Cultural Essentialism: A Sordid Boon at the Shores of Sub-Saharan Africa
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In our Gikuyu tradition, it is the lead woman who urges the husband to marry again. “Get me a companion.” […] The management of a polygamous household is a matter of individual liberty. Each woman has her own hut…entirely under her own control. When age set peers visit, the wives exercise their freedom, which amounts to something like polyandry. Each wife is free to choose anyone among the age group and give him accommodation for the night. (Kenyatta, 1938, p. 181). The above quote from Jomo Kenyatta’s book underscores the passion with which most independent leaders in Africa desired for a return to past traditions and culture. From Leopold Senghor in Senegal to Aime Ceisar, the clarion call was the rejection of foreign culture and a return to a lost past to restore the African person. At this time, it is probable that none of them realized that the fixed identities they elevated would arm Africans with the much needed arsenal to fight each other. A few years after independence, ethnic conflicts arose as consequence of cultural difference. Favouritism of people of certain ethnic communities in government appointments, employment in companies and promotions in places of work became norms. Today, political mobilization is ethnic- based the competition of which degenerates to violent factions that destroy the social fabric of these nations. Ethnicity is politicized and politicians return to their people to form a formidable base before they seek support from other ethnicities in the country. In the event of allegations of corruption leveled against a politician, members of his community rally behind them. Vernacular media stations behind the mask of promoting African languages and culture perpetuate hate against those communities perceived as enemies to the privileged community. Okogu and Omudjere (2002) observe that tribal groups in African terrain have different cultures with different ideologies with inherent discrimination that evolve series of wars and terrorism (94). They therefore suggest that any tendency to encourage diversity exposes these nations to hostility and political strife. This paper interrogates the efficacy of cultural essentialism on African nations. Using postcolonial theory, the researcher analyses the effects of cultural essentialism on the social fabric of Sub-Saharan Africa. The ideas of Edward Said, Frantz Fanon and Homi Bhabha will form the theoretical basis of interpretation.