The apprehension that African nations feel about embracing modernity, which has hindered their economic and political development, is the focus of a new book by Olúfémi Táíwò, professor of Africana studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
In “Africa Must be Modern,” Táíwò explores the current problems and political climate in African countries and their progress in recent years; and compares their growth to similar countries in other regions of the world.
Costa Rica, for example, preserves its forests and earns substantial revenue from ecotourism, while Liberia risks losing its forests to logging. While the two countries have similar populations, Costa Ricans can expect to live two decades longer than Liberians. “Similar comparisons can be made of, say, Chile and Zambia, Ethiopia and the Philippines, Brazil and Nigeria, and so on,” he writes.
These comparisons support Táíwò’s argument that modernity is necessary for African nations’ survival: “If we would compare ourselves with others, rather than differentiate ourselves from them, we might be shamed into action that will move us forward with the rest of humanity.”
Táíwò notes the presence of homophobia in Africa, writing that in 2009 the Nigerian parliament introduced a bill to criminalize same-sex marriage, representing “a severe escalation of the ongoing warfare against gay and lesbian Nigerians. It got worse in Uganda, where a bill was drafted that would have made having homosexual relations a capital offense conviction which would have attracted the death penalty.”
His analysis of the lack of equal rights in Africa also addresses human rights in general. “The point is that human rights should not be contingent on the kindly disposition of a country’s rulers, however benevolent they may be,” Táíwò writes.
In a book presentation at the Africana Studies and Research Center in April, Táíwò discussed kidnapped Nigerian girls who remain missing, saying that the government’s handling of the incident and the lack of information regarding displacement in Nigeria displays larger, institutional problems. “Nigerian leaders cannot put a number on the amount of Nigerian women and girls that have gone missing,” he said. “Nigeria has never had a credible, successful census.”
Africa lacks modernity that exists in countries with comparable histories and Táíwò argues that socioeconomic conditions will only improve in African countries with the movement towards modernity.
“Here is my challenge: Why is it OK for members of our upper and middle classes, such as they are, to help themselves to the intangible but more significant rewards of modernity while they object to making the same available to the lowliest of their compatriots in African countries?” he asks.
Quinn Cullum is a writer intern at the College of Arts and Sciences.