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Modernization as Spectacle in Africa

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For postcolonial Africa, modernization was seen as a necessary outcome of the struggle for independence and as crucial to the success of its newly established states. Since then, the rhetoric of modernization has pervaded policy, culture, and development, lending a kind of political theatricality to nationalist framings of modernization and Africans’ perceptions of their place in the global economy. These 15 essays address governance, production, and social life; the role of media; and the discourse surrounding large-scale development projects, revealing modernization's deep effects on the expressive culture of Africa.

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1 After Modernization: Globalization and the African Dilemma

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Percy C. Hintzen

I recall a meeting that I attended at a time when media reports were circulating raising concerns about South Asia as a cheap location for computer programming and software development. The value of the U.S. dollar was falling on international currency markets, which was having a negative effect on industry profits in South Asia. Increasingly the region was being rendered less competitive relative to the United States. In response, high-tech companies began shifting their operations back to the United States, generating increasing demand for programmers and computer engineers. With increasing U.S. demand came rising salaries and compensation packages driving costs in an upward spiral. The solution, discussed and proposed, was to shift computer programming and software engineering functions to Africa—the last bastion of cheap production in an increasingly competitive globalized economy. This is a particular case of a general trend where foreign direct investments in Africa are seen as a solution to a current crisis of global capitalism that demands reallocation in global production to areas where remuneration and transaction costs are cheapest and where there is rising consumer demand for global products and services.

 

2 Modernization Theory and the Figure of Blindness: Filial Reflections

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Andrew Apter

  For David E. Apter. In memoriam.

Every poem is a misinterpretation of a parent poem.

—Harold Bloom

However negative it may sound, deconstruction implies the possibility of rebuilding.

—Paul de Man

How does one read a text, or an oeuvre? How does one reread modernization theory? In my own case the answers to these questions are linked by Freud’s family romance and “the anxiety of influence” (Bloom 1973), which together guarantee a radical misreading of an intellectual father-figure who was also my father. David E. Apter (1924–2010), a modernization theorist of the 1960s, worked in the Gold Coast and Uganda in the 1950s before turning to issues of comparative development. His Africanist case studies of institutional transfer (1955) and of bureaucratic nationalism (1961) represent two of the four developmental trajectories that he formalized and systematized in The Politics of Modernization (1965). This latter text, translated into several languages (Japanese, Spanish, Indonesian, and Mandarin), represents a period of high modernism in American social science, an expansive moment in U.S. liberal empire associated with the wave of decolonization that swept across the postwar globe, and which was particularly associated with “development” in Africa. Motivated by the optimism of postcolonial possibilities in the 1960s, this moment was also shaped by the polarizing pressures of the Cold War (Bandung notwithstanding) and the predicaments these created for emerging new nations.1

 

3 Film as Instrument of Modernization and Social Change in Africa: The Long View

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Rosaleen Smyth

In this chapter I will ground the theme of modernization in sub-Saharan Africa in its authentic historical context by demonstrating its colonial roots. The central focus will be the efforts made to use film as an instrument of modernization and development communication. In doing so I will turn the current academic orthodoxy on its head. Development communication did not have “its origins in postwar international aid programs,” which were in turn “derived from theories of development and social change that identified the main problems of the post-war world in terms of a lack of development or progress equivalent to Western countries,” as stated in a 2001 report to the Rockefeller Foundation (Waisbord 2001). On the contrary, starting in the 1920s ideas about using mass media as a means of changing mindsets from “traditional” to “modern” and encouraging the adoption of new methods of agriculture and healthcare, among other techniques, were being explored and experimented with in Britain’s African colonies. This was long before the hatching of modernization and development communication theories in American universities and research institutes were in the heat of postwar reconstruction and enshrined in Daniel Lerner’s The Passing of Traditional Society (1958), Wilbur Schramm’s Mass Media and National Development (1964), and David McLelland’s The Achieving Society (1961). These works were published to great acclaim at the height of the Cold War. And, what is more, it was not just the British colonial administration acting in isolation; even then it was acting in concert with international entities including the aforesaid Rockefeller Foundation.

