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Modernization and Globalization in Today`s Africa

Modernization and Globalization in Today`s Africa

My brief understanding of modernization as a concept and theory is that it focuses on the transformation of a society from its “traditional” status to the Western style of being. “When development thinking broadened to encompass modernization, economic growth was combined with political modernization, that is, nation building, and social modernization such as fostering entrepreneurship and achievement orientation” (Pieterse 2010, 6). Modernization claims its origin in the West and the Marshall plan in the 1950s. Its objectives were to link the traditional and modern societies. The theory also aimed at connecting the so-called developed and developing countries. The meaning of development seen from a modernization theorist perspective was growth and the modernization of political and social beings of the traditional and developing nations (Pieterse, 2010). Thus I would define modernization as an adaptation of contemporary ideas and ways of life with the west as the unit of analysis. This is to say one is modern if one’s lifestyle becomes similar to that of the West.

For that matter, modernization would then involve the essence of cultural, political, social and economical transformation of a traditional society to a Western model. A known anthropologist, Ruth Prince studied the young generation in Western Kenya and her research showed how the new generation in Kenya struggle with what I can refer to as “identity problem”.  Her studies reveal how these young boys and girls do not get the hang of what culture and traditions comprise. An example is that amongst the Luos of Kenya, it has been very normal for the family to help their sons and daughters to get the right husband or wife for them (something in the West is described as arranged marriage, like there is something wrong with it) and they could even go as far as helping to raise a bride price. Now what? The Western ideology of modernization tend to discourage these two issues as they do not see the point or value of it and what the youth see today, through media makes it difficult for them to decide what to follow. All these customs and traditions were norms that were very normal before the colonial era.  The colonialists and their modernization advocacy saw all these as some kind of backwardness and abused the word primitive to describe how Africans in the old days lived.

Photographer: Legin | Flickr

Globalization, per se, is the assumption that the world is becoming closer and closer but this can be contested as some suggest globalization is intimately connected to the changes within communication technology and facilitates the increasing speed and outreach of human activities (Hylland-Eriksen 2011, 18). Others define it as where activities of actors from local stages have significant effects on others beyond the range of the action. This is to say, what is happening in New York Stock Exchange can have an effect on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. “In other words, globalization represents the significant shift in the special reach of social relations and organization towards the interregional or intercontinental scale”(Held & McGrew 2000, 3). Well, this has resulted into the spread of Information and Communication Technology in many parts of Africa. The Internet has become the thing, get connected or you will be left behind.

Another anthropologist, Peter Geshiere, studied the influences of the Internet on the perceptions some women have about what an ideal husband would be like in Yaoundé, Cameroun. The Beti women in Yaoundé, also nicknamed the “Yoyettes” (YO, from American rap culture), are from middle class, “educated” and have good jobs.  The studies revealed that these women have turned around the “traditional” way of getting husbands today as most of them think the best husband is a Western man or an African man with Western values. They get their husbands or candidates through the Internet and ignore the old ways. Not that there is something really wrong with it but this is just to clarify observed situations whereby, modernization, globalization and the Internet has transformed people’s life in the Global South.

Whether this is good or bad, I cannot be the judge. The point I am trying to convey here is the understanding of modernization and the so-called globalization. Most of the time when I talk to people about Africa, many tend to be “ashamed” of how their great grand fathers and mothers used to deal with issues in the past before the European invasion. I believe in the kind of modernity whereby values and norms that do not improve people`s life are left to die but the core of an African (if we really know what it is) should be kept and preserved. If for example President Zuma`s cultural norms allow him to have 3 wives, I do not see why we should judge him.  There is no handbook to a good or bad culture and in any case, the concept of culture is ambiguous and not even known sociologists can agree to its core definition. In my opinion, being conscious about how we interpret social theories and understand them is the key to how modern one is and can be.

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. As an African living in the western world, I sometimes find it hard to understand Africans  interaction with modernization and culture. We tend to use cultural norm where its not needed, while we enhance modernization in our everyday living. Many of us want to own big houses and drives big modern cars etc..  and yet still talk about our preserving to our culture and heritage.All I am trying to say is that we use cultural norms to do things modernization doesn’t allow. Why accepting arranged married when you don’t know the person or don’t even love the person? Yeah, that’s how it is, when it comes to tradition and culture. If that’s it, why can we have a just traditional marriages without including any modernness in it. I guess that is impossible in nowadays.
    Jacob Zuma’s “cultural norms maybe allowed him to  have 3 wives”, i also guess this same culture of his, allows him to watch TV, drives expensive imported cars?