Paul Tiyambe Zeleza. Rethinking Africa's Globalization, Volume 1: The Intellectual Challenges. Trenton and Asmara: Africa World Press, 2003. xi + 500 pp. No price listed (cloth), ISBN 978-1-59221-038-1.
Reviewed by Leonhard Praeg (Department of Political and International Studies, Rhodes University, South Africa)
Published on H-SAfrica (April, 2005)
Towards an Answer to the Question: What is Authenticity?
This is the first of a two-volume set in which Zeleza maps "what globalization, as a process and a project, means for Africa, for the study of Africa, for African universities and intellectuals" (p. v). Contesting the dominant discourse on globalization from an African perspective, Zeleza uses a two-pronged approach. Volume 2 examines the developmental implications of globalization for Africa, while volume 1 investigates the institutional and ideological responses of African intellectuals to globalization. This is an ambitious project and one to which Zeleza responds with patience, erudition and sensitivity.
Positing his analysis at the interface of various discourses that take Africa as object of analysis (postmodernism, postcoloniality, development theory, African philosophy, to name but a few), Zeleza offers the reader a fascinating and comprehensive analysis of the history of African universities as sites of struggle (chapter 2), the uneven patterns of international academic exchanges (chapter 3), the troubled genealogy and future of area studies in the United States (chapter 4), a trenchant but problematic critique of the relevance of postmodernism and postcoloniality to African studies (chapter 5) and an eulogy to the oeuvre of Bethwell A. Ogot. The only unsuccessful chapter in this rich collection of texts is "Out of America: the Television Wonders of a Gatekeeper" (chapter 7) which analyzes the tabloid debate that erupted on various H-Net discussion lists among African Americans in response to Henry Louis Gates Junior's embarrassing six-part television documentary, Wonders of the African World--a series which Zeleza describes as "an atrocious and third-rate travelogue" (p. 355). The concluding chapter, 8, consists of a collection of shorter pieces in which Zeleza calls for a "social contract" between writers, publishers, and the reading public in order to indigenize knowledge production in Africa.
As a trained historian, Zeleza departs in the first chapter from an appreciation of the fact that the contemporary fascination with globalization is reminiscent of a nineteenth-century infatuation with "civilization" and an early-twentieth-century valorization of "modernization." Like the latter two, an unexamined globalization--by which he means a discourse unaware of its Northern bias--runs the risk of mindlessly reproducing a familiar solipsistic teleology that always reads the last developmental stages of Northern nation-states as the end of history itself. The conceptual analysis presented in this chapter allows Zeleza to articulate his own position on globalization as somewhere between "xenophobic fundamentalist nativism" and a "blind celebration of universalism", thus avoiding the simplistic for/against (Jihad/McWorld) binary that structures much thinking on globalization. In this way he is able to distinguish between "the problematics and projects of nationalism, between the repressive nationalism of imperialism and the progressive nationalism of anti-colonial resistance, between the nationalisms that have led to colonial conquest and those that have sought decolonization and emancipation for oppressed nations and communities, between struggles for domination and struggles for liberation" (pp. vi). This is, of course, conceptually and politically the more interesting position to occupy. In my opinion, however, it becomes difficult to do so consistently in the absence of a root metaphor, a master trope or heuristic model of society that will allow us to conceive and capture (again, conceptually and politically) the dual and often paradoxical demands of self-determination and integration made of political entities in a globalizing state system within which interactions are becoming increasingly ferocious. I return to this point at the end of the review.
What cannot be denied is that globalization considered economically, politically and culturally is imbued with the Northern values and ideologies of the countries that dominate the technological revolution that provides the structural backbone of globalization (p. 15). The importance of a project like Zeleza's consists of the fact that it demystifies the assumed teleology that comes from not acknowledging this. It reveals that globalization, far from being an inevitable process, is ideology in motion, that its trajectory is uncertain and unpredictable, and that it is therefore possible to clear an enunciative space from which one can speak and a political base from which one can act in the interest of Africa. To do exactly this, accounts for Zeleza's interest in African intellectuals. To what extent have they become mere reproductive forces in the process of globalization--or, as he puts it, "to what extent are they factors of the contemporary global system, with its insatiable appetites and capacities to absorb and commodify discursive oppositions and cultural difference" (pp. 44)? In short, and echoing Appadurai, "what do pedagogy, activism, and research mean in his new era of globalization?"