 

4 Mass Education, Cooperation, and the “African Mind”

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Aaron Windel

The history of credit and farming cooperatives in Africa bridges its colonial and postcolonial past. In the 1960s, cooperatives were linchpins in government programs of rural modernization in post-independence Central and East Africa. Tanzania’s ujamaa plan for socialist development, spearheaded by President Julius Nyerere, pinned rural development to the creation of state farm cooperatives. In Zambia, there was a similar embrace of cooperative farming under Kenneth Kaunda’s direction (Hyden 1980; Quick 1978). In both cases, the state provided land and even subsidies to farmers for clearing it, and Zambians and Tanzanians were encouraged to view cooperatives as places for the discussion of national politics. Elsewhere, cooperatives were sites of nationalist organization in the last gasp of British colonial rule, as among the Gisu in Uganda. Colonial officials in Uganda sometimes interfered with cooperative organization because they feared these were becoming sites of political agitation, and at least one cooperative society in Uganda was disbanded by the government on this count.1

 

5 Is Propaganda Modernity? Press and Radio for “Africans” in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi during World War II and Its Aftermath

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Mhoze Chikowero

Anthropologist Debra Spitulnik (1999, 63) observed that the introduction of electronic media in Zambia went hand in hand with the introduction of cultural practices, orientations, and evaluations related to the ideas of progress, sophistication, consumption, innovation, and Westernization. She bundled this nexus under the cover term “modernity.” Spitulnik argues that this cover term does both too much and too little. While she problematizes the concept, she proceeds to utilize African radio listener feedback to Lusaka Radio collected by anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker (1962) and broadcaster Harry Franklin (1950) to reinforce the notion that radio was an instrument and signifier of modernity. Spitulnik teases out a question, which I suggest must be reinforced: whose discourse is this “modernity”?

This chapter uses internal official communication among policymakers and memoirs by former broadcasters from World War II and early postwar colonial Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, not necessarily to search for modernity in Africa, but to show that the metanarrative constitutes what V. Y. Mudimbe calls a “colonizing structure” (Mudimbe 1988, 4). While clothed in the useful register of modernity, this official archive locates the coming of radio as an instrument of colonial statecrafting. I argue that by celebrating “local uses” and readings of Western technology outside this colonial context, we risk legitimizing the colonial designs of the Western technologies simply because Africans, as agents of history, have often put such technologies to (other) use(s). African uses of these technologies will have to be assessed within the broad context of the colonial philosophies and schemes of domination because radio, like the press and cinema, was a technology of domination first and foremost. This colonial archive confesses to this propaganda design, and available African perspectives similarly name it as such.

 

6 Elocution, Englishness, and Empire: Film and Radio in Late Colonial Ghana

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Peter J. Bloom

In the 1936 British Colonial Office’s report on broadcasting services in the colonies, a series of recommendations were made to accelerate radio broadcasting throughout the empire in association with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). More specifically, the report explains that the BBC Empire Service should not only be a form of entertainment for Europeans and others with educational means “but also an instrument of advanced administration … for the enlightenment and education of the more backward sections of the population and for their instruction.”1 The emphasis on advanced administration serves as a point of departure for exploring the pedagogically informed English spoken voice of film and radio in this essay. The manipulation and directed projection of the spoken voice in its quality as object that manages to hold bodies, languages, and territory together marked a shifting context for colonial administration in the late interwar and postwar period. Colonial Ghana—known as one of the most “radio-minded” of all the colonies and an important site for film training and production—serves as the primary context in the discussion to follow.2

 

7 Negotiating Modernization: The Kariba Dam Project in the Central African Federation, ca. 1954–1960

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Julia Tischler

On the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, about 240 miles downstream from the Victoria Falls, you can see a “gracefully curved mass of concrete,” “a colossus” which has tamed the “moods of violence” of the Zambezi River (South African News Agencies 1959, 5).1 The Kariba Dam was built in the second half of the 1950s to meet the growing energy needs of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, creating what was, at the time, the biggest artificial lake in the world. Newspapers around the world did not tire of telling “the romantic and adventurous story of how the dark jungle was opened up to provide light and power for a nation.”2 The Kariba Dam and the massive reservoir are a monument to the great expectations that coincided with the establishment of the Federation in 1953.

