Cross-Cultural Communication

What difficulties in communication do cross-cultural workers face? How can these best be addressed in various settings?

The Reply of African Ethnicist-nationalism to the Overwhelming Mega-culture of Globalization

Adder Abel Gwoda, Ph. D., is       Vice-Dean in charge of Programming and Academic Affairs and Faculty of Letters and Social Sciences at the University of Maroua/Cameroon   Blog (in French):  http://gwoda.canalblog.com

Adder Abel Gwoda, Ph. D., is Vice-Dean in charge of Programming and Academic Affairs and Faculty of Letters and Social Sciences at the University of Maroua/Cameroon

Blog (in French): http://gwoda.canalblog.com

WCIU Journal: Cross-Cultural Communications Topic

February 28, 2019

by Adder Abel Gwoda, Ph. D.

This article is a follow up of a conference presentation I made to the faculty of medicine at Saint Joseph University in 2005. I was then a PhD Student and my intervention was within the framework of brainstorming on the impact of the Western way of life, organized by the club Mosaïca. [1]

My paper followed a proposal by Sédar Senghor, of a global market where cultures would be the main goods. In this “give-and-take market” (Senghor 1977), various human cultural entities would exchange their distinctives. This situation wherein differences would peacefully exchange in a large-scale market seemed seductive, but this was all wrong in as much as the mega-culture of the West turns out to be a culture-killer backed by economic imperialism implicit in globalization.

This radical negation of the relevance of cultural differences caused by the Western mega-culture has led to the reactions by humiliated cultures which turn out either to be dangerous (terrorism), or adaptive (ethnicist-nationalism). How do African cultures react to globalization? A phenomenological analysis of daily African cultural life, which faces Western imperialism emanating from globalization, finds there is a kind of archetypical reaction which can bring together traditionalism and “possible-modernism.” [2] Can this this combination lead to legitimate multiple identities and enable the construction of a post-modernist society that goes beyond the opposition between tradition and modernity?

An investigation into the ramifications of globalization will enable us to understand the reasons for conflict between Western culture and so-called peripheral cultures. Presenting this field of conflict as “central” civilization, and “peripheral” civilizations will enable us to account for various identity responses deriving from this conflict. An African response of “ethnicist-nationalism” will be presented as a flexible cosmo-citizenship built against the backdrop of nationalist and globalist standpoints.

Globalization and Culture

Globalization as a Remake of Communism

From geographical and ideological perspectives, globalization can be subsumed under the notion of a united world, in the form of a planetary village. There were noticeable changes in the aftermath the Cold War. Much progress was recorded in the domains of communication, technology, the restructuration of global capitalism, the overwhelming role of financial institutions, and the omnipresence of their branches. Their money and ideas caused changes of the ways of life of individuals and societies. These changes then gave rise to new conditions of proximity and even of close-intimacy with external worlds which had been previously unknown.

Fukuyama points out that the changes associated with a homogenizing world is therefore not the “end of the story.” Rather, it is the beginning of a new era of “an integral globalization”[3] (Guillou 2005, 24). The rise of a one-sided world, “a globality,” looms large. According to Fukuyama, this dynamic “possesses an enormous power of homogenization and assimilation’.” It is a uniformizing universal which absorbs and even dissolves divergences and characterizes itself by the rise of a new model of global system which we will call “reiterative communism.”

What does reiterative communism mean? The question deserves to be answered, lest an old issue be clothed in current concepts thereby giving it the appearance of something new. We are talking about a new type of communism which does not consist of umbrella laws “communizing” only from the top, but by a kind of osmosis—the assimilation of new ideas—through the lenses of economy, politics, and culture. While it is true that communism is decaying, our world is still haunted by its mental frames. Subjugated by the slogan “proletarians the world over, unite!” the resulting unity turned out to be a dictatorship of the proletarians. Communism tries to delete barriers through the highly centralized communist political structure. Following the same scheme, globalization, in its attempt to go beyond the national level to the benefit of a supra-national virtuality, will finally ignite a global dictatorship of global thought, a kind of uniformity at all levels.

From a cultural standpoint, globalization will transform the world into a unique space which theoretically should have brought cultures together. However, when technology and economic organization are the unifying factors, cultural values and identities clash rather than cooperate. This is due to the hegemony of Western culture, fueled by its techno-economic matrix. Western culture, which has become “instrumental,” imposes itself on others, thus worsening the conflicts among global civilizations.

The Conflict Zone between Instrumental and Sentimental Cultures

At the give-receive meeting mentioned above, Senghor fought for the concept of a cultural universalism in which the general enriches the particular in an exchange in which both win. However, this idea does not take into consideration the dominant way in which Western/occidental culture has been instrumental in globalization. When basic characteristics of a culture are ignored or rejected by the dominant Western culture, we are exposed to an unfair competition.

We have to review the definition of “culture,” because its conception is essential to understand a culture’s attachment to tradition. Edward Tylor defines culture as a “complex totality which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, moral, customs, and all other capacity or habit acquired by a human being as a member of the society” (Tylor 1871). [4] This definition sees culture as an inheritance, because what is acquired is transmitted from generation to generation. As such, culture is like a state which is obliged to be attached to its traditional dimension, that is, an association of living manners, of thinking, rites, and myths transmitted by parents and left by ancestors (Armengaud 1982, 259). Culture is not static, but is intrinsically dynamic. Cultural contents are modified and adapted according to human relations to others and towards nature, within the limits of cultural identity that is passed down through acculturation processes.

