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Globalization: homogenization vs. heterogenization and the possibility of global consciousness?

Globalization is characterized by the dual processes of global convergence and global divergence.  Culture is never finalized, complete, nor internally coherent, but is constantly changing and redefining itself.  Globalization has always been associated with increasing differences between peoples and places.  Rather than being a means of increasing Western hegemony through global homogenization, the recent phase of globalization has involved a rapid increase in the intensity of global interconnections and flows in all directions, not only from the West to the rest, but also vice versa.  These complex and disjunctive flows and interconnections have resulted in increasing hybridity of identities and representations.  This is one example of a main feature of globalization- a delinking of social space from physical geography and territory, often referred to as deterritorialization, or the rise of supraterritoriality.  An effect has been the decline of the nation-state as the primary level for social, political and economic organization.  This change in perception, along with the amplified spread of information and knowledge, has contributed to an increased awareness of global issues. The growing prevalence of global consciousness and the associated concepts of world citizenship is one positive result of globalization which may lead to the emergence of new, more equitable, forms of global society. 


Many critics of globalization claim that increased global flows have resulted in the Westernization of the world, whereby local customs and culture are giving way to a single, homogenous, Western (or more specifically, American) culture.  It is certainly true that recent rapid intensification in global interconnections has led to the increased availability of Western tastes, consumption patterns and lifestyles worldwide.  Consumer preferences and habits is one area in which a predominant pattern of global convergence is occurring.  However, to conclude from this that the world is becoming more and more homogenous is a vast oversimplification and completely misguided.  It is realistic to claim that within the West “there has been some degree of homogenization of mass cultural consumption, particularly among the young, and that it is spreading to the more affluent strata of the developing world” (Held and McGrew, 1999, 373).  Nevertheless, the process is highly uneven, especially in terms of social class.  It is the “urban elite and urban upper income groups who are most able to adopt and sustain the ‘goods’ provided by standardized merchandising” (Potter et al, 1999, 92).  Instead of the simple assimilation Western products and habits, these cultural symbols are reinterpreted and adapted locally, and take on different meanings in different places.  Sometimes strong resistance and a revival of traditional customs is shown by local and national cultures in response to homogenizing tendencies.  Along with forms of local resistance there have been “more coordinated attempts to contest the flow of imported images with the aim of reinventing and reconstructing ‘peripheral cultures’ ” (Held and McGrew, 1999, 374).  In this way, globalization can often serve to reinforce, rather than degrade, local cultures. 


The argument that globalization is resulting in Western homogenization and the destruction of local cultures is also inaccurate in that it ignores the flow of cultural items and practices from “the rest to the West”.   Increasingly within the global economy, “cultural products are being assembled from all over the world and are being turned into commodities for an emerging cosmopolitan market-place” (Potter et al, 1999, 102).  Although it is has greatly increased in recent times, this flow from the rest to the West is by no means a new phenomenon.  Throughout history, contact and trade between nations and places has resulted in the adoption of practices and items from “other” places.  This means that many, possibly most, products and traditions associated with a certain local or national identity are in fact complicated and complex combinations from various cultures.  While there are many examples of flows to the West from the rest, one especially pertinent example is that of food.  Many foods which are considered everyday staples of Western consumption, such as coffee, tea, sugar, and many fresh fruits and vegetables, are in fact imported from all around the world.  There has also been an increase over the past few decades in the number of “ethnic” foods being consumed in Western nations.  This is evident in the number of international restaurants and markets in urban centers.  For instance, on one street in Toronto you can find Eazy Eats Jamaican restaurant, Ali Baba’s (Middle Eastern restaurant), Lee Gardens (Cantonese restaurant), and Makaraja Palace (Indian restaurant), as well as many more.