The dead trees which still stick out at the fringes of the lake remind us, however, that there is another side to the story. High-tech development came at a cost and Kariba has remained notorious for the catastrophic resettlement which its building entailed, as the rising waters submerged the homes of 57,000 Gwembe Tonga north and south of the Zambezi. Moreover, the hydroelectricity project monopolized the Federation’s credits for years, channeling vast resources into infrastructural development, which could have been used elsewhere. Hence, Kariba has been interpreted as the epitome of the Federation, for both its aspirations—of becoming a “powerful,” “multiracial” nation—and its flaws, seen in white settlers’ racist politics.

 

8 “No One Should Be Worse Off”: The Akosombo Dam, Modernization, and the Experience of Resettlement in Ghana

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Stephan F. Miescher

Ghanaians express pride about Akosombo, the large hydroelectric dam commissioned in 1966. They consider the Akosombo Dam not only the most impressive testimony to the country’s development but also a powerful reminder of how the country’s first leader, Kwame Nkrumah, envisioned to reach the elusive goal of modernity.1 People and institutions have produced competing interpretations of the resettlement caused by building Akosombo. They are reflected in what I call “Akosombo stories.” Some of these accounts are emphasized in official records, others have entered the genre of social science literature on Africa’s failed or uneven development, and yet another grouping is merely narrated locally, unheard by a broader public.2 These intersecting and often contradictory stories provide insight into the thick meanings of Akosombo in relation to Ghanaian understandings of development, modernity, and nationhood. These accounts reveal the marginalization of those who experienced resettlement, while also documenting the sense of accomplishment of those who participated in the planning and building of the Volta River Project. Moreover, they demonstrate how Akosombo remains crucial to any discussion about the legacy of modernization in Ghana since the 1950s.

 

9 Radioactive Excess: Modernization as Spectacle and Betrayal in Postcolonial Gabon

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Gabrielle Hecht

In 1982, El Hadj Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, officiated a two-day ceremony to celebrate the opening of his nation’s first yellowcake plant.1 The new factory would transform raw uranium ore extracted by French-run mines into yellowcake, a commodity that could be bought and sold on the world market. The plant itself was not particularly spectacular to behold, and was certainly not a paradigmatic example of the technological sublime (Nye 1996; Larkin 2008). In order to become a symbol of modernization, the plant needed a mise en scène: in this case, a scripted spectacle that explicitly heralded Gabon’s ascension in the global technopolitical order and proclaimed the nation’s transition from colonial supplier of raw material to direct supplier of nuclear fuel.

The carefully choreographed ceremony performed modernization in several registers. The company awarded medals to employees with twenty-one years of service, to indicate that Gabonese workers had finally transcended their childish colonial selves to become (industrial) adults. Speakers gushed about the Gabonization of the personnel, the mine’s magnificently modern infrastructures, and the social harmony permeating the company town. The primary protagonist of this marvelous modernization was the president himself: the local party leader praised “Yaya Bongo’s … policy of progressive and concerted democracy, spearhead of Gabon’s economic and social development.”2 Bongo in turn awarded Gabon’s “Étoile Équatoriale” to over forty COMUF managers and employees. In this mise en scène, the company figured as the state’s servant in Gabon’s modernization.

