Baffour:Is There Modernity Without Westernisation?


Baffour Ankomah’s writing never ceases to be thought-provoking.He is incapable of writing an unengaging read,talk of consciousness-raising.Baffour Ankomah is a Ghanaian journo.An editor of one of the creme de la creme pan-African publications-The New African magazine,since July 1999,his column Baffour’s Beefs has been running since 1998 and no,make no mistake,I haven’t been around that long to have read my first copy of the New African { } in the late 90’s.I got my first copy of the New African in May last year and needless to say really,I instantaneously fell head-over-heels in  love with it.As a student who subscribes to the political ideology that is pan-Africanism,it follows that I naturally have a soft spot for engaging on the subject of Westernisation/Westernization and its subsequent impact and/or ramifications  on the African continent and the world.In an article published on Friday 15th February 2013,Baffour poses a very pertinent question:Is There Modernity Without Westernization?Modernity refers to the condition of being new and modern.Modern,my dictionary says,means:[1]of the present time or recent times.[2]{of styles in art,music,fashion,etc} new and intended to be different from traditional styles.[3]using the latest technology,designs,materials etc. and most importantly [4]{of ways of behaving,thinking,etc.} new and not always accepted by most members of society.You do have an idea of how deeply entrenched Westernization’s hegemonic tentacles are, huh?I mean, I am unashamedly or maybe not, writing this in English and the ‘scholarly’ references are entirely Western as you’ll note.Sounds visceral? The International society,argue English School of theorists like Hedley Bull,”need to have a foundation of agreed ideas and values.This may mean much greater absorption of non-Western elements if it is to become genuinely universal.” (David Armstrong;’The Evolution of International Society’ in Globalization of World Politics 2011).That implies a clash of civilizations (Huntington 1996) i.e. ”based on the assumption that Western and non-Western values are simply incompatible.” ‘International society’ herein refers to the rules,institutions and shared practices that different groups of political communities have developed in the course of their interaction.For instance,culturally,anti-globalists reckon that the values/practices being ‘globalised’ are conveniently those found in the Western world and that what is being celebrated as globalisation is nothing but the triumph of a Western worldview at the expense of worldviews of  other cultures.Akua Djanie opines that globalisation is a great tool for brainwashing and a close friend of colonialism.READ MORE on: { }.Literary speaking,the major lenses(theories) i.e.Realism,Liberalism,Marxism,Social Constructivism et cetera which I am taught to wear while analysing the world I live in have their origin in Europe and as post-colonialists posit,it is more likely that they continue to justify the military and economic subordination of the so-called global South.’Tech-wise’,doesn’t it irk you that for instance when you type your African name using MS Word,correctly of course,it’s underlined as if it is a misspelling!One New African reader(Benjamin Seitisho from Phuthaditjhaba,South Africa) in the August/September 2012 issue notes in his letter to the editor that by comparison,when you misspell a French word,the spelling is corrected immediately you tap the space bar!Ever wondered why our languages do not mean a thing to the manufacturers of these machines?He asks.One aspect of globalization,it is said,is that ”there is now,more than ever before,a global culture,so that most urban areas resemble one another.Much of the urban world shares a common culture,much of it emanating from Hollywood.” The sheer Western cultural imperialism that this depicts! Anyway,I love to loathe Western imperialism.We all ought to,right?

Now,to  the initial sole  intent of this blog post which was to share Baffour Ankomah’s article:Is There Modernity Without Westernisation,kindly allow me to delve into the gist of it.Baffour quotes Good Muslim,Bad Muslim:America,the Cold War,and the Roots of Terror,a 2004 book by Ugandan, Prof.Mahmood Mamdani,I haven’t read it.”In Good Muslim,Bad Muslim,Prof.Mamdani cites Sayyib Qutb,the great Egyptian scholar,writer and thinker who was executed in 1966,allegedly on the instructions of President Abdel Nasser,as having ”made a distinction between modernity and Westernisation,and calling for  an embrace of modernity but a rejection of Westernisation”,writes Baffour.He goes on,”according to Mamdani:Qutb also made a distinction between science and ideology,arguing that modernity is made up of two types of sciences,physical and philosophical.The pursuit of material progress and the mastery of practical sciences are a divine command and a ‘collective obligation’ on Muslims,Qutb argued.Modernisation through the natural sciences was fine,but not through Westernising philosophical sciences”. Says Baffour,”when I first read this,I tried to relate it to what has happened to Africa since the continent’s encounter with Europeans,starting from the mid-1400s when itinerant Portuguese sailors arrived on our shores,looking for adventure and whatever they could get.Incidentally,the descendants of those Europeans now call themselves ”Westerners”.So,tell me,what do we call what has happened to Africa since that encounter?Is it modernity without Westernisation?Is it modernity with Westernisation?Or is it something in-between?”

The New African editor tells of his Zim. experience on the subject.”From discussions I had with some good people in Zimbabwe on a recent visit,they tried to convince me that other people,,principally in Asia(the Chinese,Japanese,Malaysians,etc) have achieved modernity without Westernisation.But on second thoughts,I found it is not entirely true.How many millions of people have ditched their kimono in Japan for a Western suit and hate to go back to the kimono?Ditto China,ditto Malaysia.In essence,what they have achieved in Asia is modernity with Westernisation,but with a large helping of cultural preservation in the process.It is something we haven’t been able to do in Africa,or don’t have the will to do.As such,our traditions and cultures are now in the process of being dangerously rolled over or even obliterated by Westernisation,which we foolishly see as modernity.” He thus concludes.”Imagine this:These days for a marriage in Africa(especially within the middle classes,who should know better) to be seen as a ”marriage”,the couple must go through a Western-style wedding ceremony.In Ghana,my poor motherland,our traditional marriage rites,by which our fathers and mothers begat us,have now been shamefully reduced to a mere ”engagement”.This applies to pretty much the rest of Africa if you ask me,save for a few like the Ugandans who do a traditional Buganda,is it?kind of wedding.”Marriage in Accra is when you go through a Western-style wedding!Otherwise forget it! Aaah,where are our ancestors?May they have mercy on us!So,the question begging for an answer is:Can Africa ever achieve modernity without being wiped out by Westernisation?This is the debate I am inviting all and sundry to engage in….”The whole article can be found here:{ }.Indeed,can we be ‘modern’ without being Westernised?


