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Worldview, Ethnicity and Social Dynamics in African Politics
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Goran Hyden
African Politics in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2006.  306p.)

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While focusing on politics, this analysis provides insights on the cultural picture in Africa.  A helpful chapter is Ch 9, "Ethnicity and Conflict," which provides a summary of approaches and working definitions of "ethnicity" in various disciplines of study.  This provides a good reference point for evaluating the place of the concept of "ethnicity" in the political and social dynamics of the countries of Africa.

Hyden provides a good analysis of data from a 50-year period, which enables him to suggest practical steps to improve development approaches from the donor nations and other cross-cultural projects.  He urges that the cultural patterns and worldview concepts underlying the African societies and states be taken into account.

Failed Aid Programs
He finds that virtually all aid programs have failed to produce long-term effects in any country of Africa.  He identifies and clarifies the African beliefs and worldview concepts that help account for that.  Important among these is the blurring of formal and informal systems and structures, which is obvious to anyone who has lived any time in virtually any African country.  It is especially helpful to see his analysis of the causes in the African cultures and societies for public accountability problems.

African "Big Man" Politics
He presents an astute and accurate portrait of the "Big Man" political concept dominant in Africa, and explains how this presents problems for donor-state ideas of accountability.  He analyzes specific characteristics of every African political system and clarifies the actual operating assumptions and patterns in the formal systems and informal systems dominant in each country.  There is a primary difference in concept of what the State is and how it should operate between the western and the African worldviews.  Lack of awareness of or attention to this largely accounts for the misguided projects and failures.

Hyden concludes with 10 specific suggestions for planning and implementing development and international partnerships.  He is concerned to help the African leaders understand how the non-African world will be thinking from their cultural worldview assumptions.  He likewise tries to inform the international perspective of the value and consistency of the African points of view, based on different but consistent principles and practices form their experience.  

His practical analysis is specific, and he provides a map for planning for international agencies, United Nations and NGOs, as well as national leaders in Africa to better understand the limitations of the primarily western donors.

Culture without Social Dynamics?
One thing that puzzled me is that it seems that the use of the term "culture" is sometimes used in such a way as to exclude the broader social relationships.  He contrasts social and cultural characteristics.  What can this mean?  What are cultural characteristics that can be separated from the social context they are inherently part of.

Cognitive Culture
It is helpful to distinguish material culture from cognitive culture.  And I use the term Social Culture for the social and familial interactions in culture groups and societies.  But the whole network and complex of social relationships, networks, obligations, interactions are expressions of the cognitive culture and the material culture reflected this cognitive culture, or worldview that unifies what we know of as "cultures" or culture groups.

Ethnicity and Social Culture
This disjunction is amazing to me, for I see no way to understand "culture" or "ethnicity" without focusing on social networks and relationships.  This includes not only the social structures and patterns within one self-identified "ethnic group," but within the broader multi-ethnic societies in which almost all human culture groups have to participate.

Social culture is integral to cultural identity.  Culture is not just an abstract of formal historical tradition, which seems to be the way some writers or sociological schools use the term.  Culture is the whole mental and social complex that comprises a particular human grouping.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Hilarious Insights from the Township
[review] Indigenous Asian Expressions of Christian Faith
[review] Migration, Ethnicity and Economics
[review] Satisfying Zimbabwe Safari in Geneaology and History
[review] South African Spirituality
[review] Sympathetic Insights towards Traditional Worldviews
[review] White Man in a Cape Town Township
[review] Worldview in the Disciplines

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First notes written and review posted on Amazon 11 May 2007
New essay review written 22 September 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 19 December 2007

Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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