 

10 Modeling Modernity: The Brief Story of Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot Named Hanna, and the Wonders of Motorless Flight

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  Jean Allman

On 18 May 1963, a ceremony of much international pomp and spectacle took place near the small village of Afienya, about fifteen kilometers from Accra, the capital of Ghana.1 The ceremony marked the opening of the newly independent nation’s first gliding school. In attendance were members of the international press corps, German and Ghanaian dignitaries, ambassadors from most of the foreign missions in Ghana, chiefs and their advisors, and representatives from the Young Pioneers, the ruling Convention People’s Party’s youth group. The German Ambassador, on behalf of the West German government, presented a glider, christened Akroma [the hawk], to President Kwame Nkrumah, who, in turn, “dedicated the glider to the youth of Ghana and wished all those who would fly in it ‘many hours of enjoyment, recreation and spiritual upliftment.’”2 As a Ghana newsreel reported live, spectators were then treated to a “magnificent aerobatic display” by the woman responsible for the establishment of the school, “that famous German airpilot Flight Captain Hanna Reitsch.” After she landed, Reitsch was congratulated by Nkrumah and his wife, Madame Fathia. “With the establishment of a national gliding school,” the newsreel continued, “one can be sure that the youth will pick up the challenge and head for the sky.”3

 

11 The African Personality Dances Highlife: Popular Music, Urban Youth, and Cultural Modernization in Nkrumah’s Ghana, 1957–1965

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  Nate Plageman

From now on, today, we must change our attitudes, our minds. We must realize that from now on, we are no more a colonial but a free and independent people! But also, as I pointed out, that entails hard work. … As I said in the Assembly just minutes ago, I made a point that we are going to see that we create our own African Personality and identity; it is the only way in which we can show the world that we are masters of our own destiny.

—Kwame Nkrumah, Independence Day Address, 6 March 1957

When dancing rock ’n’ roll [as a young man in the early 1960s] I felt joy. I felt joy because it was a new life. I wore trousers at that time, my first time wearing trousers, and a good shirt and went out. And we used to behave like Yankees you know? … I felt proud, that wisdom was taking place, that I was different than others.

—Bob Biney, 1 April 2005

On any given weekend evening in the late 1950s and early 1960s, thousands of Ghanaian men and women left their homes, set out for a nearby nightclub, and enjoyed an evening of popular musical recreation. Shortly after dusk, they put on a fashionable set of clothes, met up with their dancing partner or a group of friends, purchased admission tickets and rounds of refreshments, and found a table where they could relax and converse. Around eight o’clock, a set of bandsmen took the stage and began to play long and varied musical sets designed to pull the gathered crowd out of their seats and onto the nightclub dance floor. Most dance bands solicited audience participation by playing selections from the local highlife, a combination of local and international musical elements that prompted individuals to move in a simple side-to-side pattern accentuated by any number of additional steps or improvisations (Hanna 1973, 144–51). In Accra, the nation’s largest city, administrative capital, and popular musical center, prominent dance bands such as E. T. Mensah’s Tempos, King Bruce’s Black Beats, and Jerry Hansen’s Ramblers Dance Band also played a range of international styles, including ballroom forms, calypso, jazz, swing, and rock ’n’ roll, that had their own accompanying forms of dancing. Since the city’s vibrant popular music scene was varied and eclectic, many nightclub enthusiasts patronized the venue and ensemble that featured their favorite styles so that they could congregate with others of similar tastes, display their well-practiced dance moves, and have a great deal of fun (Plageman 2013, 100–46).

 

12 Building Institutions for the New Africa: The Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana

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  Takyiwaa Manuh

In the volume African Intellectuals, Thandika Mkandawire (2005) and his coauthors contend that Pan-Africanism has been an enduring framework that has shaped several generations of African intellectuals and nationalists in their imaginings of the nation. This embrace of Pan-Africanism formed an intrinsic component of the struggle against foreign domination and underdevelopment on the one hand, and the desire, on the other, to put Africa on par with other modern nations, expressed by the nationalists’ dual track of nation-building and economic development. Crucially, African nationalists and intellectuals linked Africa’s domination to its technoeconomic backwardness (see Rodney 1972). The demand for independence was therefore to bring material progress to African people and to end the deprivations and extortions that had characterized colonial rule. Presaging later demands for a “New International Economic Order” by the global South (United Nations 1974; Bagwati 1977), nationalists viewed “the right to industrialization” as part of the self-assertion and freedom that was to accompany independence, famously expressed by the noted Pan-Africanist Edward Wilmot Blyden, as the imperative of “modernization,” in order for Africa to escape the domination and humiliation it had suffered at the hands of the West and attain “self-reliance and independence.”1

