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“Best practices can result in cultural cringe”
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“Best practices can result in cultural cringe”

Adopting best practices is a seen as positive, but Muhammed Badamasi, 22, a Correspondent from Lagos in Nigeria, argues that cultural bias must be considered in making assessment of what is best for the situation.

The term cultural cringe was developed by A.A. Philips, in his controversial 1950 essay of the same name. Cultural cringe is an internalized inferiority complex that causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the culture of other countries.

In his essay, A.A. Philips described the ingrained feelings of inferiority that local intellectuals struggled against, and which were most clearly pronounced in Australian theatre, music, art and letters. The term cultural cringe has been associated many times with colonial mentality.

Best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted above other alternatives because it produces superior results, or because it has become a standard of doing things or complying with requirements. Best practices exist in various industries such as health, agriculture, business, and it has also been used by authorities in defining public policy or making decisions.

Best practice is an efficient way of taking action in many situations, however, in many other situations it is prone to flaws due to the ambiguity stemming from the word “best.” Questions arise such as “is what is best in this situation or environment and what is best in this other situation or environment?”

In Nigeria, cultural cringe has gradually become synonymous with best practice. There is a general belief held by many Nigerians that whatever is Nigerian is naturally inferior to its western counterpart. At the same time, whatever is not Nigerian is best practice.

And so, in many situations, we hear public officials and ordinary Nigerians recommend a certain thing for no reason than its foreignness. We commonly hear phrases like “in America” or “according to how it is done in…” These recommendations are in many situations made without proper evaluation of the two environments, and in most cases have dire effects.

A lecture by Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer at Obafemi Awolowo University, discussed an example of cultural cringe. Speaking on the role of traditional rulers in traditional Yoruba setting , he spoke about the recent rise in alternative dispute resolution in the Nigerian legal system and decried how this system had always been in existence in traditional Yoruba culture, and that the adversarial system of litigation was an introduction of western culture. Today, ADR is being regarded as a foreign concept and recommended as a best practice! Yoruba folk must look on in amusement.

Cultural cringe in Nigeria is also evident in many other areas, from parents who scold their children for speaking indegenous language to the preference of foreign writers and writing over home-grown writers.

The effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism are to blame for cultural cringe. Our traditions and cultures were consciously replaced with foreign ones by the colonialists, our values were decried and our way of life regarded as second rate. This instilled a feeling of inferiority which has been passed down from generation to generation, consciously or unconsciously.

Cultural cringe has affected Nigeria in many ways, but I’ll focus on political culture. The reason behind the poor service of public officials lies in the fact that our system of governance is not home-grown. Politicians and political leaders are raised from birth with traditional values including socio-political values and ethos.

In many traditional political structures for example, leadership is hereditary and leadership reign is perpetual. The western system, however, favours a  periodical reign of leadership. When these two system meet, it creates a clash which is bound to cause a negative result. For example, the perpetuity of tenure of leaders in traditional societies is supposed to ensure continuity in the leadership of a ruling family who are literally raised for the leadership, but is reflected as the greed of politicians who are selected by popular demand, when placed in a western system. When the Nigerian political culture and mindset comes in conflict with the western political system and mindset, it creates confusion. Certain people who exude such political values fit in the western system, but are these values present in the general populace? Can these people survive in an environment structured in a different way?

When these questions are answered, it would be obvious that the correct answer to this is that a political system structured to accommodate the peculiarities of Nigerians – and not a direct prototype of western socio-political culture – should be adopted, since the only reason the current political system exists is because it is regarded as a “best practice.” Moreover, our traditional political systems still exist. Shouldn’t a reform of these systems be a more practical approach, as they were formed by us and for us? These are the questions.

Photo credit: Joe The Goat Farmer How to Grow Your Email List with A Great Newsletter via photopin (license)

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About me: I am an avid reader, writer and enthusiast of African literature. I am a freelance writer and commentator on socio-political issues, and am also involved in the advocacy for good governance and leadership. Currently, I am a law student at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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