Along with the compression of space and time, globalization has also resulted in the world “shrinking” in other another sense, in that we are all potentially increasingly aware of what is happening in distant places.  Social space, as well as physical, has an increasingly supraterritorial dimension as more and more people “think globally”.  The world is no longer conceived of solely in terms of territorial realms, such as the nation-state, but also as a single place (Scholte, 2000, 54).  Rapid increases in global communications, products, travel, organizations, and especially the increasing awareness and severity of global ecological issues, have made large proportions of humanity more conscious of their shared global citizenship. “The media is also an important international vector of information and knowledge, not only through television, but also through the technical press and international professional events, such as seminars” (Petit and Soete, 1999, 172).   Mainstream media often distorts events to give a government or policy-friendly view of reality.  However, there are an increasing number of independent media sources available through the internet and other forms, which offer a countering viewpoint to people across the globe.  In the words of Arjun Appardurai: “electronic mediation and mass migration create a new force field for social relations globally” (1999, 230).  This invites a “redefinition of our ethical and moral responsibilities in relation to people who live far away from us” (Potter et al, 1999, 76).   Held and McGrew (1999, 445 ) refer to this condition as ‘overlapping communities of fate’, which is “a condition in which the fortunes and prospects of individual communities are increasingly bound together”.


This deterritorialization of social affiliation is evidenced by the proliferation of global community groupings and solidarities such as labor movements, women’s movements, gay and lesbian groups, as well as racial and religious movements (Scholte, 2000, 172-176).   The increasing tendency to identify with various different communities and groupings has led to increased hybridization at the level of individual identity.  This degradation of the link between culture and territory is “accompanied by an intermingling of these disembedded cultural practices producing new complex hybrid forms of culture” (Tomlinson, 1999, 141).  It is through these “identity politics” that the recent phase of globalization has “eroded the position of the state-nation as the preeminent structure of community and promoted the rise of multiple alternative frameworks of solidarity” (Scholte, 2000, 182).  In this way, globalization has challenged the primacy of the nation-state as the dominant level of territorial affiliation and identity association.

“Looked at from the point of view of the nation-state we stand on the edge of a global order characterized by the emergence of a large number of forces which constrain, erode, or otherwise violate the workings of national sovereignty in the domains of politics, law, and political allegiance.  The epoch of the nation-state may not yet be at an end, but the era in which the system of nation-states was the only game in town, as far as international governance and transnational political traffic are concerned, is surely over” (Appardurai, 1999, 230).


It is this weakening of the sovereignty of the nation-state as the principal communal grouping that has allowed for the growth of cosmopolitanism, or global citizenship.  As Anthony Giddens explains, with globalization “humankind in some respects becomes a ‘we’, facing problems and opportunities where there are no ‘others’ ” (1991, 27).  


The aim of this paper is not to suggest that globalization has no negative impacts. There are many challenges created by the increasingly complex and intense global interconnections, not the least of which is the challenge to local cultures.  However, it is incredulous to suggest that globalization will result in the destruction of the local and the homogenization of the world due to Western hegemonic forces.  Potter (et al, 1999, 80) explains this perfectly: “rather than uniformity, globalization is resulting in “greater flexibility, permeability, openness, hybridity, plurality and difference, both between places and between cultures”.   It is essential to recognize that the concept of cultural destruction or homogenization of cultures is based on a false assumption of cultures as pure and static.  In fact, no culture can be defined in such simple terms.  The reality is that “hybridity can be understood as the ongoing condition of all cultures, which contains no zones of purity because they undergo continuous processes of transculturation” (Rosaldo, 1995, xv).  It is therefore incorrect to suppose that cultural mixing and hybridization are new phenomena.  Although the intensity and rate of global interconnections and cultural intermingling has greatly increased throughout the past half century, it is impossible to draw from this a conclusion of future homogeneity.  Flows between cultures have been occurring throughout history, and while there have obviously been many changes in the shape and prevalence of local cultures, a multitude of local and regional variations and adaptations have survived and flourished. 


Undoubtedly, there are immense inequalities embedded in the current world system, along with powerful forces opposing the resistance to their hegemonic assumptions.  Despite these obstacles, people all over the world are undeniably becoming increasingly aware of their place in a global society, and of the means by which they may be able to define and shape their own destinies.  In the words of Stuart Hall (1991, 34), the emergence of new subjects, communities and identities has necessitated the acquisition “through struggle, sometimes in very marginalized ways, [of] the means to speak for themselves for the first time. And the discourses of power in our society, the discourses of the dominant regimes, have been certainly threatened by this de-centered cultural empowerment of the marginal and the local”.  While there are a plethora of so-called negative effects of globalization, these harms have resulted “not from supraterritoriality as such, but from the policies that we have adopted towards it” (Scholte, 2000, 206).  There are innumerable forces and processes at work which are causing a reshaping of these structures, institutions and the policies implicit within.  These developments give hope for the emergence of new forms of globalization, for an increase in global consciousness and the awareness of responsibility within a transnational civil society.












