By Esther D. Moses
Culture can be defined as an ensemble of values, traditions, tangible and intangible heritage, religious beliefs and world views. The expressions of culture in our ways of living can no doubt facilitate or impede the achievement of development goals.
Culture has become a popular subject of discourse in Nigeria today. It is rather unfortunate that this subject has, many times, been trivialized. Some reduce the understanding of culture to fetishism and others archaic and anachronistic acts, good perhaps, only for the museums. In the same vein, others consider culture to be just drumming and dancing. A good number of anthropologists have, however, given a deeper and concise explanation of culture as those forms of behavior, practices and thoughts that are held, cherished and maintained as desirable and having importance and relevance for our lives.
It is a known fact that some of our cultural values today are indeed not useful. However, this should not be an excuse to throw away the bath water with the baby. The good aspect of our culture can be filtered out and maintained, while the bad aspect can be discarded for sustainable development to thrive.
Development is premised on values, world views, ideological beliefs and vision. Development is itself an act of culture that impacts, benevolently or adversely on the culture of its target beneficiaries. Development should involve two basic processes. The first process has to do with improving and refining that which is already in existence and adapting it to contemporary requirements. The second process involves finding solutions to new problems or new forms of solutions to old problems. These two concepts imply creative responses to social, political and economic affairs. If sustainable development was to be a key driver in the economy of the country, it is imperative to include cultural aspect of our people.
People live in some kind of social groups, and those groups possess their own intrinsic spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional characteristics in order words, culture and sustainable development of human society cannot be discussed without taking into consideration the cultural aspects that always come with human life style.
When you talk of culture and development, what first of all comes to mind is: why are some countries doing very well, while others fail to develop even when all the requisite economic factors seem to be in place? How can we explain the repeated failure of African nations, even when material aid is given to develop their economies? Why are countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, even with strong human and natural resources and a well educated population, so resistant to development? Can we explain the low economic growth rate of the Pacific nations? Professional development economists might want to explain in detail these inequalities by appealing to the list of conditions that must be met for an economy to develop. Such conditions include good governance, laws should be promulgated and enforced, corruption-free society, conducive environment for business to flourish, and foreign investment should be encouraged, and many other conditions.
Linking culture with development may prompt questions such as: why do some ethnic groups do so well in business that they leave others in the unprogressive state, even when these ethnic groups are considered as minorities in other cultures? Amy Clua raises these questions in her well-articulated book titled: “World on Fire”. In her work, we learn that ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, who are less than two percent of the entire population control about 60% of the nation’s private economy, including the country’s four major airlines and almost all the country’s banks, hotels and shopping malls. It is not only in the Philippines that the Chinese ethnic minorities have made their mark.
They have come to dominate business in other parts of South-East Asia as well as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Even in African countries, they have dominated in businesses thereby triggering occasional reactions from the local population. Looking around the world, we could find some examples of what we may call ‘dominant minorities’-ethnic groups that have shown a remarkable ability to succeed in all areas of business where ever they may live.
The inequality of cultures is seen as one of the factors affecting development, especially in our country Nigeria. It was no accident that industrial revolution occurred in Great Britain and not some other nations. Why was Britain the central focus to give birth to the industrial revolution? And why did the effects of the industrial revolution vary so greatly from one part of the globe to another? British development was not just a sudden leap forward through technology. It was a gradual process that took place over a long period of time to the 19th century. In this conceptual thinking, the industrial revolution would have never occurred had it not been for the changes in values that were happening centuries before.
Many African countries are said not to have made giant strides in their development agenda owing to their inability to combine, in right proportion, their indigenous values and culture with the colonial legacies as the Asians have done. Ali Mazrui, a pan-Africanist scholar, has intimated that one strategy for African countries to transcend state of under-development is to follow a proper policy of indigenization. This process includes the identification and development of greater utilization of indigenous techniques, personnel and approaches to purposeful ‘change’. If development is to be considered as a driver and enhancement of our living standards, then effort-geared development cannot ignore culture. For instance, the traditional communal spirit that caused our fore-fathers to live together as one and to be their brother’s keeper is a valuable tool that can be embraced.
This type of value can help in reducing all kinds of vices in our society. It could also serve as an unconscious check against selfish and ambitious individuals, who have uncontrolled desire to accumulate wealth and other material things at the expense of the majority. With this analysis, we can, therefore, say that the ‘Change begins with me’ which was launched by this present administration in 2016, is a step in the right direction.
Nigerian people should be integrated to live together irrespective of their religious, ethnic and cultural differences. This could be achieved by establishing concrete foundation in school curricular. Yoruba and Igbo languages should be taught in schools in the North; so also Hausa and Yoruba in the South-East and Hausa and Igbo in the Western region. Building culture into development process could be a key remedy to our present state of the nation. Culture, which comprises of the values, attitudes and behaviours, interaction and sharing based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, respect for all human rights, tolerance and solidarity, if well-articulated, would have a positive impact on the nation’s developmental strides.
It is practically impossible to pursue development in any sphere of human experience without thinking and acting culture. Culture creates green jobs, and reduces poverty to a certain proportion. It makes cities more sustainable, and provides safe access to water, food and shelter.
Moses writes from National Commission for Museum Monuments, Minna, Niger State
If culture is highly placed at the heart of our strategies, it could be a catalyst for sustainable development, and a powerful driving factor for its achievements. Emphasizing culture in our developmental process means giving members of a community a role to play in directing their own destinies and restoring the agency for ‘change’ to those whom the development efforts are intended to impact, which is crucial to sustainable development and longtime progress. Respecting and promoting cultural diversity facilitates inter-cultural dialogue, prevents conflicts and protects the rights of marginalized groups within and between nations thus creating conducive environment for archiving development goals. Promoting cultural activities and traditional knowledge and skills are no doubt an effective means of strengthening environmental sustainability and the social capital for our communities. Culture contributes immensely to the alleviation of poverty, control of diseases and improvements of the standards of living of the people.
The conclusion to be drawn is that for Nigeria to remain the giant of Africa and also on the global success story of development, culture should be integrated in the conception, measurement, and practice of development with a view to advancing an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development. For a sustainable cultural tourism, cultural and creative industries, cultural institutions and the museums should be supported to generate employment and thereby improve Nigeria’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Intercultural dialogue must be promoted to harness social cohesion thereby creating an environment conducive for development. Local communities should be involved in policy making so as to safeguard their cultural heritage. Government at all levels needs to build capacities in cultural areas through education and training in the arts, art and administration, heritage management and cultural entrepreneurships.
Moses, National Commission for Museum Monuments, Minna, Niger state