ModernDemocracy.EU: Underdevelopment Mindset: An Africanizing American Perspective
Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam
Date: Tuesday, 23 November 2021
By Prof. John H. Stanfield II
November 22, 2021
I took my first international development studies class in the 1970s while pursuing Northwestern University Sociology doctoral studies in the United States. International development studies back in those days was a brand-new field in the various social sciences emerging from growing assessment of scholars, consultants, emerging international development NGO administrators, and so called first world national and international organizational policy makers in the United States, Europe, the United Nations, and the World Bank as American and European colonial powers legally freed their colonies. Such legal freedom called “independence” usually was with strings attached to assure dependent marginal new nations without competition capacity against their former colonial authorities.
Before I began to travel and live in African countries, beginning with Sierra Leone as a 1989-90 Fulbright Scholar, and in other legally decolonized countries, back then labeled the “third world”, I belonged to that liberal naive branch of international development studies which rejected terminologies such as ” underdeveloped” and ” developing” which insinuated that peoples of such lands were somehow inferior humans or not human at all. I still do reject any such insinuations about anyone which are biogenetic or theological which claim some people wherever they are, in this case, so called third or first world peoples, are naturally inferior or superior human beings.
But there are, indeed, psychological, social, economic, and political consequences of what has happened to still dependent legally decolonized peoples with underdevelopment and developing outcomes when compared with what it is like living in the first world. After traveling and living in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America off and on since the 1990s and full time in Africa for nearly 10 years now, I can now attest to the realness of what it means to live in a developing or merely, underdeveloped country.
I will here focus on psychological aspects of underdevelopment which I have found to be characteristic in the African and other so called third world countries I have traveled to and especially those I have resided in for a couple of reasons. First, because before my so called third world lived experiences, I used to reject most now classical psychological theorists of societal development and underdevelopment, conventional such as David McClellan and radical such as Franz Fanon. I assumed their views were patronizing over generalizations. Second, what matters the most in human development are the individual cognitions, attitudes, and coping skills we learn institutionally from our families, communities, schools, faith communities, communication technologies, and governments embedded in vastly varied historical sociopolitical, cultural, and socioeconomic contexts. That is, what is generally called our daily mindsets.
What I wish to point out then is: in various historically contextualized ways such as the dominant cultural and linguistic backgrounds of legally former colonizers and thus their colonized oppressed, the status type of historical colonization such as slavery, indentured labor, limited free people, or mode of economic production such as plantation, factory, retail and other consumer sectors, limited businesses and civil service employment, all produced patterns of daily mindsets. As their now neo-colonial continuities, these mindsets contribute greatly to national underdevelopment. Unless they change a nation may adapt more or less to the 21st century well developed world in consuming first world fashion styles, food, car purchases, smart phones, home and commercial office building designs, and legal and health practices but the mindset is in being say a slave, an indentured laborer, or in being a limited freed person used to having limited civil liberties or human rights and human responsibilities.
What are some of the more common neo-colonial mindsets generating continued underdevelopment where I have casually observed and experienced over the years in Africa and elsewhere in the so called third world?
1• Transactional relationships meaning building relationships with others especially those with means perceived or real is an end to get something rather than to build authentic caring friendships and other trusting and loyal meaningful rather than ends oriented relationships. The person is important to get to know as long as you get something out of it– money, position, property, a child, and is tossed away as soon as use value is depleted. The more people place value in sincere private and public caring (charity) relationships, the more a country like its communities and institutions within develops.
2• Little value for efficiency. This means other things matter besides time management, setting and reaching goals, and being productive in workplaces and in general life such as beauty maintenance, gossiping, family affairs, leisure, and pursuing romance. Work is organized around playtime not playtime around work so having time off like short standard work hours, and long weekends and breaks and many holidays are top priority.
3• Buying status symbols such as cars and homes, makeup, facelifts, and fashions through great loan debt beyond real cost of living finances is an obsession which causes great stress, waste of time and energy in constant comparisons competition while ignoring holistic life values and practices. All of this comes crashing down at the least economic crisis such as unemployment, ill health or death of breadwinners as seen in COVID-19 pandemic impacts disproportionately impacting personal and societal indebted so called third world countries with their easy loan opportunities.
4• Looking Outward and Upward. Rather than having an attitude and commitment value to advocate for national pride rooted in good governance and genuine economic and sociopolitical human rights for everyone including the riddance of societal and institutional insufficiencies such as corrupt governments and corrupt institutions such as police, hospitals, media, and schools, one dreams about going to America, France, New Zealand, UK, Canada, or Australia as promised lands of milk and honey. It is a mindset that few in developing countries can realize. It causes negativity, stagnation, and apathy rather than effective human rights movement mobilization. It also encourages casting blame at the wrong causes of corruption, poverty, marginality which keeps citizens in mindsets of blaming their leaders for forced choices they must make due to the neo-colonial boxes they are locked into. It is ironic that such common dreamers wish to run to the very so called first world countries which are the sources of their societal miseries. By the way, this “looking outward and upward” mindset refers as well to the tendency to view anything made in the West in terms of consumer goods and anything sounding western like an accent or being Western such as a potential mate is superior to anything native, providing of course that which is western is somehow white.
5• Having mass consumer literary rather than real life reading and understanding which means buying the ” I love New York” t-shirt or working or eating in a KFC restaurant without knowing or caring about what the words mean or the history of the company hiring you or selling you chicken. Using Internet search engines such as Google to find video games or latest American movie or pop song or to do online shopping without using search engines let alone bookstores and libraries to read about what’s going on in the world or about historical issues. Wanting to only read a few soundbite Instagram words with photos while reading more than a couple of paragraphs is too much.