Apparduari, Arjun. Globalization and the Research Imagination. International Social Studies Journal, 160. UNESCO, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.


Giddens, Anthony. (1991).  Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press.  Quoted in Scholte, Jan Aart. Globalization: A Critical Introduction. New York: Palgrave, 2000.


Hall, Stuart. The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity.  Culture, Globalization and the World-System. Ed. Anthony D.King. Binghamton: State University of New York, 1991. 19-39.


Held, David and Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton. Globalization , Culture and the Fate of Nations. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999. 327-375.


Held, David and Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton. Conclusion: The Shape of Contemporary Globalization. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999. 414-452.


Petit, Pascal and Soete, L. Globalization in Search of a Future. International Social Studies Journal, 160. UNESCO, Oxford:Blackwell Publishers, 1999.


Potter, Robert and Tony Binns,  Jennifer Elliot and David Smith. Geographies of Development. London: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1999.


Rosaldo, Renato. (1995). pp. xv.   ????  quoted in Tomlinson, John. Deterritorialization: The Cultural Condition of Globalization. Globalization and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. 106-49.


Scholte, Jan Aart. Globalization: A Critical Introduction. New York: Palgrave, 2000.


Tomlinson, John. Deterritorialization: The Cultural Condition of Globalization. Globalization and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. 106-49.




  Dawn Noble on being a teen mother Good evening, my name is Dawn Noble. The topic I’m going to talk about tonight is based on a personal situation that has been apart of my life for nearly 6 years. If you have any questions or comments, I would be more than happy to answer them at the end of the presentation. Now lets begin.

Everyone close your eyes…and imagine this. I want to take you back to your highschool days, particularly to grade 10 and 11, where you are finally comfortable with your surroundings. Everyday is something new, whether you’re skipping school to go down to the beach, or going for drives during your lunch break with your friends all packed into your parents’ vehicle. Every weekend there is something to do. You hate your part time job, but it gives you cash to buy whatever you want especially since you don’t have to worry about too much. And best of all you fall hopelessly in love with one person imparticular …or so you think.

But as we all know, things don’t stay the same forever –so open your eyes and like me, you find yourself in this situation. …. Isn’t that pretty, eh!

On May 19th, 1997, my son Brayden Patrick Noble-Callaghan was born weighing 8 pounds and 8 ounces. He was happy, healthy and beautiful. Like any other mother, I wanted nothing but the best for him and from that day on I was determined to do just that. However, I was only seventeen years old, in an abusive relationship, with no job, no money, no education and no husband to help me support the baby.

So, after listening to what I’ve just told you, you’re mind may have conjured up some negative stereotypical thoughts. Which is exactly why it is my duty to let you know that it does not always have to turn out bad. Teenage pregnancies are not uncommon in our society but the condescending behavior towards teenage mothers is. Consequently, how can a young mother achieve when everybody and everything around her expects her to fail?

This presentation will take you through a small piece of my personal journey to date. It might shed some light on what teenage mothers go through and what teenage mothers need to get them through it.

When I found out I was pregnant, it came as a total surprise. Nothing was abnormal except when I became very sick, where I was unable to walk to the bathroom. I assumed it was just a bad reaction of eating ice cream, since I was lactose intolerant. However, to my surprise it was not that at all, I was two months pregnant. Not only was I just pregnant, I was a pregnant teenage girl. Everything I dreamed of felt threatened. I remembered the facts I learned in "sex education" about teen pregnancy.

Teenage mothers are a burden to society.
The children of teenage mothers inevitably become drug-addicted troublemakers in society.
Teenage mothers never successfully complete high school, let alone attend college or university. J
No mistaking it, my life was permanently altered.

I had suddenly become a statistic. In 1997…19,721 Canadian teenagers had babies. Although, the rates of teenage pregnancy have declined in the past two decades, it will always be apart of society whether we ignore it or not. Being a young mom, you automatically get thrown into the category of being promiscuous and resolving to welfare. I was neither. No matter how well I do at school, or volunteer in my son’s class; I am still considered a burden to society and looked down upon. I am often mistaken for being an older sister or a baby-sitter while at the playground and sometimes, even the people who are the closest to me do not truly believe I will succeed.