 

13 Theater and the Politics of Display: The Tragedy of King Christophe at Senegal’s First World Festival of Negro Arts

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  Christina S. McMahon

Stone, that’s what I want!
Cement, give me cement!
All this, oh! to set it upright!
Upright in the face of the world, and solid!

—Césaire (1969, 32)

In Aimé Césaire’s 1963 play, Henri Christophe dreams of constructing a grandiose Citadel that would broadcast to the world Haiti’s glory in becoming the first free Black republic after a hard-fought revolution against France in the early nineteenth century. Casting the Citadel as a symbol of the labor of nation-building, Christophe likens himself to an engineer, the “builder” of the Haitian people (Césaire 1969, 44). As John Conteh-Morgan notes, this is a strange metaphor for Césaire to employ, given that he is one of the architects of Négritude philosophy. Césaire’s earliest writing on the subject, his epic poem Notebook of a Return to My Native Land (1939), privileged “agrarian, non-industrial” cultures—the domain of Négritude—over the “scientific rationalism” and “civil engineering” mentality he associated with the West (Conteh-Morgan 1994, 95).

 

14 Reengaging Narratives of Modernization in Contemporary African Literature

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The challenge in revisiting modernization in Africa is to pluralize its contexts and conditions in order to understand its formations in non-Western and ex-colonial regions of the world. We ought to be able to engage with modernization in ways that can unravel the agency of modern African societies in shaping a place beyond the paradigms of center and margin. How, for instance, can we characterize modernizing processes in societies that were incorporated in global systems of modernity? To what extent have Western institutions reshaped these dynamics in unique ways? Are these societies modern? This chapter focuses on narratives of modernization in African literature that acknowledge a fundamental difference in the epistemologies of the social sciences and the humanities, particularly in relation to the use of language. It historicizes African literature’s preoccupation with modernization by demonstrating how the politics of cultural nationalism and a postcolonial focus on otherness stalled a fuller engagement with modernization in the critical assessment of African literature. In rereading key texts in African literature, the chapter focuses more fully on discourses of modernization which have been unrecognized in critical analyses of African literature. In the process it poses and addresses a number of key questions: What does it mean to be modern in Africa? How have African cultures become modern, and how have processes of modernization in Africa been understood, conceptualized, and explored in literature?

 

15 Between Nationalism and Pan-Africanism: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Theater and the Art and Politics of Modernizing African Culture

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  Aida Mbowa

None of these cultures can be conceived as anthropologically independent or autonomous, rather, they are all in various distinct ways locked in a life-and-death struggle with first-world cultural imperialism—a cultural struggle that is itself a reflection of the economic situation of such areas in their penetration by various stages of capital, or as it is sometimes euphemistically termed, of modernization.

—Frederic Jameson (1986)

Modernization was an important and guiding philosophy on how best to build the newly formed nation-state in post-independence Africa. Modernization encapsulated more than the matter of industrialization and infrastructure. It also incorporated cultural efforts to bolster the psychology of the formerly colonized. Significant objectives for cultural politicians to achieve under the rubric of modernization included how to empower citizens, how to facilitate pride and allegiance to the nation-state, and how to overcome divisions or in some instances maintain ethnic specificity while facilitating national unity. The arts in general, and performance arts in particular, were a key method through which to disseminate the ideologies geared toward engendering modern subjects. The arts disseminated modernist ideologies through the artistic productions they offered their spectators who were engaging in the consumption of cultural products.

 

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