A case for the Modernization of Africa ~ Olumayowa Okediran


One does not need statistics from the World Bank or the United Nations to recognize the depth of primitivism of the African continent, Africa is a backward continent and that is a fact! I have received a good dose of verbal bashing, usually a mob-like polemic from Africans who consider my views about the continent fallacious or better still a sacrilege, to them. I must be an insane zealot of the West, who deserves nothing but the wrath of the gods of the land. Unknowingly to them, they ignorantly vindicate me by their obvious intolerance to my point of view. Many times, these Africans in all their “sophistication” resort to shouting me down or totally blocking me out from discussing my views about the continent and what I consider as a footpath towards modern civilization. This sheer act reflects the primitivism of several African intellectuals. Toleration of the views of others is an important aspect of modernization.


Westernization is not Modernization

I need to start by stating that I do not consider westernization to be a synonym for modernization, I hope this will convince the parade of pseudo-anti-Western-imperialism advocates to stay around a little longer and hear me out.


There is a common erroneous misconception as to what constitutes modernization and westernization. There has been a conflation of both in African intellectual circles, just as there has been a conflation of capitalism and colonialism. However, I save a discuss on the latter for a later day. Olufemi Taiwo, Professor of Philosophy and Global African Studies at the Seattle University in his book “Africa must be Modern” did a good job in laying out the differences between westernization and modernization. He states that, “the history of Africa’s engagement with modernity has always been wracked with doubt, ambivalence, confusion and hostility. Because in the dominant thinking of Africans and non-Africans alike that modernity is coterminous with westernization and the West.” He goes on to state his experience with African scholars who are “almost required to ritually reject anything western or, at least, show that their relationship with it cannot be other than negative or ambivalent”.


It is important that delineation be made between modernization and westernization. The two phenomena are “separate and separable”. Historically speaking, modernization as we see it today may have had its genesis in Western Europe, this however does not imply that it is one with a “European biography”. What can be considered modernization today is an evolution of interactions between civilizations – Africans, Americans, Asians and Europeans. It is another question as to the quantitative value of the contributions of these civilizations.  While the jejune arguments for what I consider to be cultural protectionism are being thrown about by our African intellectuals, several countries in Asia and Latin-America, like India, South Korea, Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore are drawing inspiration from more modern societies, regardless of the narrative thrown around about modernization and the West, these countries are improving their standing in the world. I do not advocate for a hook, line and sinker adoption of western values, however, I recommend African intellectuals to be a bit more open minded and be willing to learn and adopt the foundations of a modern society, one important part of which is the idea of individualism as a means of social ordering. I encourage that they do away with their hypocritical anti-western tendencies and their laughable penchant for “authenticity.” Africa should join in the modernization bandwagon. The stakes are too high not too.


Individualism and Modernization

I have written about the historical past of Africa and how free markets was an inherent aspect of most African societies before colonialism and the border drawing at the Berlin conference, however I believe that individualism is not inherently a part of the African society or any society for that matter. I believe this just as much as I believe that communitarianism is not inherently part of the African society or any society for that matter. I am amazed at the energy with which African intellectuals sell the narrative of Africans as “communalistic almost by nature”, to them, I must be a cultural bastard to postulate an alternative view especially that of individualism.

Communitarianism is a means of social ordering suitable for simple primitive societies, for villages and clans without the complexities of modern society. Every modern society sprang from one or more historical primitive societies for example, modern Europe evolved from Celtic, Slavic, Baltic and Nordic peoples. Unfortunately, African intellectuals continue to cling on to the narrative that Africa is inherently communitarian in nature and therefore a departure from this mode of social ordering is alien and dangerous to the African culture. They fail to see that the reason why the West is modern is because the West understands the complexities of a modern society and the place of individualism in such societies. Again, Professor Olufemi Taiwo opined that any society with any degree of complexity will have begun to distance itself from the undifferentiated totality of communitarianism once it evolved a distinction. “We do not respect individuals because we love their choices or agree with them or even find them agreeable in the least. Indeed, we are required to respect them more so when we hate their choices and are repulsed by who they are or what they do. Respecting them for their sheer membership of the human species is what marks the modern age.

If Africa is to embrace modernity, it should look to individualism as a mode of social ordering, individualism is not domiciled in the west, it is a fundamental means to modernization. I hope to see African intellectuals develop an open mind devoid of dogmatic stereotypes. If a recovering Marxist radical like Prof. Taiwo can concede to the superiority of individualism as a means to modernization, I am optimistic that the climate of ideas amongst African intellectuals will become more predisposed towards individualism.


Olumayowa Okediran – International Executive Board, Students For Liberty 

Olumayowa takes a bold challenge at a major African norm