I was sure Brayden’s father wouldn’t change. Regardless of the baby, I already felt trapped by his obsessiveness and controlling behavior. He had made several promises before and always broke them. And despite carrying his child, he still continued to threaten and call me names, I dare not say. He had everyone convinced including myself, that I had ruined his life.

I had to get out; there was no way I wanted to raise my child under those circumstances. So, there were four things I needed to. First, was to get custody and peace. Second, get a decent education. Third, find a job and finally kick some butt doing it!

Thousands of dollars in lawyers fees later and finally getting sole custody along with a permanent restraining order, I was finally at peace. …For the most part – court orders never have guarantee. However, I was granted the ease of knowing my child would be okay, if anything were ever to happen to me.

I graduated highschool on time, and went on and took computer applications and advertising in college, and now you see me here sharing my situation with you at Wilfred Laurier University while pursuing a combined honors in Geography and Communication Studies.

Although, my dream job has yet to come, motherhood has changed me in several different ways. It has not stopped me from fulfilling my dreams; it has just made me become more determined and eager to get what I want. Although I could not live in residence or party every weekend, I could go to class, study and pass.

I have become a student-parent. A potty-training, coffee drinking, dish washing, text book reading, nose wiping, story telling, paper typing, swing pushing, boo boo kissing, class going, tear drying, day-care paying, opinion making, M.I.L.F., power-nap taking, hardworking mama. J

I plan one day at a time and make sure I am able to tuck my son into bed, read him a bedtime story and am there when he awakes in the morning. We’ve gone on picnics, trips, made crafts and cookies and have played in the grass countless of times. He knows that I will be there for him whenever he needs me and I know that he will grow up happy and respectively.

Now don’t get me wrong, this has not been easy. In fact, there has been times where I almost given up, moved home and become an unhappy robot. But with support from my family and friends, I dealt with the problems and have moved on.

To conclude, pregnant teenage girls are conditioned to believe that they are failures, an embarrassment to themselves and their community, incapable of being a fit parent, unable to love a child and unable to raise a child. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. That being said, I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me. I put myself in this situation and I could have made alternative decisions, but I chose this, which has made me a better person by far. I am living proof of just the opposite common stereotypes engraved into the mind of society. Again, support and encouragement are the key ingredients for improving lives.

On the contrary to what fear-based sex education classes, books and counselors had led me to believe in the past, I am not a burden to society, my son isn’t either. I am a university undergrad with a five year old son. This December, I plan to graduate. I may have not blown out 18 birthday candles when I had him, but I am an excellent mother.

Thank you.

"there is no such thing as democracy, only the illusion of democracy"
-spray painted on a wall downtown kw

george and i at infected mushroom! slightly intoxicated :)
  is Africa a Garden of Eden in decay??? I just had to write an essay for my Anthropology: African Studies Class, if anyone would like to read about what has led to current situation of decay in Africa...

Ali A Mazrui (1986) calls Africa a "Garden of Eden in decay". Whether Africa was ever in such a condition as to be compared with Eden is debatable. However, the fact that a plethora of factors have contributed to slow rates of development overall cannot be questioned. There is no doubt about the problems Africa faces concerning an underdeveloped economy, uncertain political climate and a fragile environment, compounded by a rapidly growing population, all of which have contributed to massive poverty. Over the past four centuries Africa has gone from being a vastly isolated continent with a strong indigenous culture, through colonization and back to independence. Since European contact, African’s have gone through countless struggles and steps towards development. In the past decades as more and more African states gained independence from colonial rule, high hopes of development were not attained and instead considerable deterioration has taken place in many cases. Mazrui’s views on the causes of the decay are moderately different from the opinions given in Gordon and Gordon’s "Understanding Contemporary Africa", but there is much concordance between the two views and the reasons they give for the decay.

Africa’s current situation has been greatly influenced by it’s geographical location. Environmental determinism is the idea that humans are shaped by their environment; that they adapt physically and culturally to survive the environmental conditions they face. Africa is the most tropical continent. Seventy-five percent of the continent lies between the tropics and 90 percent of the continent has a tropical climate (the northern and southern edges of the continent are the exceptions). This means a climate with relatively high temperatures year round and seasons defined by rainfall (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:219-220). The seasonality of the rainfall is created by the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), converging air flows that create air convection cells. As the converging air rises it cools and condenses creating high levels of precipitation. The ITCZ shifts from the south in January to the north in June, so that the rainy season typically moves from the north in June and the south in January (Gordon and Gordon, 2001: 8-9).

