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How university devours African culture


Culture, undoubtedly, plays a great role in national development. It starts by strengthening the family and goes on to shape national behaviors and morals without which evils such as theft, adultery and domestic violence would be in multiples of their present. 

Adorned with unadulterated norms, attitudes, beliefs, customs and rituals, traditional culture in its heyday provided conclusive solutions, successful leadership and persistent development within her boundaries. It gave a full approach to social life, producing a sense of responsibility to every individual and leaving no room for street children or prostitution.

It highly instilled in people a sense of nationalism and patriotism. It created equity in society where wages corresponded to work done and established an environment full of contentment and free from embezzlement. Indeed, in culture lies immense wisdom in which Africans should take pride.

In the same way universities are the gates to the city of knowledge whose absence in any community renders it backward and uncivilized. Whereas culture is to wisdom, university is to knowledge. But cultural values are retreating terribly at universities, leaving the nation in a dilemma of choosing between wisdom (culture) and knowledge (university). Which of the two should be the opportunity cost?

At Uganda’s largest and most prestigious Makerere University, about 70 percent of female students – and a significant percentage of female lecturers – wear tight trousers and shorts, for none of which is there any approval in Ugandan cultures. Baluku Salim, a student at the university says that he feels offended by ladies who dress such indecently. “They should be charged with sexual harassment to gents,” Salim suggests.

Coupled with adopting alien dressing styles is the complete denial of their culture and tribe. They, as Mathias Muyinda says of some of his fellow university students, “twist the language, change the dressing and adopt each and every aspect advertised in the western media.” Herb Schiller’s Cultural Imperialism Theory states that the worldwide dominance of the western media imposes on “Third World Cultures” western views and consequently destroys native cultures.

Despite its vast influence, the media can by no means command such an extensive erosion of local cultures, particularly across the young generation, without the hand of the local people themselves, especially the parents and an imported education system that rules our institutions of higher learning. S. S. Farsy introduces his book, Kiswahili Sayings, by pointing out that up to the 1950s, children were not allowed outdoors after sunset: they kept in their parents’ houses listening to proverbs and riddles plus wonderful stories from elders who were knowledgeable enough to narrate a different story every evening without repetition. This helped to instill traditional values in the children. But the elders today are only equipped with ignorance and experienced in drinking.

With cries of “busy, busy!” they have left their children to be shaped by only formal education. If left alone, formal education, and especially the humanities taught at universities, can seriously undermine Africa’s traditional values and create generations of people who deem their tribal names unfashionable.

University knowledge, given its western roots, is considerably in conflict with local values – and sometimes becomes the exact opposite. Two examples may suffice. Communication courses emphasize eye contact in conversation. In the West eye contact with someone is to encourage them to speak, to continue speaking.  On the other hand, in most, if not all, African cultures maintaining eye contact is being severe and suspicious. While in Asia, eye contact, especially to the opposite sex, is said to breed immorality (fornication).

Similarly, while the West associates black with mourning, the people of Buganda grieve by dressing in bark clothes and the Arabs cloak their dead in white. Thus the dominance of western values in university education means that students come out with enormous respect for western culture and with a big question mark on theirs. Because of repeated presentation of alien values students are persuaded to forget their own selves. If not wholesomely overtaken by foreign ways they at least tolerate them.

The reason as to why some cultures have been overrun by western lifestyle is that most of them are breakaway cultures. The more cultures break up to form other new ones, the more they weaken in form of norms, customs, attitudes, beliefs and rituals. This makes them more vulnerable to the invasion of foreign ideas and attitudes.

Africans – and their cultures – remained weak and vulnerable to all forms of imperialism partly because of their environment. They met little challenges as they lived in a geography endowed with delights, and as one philosopher puts it, “where there is water (rain) there is much good.” From the tropical to the equatorial forests, they lived by just gathering fruits and hunting as if they were in Eden. On top of this there were huge deposits of gold and other minerals, particularly around the Sahara region. These made them reluctant to seek for more knowledge to fill the gap of psychology, to which their beliefs were silent.

The presence of gaps in African cultures enabled western values to penetrate them easily. As A. Levin observes, science and democracy, the two western predators of culture that are extensively emphasized at university, continue to threaten “hunter-gatherer populations” and indeed many indigenous customs have disappeared.  The two forces – science and democracy – are of course very necessary to modern life but have to be applied with caution, with high consideration for local values. 

Democracy, which pulls behind it other forces like feminism and human rights, greatly changes the old order and with it comes some goodness, but it does not necessarily lead to happiness. Research has shown that some trivial rights, particularly those that divert from the norms, have to be neglected if happiness is to stay. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco suggests that the life span of American women increased in the past 35 years as a result of increased freedom but happiness declined – from 1990 onwards happiness moved one step forward, two steps back.

For that African universities should stress the danger of unquestioningly adopting western values, such as the social and moral anarchy that comes with excessive freedom. At the same time, our academic institutions should emphasize the good contributions of traditional values, including our modesty and our courtesy toward others and the immense benefits that we miss when we shun our rich heritage.


0 #1 mahmod mahmud kihiro 2014-10-06 20:18
sseremba go ahead and preach what is African our universities are doing more of ade service to our elites than serving to preserve our indigenous cultures
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