Conceptually, the parameters that delimit the intellectual's role in Africa (as elsewhere) are created by government, corporate sponsors, foundations that demand conformity to research agendas, massification, corporativism, the "deep coma of socialism" (p. 59) and, with that, any viable alternative to globalizing neo-liberalism--in short, Fukuyama's end of history scenario in which all "so-called" countercultures are reduced to brand names for consumption by a hip generation for whom change and transformation are no more than quaint relics of a theological stage of social evolution. But if these are external restraints, there are also internal restraints on the potential role of the African intellectual. Zeleza divides these into three categories: the vagaries of state politics and policy, the fickle demands of international donors, and the dislocation of civil society. From their inception, African universities were state funded and teaching (as opposed to research) driven. Post-independence, this mandate was broadened to facilitate nation-building and development under the watchful eyes of the state and its ideologues who defined, as elsewhere in the world but perhaps more narrowly, the aims and strategies that would concretize the dreams of uhuru. Viewed simultaneously as "cathedrals of cultural authenticity and local assembly plants of Western modernity" (p. 73), these institutions soon became sites of resistance and control--particularly in those dictatorships where intellectuals refused to prostitute critical thinking for the meager research allocations left over by the devastation of structural (mal)adjustment in the 1980s. These programs limited the state's fiscal responsibility to tertiary institutions and created a vacuum into which foreign donors with their notoriously fickle research agendas and sponsorship conditions stepped--creating in the process a category of "institutional intellectual entrepreneurs" who derive their income independent of local circumstance. These two dissipative trends alone contributed significantly to eschewing Africa's epistemological agenda; an agenda that should have responded responsibly to the demands of a civil society marked by religious, cultural and religious pluralism and for whom the conflict between secular modernity and Islam, but also the ravages of HIV/AIDS, were and remain top priorities. In addition to these well-documented restraints Zeleza also notes the general lack of resources, connectivity, marketing and the impact of authoritarianism and conspicuous consumption by university administrators--all of which compounded and exaggerated a tendency towards "theoretical extroversion." These factors contribute significantly to the brain-drain of African intellectuals and Zeleza's aim in chapter 3 is to argue, if not idealistically for a brain gain, then at least for more brain mobility. But this is the nub. Greater brain mobility is a function of globalization and the latter is increasingly defining itself in neo-liberal and neo-conservative terms. The investment interest of capital in tertiary education is not a radical departure for, as Jarvis reminds us, throughout history universities have variously been founded and funded, first by the church, then the state and now, corporations. Like the state and the church, capital's interest in tertiary education is not value free. At the same time that capital invents a role for itself as patron saint of the knowledge industry, it does so by globalizing classism and racism which brings us full circle to questions about the conditions for the possibility of Africa's integration into a globalizing discourse. Interesting as Zeleza's concrete and empirical research on this topic may be, it is when he turns to the conditions for turning the brain drain into brain mobility that he does not escape the preachy "We must..." tone of much writing on/from Africa (pp. 161-170) that he decries elsewhere.
Probably the most substantial essays in terms of their theoretical depth and self-reflexivity are chapters 4 and 5. While the former offers the reader a genealogy of areas studies in the United States, chapter 5 (and parts of 6) ventures into the vexed terrain of epistemological authenticity and intellectual autonomy. The importance of the area studies genealogy consists in debunking the dominant racist narrative about the origins of area studies that ties it to the dawn of the Cold War and which ignores the fact that African studies in particular was pioneered by African-American scholar-activists long before it got co-opted by historically white universities after World War II. The second important aspect of this analysis dovetails with this reading. Given the activist origins of area studies (particularly African studies), globalization discourse offers a way of reconceptualizing its identity as vehicle for asserting the local not only against but also into the global, thereby returning African studies "to some of its pan-Africanist and global pre-occupations ... and to join in the construction of new truly international and interdisciplinary studies programs" (p. 26).
