A culture is a very important part of a people. It goes to the core of who you identify yourself to be. If you say that you are from a particular grouping in our country or outside, people will expect you to practice a certain kind of traditional lifestyle.
Cultural matters also have a linkage with business practice and the opening up of markets for business. If you truly wish to penetrate a market, the people that form the market, you need to understand their culture. This will enable you to tailor your marketing strategy into one that will lead to the capture and retention of a good customer base.
One of the problems that we have had in Africa in general and in Zambia in particular is that our minds are too easy to please. The rest of the world produces goods – some even with our raw materials, and lines up to sell these goods to us. An African person must truly have created a reputation for himself globally that he will buy anything. What’s worse is that many a time, we actually tend to treat our few locally produced goods with much disdain, feeling that they are inherently inferior to Western produced goods. What kind of mind-set is this?! How will we ever become a superpower of a continent with this sort of mentality?! We need to understand that the selling side is normally the winner in the game of commerce, particularly where people are buying purely for consumption.
The penetration of our culture on this continent in general and our country to be specific is something that has been done in stealth and insidious fashion with many of our people not quite being familiar with how this is happening. There are certain things that we tend to appreciate but we do not even understand why.
If you take the love of German made luxury cars by Zambians, that taste and consumption is something we have imported into our culture as a result of historical issues. That’s just one example; there are many others. One writer that has covered cultural matters and their linkage to the domination of a people really well is none other than Sishuwa Sishuwa.
One of Zambia’s most brilliant writers in my opinion and certainly an intellectual of note, Sishuwa Sishuwa wrote a paper detailing China’s cultural influence in Africa. Sishuwa’s main topic of discussion surrounded the establishment of the Chinese Confucius Institution at the University of Zambia. Sishuwa writes in part: ‘…
.The creation of Chinese Confucius Institutes, the strategic locations in which they are constructed, and the fact that they are set to operate within the premises of the top national educational institutions – seen on a continental scale – gives serious food for thought.
‘However, not much noise is made about them. This silence comes against the unmasked aim of the Confucius Institute being a tool of Chinese cultural exportation, and the fact that it will be ten years in December 2015 since the University of Nairobi in Kenya became Africa’s first official recipient of this ‘gift’.
That this important subject has been neglected is perhaps unsurprising given that criticism of China’s role in Africa has largely been driven by France, Britain and the United States of America, countries that have their own vested interests and equivalent institutions of cultural indoctrination in nearly all African nations.
What this raises however is several issues: the question of who sets the continental agenda, the paucity of forward-thinking African intellectual opinion on key debates bordering on the continents fate, and the stifling of African agency on these matters.
‘The result is that within the highly problematic dominant discourse of development, Africa continues to be relegated to the bottom. Duty therefore falls on all to discuss, using pan-African platforms and media, the aims of these Chinese Confucius Institutes and the threat they pose to African culture.
Culture matters because it is the invisible thread that ties people together or separates them. Life as we know it and live it – its day to day mundaneness – is in fact culture.
The Confucius institute program was founded in 2004 to promote Chinese culture on the international scene….’
Another excerpt worth noting by all Africans from the same article by Sishuwa is as follows: ‘….The founding of these centres also represents an admission, perhaps learnt from the West, that economic and nuclear power alone do not go so far in terms of effective control of the world.
To truly and fully control a people, the powers that be must also influence their cultural habits, their language and belief systems. This has been routinely referred to as soft power. This strategy of conquest has been previously deployed in Africa by France, Britain and the United States – expressed through the creation of enduring institutions of cultural dominance like Alliance Francaise, the British Council and the American Cultural Centre – with considerable success and a devastating effect on the African psyche, akin to what renowned writers like Okot Bitek and Chinua Achebe wrote about regarding the colonial condition…..’
Truly cultural matters are something every progressive African must ponder.
I remember reading an article by celebrated journalist Edem Djokotoe some years ago where he talked about the lack of commercialisation of Zambian cuisine in our country, yet every restaurant or fast food outlet you went to was serving Western cuisine.
Thankfully, over the years, we have begun to see a shift. In a country where once upon a time the dominant menu you got in restaurant was either a Western or Indian menu, we have managed to successfully commercialise our local cuisine. If you go back 10, 15 years or more, who would have thought that nshima, lumanda, delele etc would be sold at such goods prices (for the seller) with a bit of T – bone, fish or village chicken? Who would have thought that thorn park market would be lined up with the working class of Lusaka city centre whereby it is virtually impossible to find parking and the road on which the market is located is half blocked?
Of course, restaurants serving local Zambian cuisine have now proliferated around the country; some of them are actually segmented to serve high level corporate personnel at a premium price. This is a successful commercialisation of our cuisine. Gone are the days when Western menu dominated the lunch agenda of corporate personnel in Zambia.
We need more of this in our society. We need to believe that our offer to the market is good enough and it can compete with anything from overseas. We also need our people to be the first buyers of what we offer to the market. If a Zambian citizen will not buy a Zambian made good, then who the hell does he expect to buy it?!
What about music? There was a time when Zambian music was fast fading off the airwaves; but then a few progressive artists such as the late Daddy Zemus, Mainza, Danny, JK and others decided to stand up breathe life into the dying industry following the fading off the scene of Kalindula artists of the 70s, 80s. Today, most of the music on our radio, in our bars, clubs etc is Zambian. We should all feel a sense of pride. There was a time when virtually all the music on radio was Western. Our music has also been commercialised, it is a money spinner for those involved in the industry. Much of what they sing about is also cultural – one man once told me that he views Zambian musicians as social commentators because much of what they sing about has got a lot to do with lifestyle and happenings in Zambian society. Who needs music that tells us what’s going on in America anyway?
What about our fashion industry? Look at what we have done with our African garment popularly known as Chitenge. A few months ago I attended Zambia Fashion week and what I saw was impressive.
A blend of African garment and modern day Western design has created a particularly special dress code now common among contemporary elegant African women. Even international celebrities have been known to wear this style of clothing. These things are impressive, and we need more of the same.
It is possible to preserve and commercialise our culture. Even our traditional ceremonies must continue to be marketed globally until we are pulling unbelievable crowds from around the world to view our tourism. Let’s give as good as we get in terms of export and commercialisation of culture. I’ve been told about a Zambian man that has opened a restaurant cum night club in London for Zambians resident in the UK to enjoy their cuisine and music there. This is impressive, this thing of exporting food and music – shall I just say culture – must not be a one way street with KFC, Pizza Hut and others selling to us. Let’s also take our Lumanda and Mangambwa to Europe and America.
Let’s take pride in who we are and what we practice. Let’s even go a step further and commercialise it. Even our children should be taught in school (admittedly, not sure if it already happens) about the importance of our culture and how it can be a money spinner as well as the dangers of over embracing other cultures.
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