speech in New Delhi, and in many publications of his, he proposed five strategies for African, Asian and other non-Western societies to use in taming Westernisation. I would go as far as calling this the decolonisation of globalisation, or more aptly, the de-Westernisation of globalisation. The strategies include, indigenisation, domestication, diversification, horizontal interpenetration and vertical counter-penetration.
Mazrui castigated African universities as centres for continued Western domination
Indigenization to him includes “protecting major areas of indigenous culture, retooling indigenous skills for use in modern contexts, and making sure that indigenous human and natural resources are utilized in the optimum interest of the local people.” Under this strategy, he proposes the ‘modernisation’ of African indigenous medical knowledge, and controversially, research and teaching of Witchcraft at African universities. One can use the current wave of consumption of what used to be Chinese traditional medicine in times gone by but is now packaged for a global market.
Domestication according to Mazuri is simply the use of foreign institutions and technologies to suit the needs of local societies. He termed this the adoption of modernisation without Westernisation. Africanising modernity, if I may. I can use the example of commuter motorbikes – boda bodas in East Africa, okadas in Nigeria and tuk-tuk in India – to show how something made for another purpose (not public transport) can be domesticated and used to serve the purposes of a society different from the one the original makers set out to serve.
With diversification, Mazrui meant that the world has several centres of production of culture and knowledge and non-Western societies need to consider all these centres and learn from all of them, instead of privileging the West. Every society on any continent strives to centre life for its citizens and others on itself. Thus Asia seeks to centre world affairs around herself, similarly for Africa, the Americas and other societies. This way, we build a multi-polar world with various power-centres and eradicate the imperial power of the West. Globalisation should not necessarily build New York or London as the world’s metropolis. It should inherently nullify the idea of a single-centred world.
4. Horizontal Interpenetration
He also argued for horizontal interpenetration among non-Western societies through partnerships with countries at approximately the same level. As we see in an example above, due to various factors, transport needs in some countries sometimes yield related solutions independently. Thus the boda boda in Uganda and Kenya grew from the border-to-border movement of travellers, while the same technology in Nigeria and India has different histories. The horizontal impact of progress in one or two of these societies can’t be ruled out. This way, societies make reasonable use of technologies available to them, whether made by them or by other peoples, due to the similarity in needs and stages of progress. They grow the capacity to shape new trends and definition of progress.
Finally, he proposed vertical penetration, or counter-penetration, by which he means the reversal of leverage and influence from Western societies to non-Western societies. Since the West, through colonialism and neo-colonialism, has penetrated non-Western societies already, he suggests that non-Western societies need to reverse the favour and only then will the world achieve true globalisation. We can say that the relative popularity of Asian cuisine (Chinese, Indian or Thai) in the West is an example of vertical penetration. Vertical penetration creates an inherent balance of influences and enables us to build a diverse beautiful global village, than a mimic facade of Westernisation.
Non-Western societies need to learn from all these centres instead of privileging the West
Mazrui was very critical of the role of African universities in the continued imperial reality of the world, castigating them as centres for continued Western domination. “African universities have been the highest transmitters of Western culture in African societies. The high priests of Western civilization in the continent are virtually all products of those cultural seminaries called ‘universities’.” He argued for the recruitment of experts in African civilisation and culture, who may not necessarily bear Western-style degrees, as teaching staff at African universities. He also advocated for the use of African languages in the production of knowledge, as languages of instruction at university. He cited the Japanese strategy of using Western technology without losing their culture. Thus he argued that Japan can contribute meaningfully to globalisation because their language is able to carry their ideas, and this enables them to indigenise, domesticate, diversify, horizontally and vertically penetrate.
In the face of the brilliant strategies societies can use to tame Western imperialism masquerading as globalisation, contemporary African intellectuals obsessed with Western imperialism have an uneasy task of convincing those who are sceptical as to their utility to African societies.