In chapter 5 Zeleza positions himself against postmodernism and postcoloniality with varying degrees of success. It is a given that there are obvious problems with the way in which postmodernism disseminated itself like some "world-wide verbal fornication." European post-modernism, for one, "does not imply the end of modernity everywhere" (p. 235) and "labeling [African] societies postmodern when only recently in Western discourse they were called pre-modern or modernizing [is] amusing at best" (p. 274). From an African perspective, there are good reasons for resisting postmodernism but to say, for instance, that postmodernism's "support for a cultural politics of difference ... is potentially progressive, but its rejection of emancipatory narratives and projects is reactionary" (pp. 237-238) is problematic on two counts. The cultural politics of difference that is celebrated in the first part of the statement is a function of postmodern epistemological and ontological assumptions. One cannot accept or even celebrate these but then reject their implication for emancipatory narratives (conventionally understood). Secondly, it is not all that clear that the political effect of postmodernism on emancipatory narratives is reactionary. This is not the place to argue the point extensively but an argument can be advanced that, far from rejecting emancipatory narratives, postmodernism, by insisting that these narratives are narratives, debunks the future possibility of them legitimizing illegitimate authority on the basis of their assumed naturalness. In other words, postmodernism enables a different kind of emancipatory discourse to emerge, one in which for the first time politics becomes possible--if under "politics" we understand dialogue and struggle without any recourse to transcendental justification or legitimation for the narratives we tell. That said, I agree that by depriving, say, nationalist narratives of the very transcendental signifiers that historically made them possible (God, rationality, "Blut und Bodem," collective will, freedom, etc.) contemporary emerging nationalisms, necessary as they are, become very difficult to conceive. There is no glib response to this dilemma, but to trivialize postmodernism as bourgeois philosophy is just that: a glib response.
Zeleza is on much firmer ground when he alludes to, but refrains from pursuing, a far more radical critique of post-modernism based on its historicity as a Western, late-capitalist phenomenon. The reason why he does not pursue the point, I suspect, is that doing so would require elaborating a grand-narrative of social evolution or development--something which, even if he is interested in pursuing it, would be beyond the scope of this book to explore. Such a critique would depart from the simple fact that Western "postmodernism does not imply the end of modernity everywhere, not even in the so-called West itself, let alone the exhaustion of modernities in the rest of the world" (pp. 235). It is clear that Europe's post-modernity was "always already" at odds with Africa's emerging modernity and the continent's continued emancipatory commitment to "the unfinished historic and humanistic agendas of nationalism" and development. But historicizing postmodernity in this way is only the first step in a radical critique of postmodernity. A second step would require of us to conceive a grand-narrative of social evolution or development that can account for or accommodate what are in effect presented here as asynchronous modernities. Such a narrative cannot be premised on a teleology that would divide societies between "models" and "imitators." This question of imitation or mimicry brings us to the third step of the critique, namely articulating Africa's modernity in epistemologically authentic terms. Here, in the spirit of responding to a question that Zeleza acknowledges as lying at the heart of the issue of globalization, I shall very briefly work my way back through these steps in order to give an indication of where I think such a critique could go.
In its generic form the question about the authenticity of an African epistemology reads: how does Africa speak against dominant discourses such as postmodernism? Sociopolitically and in terms of the thematics of this book the question can be reformulated as: how do we assert the local against/into/within the global? Now, the critique of "Eurocentrism" emerges from and always returns to an enunciate space that is modernist in its concern with the autonomy and authenticity of African knowledge. It is a question Ogot also kept returning to: "Is autonomy of African history possible" (p. 305)? Zeleza comments that Ogot never resolved that question "that has vexed generations of African historians and intellectuals" adding: "are we condemned to eternal mimicry?" It seems to me that the referent or signified "authenticity" that inspires questions like "is autonomy of African history possible" or, in its more philosophical guise, "what is African philosophy" occupy the same status that a variety of transcendental signifiers did in the history of the West (God, rationality, subjectivity, freedom, etc.). Following from this, the question "what is African Philosophy" occupies a similar historico-epistemic status in Africa's modernity to that which Kant's question "what is Enlightenment" did in relation to European modernity. For, if, for Kant, man's enlightenment signifies "emergence from his self-incurred minority" (where "minority" is defined as "the inability to make use of one's own understanding without direction from another"), it is clear that the question "what is African Philosophy" similarly speaks from the enunciative space of modernity because of its concern with freedom and unfettered understanding.