Rainfall is, however, far from reliable over much of the continent. The shape of the continent results in a large desert, the Sahara, in the north and a much smaller desert, the Kalahari, in the south (Mazrui, 1986:33). The Sahel, an area of scattered shrubs and grass on the edge of the Sahara, is characterized by extremely unreliable rainfalls. Savanna, which can support taller trees and grass than the Sahel, is characterized by relatively open areas of vegetation and woodland. A prolonged dry season is a distinguishing feature of the Savanna (Mazrui, 1986:37-38). Due to the unreliability of precipitation, droughts are a common occurrence in Africa with drastic consequences. Droughts severely hinder agricultural productivity, cause evaporation of important water supplies, and can displace large populations. With such an unpredictable and harsh climate it is no surprise that maintaining steady food supplies proves so difficult.

Another geographical factor affecting Africa’s environment and productivity is the continent’s age. Africa has escaped much of the geological upheaval that occurs on the other continents, and this stability "has allowed many geologic processes to proceed further in Africa than in the younger continents," (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:219). This means that much Africa’s soil is old and has undergone leaching of nutrients for long periods of time and is therefore dominantly infertile (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:219). This limits the ability of the land to supply food to it’s population, so that Africa’s carrying capacity is largely determined by the productivity, rather than the size, of it’s land.

Contrary to the present state of infertility, in the video "A Garden of Eden in Decay", Mazrui partially blames Africa’s current problems on the great fertility of the past. Mazrui calls abundance the "mother of inertia" and states that equatorial abundance reduced the need for high organization and technology, and that the warm climate reduced the need for clothing and shelter. The closer a people lived to the equator the less need they had for shelter and tools, and the less need to change their ways (Mazrui, video 7). As people evolve to survive their climate, adversity breeds necessity while abundance does not.

The continent’s geography and environment are far from being the sole causes of Africa’s development problems, although those factors have played a large role. Mazrui (video 7) claims that the first cause of Africa’s technological slowness is it’s climate, the second cause is foreign invasion and the third is independent Africa’s failure to recover from distortions. Africans have suffered greatly from the intervention of other peoples, especially "whites". Prior to contact with Europeans, Africa was not completely secluded from outside influences. Both Christianity and Islam have a long history throughout Africa. The two religions, brought to Africa from the north and northeast, combined with and influenced traditional Africanity to create the triple heritage present at the time of European contact.

The Atlantic slave trade may be considered as the first major blow to the African population due to European intervention. The cultivation of sugar in the West Indies demanded many labourers. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and some of the 19th, approximately ten million Africans were "forcibly removed from Africa". These people were taken from Africa by Arab and European slave traders and subjected to horrifying conditions along the journey (Mazrui, 1986:112). This caused a massive decline in Africa’s population at a time when European and North American populations were growing rapidly (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:42). Economically the slave trade resulted in "the loss of an enormous source of productive human labor and the resultant redistribution of the population of the continent." This led to decreased agricultural production as the most fit members of the population were extracted for European uses. Other effects included civil disruptions and the introduction of new diseases (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:103). As Mazrui says in the video "Tools of Exploitation", slavery was "not only denial of freedom for those Africans actually captured, also a denial of development for those left behind." The Atlantic slave trade disrupted skills in the making and the development of African culture.

The British government outlawed slavery in the early 19th century and began to trade legitimate materials from Africa. European industrialists saw that "Africans in Africa could provide European producers with both necessary raw materials and new markets for their cheaply produced manufactured goods" (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:43). Europeans were motivated by "gold for themselves, God for the natives, and glory for their country" (Mazrui, video 4). The arrival of European technology left new forms of desolation. The two goals of Europe’s "double mandate" were to help themselves and to help Africans develop. Instead they brought Westernization without modernization. Europeans built railways to infiltrate the continent and remove it’s resources. In Liberia firestone was used to produce rubber, a classic cash crop. The raw rubber was then exported so the finished product would have to be imported. This is a typical story in Africa, the need to export raw materials to make money. This fact, combined with the lack of technology and technical skills, necessitates the import of finished products. The missionaries that came with the Europeans taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. What Africa didn’t learn, and desperately needed, was technical expertise (Mazrui, video 4).

