For postcolonial Africa, modernization was seen as a necessary outcome of the struggle for independence and as crucial to the success of its newly established states. Since then, the rhetoric of modernization has pervaded policy, culture, and development, lending a kind of political theatricality to nationalist framings of modernization and Africans’ perceptions of their place in the global economy. These 15 essays address governance, production, and social life; the role of media; and the discourse surrounding large-scale development projects, revealing modernization's deep effects on the expressive culture of Africa.
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About the Author
Peter J. Bloom is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is editor (with Ch. Didier Gondola and Charles Tshimanga) of Frenchness in the African Diaspora (IUP, 2009).
Takyiwaa Manuh is Emeritus Professor of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon. She is editor (with Catherine M. Cole and Stephan F. Miescher) of Africa after Gender? (IUP, 2006).
Stephan F. Miescher is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author of Making Men in Ghana (IUP, 2005).
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Modernization as Spectacle in Africa
By Peter J. Bloom, Stephan F. Miescher, Takyiwaa Manuh
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2014 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
Globalization and the African Dilemma
Percy c. Hintzen
Africa to the Rescue
I recall a meeting that I attended at a time when media reports were circulating raising concerns about South Asia as a cheap location for computer programming and software development. The value of the U.S. dollar was falling on international currency markets, which was having a negative effect on industry profits in South Asia. Increasingly the region was being rendered less competitive relative to the United States. In response, high-tech companies began shifting their operations back to the United States, generating increasing demand for programmers and computer engineers. With increasing U.S. demand came rising salaries and compensation packages driving costs in an upward spiral. The solution, discussed and proposed, was to shift computer programming and software engineering functions to Africa—the last bastion of cheap production in an increasingly competitive globalized economy. This is a particular case of a general trend where foreign direct investments in Africa are seen as a solution to a current crisis of global capitalism that demands reallocation in global production to areas where remuneration and transaction costs are cheapest and where there is rising consumer demand for global products and services.
The shift to Africa is facilitated by the sundering of the relationship between profit accumulation and nationalist agendas for economic development. Such agendas, at one point, had begun to threaten and disrupt a colonial and postcolonial order of "dependency" where economic surpluses generated in the colonies and former colonies are transferred to the developed global north. The goal of retaining economic surpluses in the colonies and former colonies, motivated by reversing relationships of dependency, was at the critical center of narratives of "modernization." In a new development ethic, modernization was to be accomplished through the implementation of policies that would result in dramatic increases in macroeconomic performance (national income, output, savings, consumption, and investment) at the national level. Such policies, it was assumed, would guarantee the accumulation of profits in the former colonies. The "turn to Africa" was being proposed in the wake of declining performance of these very macroeconomic indicators in the "developed," industrialized, "mature" economies. Old patterns of "dependency" had to be turned upside down to accommodate the new reality of dependence on growth in incomes, consumption, and investment opportunities in the former colonies of Europe located in the global south.
In an editorial written for a special edition of Vanity Fair on Africa dedicated to a global "Product Red" campaign that he heads, Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, explained that the campaign's purpose was to raise money for a Global Fund, organized as a unique global public/private partnership among government, civil society, the private sector, and affected communities to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The money comes from an allocated percentage of profits earned by participating companies from the sale of targeted "Product Red" goods. In making his appeal, Bono made reference to the health crisis in Africa, and particularly to the prevalence of the three diseases targeted by the fund as an example of factors that constrain, restrain, and prevent the modernization of the continent: "We needed help in describing the continent of Africa as an opportunity, as an adventure, not a burden. Our habit—and we have to kick it—is to reduce this mesmerizing, entrepreneurial, dynamic continent of 53 diverse countries to a hopeless deathbed of war, disease, and corruption" (Bono 2007, 36).
Without knowing it, Bono entered into the fraught field of historicist discourse. His assertion of Africa's dynamic entrepreneurship turns on its head the very foundations of European thought that assigned the continent and its progeny to the constitutive outside of civilization. Entrepreneurship is an exclusive practice of "civilized," "enlightened" subjects located in "modern" spaces. A narrative logic of Africa as the natural home of the "unenlightened" engaged in "traditional" practice placed entrepreneurship outside its realm of possibility. Bono challenges this narrative, proposing instead an alternative explanation—that rational will, as the motive force of entrepreneurship, was snuffed out by the very logic and practices of European colonialism. This came with devastating consequences for Africa, where, according to Bono, we modern Enlightened subjects have rendered the continent "a hopeless deathbed of war, disease, and corruption." Now, the "mesmerizing, entrepreneurial" dynamism of the African continent is on display "where every street corner boasts an entrepreneur" (Bono 2007, 32).