Of course, this only returns us to Zeleza's concern, namely that we may be condemning Africa to eternal mimicry. Yes, but only if we allow the West to appropriate the discourse of modernity thereby damning all other developmental histories to mere mimesis. No, if we recognize this appropriation as a very modernist view of modernity itself and as the death-throws of an imperialist modernity that invented itself sacrificially --a modernity that Africa cannot mimic because, given the emergence of a global discourse of human rights, it has to articulate its modernity without recourse to sacrificial expulsion (Girard) and the transcendental signifiers that would otherwise have legitimized such violence. To pursue this line of thinking requires that we tease out the ontological implications of infusing globalization discourse with a non-teleological notion of "asynchronous modernities," which can perhaps only be adequately theorized socioeconomically and politically with reference to world-systems theory, and ontologically with recourse to complexity theory and/or critical realism. To do so is clearly beyond the interest and scope of Zeleza's book. I only mention it here because it is in the work of contemporary complexity theorists that we find not only a historico-ontological critique of postmodernism but also a heuristic model of society that can help us understand the otherwise paradoxical and "conflicting" impulses of self-rule or self-maintenance (autopoesis) and dissipation or environmental dependence that characterizes globalization. It is a pity that, for all his erudition, Zeleza is prejudiced and clearly reluctant to consider the contribution that recent advances in the life sciences have made to what can only be called a post (in the temporal sense) postmodern return to grand-narrative theorizing. These are not just "pretentious allusions to science" or "unnecessary mystification" (p. 19) but signal a reappropriation of the organistic view of society--cleansed of its problematic nineteenth-century functionalism and teleology. In this view, societies, like other open systems, are "open to their environments; open not simply because they engage in interchanges with the environment, but because interchange is an essential factor underlying the system's viability." Sahtouris's description of the biological cell offers us a metaphor or model for thinking of societies and cultures as open systems since "the entire cell, including its membrane or wall, is a creative autopoetic system. But the cell itself is dependent upon a broader environment, making it a dissipative structure, whose continuance is dependent on interaction with its environment." An obvious question is: what is the point of modeling the contending self-rule and integrative forces of globalization in these organistic terms? Do we not just translate one understanding into another? Yes, to a certain degree this is true--as becomes apparent when Zeleza writes that "the more countries globalize the more governments act 'as insulators against external shocks, as a kind of insurance against external risks, a way of alleviating market distortions'" (pp. 39). Much of this statement captures the creative openness of an open system suggested by Sahtouris above. But it is when we consider the wider context of such organic models--their implication for our view of social evolution and the non-teleological interaction of elements in an open (world) system--that it becomes possible to theorize Africa's asynchronous modernity in terms that are comparative, historical and temporal without being linear, mimetic or teleological. That Zeleza's book does not touch upon any of this is not a weakness of the text, for his book presents African intellectuals with an exceedingly rich and erudite tapestry upon which the question of Africa's modernity is revealed in much of its complexity.
. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Hamish, 1992).
. Thandika Mkandawire, "Globalization and Africa's Unfinished Agenda," Macalaster International 7 (1997): pp. 71-107.
. James Petra, "Metamorphosis of Latin American Intellectuals," CODESRIA Bulletin 1 (1990): pp. 7-8, cited in Zeleza, p. 78.
. Paulin Hountodji, "Introduction: Recentering Africa" in Endogenous Knowledge: Research Trails, ed. Hountondji (Dakar: Codesria, 1997): pp. 1-39, cited in Zeleza, p. 111.
. Peter Jarvis, "Global Trends in Lifelong Learning and the Response of the Universities," in Comparative Education 35, no. 2 (1999): pp. 249-257.
. Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories II (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), p. 70.
. Mkandawire, "Globalization and Africa's Unfinished Agenda."
. Immanuel Kant, "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" in Practical Philosophy trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 17.
. Rene Girard, La Violence et le Sacre (Paris: Editions Bernard Grasset, 1972).
. There is still a fascinating similarity in the sense that Kant's self-imposed limitations of "Enlightenment" are replaced here by limitations inherent in the condition of globalization itself.
. Patrick Baker, "Chaos, Order, and Sociological Theory" Sociological Inquiry 63, no. 2 (1993): pp 123-149, p. 135.
. Baker, ibid, p. 132.
. Elisabet Sahtouris cited in Baker, "Chaos, Order, and Sociological Theory," p. 128.
. Baker, "Chaos, Order, and Sociological Theory," p. 133.
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Leonhard Praeg. Review of Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe, Rethinking Africa's Globalization, Volume 1: The Intellectual Challenges.
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