6• Thinking about “success,” “achievement,” “making it” are magical things which happen to you absent of loyalty, faithfulness, sacrificial hard work, and a committed value for needing to be mentored and at times criticized not just praised. So, dream and do nothing or little and quit the first time someone makes you feel bad or disagrees with you or criticizes you. This is a mark of a low self-esteemed mindset which makes developing countries filled with dreamers rather than doers; those afraid of taking risks and taking criticism it takes to achieve. Always talking never doing. Just dreaming.
7• Mindless development means taking development ideas from the West and applying them to non-western contexts usually through some exorbitant international loan or government funding or international development NGO support which does not fit the realities of the country. But it feeds well the pockets of those who cook up the plans to copy the West in being Western in image though does great harm to the ordinary citizens of their country. What happened in Afghanistan with its 12,000 contractors propped up for twenty years as mindless projects making money is characteristic of what has been going on in the so-called world for decades now. Building schools which have failed to educate. Building unnecessary skyscrapers which come to collapse. Building unnecessary bridges and tunnels. Building clinics and research labs which for years chase chronic diseases seemingly unable to cure and capture while building resumes and providing the income and comfortable accommodations of so called third world health experts be they Westerners or the Westernized. Missionaries of so many faiths coming over by the boatloads to the shores of Africa and to the continent’s many nations who after they leave things remain the same. The morality problems, the poverty, the massive lack of genuine conversion, etc. Such contemporary missionary work, in more cases than a few done in great material comfort, is another example of mindless development which perpetuates underdevelopment adorned in the usual smiles and well intentions that mindless development displays though in different flavors and fabrics.
Mindless development also relates to the misapplication of Eastern and Western ideologies imposed on the ex-colonial Non-West such as communism or democracy which don’t even fit or do well in originating Eastern or Western countries and overtime have evolved into different forms of governance than original constitutional mandates. And then everyone seemingly in East and West elite foreign policy making circles become disappointed when collective farms, multiparty, and even human rights and responsibilities don’t work in neocolonial impositions in African or other so called third world countries. Or shock or dismay occurs if such nation building practices occur in ways apart from Eastern and Western scripts and prescriptions. The emergence of bubbling up citizen movements against standing African governments in recent years in Egypt, Tunisa, Nigeria, Botswana, The Gambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa have Easterners and Westerners scratching their heads, since after all, according to their paradigms, African countries don’t have civil societies. African citizens are conventionally viewed in the East and West as being merely passive pawns, especially those claiming to be in what has been called authoritarian states or because they are in democracies which are poorly lead and managed.
Anyone who is honest rather than in denial due to ideological blinders or blind nationalism would have to admit the observational points made are worthy of further investigation and acting on to eradicate and thus authentically liberate those who remain victimized by the neo-colonial underdevelopment which plagues their countries. As well, underdevelopment mindsets learned in the homeland can come to hinder their own individual development if they have been able to emigrate elsewhere since changing sovereignty geography does not necessarily change well internalized psychological mindsets. Such a geographical change in life can merely allow for a mindset to find new fertile soil for germinating a transplanted mental inclination causing just as much individual underdevelopment as the structural underdevelopment continues to do back home.
It would be a grave inconsideration if I did not raise the point that even though what I have been casting here as the mindset psychology of underdevelopment pertains to the so called the third world, it can be said to also refer to human developmental problems in the so called first world. The American mindset claiming we are so superior allows us to forget our own chronic areas of individual and societal underdevelopment and the mindsets which maintain such dominant mythologies. American medical systems and our higher education systems rank among the lowest in the world. Our election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016 and his behavior while in office and his refusal to concede losing to Joe Biden is a script expected in a so-called Banana Republic or African country as much as members of a national legislative branches well in the deep pockets of donors rather than representing the quality of life needs of their constituencies and of the nation. The Republican effort to repress voter rights of Non-Whites to win future elections is something you would expect in a so called third world country as is the paralysis of Democrats as national political rulers claiming to be for the people but too much in the pockets of Wall Street with no energy to standup to racial injustices in effective ways as an empty campaign promise. The recent Kyle Rittenhouse court decision to acquit a White Supremacist vigilante is something you would stereotypically expect in a so called third world country where we are taught miscarriages of justice for such violent people is expected. So, like the underdeveloped nations we Americans enjoy looking down to and patronizing with our smug media remarks and foreign charity aid, we continue to in many respects look like because we are, an underdeveloped country with the psychological mindsets of underdevelopment listed earlier but of course with our own twists and turns. The extremely rural and urban poverty. The deep problems the middle class as well as the poor is having paying the house note, being gainfully employed, and having quality food to eat and air to breath. The deep discrimination against women, especially the Non-White, the lack of decent healthcare and education of the poor, especially those who are Non-White, and the massive illiteracy of all of us which makes us so vulnerable to emotional manipulation such as who we decide to vote for even against our quality-of-life interests.
So increasingly, and tragically ironically, what I have listed as mindsets of underdevelopment in the formerly colonized Non-West is in many respects attitudes and behaviors the ex-colonized pick up and internalize as mindsets from the East and West in this information and social media digital age where emulation, too often of things which injure rather than help and empower run rampant without needed reflection, critique, and prevention. So that goes as well to explain why and how too often the ex-colonized watch and copy the xenophobia, racism, elitism, and corruption of not only Americans but also of their former European colonizers in their distorted mindsets of dominance through which they afflict their own underdevelopment. It is why when people arrogantly point to corruption on the part of African leaders or about how African leaders do not take of their own people, my first response is a question, not to excuse but to put in proper context: where did they learn it from?