Entrepreneurial dynamism is, singly, the most important marker of the modern enlightened subject. It is the product of reason and rationality. In the narrative of the Enlightenment and its offshoot in German and European idealism, the African is understood to be devoid of rational capacity, trapped in the stasis of a "pre-history" of non-reason. This forecloses participation in enlightened civilization and precludes African entrepreneurship. The idea is founded on the notion that European enlightened rationality and reason have produced, through "rational will," the conditions for human perfection. A "Three Worlds" global division confines Africa to the geocultural space of the "aboriginal" for whom reason and its provenance in consciousness are foreclosed. The Asian "oriental" fares little better in this narrative, constrained by an irrational consciousness that misallocates reason to the supernatural in which all conscious action is directed in adoration and worship. The European, as the "universal subject," is distinguished from the African by capacities for cognition, and from the oriental by self-consciousness. This geopolitically differentiated discourse of difference is at the foundation of Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxist philosophy. In its early formulations, rooted in German idealism, such difference was cast as the unchanging nature of "natural law."
Changes in the social and technical conditions of industrial capitalism rendered these naturalist assertions untenable as explanations for the division of the world. The need for significant increases in capital investments (including investments in human capital) and in infrastructural development and utilities in European colonies populated by "natives" and "Orientals" demanded a reformulation of naturalist thought. In new discourses of "development," the possibility of the "conscription" of the colonized into the "modern" colonial project was acknowledged along with a full transition from "tradition" to "modernity" in an undefined future. This new discursive pedagogy was foreshadowed by and predicated upon "historicist" representations of geopolitical differentiation that began with Hegel and were subsequently elaborated by Marx. These new representations are critical to any attempt at understanding the discursive preconditions for eventual challenges to European colonialism organized around developmental agendas for capital accumulation. They opened up new horizons of thought and consciousness, allowing for the possibility that the colonized had the potential for civilized enlightenment, and they provided justification and support for the idea of political independence and national self-determination. But any assertions of civilized enlightenment had to be contained if the new historicist representations were to serve the interests of the colonial project. So, in their application to the colonies, the European colonizer was cast as the agent of civilization and betterment. Development became a "universal necessity" and colonialism its instrument (see McMichael 2008, 25). Europe became the prototype of progress to human betterment and the promised future for the colonies. The colonized were inscribed into the new world of development as "almost the same, but not quite" as the enlightened modern self (Bhabha 1994, 86). As such, colonialism received its new legitimation and justification as the historical route of transition to modernity. At some point, however, the inevitable and fraught issues of readiness and timing had to be raised—issues that eventually fueled the anticolonial struggle for independence.
Once development entered into the arena of colonial discourse, the colonial project could be justified only as a form of tutelage. The problem of conceding rational will to the colonized while preserving the global structure of dependency has been at the center of the issue of modernization and development and their derivative practices. The recent "turn to Africa" poses new problems for the preservation of capitalist interests.
The Shift to Modernization and Development
With colonialism under attack, new subdisciplines of political modernization and economic development began to inform understandings of progress. In one influential version of the economic argument (to be discussed later) the world came to be understood as divided into "developed" and "underdeveloped" countries based on location along a range of indicators of material progress. This replaced the colonial traditional/modern binary tied to Manichean notions of cultural difference. The field of development economics informed a critical aspect of this reformulation. In the process it challenged the tutelary claim that the European colonizer was the agent of modernization. Colonialism came to be cast as an impediment to growth, and rational technical application became the motive force of modernization. While acknowledging differences in material outcomes and forms of accumulation across the geographic, racial, cultural, and socioeconomic (class) divisions set in motion by colonialism, the idea of "transformation" was replaced by an argument for "uneven development." At its inception, development economics set out to explain the relative absence of forms of accumulation and of the material conditions of modernity in the colonies and former colonies. Economic growth unleashed by the energies of the formerly colonized, freed from colonial constraints, came to replace the idea of cultural change. The argument for colonial tutelage that rested on cultural transformation was thereby rejected.
The shift to economics was particularly well suited to fundamental changes occurring in the global order after World War II. It was accompanied by the emergence of the United States as the new center of metropolitan capital. The new economics and American global interests combined to support arguments for national self-determination in Europe's colonies as the prerequisite for national development. European mercantilist practices were attacked as impediments to progress because they foreclosed opportunities for the introduction and implementation of the techniques and technologies of modernization. For the United States, access provided to U.S. Capital by the European colonies became imperative if the conditions for development were to be satisfied. This argument served as justification for U.S. active, even though ambivalent, involvement in supporting anti-colonial aspirations in the colonies (Fraser 1994).