The second major way in which Europeans greatly influenced African history was through colonization. At the Berlin Conference of 1884 the leaders of European states divided up Africa amongst themselves. Despite resistance throughout colonization, the superior technology, organizational skills, and resources of the Europeans won out (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:47-48). The impact that colonial rule had on Africa’s economy was greatly variable. Raw materials were exported for use in Europe and the Americas, a legacy that continues in present times. New commodities such as coffee, tea and cacao were introduced and used to produce beverages and sweets to suit European tastes. The resulting change from subsistence farming to cash cropping had a huge impact throughout Africa. The Africans were so "preoccupied with responding to the sweet tooth of Europe, they had forgotten hungry mouths" (Mazrui, video 7).

European patriarchal values meant that cash cropping largely favored men while women remained in charge of food crops to support their families (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:104).
In "Women’s Voices, Women’s Power" (1997), Abwunza describes the effect that colonialism had on women’s roles. As European patriarchal views were imposed, women’s contributions were devalued, although in reality their responsibilities increased as men took on outside labour and women became responsible for all home work. Under British rule men were the assumed owners of the land and the means of production so development initiatives were directed primarily towards men (Abwunza, 1997:30). Gordon and Gordon (2001:127) believe that this marginalization of women and their roles has contributed to the present decay of African economies. The neglect of women’s roles especially affected agricultural production by ignoring the importance of their contributions.

After World War II national political parties arose all over Africa. In 1957 Ghana became the first black African nation to become independent in the 20th century. The struggle for independence began to take hold all over Africa, and often was won only through armed conflict (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:50-51). The colonial powers began to realize that continued occupation of the land was no longer possible, and the 1950s and 1960s were a period where many African nations gained their independence. There were widespread expectations that Africa would move into modern times quickly and easily using the technology of colonial rule. However, the skills and technologies of the Western world could not be so readily transferred to Africa. There was a period of experimentation with different political tactics and policies all over the continent (Mazrui, 1986:156-158). Although some of these strategies were somewhat successful, the 1970s were disastrous for most of the continent’s economy. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) had risen throughout the 1960s but then fell throughout the 1970s. The reliance of African economies on cash crops and minerals for foreign exchange, a legacy left by the Europeans, meant that economic growth relied heavily on external markets (Mazrui, 1986:190).

Some of the causes of decay, from Mazrui’s (1986) perspective are: the effects of colonization, urbanization and population growth, lack of education and appropriate technology, investment levels and the physical environment. The emphasis on cash crops by the colonial powers left little money and resources for food crops so that food production has generally remained undeveloped and at a subsistence level. Although agriculture is the traditional basis of African economies, there are few incentives to produce and many potential farmers are moving to urban areas. This urbanization decreases the potential for agricultural output even more, and only increases the reliance on foreign food imports and aid. Political instability has been present throughout Africa throughout history and has also hindered the progress of development by displacing millions of people and discouraging foreign investment. The technologies that Africa does have are often imported from other countries and are therefore inappropriate for African conditions. Mechanized technologies that do not require human labour only contribute to underemployment and unemployment. With the population of Africa being the fastest growing in the world, appropriate technologies must be found that can increase productivity while also increasing jobs and promoting sustainability (Mazrui, 1986:195-201).

Gordon and Gordon’s (2001) discussion of the current state of the economy of Africa explains that economic growth has occurred variably throughout the continent, although environmental growth does not necessarily mean economic development. Economic growth does not necessarily mean equal distribution of the benefits, and it can result in environmental degradation. However, economic growth can facilitate development. The situation in Africa is compounded by rapid population growth. If the population grows faster than the economy, as it has in sub-Saharan Africa since independence, there is an even greater problem (Gordon and Gordon, 2001:112-113). The two most important factors that have contributed to the current state of the sub-Saharan African economies in the past two decade, according to Gordon and Gordon (2001), are HIV and AIDS, and the debt crisis. The widespread occurrence of HIV and AIDS has greatly reduced the number of potential agricultural producers and labourers, impacted the standard of living and education levels (especially of those children left orphaned), and increased the demand (and therefore cost) of health care. The debt crisis resulted from loans and aid given to Africa from developed countries as well as from commercial loans. The oil crisis of the early and late 1970s meant that loans from other countries were less available so Africa had to turn to bank credit and commercial loans. The failure of these loans to help increase productivity and boost the economy has left Africa largely unable to repay it’s debts. This also means that what revenue African countries do earn often must be used towards their debts instead of for spending that might benefit them. Gordon and Gordon (2001) also refer to rapid population growth, lowered agricultural productivity, urbanization and unemployment, lack of environmental protection, internal conflicts and the failure of Structural Adjustment Programs implemented by the UN and World Bank as factors that have contributed to the deterioration of the economy.

