African family

Anthropology: Covid-19 Threatens African Sociocultural Norms and Values

“One of the unintended consequences of the imposition of strict measures by African governments in the wake of the pandemic is the threat they pose to the very fabric of African societies, as we know them today. Sociocultural norms and values that are at the center of African societies now face severe risk of disappearing into oblivion” (UNESCO, 2020:6).

It is incontrovertible truth that Covid-19 pandemic’s so-called ‘new normal’ destructively affected Africans’ historic cultural values and practices. Seemingly, the coronavirus epidemic due to its cosmopolitan nature propels the world to follow common preventative measures, albeit ignoring that some will have to let go of their traditions. It is not strange that people give attention to the group which is in greater possession of financial resources; so it is with the world’s regimes.

“Since the emergence of COVID-19 on the continent, African governments have had to decide whether, in addition to following WHO recommendations to test widely, contact trace, and quarantine, they would adopt draconian measures such as total lockdowns, stay at home to save lives campaigns, and travel and movement restrictions as has been done in European and Asian countries” (Mehtar, 2020:e881)

African culture is at stake during the feigned globalisation moments

“Why is it that there are First and Third world countries? This clearly shows that human rights are used as bait by the West to deceive other nations in disregarding their cultural values and unconsciously adopting Western norms and values in the false name of democracy and human rights” (Mawere & Mubaya, 2016:214).

Jessica Starman, MBA, Co-Founder & CEO of Elev8 New Media

For Africa to sustain its culture, it must decide autonomously, not to conform to feigned globalisation, because in this world’s hegemonic system it is improbable to evidence acculturation. As a Yoruba proverb teaches, If you want to dance to the osaka drum, dance to it; if you want to dance to the osoko drum, dance to it; to dance to both drums at the same time does not benefit a human person. This indicates that African culture is at stake, since they have less to offer. Maeda and Nkengasong (27:2021) also discover that “Africa has overstrained and weak health systems, inadequate financing of health care, paucity in human resources”. So it is clear that the deteriorating continental state motivates it to sell its values for the exchange of resources.

Africans cultural values

African cultural values encompass the commonly cherished, appreciated and standardised indigenous Africans’ social behaviors and order. For Awoniyi (2015:4) culture covers religions, languages, dress, lifestyle, and entire life factors. Due to the demographic scope of Africa, it is rarely possible to record all cultural values from every African group, thus the focus is directed to the most common cultural values. As a result, the author investigates the clash of Africans’ most famous indigenous cultural values throughout covid-19 era, including but not limited to Ubuntu, Communalism, spiritual belief.

Ubuntu – African cultural values 

“In Africa we have a word, ubuntu, which is difficult to render in Western languages. It speaks about the essence of being human: that my humanity is caught up in your humanity because we say a person is a person through other persons” (Tutu 1999: ix).

The origin of Ubuntu in Africa is not a political precept or slogan, it is the way of living and inevitable tradition morals which is practiced and taught without conscious and recognition. Marumo et al (2019:192) posit that through Ubuntu African communities ‘belief that man is defined as “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.”. likewise, Malawians proverb conceive that those that are more than one are people and he who is alone is an animal.

African police officer inflict corporal punishment to street vendor in Kampala, Uganda during covid-19.

“Stay at home” strangle Ubuntu

Supportive community network is usual way to practice of Ubuntu, e.g. when somebody’s neighbour is unavailable, somebody should be watchful. However, during covid-19 many states in Africa strictly implemented and reinforce ‘stay at home’ measures. This influences the essence of self-reliance, where people believe in their independence and debate the co-dependent African society. In Africa, it is not abnormal to ask for food from a neighbour. That is how human welfare is valued. So, the pronouncement of “stay at home” is threatening homeless people’ value in the society. Clearly, a person with a sense of Ubuntu will never arrogantly insist on people to stay at home, knowing that most people are homeless.

Covid-19 compliance free Africans from other social issues

Now African states raspingly command street vendors to stay at home, who are substantively defying this are subjected to brutality. Moreover, they are called irresponsible idiots, and law enforcements sees their substantive reasons as excuses for not staying at home. African government prioritise the lives of those who can afford to stay at home at the expense of the destitute. That’s diametric contradiction to the maxims Ubuntu, and ‘disvalue’ the African culture. Dzirutwe (2020) report that in Mabelreign, grandmother Nerwande questioned “what will my children eat if I stay at home?”. This was reported in Zimbabwe and it meant nothing to those in power because they claim to protect certain people.