On 20 January 1949, President Harry Truman, in his inaugural speech before Congress, used the term "underdeveloped areas." It was the first time the term was used as a designation for the former colonies of Europe (including Latin America). Countries of the world were now positioned along a new development divide (that nonetheless mirrored the old) according to their gross national product (GNP)—a new measure of productive output designed during World War II to quantify the degree to which the U.S. Economy was meeting its goals of war production (Sachs 1996, 239–40). New international institutions were organized to ensure and manage the transition to economic development in a postcolonial and postwar global economy. In July 1949, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank) made its first foray into the "developing areas" through a program for "multitude improvements and reforms" designed for the economy of Colombia. The program emphasized the need for "careful planning, organization, and allocation of resources" through a "detailed set of prescriptions, including goals, quantifiable targets, investment needs, design criteria, methodologies, and time sequences" (Escobar 1995, 24–26). Even though they retained all of the discursive features of the old historicism, these new understandings of underdevelopment became tied to the narrow economic rationalities of production, consumption, and investment as fundamental conditions of modernization. Economic rationality became the motive force for development against the irrationality of colonial forms of mercantilism. The idea of a cultural transition from the "traditional" to the "modern" was replaced by the notion of progress in a process of modernization directed by policies of rational investments in industrialization, denied by colonial commandment.
West Indian economist and Nobel laureate W. Arthur Lewis was at the center of these new developments (see Tignor 2006). He considered colonialism to be an impediment to modernization and argued that the colonizing project rested upon the maintenance of a strict division of labor necessary to guarantee a supply of cheap raw agricultural and mineral primary commodities needed as inputs to capitalist industry in the colonial centers of Europe. Lewis, as an unmitigated nationalist, challenged British colonial policy on these very grounds. The industrialization of the West Indies (and therefore its modernization), he felt, was stymied by the inevitability of colonial opposition because of the threat it posed to British industry.
Lewis proposed a program of economic development predicated upon national self-determination and independence from Europe. He advocated a proactive role for the postcolonial state and called for the development of international organizations controlled and directed by "development scholars." Capital investments that were denied to the colonies under the colonial project were to be secured through fiscal and other incentives designed to attract foreign industries and foreign investors. He argued for this form of "industrialization by invitation" as the necessary precondition for modernization (Lewis 1950, 1954).
For Lewis, colonialism was the main impediment to modernization because the colonial economy was organized around the export of surpluses. This prevented the accumulation of savings needed for investment. Under such conditions, development transition could not occur. Colonialism denied the colonies an opportunity to embark on the path that led to the industrial revolution in Europe (Lewis 1979, 4). In Africa, the problem of transition was complicated by the presence of a large "subsistence" sector. Independence would provide postcolonial elites with the opportunity to apply their "rational will" to the task of modernization. With the importation of capital, technology, and skills, the "surplus labor" engaged in inefficient production for subsistence would become absorbed into the industrial sector. This would provide the former colonies with a comparative advantage in global trade.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Modernization as Spectacle in Africa
Stephan F. Miescher, Peter J. Bloom, and Takyiwaa Manuh
Part I. Modernization and the Origins of the Package
1. After Modernization: Globalization and the African Dilemma
Percy C. Hintzen
2. Modernization Theory and the Figure of Blindness: Filial Reflections
Part II. Media, Modernity, and Modernization
3. Film as Instrument of Modernization and Social Change in Africa: The Long View
4. Mass Education, Cooperation, and the "African Mind"
5. Is Propaganda Modernity? Press and Radio for "Africans" in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi during World War II and its Aftermath
6. Elocution, Englishness, and Empire: Film and Radio in Late Colonial Ghana
Peter J. Bloom
Part III. Infrastructure and Effects
7. Negotiating Modernization: The Kariba Dam Project in the Central African Federation, c. 1954-1960
8. "No One Should Be Worse Off": The Akosombo Dam, Modernization, and the Experience of Resettlement in Ghana
Stephan F. Miescher
9. Radioactive Excess: Modernization as Spectacle and Betrayal in Postcolonial Gabon
Part IV. Institutional Training in Nkrumah’s Ghana
10. Modeling Modernity: The Brief Story of Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot Named Hanna, and the Wonders of Motorless Flight
11. The African Personality Dances Highlife: Popular Music, Urban Youth, and Cultural Modernization in Nkrumah’s Ghana, 1957-1965
12. Building Institutions for the New Africa: The Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana
Part V. Modernization and the Literary Imagination
13. Theatre and the Politics of Display: The Tragedy of King Christophe at Senegal’s First World Festival of Negro Arts
Christina S. McMahon
14. Re-Engaging Narratives of Modernization in Contemporary African Literature
15. Between Nationalism and Pan-Africanism: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Theater and the Art and Politics of Modernizing African Culture
What People are Saying About This
"How do people come to an awareness of being 'behind'? What is the value of huge industrial development projects? These essays show that local announcements of the modern, modernization, and modernity have had monumental consequences for Africa since independence."