The idea that Africa is overpopulated, and that this has contributed to the decay of the economy, is a much debated opinion. In fact, the African continent is sparsely populated and underpopulation can be given as an important factor that impeded economic development. The typical neo-Malthusian view, often maintained by the United Nations and other development agencies, is that a growing population will eventually overwhelm it’s available resources. It is true that a growing population can lead to hardship, but Africa does not follow the typical pattern of development. Typically, in the history of other "developed" countries improved quality of life eventually leads to declining fertility rates. In Africa fertility rates are declining along with decreasing quality of life. Western strategies to promote smaller families and lower population growth have been aimed at women. This is curious since it is generally acknowledge that women lack control and power over most decisions, however they are the ones being blamed for the rapidly growing population (Abwunza, 1997:131-133). Abwunza (1997:134) maintains that the "entire appraisal of overpopulation and population decline in Africa emerges as inappropriate." It is not logical to compare Africa, which has remained mainly agrarian since independence, with other regions of the world where population growth has diminished while the societies have become more industrialized. Even if fertility rates in Africa decline rapidly it will still be almost a century before population growth stops (Abwunza, 1997:134). It is obvious that strategies that do not focus on stereotypical Western ethnocentric views are necessary.

As Africa’s mass poverty demonstrates, the relationship between Western technology and African resources has gone wrong. Mazrui (video 4) explains that cities in Africa have the illusion of wealth, but it is a sign of consumerism not prosperity as they must import these goods from somewhere else. Africans have "acquired Western consumption patterns and tastes without the skills to support them" (Mazrui, video 4). A new abundance of imports has replaced the old abundance of nature at the cost of their independence. Post-colonial Africa was left with "a demon of decay alongside the devil of dependency" (Mazrui, video 7). When Mazrui calls Africa a "garden of Eden in decay", in his video of the same name, he is speaking literally and figuratively. The video shows scenes of the decaying infrastructure in Africa, crumbling roads, silent telephones, broken railways. It is also the death of a civilization, Western culture as it has been known in Africa. Mazrui also refers to the decay of systems and failings of the economy; the decaying health system as well as the decaying hospitals; the unemployment and underemployment that cause the attitude that there is no point in being educated if there are no jobs (Mazrui, video 7).

It is evident that there are diverse and numerous factors that have contributed to the current situations in Africa today. Although Mazrui (who’s point of view can only be described as more "African positive") and Gordon and Gordon (who seem to favour United Nations and World Bank statistics) share somewhat different opinions on the importance of the various factors, they generally concur on what the causes of decay have been. Mazrui, who describes contemporary Africa a "garden of Eden in decay", may emphasize the role of Africa’s geography and environment on the culture and development of it’s people but he definitely is not ignorant of the many other factors and he does not disregard Africa’s own role in it’s underdevelopment. The history of Africa has been shaped by it’s geography yes, but also by many, many external factors, especially the intervention of Europeans upon many occasions. Yet, despite the massive scale oppression, massacres and devastation that Africans have undergone they have managed to survive and still retain hope as they push towards development. There is no definite solution to all the current problems Africa is facing, but it is clear that a wide scale evaluation of past tactics is necessary and future efforts must focus on integrated and comprehensive approaches.
-Sarah Brimson, 2002


Abwunza, Dr. Judith M. 1997. Women’s Voices, Women’s Power. Judith Abwunza, Broadview Press: Peterborough, Canada

Gordon, April A. and Donald L Gordon. 2001. Understanding Contemporary Africa. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.: Boulder, USA

Mazrui, Ali A. and Toby Kleban Levine. 1986. The Africans: A Reader. Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association, Praeger Publishers: USA.

Mazrui, Ali A. 1986. The Africans (video series). Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association and the British Broadcasting Company
video four: Tools of Exploitation
video seven: A Garden of Eden in Decay

Nobody can give you freedom.
Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything.
If you're a man, you take it.

-Malcolm X

Sarah Brimson, 2002