 Value of “disconnection” over interconnection in contemporary African society

“The review of existing ethical literature on ubuntu philosophy shows that each person is never alone, but is constituted by webs of interconnection (through shared identity), interrelatedness, intersubjectivity (mainly by cognition, that is, thinking of oneself as ‘we’) and interdependence (whereby one develops personhood/humanness through others)” (Ewuoso & Hall, 2019:99)

African governments have shown its unfamiliarity to the shared-identity subject with other African states. For instance, South African government rushed to upgrade Beitbridge border during the first stages of lockdown. Minister De Lille reasoned that they “ensure that no undocumented or infected persons cross the country” (Mkinana, 2020). This was done even though it is known that Zimbabweans are struggling from hyperinflation and poverty. Africans develop segmentations amongst themselves. For others to be accept, they have to be documented and uninfected. This indicate the current reluctance in the sense of communalism which changed the “Us before I” in Ubuntu to “Us against Them”

Communalism – African cultural value

African family

Communalism is succinctly defined:

“The value that traditional African societies place on communalism is expressed in the sharing of a common social life, commitment to the social or common good of the community, appreciation of mutual obligations, caring for others, interdependence, and solidarity” (Awoniyi, 2015:8).

This quote provides that it is not in African culture for Africans’ states to be brutal when they enforce law. However, throughout covid-19 Mugabe (2020) reports that “Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Kenya are some of the countries that security agencies have used brutal means to keep people off the streets”. Indeed, it is unnecessary for police to exclude themselves from community struggle. African governments’ attitude to ruthlessly demand community to comply during lockdown it is contravening the communalism standards. Even though, government nearly incriminate all victims as being irresponsible and breaking the law. Yoruba proverb expose that somebody who steals once, and covers himself with a royal garment, is still covered by the stain of the theft.

Power of covid-19 pull down ‘Caring for others’ to Africans

Africans are known to consolidate themselves against any problems and sharpen contradictions for mutual beneficial course. Accordingly, the African Task Force for Coronavirus, Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and others is supposed serve this. But, judging these organizations from the deteriorating state in the Africa, they are not serving a practicable and effective purpose. In the past 10 months, Loembé et al. (2020:1002) anticipated that “implementation of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy on COVID- 19 will require US$420 million over the next six months to stop the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle its immediate economic, humanitarian and health effects”. At this point, Africans are dealing with disadvantageous scares and inopportune effects of covid-19 individually. They hardly realise the usefulness of these organizations, if not outliers.

Solidarity in the eyes of the publics not solidarity for Africans

“Lacking governmental financial support, as is being provided for populations and businesses in Europe and USA, most of Africa’s poorest citizens will ignore quarantine directives and continue to engage in communal activities to earn incomes for their families” (Mehtar et al, 2020:e882).

Africans realise and endure the disappointment of pretence of solidarity from their regimes, corporate sectors and amongst citizens. Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, people majorly praise the essence of solidarity, but they realise few solidarity actions. WHO (World Health Organization) advise the world to avoid social gatherings and timelessly instill the vitality of staying at home. Currently, African states are flowing in debts and economy is depreciating worse none of international NGO is helping. Moreover, dispossessed people in African countries are unable to get secure shelter and are mainly jeopardised for coronavirus (Ozili, 2020).

New normal of unshared social life amongst Africans

Communalism in African society manifests itself in their everyday social life, and they share both hurting and exciting moments. Africans’ values coming together to share sorrowful moments in funeral and times needy.  For Jaja et al. (2020:1078) “the regulation approving 50 persons per burial presents an opportunity for the spread of COVID-19. Hence, only immediate family members should be allowed to bury their loved”. However, this challenge the value that Africans put on funerals because, Africans’ “family members” are not a few close people. For the record, Africans believe that death is not the end, rather the person proceeds in other another realm. So the failure to attend funeral do not bring closure to Africans as per covid-19 regulations. It is because they believe that the person is not annihilated and the person is watching them from other realms. Covid-19 regulations and preventative depreciate the value of funerals.

