ICTs and Cultural Promotion in Africa: Insights From Recent Research and Case Studies

ICTs and Cultural Promotion in Africa: Insights From Recent Research and Case Studies

Floribert Patrick C. Endong (University of Calabar, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6998-5.ch012

Abstract

Digital technologies have, in recent times, become key tools for cultural promotion and preservation in various parts of Africa. A number of interesting cultural projects are today created in most Black African countries to promote specific aspects of less represented cultures through digital platforms. The entities behind such projects vary from nongovernmental initiatives to government agencies and are driven by varied motives. In spite of this variety of motives, their actions indisputably aim at the same cultural vision: the promotion and restoration of various aspects of the African cultures. Hinging on empirical understandings, this chapter critically explores these digitally driven cultural projects. The chapter specifically examines the prospects and challenges of using digital technologies to promote culture in Black African countries. It addresses the following research questions: What is the state of cultural promotion in Black African countries? How are ICTs facilitating cultural activism in the continent? and What are some of the challenges faced by cultural activists in the continent?
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Introduction

According to some popular myths, the use and proliferation of digital technologies in most non-western climes have not been culture-free or neutral, but two subtle vectors of westernization and western cultural imperialism. These myths are not unconnected to theories which stipulate that, rather than being perfectly open and accessible to all, digital platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Google+ and Twitter among others are commercial entities conceived primarily by and for the Western world. These digital platforms most often “reinforce the inequalities of globalization, rarely reflecting the perspectives of those at the bottom of the digital divide” (Ramesh, 2017). Closely associated with this position is the fact that CMC technologies appear to embed and subtly promote the cultural values and communicative preferences of their western designers. Ess (2006) illustrates this reality with two examples drawn from Africa and Asia. He notes that the concept of Learning Centres adopted in South Africa to empower indigenous peoples by helping them exploit the multiple potential and capacities of the ICTs technically failed, partly because of glaring incompatibilities between the ICT-driven projects and local cultures. In effect, as Ess (2006) puts it, “the Centres reflect their designer’s Western emphasis on individual and silent learning – in contrast with indigenous preferences for learning in collaborative and often noisy, performative ways”. In the same way, the Western Group Support System (GSS) which enables anonymity as one of its features aimed at facilitating direct and open communication failed in most of the Confucian cultures of South Asian mainly because of its cultural content. The project proved to be a disaster as it “succeeded in encouraging subordinates to make comments that were culturally interpreted – and condemned – as attacks on one’s ‘face’” (p.23).

These two examples and many other similar issues give credence to the myth stipulating that CMC technologies are not value-free or morally neutral as they carry and promote particular cultural values (mainly Western values) and communication habits which are far from being universal. ICTs are socio-cultural products which become “mainstream mental models in the societies in which they emerge” (Tedre et al, 2006) and which may not always reflect or be compatible with the cultural values of societies that are exogenous to the original ICT developer (Endong, 2015, 2017; Keniston, 1997; Lieberman, 2015; Stogyte, 2013). It could thus be contended that, the use and proliferation of digital technologies in such continents as Africa and Asia have arguably been key contributors to the phenomena of cultural erosion and extinction as well as vectors of westernization or Americanization in these continents.

Though this position has a degree of pertinence, it appears indisputable that technology has evolved to the extent that it is today possible to create websites, graphics and software among other instruments that enable all communities irrespective of their origin and philosophical affiliations to transmit various aspects of their cultures to their youths. The evolution and increasing accessibility of new information and communication technologies have equally made it possible for many communities to export - and even globalize – their cultural values. In tandem with this, the digital technologies have, in recent times become key tools for cultural promotion and preservation in various parts of Africa. A number of interesting cultural projects are today conceived in most Black African countries to project or promote various aspects of less represented cultures through digital platforms. The entities behind such projects remarkably vary from nongovernmental initiatives to government agencies and are driven by varied motives. In spite of this variety of motives, their actions indisputably aim at the same cultural vision: the promotion and celebration of various aspects of the African cultures.

Key Terms in this Chapter

ICTs: This includes telecommunication technologies such as the satellite, the cable, mobile telephony, and radio and TV, as well as digital technologies such as computers and the internet among, others.

Cultural Activism: The use and/or creation of cultural products—notably art, literature, music, cinema, and the like—to promote social change. The concept thus involves the blending of artistic activities/expressions and activism, rooted in the desire to advocate social justice or provoke socio-political change in a society.

Indigenous Knowledge: This concept is used in reference to the large body of knowledge and skills developed outside formal education. Such body of knowledge and skills is rooted in culture and unique to a particular people. It shaped decision making in all domains of life including food habits, health, education, child rearing, natural resource management, and agriculture among others.

Indigenization: A process whereby exocentric values or concepts are appropriated and adapted to local contexts. This means applying foreign ideas according to local specificities. In the African context, indigenization is most often associated with Africanization and used as a tool to resist Western cultural imperialism.

Cultural Heritage Preservation/Conservation: This has to do with the protection and restoration of tangible cultural heritage, notably monuments, architecture, artworks, archeological sites, historical works and museum collections among others. The concept involves a wide range of methodologies and activities including collection care, management (via tracking, examination, documentation, exhibition, and storage), preventive conservation, and restoration. Other cultural heritage conservation methods include research, treatment and education.

Oral Tradition: This is a type of human communication in which art, ideas, knowledge, and cultural material is received, preserved, and transmitted orally from one generation to the other. Otherwise called oral lore or orality, the concept of oral tradition represents a dynamic and complex form of oral-aura medium for evolving, storing and transmitting ideas, knowledge, and art in a society.

Digitization: A process whereby a document (text), picture, object, signal, and/or sound is converted into digital format, which is readable by a computer. Converting these different things will mean turning them from analogue to bits.

Afrimation: A portmanteau word composed of Africa and animation. It is used in reference to animation projects which are conceived by Africans, for Africans, and about Africa. Such animation projects are most often driven by the African renaissance current and thus, seek to project and popularize core African traditional values.

Cultural Heritage Documentation: As an integral part of cultural heritage preservation/conservation, documenting cultural heritage involves the use of various recording technologies to survey and map cultural heritage. Some of these technologies include manual measurements (tape, handheld distometer), tacheometry using a total station, data acquisition using a fast scanning image assisted total station, GPS/GNSS, terrestrial laser scanning, terrestrial photogrammetry, aerial photogrammetry, airborne laser scanning, and other (geophysical prospecting) methods.

Traditionalism: The act of upholding or maintaining traditional values or beliefs as a strategy to resist socio-political change.

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