14 responses »

  1. The concept of “modernity” is usually defined by the most predominant culture of the time. I am curious to see if there will be a change from viewing modernity through Western eyes and towards say China, India, Africa, given increasing economic growth and development of the South-South.

    Either way, we seem to gravitate towards goods, services, and ideas that make our lives “easier” (more efficient) – education, technology, wealthy creation and all the comforts this brings, etc) and I am hard pressed to see any culture or people on this planet who would hesitate to embrace this lifestyle, in the name of culture identity and preservation.

    • Thanks for adding some flesh on the concept of ”modernity” Rachel.In terms of technology and generally making our lives ”easier”,I definitely concur.But ‘culture-wise’,we should strive to preserve our cultures.Well,the progressive ones of course.Hopefully with the shifting global balance of power,we’ll see other cultures being predominant as well.

  2. Definition 3 and 4 of modernity caught my attention. I believe that there can be so much modernity without westernisation. Looking back, during the colonial era, the main reason why ‘they’ used to take Africans as slaves is because they were physically stronger. Taking that as a plus for us as Africans, the intellect and the will in us is just more than enough to spear us to greater heights. Our rich diverse cultures are our strongholds..Yaay I said it..our strongholds.

    We can consult each other and forge ahead without necessarily depending on westernisation. We can come up with our very own devices that can type our names without them being underlined in RED!! We shall get there..slowly but surely, we are getting there. Once we have an elite society, a mature and strong political stand and better infrastructure..what more do we need?

  3. I’m extremely happy to read such views. This question is really an insight—to look within and beyond the normal face of recognition. To challenge the societal norms that are prevailing today, as they seem to appear with liberal face of globalization, but concurrently they are showing their power to the rest of the world. They have colonized minds of today, and everything sells as a heavenly western picture to live a life with certain traits—we are conditioned like that, and we easily accept this definition of modernity. I can see your perspective, and it is logical to doubt against the legitimacy of modernity.

    I’m writing in English, and that is how they have won to suppress my cultural dialect. I don’t think we need sophisticated language to convey raw emotions of our hearts. How deeply we are affected with meaning of their isms, their dress codes, their shady MNC’s?

    I’m delighted to read your words, and the references that you have made. We need to define a new way which can uplift each subordinate culture, and set a way for integrity without depending on the dictionary of favouritism.

    Thank you for sharing this article, Nawiri. Blessings and love.

    • Elite:a group of people in a society,etc.who are powerful and have a lot of influence because they are rich,intelligent,etc.{Dictionary definition}.That’s my understanding.So,yeah,we do have an elite society as a matter of fact.

  4. We would be lying if we said that Africa has not developed and let us be fair to ourselves, Developement is fuelled by improvement in science and advances in technology and all these, boil down to one thing; Modernisation. We all would, if given a Chance criticize and loathe the West as they have in a great way influenced the way we do things ofcourse through different Mediums. This my fellow scholars is the so Called Modernisation which has been championed for by not only the Westerners but by great Length, even the Africans who call the ways of our ancestors Primitive and relate them with backwardness and underdevelopment. Note that it is all in the name of Development that we embrace Modernisation that has nothing to do with our ways as it originates from the West. I beleive that Modernisation and Westernation will always go hand in hand as long as its the West who influence it and there’s no way one can be without the other as long as ‘Hollywood’ is here to stay.

    • Personally,I believe it isn’t virtually impossible to have ‘modernity’ without westernization.Look at Sayyib Qutb’s distinction between ‘modernity’ and Westernization.

  5. Noroge Mutua, I partly agree with your arguments especially the introductory part. My only problem is the fact that you believe that modernisation and westernisation will always go hand in hand. The brilliant brains behind massive development in Africa, plus those of us still polishing our wits to make this part of the world modernised the best way we can without any assistance/influence from the west? Do you mean that their efforts are in vain?
    I have no problem with how far the Western world has come, but we as well should take that as a challenge and do our own thing. We will fail, time and again but eventually our very own efforts will bear fruit(s).
    The mindset is what needs to be worked on. I guess everything is perfectly staged,just the mindset that is so focused on “will we be able to do this without their help and intervention?”
    What’s the first step? Our education system.

  6. Valentine Its great that you are a Panafricanist like most of us atleast from your comments but lets not burry our heads in the sand in concern to this issue. I mean you perfectly know very well that the West influences about everything in Africa. Look at our education system to the theories to texts, its all foreign and even to an extent Governments in Africa and Politicians give examples of cities out of Africa and how they will replicate the same ideas here in Africa. Now thats a wrong step towards developing Africa for what we need are tailor made solutions for our problems. Back to our issue my argument is, we are being trained using foreign materials to serve Local needs does that even make any sense really? Developement leads to Modernisation and unfortuntely in Africa, its Western influenced so separating the two as I earlier commented is a toll order

  7. Njoroge Mutua, so basically your argument is; that for Africa to be modernized, Western influence must be part and parcel of the ingredients..or rather the main driving force towards the same?

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