Africans’ cultural belief system

“While there are specific geographic, ethnic, linguistic, and spiritual characteristics among peoples in Africa, African religion in general is the indigenous faith and practice of African peoples, which is the product of their perception, encounter, reflection upon, and experiences of the universe in which they live. Generally, the African world exists in two spheres – the visible, tangible, and concrete world of humans, animals, vegetation, and other natural elements; and the invisible world of the spirits, ancestors, divinities, and the supreme deity.” (Tarusarira, 2017:400).

Divination bones in African cultural values
Mindburst Workshop NPC 2018

Digitised spiritual Era during covid-19

Biko (2005:29) notes that “material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills”. The lockdown measure increases the effectiveness of technology and ease communication. Religious formations cleverly use traveling and social gathering restrictions to mobilise their congregants to use 4IR (online church sessions). However, this is the disadvantaging, if not diminishing African, spiritual belief system. The African spirituality or deity is complex and unpredictable. It is not ‘religious formation’, and it does not conform to scriptures. Religious formation is easily facilitated throughout covid-19, e.g. Christians can preach the 10 Commandments anywhere, unlike mandates. Africans’ value the belief that traditional healers encode messages from the creator and ancestors. As a result, traditional healers have a mandate to communicate instructions and solutions to help-seekers.

Era valued scientific over Africans’ beliefs

Covid-19 period repeatedly nullify anything that is not seen or tested as being scientific. Africans are not just physical being, but they are also spiritual beings. Anything that is apparently unsatisfying the scientific prospects is adjudged useless and harmful. For instance, WHO’s scientific tests disapproved the Madagascar’s indigenous Covid-Organics. Even though, Malagasy Institute of Applied Research discover that Cocid-Organic helped two people to recover. It is quite clear that the issue is not about the effectiveness of remedy, it is about what so-called scientific claim. Energy vested to reject Covid­-Organic are rarely realised in researchers’ discovery in two-dose Astra-Zeneca ineffective vaccine in South African variant.  In fact, the scientific proponents used their superpower to mobilise human resources to justify the already purchased ineffective vaccine.

Covid-19 redefines the value of Africans’ dignity

African Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (2019) clarifies that “Africans think of dignity not solely as an individual human characteristic or right, but as a concept that implicates our most important relationships, including family, community, tribe and nation”. Covid-19 jeopardise the importance of relationships amongst Africans. Poor people in Africa are exposed to the world and their poverty state is the Public Relations to the privileged. Covid-19 robs Africans dignity to have the dignified funerals, marriages and ritual ceremonies.

Author’s view

Cartoon of silhouette of man with puzzle on head looking at the piece of the puzzle as if in deep thought or lost.

“…It is vital that we should nurture our own culture and history if we are to develop that African personality which must provide the educational and intellectual foundations of our Pan-African future” (Nkrumah, 1963).

Covid-19 preventative measures could have been more effective if they were applied and aligned to African cultural values. Africans defy some lockdown regulations because they have no connection to them, hence they believe they are not meant for them. The Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) is supposed to lead the discourse of covid-19 in Africa. The traditional herbs are the effective mode to unequivocally address the covid-19 lethality. Following the trends in social media, ordinary Africans are endorsing indigenous artemesia remedyand opposed exogenous vaccine. In fact, there are Africans who unshakably believe that Covid-Organic is the way forward to curb covid-19. Ideally, it does not make sense for Africans’ state to accept that Covid-Organic is a useless yet ineffective vaccine.

Generally, Africans’ use western medicines like ‘pain-block’ pills to ease the pains, yet they are not always useful to everyone. The argument is that WHO is harsh on suppressing herbal remedies, yet soft in cooked medications. Some of African states are inconsiderate to close circumcision initiation schools which minify spread of chronic disease HIV-AIDS. Covid-19 approaches prove that Africans’ states prioritise the pharmaceutical industries over the IKS. If the Africans’ approach to covi-19 enhance African cultural values, the continent’s ability to deal with the virus could’ve been eased. However, it is proven that African cultural values are diminishing because of the corona virus in Africa.

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