Vincent Gono, Features Editor
SOCIO-ECONOMIC growth has been elusive in many African countries mostly because models of development are prescribed from imperialist countries and are divorced from national beliefs and identities with no emphasis on knowing how to inherit before becoming good innovators.
China however, presents a good example that economic prosperity is possible without necessarily following the political conquest and exploitation route that defines the prosperity of most Western First World countries.
It has demonstrated in no small measure that culture is colossally important in developing societies from past to present and its model can be used by most Third World countries that are still struggling to unbuckle themselves and decolonise their identity from imperialist systems.
Cultural perspectives exemplify values, attitudes, and behaviours that influence development.
Development in China has been anchored on a pride of identity, use of traditional cultural resources and an unwavering focus on indigenous knowledge systems as the umbilical cord that connect its people to all development facets.
Chinese President Xi Jinping in The Governance of China compendium contends that it is inevitable for China, a country with a unique culture, history and basic conditions, to choose a development path featuring its own characteristics.
“As for traditional Chinese culture and foreign things, we should make the past serve the present and foreign things serve China; discard the dross and select the essential; eliminate the false and retain the true, and adopt traditional Chinese culture and foreign things after a thorough and well considered review of both,” he says.
He stresses the point that China does not use borrowed solutions that are alien to its values, beliefs, ideologies and philosophy but used home-grown solutions that have a moral grounding in the people’s culture.
Culture generates assets such as skills, products, expression and insights that contribute to the social and economic well-being of a community and many Third World countries that are reeling under various economic pressures can pluck a leaf from China’s development model.
The difference between China and most Third World countries in Africa particularly Zimbabwe is that most African countries follow a prescribed model of development strongly linked to their colonisers.
Their cultures have suffered strong adulteration from the former colonisers whose vice-grip most countries are failing to unhinge themselves from both culturally and economically.
Many countries in East Asia, particularly China, have been resisting traditions from Western culture. It is the use of Asian values and institutions that is responsible for the Chinese economic advancement.
Zimbabwe is very diverse along most human dimensions: ethnicity, language, culture, history and economic well-being.
Despite the diversity, there are common threads that contribute to the lack of economic development. There is no proper definition of what the national question is and what constitutes the national dream and as such patriotism to core national values and aspirations has been elusive.
African philosophy scholar and academic Mr Joel Mukusha told the Sunday News in an interview that most African countries were buckling under the weight of a history of oppression and needed strong lessons from China on redefining themselves, their development goals, values and philosophy without them being prescribed to them by former colonisers.
“China has managed to define itself without prescribed doses of imported ideas. Home-grown solutions have been nurtured that people identify with, communism, socialism and Marxism have been popularised to define and re-energise the Chinese Dream where patriotism is cultivated and where inherited culture and traditions meet harmoniously with innovation to produce a modern country not divorced from cultural beliefs that bind the society,” he said.
China has managed to properly handle the relationship between inheritance and innovation, with the focus on transforming and developing the fine traditional culture in a creative way.
Mr Mukusha said Africa should follow the philosophy and culture of Ubuntu/Hunhu which emphasises the ideals of communism, patriotism, respect, trust and hardworking. He said such values, if upheld, would see Zimbabwe developing its societies.
“Culture is socially transmitted behaviour, patterns, norms, beliefs and values of a given community. It is a set of shared and enduring meanings, values, and beliefs that characterise national, ethnic, and other groups and orient their behaviour. Culture is dynamic, interactive, and synergistic, and it intermixes with all the elements of a society, especially economic development.
“It is measured by indicators of individual values and beliefs, such as trust and respect for others, and confidence in individual self-determination,” he added.
Former Ambassador to China and Zanu-PF spokesperson Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa says if DNA is the foundation of the institutional memory of living organisms, then culture is its equivalent in the institutional memory of society.
Culture, he says, is the art and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. It is shown through ideas, customs and social behaviour of society. It is the embodiment of shared values that define the identity of a social grouping.
“China with the largest population on earth has developed its culture over 5 000 years. Its capacity to defend itself ensured that by and large its society could repulse, withstand or absorb repeated ructions from other outside societies. It is this aspect that has given Chinese culture pride of place among its society and admiration from other societies,” said Ambassador Mutsvangwa.
Last year President Mnangagwa walked the talk of using culture as a development vehicle when he launched the Bulawayo Arts Festival and visited various historical and cultural sites in the city in what historian and cultural activist Pathisa Nyathi aptly described as de-emphasising politics.
The visit gave practical meaning to the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) which emphasises that culture has the power to transform entire societies, strengthen local communities, foster strong family values and forge a sense of identity and belonging for people of all ages. Culture plays an essential role in promoting sustainable social and economic development for future generations.
The NDS1 clearly articulates this when it says, “As a collective phenomenon, national identity can arise as a direct result of the presence of elements from the “common points” in people’s daily lives. These include national symbols, music, language, the nation’s history, national consciousness, and cultural artefacts.
“The expression of one’s national identity seen in a positive light is patriotism, which is characterised by national pride and positive emotion of love for one’s country. Cultural programmes contribute towards improved social cohesion, sense of national identity and pride.
The objective, according to the economic blueprint, is to increase the level of local consumption of cultural products and services from 15 percent in 2020 to 40 percent by 2025.
Culture extends across all the dimensions of social capital such as mutual confidence, trust and responsible civic behaviour.
Unesco emphasises that culture is a key element in the fight against poverty. Preserving cultural values is very important for development and Zimbabwe should develop and value trust in its institutions so as to validate the social contract between Government and the governed.
Trust is a measure of how people evaluate the moral fabric in their society and a lack of it breeds other ills such as dishonesty and corruption.