Oppressive Cultures, Terror and Scientific Progress in Africa


Numerous studies and analyses indicate that large parts of Africa show signs of sizeable progress in several areas -such as governance, security, growth, urbanization, education, ICTs, biotechnologies, infrastructure, agriculture, industry and services. Yet, the same data also shows that large parts of the region may not meet critical Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and are not likely to achieve sustainable development any time soon. Unacceptable levels of political, social, economic, cultural and mythological poverty are likely to plague the continent for a very long time to come.


Too many Africans are terrorized by their authoritarian governments, polices, soldiers, taxes and bills collectors, rival ethnic groups, the gods they have adopted, the demons they fear and the related religious / ecclesiastical / clerical establishments, their commanding husbands, and liberalism, neocolonialism and globalization that may threaten their livelihood. Too many are also terrorized by hunger, HIV or other illnesses, death or fear of not being able to find a decent job and sustain a family.  In short, there are plenty of reasons for Africans to be intimidated, terrorized and "unfree".


Freedom may be both the means and the end of development (Sen, 1999). Indeed, development requires a certain degree of freedom to be possible and substantial. Without freedom there cannot be any significant development. Development that does not increase freedom in a number of critical areas, such as those described in the UN Secretariat document presented at the UN 2005 Summit and titled “In Larger Freedom”, cannot be qualified as development.


Perhaps, the deep-seated obstacles to sustainable development in the region are the multiple lacks of freedom: political, social, economic, cultural and religious. In UN Secretary General’s words what is lacking is ‘freedom from oppression, freedom from fear and freedom from want’.


Political freedom is rising in a number of countries and declining in others (see Freedom House, 2005).  On the whole, political freedom may be gaining ground. Yet, freedom of the press, speech, expression, assembly, criticizing Heads of States, high level politicians and  governments, still have a long way to go to open the door to a true modernity.


Cultural freedom seems to be very limited as regards religious freedom. Africa is a highly heterogeneous continent whereby sweeping generalizations do not do justice to its extreme diversity. But, in many respects, the lack of freedom leads to an obvious lack of diversity that prevents the region from development. In the spiritual area, for instance, if you are born in a Muslim family in a predominantly Muslim country you are likely at 99.99% to be a Muslim all your life (statistics on religious conversion).  You will enjoy the freedom to exercise your religion but you will not enjoy the practical freedom to choose your religion and you will not enjoy full freedom from religion (freedom not to adhere and practice any religion). You will not enjoy respect for (religious) diversity promoted by the United Nations (see for example UNESCO, 2005). And if you are among the improbable 0.01% who wants to diversify and adhere to non-Islamic cosmological beliefs and practices, say Christian for example, you may be examined by an Islamic committee to determine if you are sane enough to take such a decision (for example, in Egypt).  And if after overcoming multiple legal and social obstacles, you are allowed to change your religion, you are likely to face numerous other difficulties, such as changing your Muslim name to a non-Muslim name, etc.


As a whole, the overriding obstacle to development may be the slow pace of scientific advancement and the predominance and endurance of pre-scientific worldviews, mindsets and mentalities. In fact, half the region is not able to enjoy acceptable levels of freedom from terror, conflict (if not war), violence, food insecurity, oppression, tyranny, joblessness, over-religiosity, international dependency (including budgetary), and environmental degradation.  Many Africans lack freedom from pre-scientific ways of thinking and knowing (alienation from colonization, alien deities, ancestral cosmological beliefs, mythological possession, prejudices, superstitions, charlatanism, magic, etc.). Science offers a way out of this difficult situation.


Provided that institutionalized terror is overcome or contained, science, technology and innovation can help the region achieve critical MDGs, sustainable development and access to a distinctive modernity.


In summary, Africans need more freedom in wide ranging areas of their life. Tyrannical cultures, in which peoples are continuously terrorized, are not conducive to meet MDGs, achieve sustainable development and transit towards modernity.