But, jolted by globalization’s waves, traditional values are being replaced by the West’s techno-economic matrix. Western consumer culture today is not part of an exchange of cultural values. Rather, it is an agent (or instrument) that cuts across cultures and disfigures them as they lose traditional referents due to the action of liberal markets. Participation in the marketplace requires adaptation to Western culture which is reduced to a simple vital function, that of living to consume and consuming to live: consumerism.

This unbridled hedonism [5] as noticed by Paul-Émile Roy (1997) demonstrates a negation of culture. Culture exists when human beings relate to what is external to them as creators of spaces in interdependence with the universe. There is no culture when humans are simply a dependent part of the universe—dependent on technology and production. Sadly, the values of Western culture, are being lost by its techno-economic matrix which is similar to a real Darwinism (survival of the fittest). This culture will function to the exclusion and marginalization of other cultures which it labels as peripheral, inaccurate, empty, or simply as exotic folklores.

According to the above, we notice that what is called Western culture is not actually a culture. It is an anti-culture, because it is disenchanted according to Max Weber’s assertion, that is, it reduces its sense to simple economic functions. It is a culture-killer, because it promotes itself to the detriment of other cultures which it tries to destroy.

“Repressed and humiliated cultures will come back with a defensive reaction with the aim of identity assertion. This reaction represents love of one’s culture and will be lived out as either violent or innovative.”

In a world in which a market economy results in classic international relations being forgotten, every culture which will not assimilate to this mega culture will be exposed to marginalization and humiliation (Abou 2009, 18). This is not only because any given merchant-client will naturally conduct business with one to the exclusion of others, but also the selection process can potentially generate confrontations. Repressed and humiliated cultures will come back with a defensive reaction with the aim of identity assertion. This reaction represents love of one’s culture and will be lived out as either violent or innovative. This represents a society’s desire to be characterized differently, a desire to relive the national memory. This is love resisting conquest by the standardized universal. It is motivated by what Selim Abou calls in his book, Culture and Human Rights, a “matrix ontological anguish” (Abou 1992, 22).

Nationalism and “Falling Back” Identity

We have noticed that in globalization, cultural values diverge and exacerbate conflicts among the different global civilizations. It is this state that Huntington called “the clash of civilization.” As he foresaw, it seems to be the major war of this century’s beginning: “The most important conflicts will burst on the lines of cleavage which divide civilizations” (Huntington 1993, 25; Defarges 1997, 82). Globalization, by promoting occidental values all over the world, calls forth tremendous reactions from other cultures which are threatened with disappearance. This explains the explosion of fundamentalism, the “falling back” identities (Abou 2009, 17). The increase in terrorist acts, such as the World Trade Center in the United States, in Bali in Indonesia, or in Madrid in Spain [6], and many other attempts throughout the world, find their explanation in this response.

“Globalization, by promoting occidental values all over the world, calls forth tremendous reactions by other cultures which are threatened with disappearance. This explains the explosion of fundamentalism … and terrorist acts.”

The dream of a homogenized world, that of a global village, assumes assimilation of national distinctives, as with the internet, where borders and distinctions are eliminated. This ideology stands on two big virtues: transparency and merging. Globalized human beings become transparent because they are communicative beings. They demonstrate merging because their relations to other are always thought of in terms of the abolition of divisions, such as the negation of distance in cyber space. This utopia, which from all indications is frightening, can result in violating liberty and equality, important principles to republicanism and liberal democracy. [7] Relations between individuals and people can never be sustainably built on a requirement of transparency and merging. Transparency and merging signify “self” destruction. This destruction will result sooner or later in a violent reaction. That is why Marcel Gauchet said:

 “A nations’ decline to the profit of a global of network leads immediately to tribalism. To an extremity, to the empire to another one, to the war at the place of commerce, and to forced appearances at the place of independence” (Gauchet 1993, 82).

This is what causes cultural anti-globalists to wish to escape from the present, to recreate a world from the older vision of a cyclical view of history. In this vision, distinctives of culture become the reference point for a realized humanity.

Globalism’s mega machine, whose function is alleged to erase any differences, is surprised by the resurgence of identity claims. Planetary standardization seems to be stuck. The West, which thinks of itself as the repository of the destiny of the globe, the craftsman of universal emancipation, should worry that “outsiders” will not be collectively smitten of their foolishness.

“The West which thinks of itself as the repository of the destiny of the globe, the craftsman of universal emancipation, should worry that “outsiders” will not be collectively smitten of their foolishness.”

Cultural identity is not something that can be used as a vehicle for economic expansion. This is why humiliated cultural roots are just waiting for the conducive moment to come back, sometimes distorted and monstrous. The reality is that the desire for cultural survival resists universal homogenization. This resistance by cultural anti-globalists can take two forms: they are either warlike or adaptive (Toynbee 1951: 205, 212). This article describes them as either zelotists or herodinists.

Warlike Reactions

Zelotism is a warlike reactive vision which characterizes some humiliated cultures. The term comes from the Jewish nationalist zealots in 66–70 CE who revolted against Roman occupation of their land. It is in this revolutionary vision that some cultures will try to act out in the cultural values’ battlefield. According to the philosopher Philip Engelhard, Islamism is a globalist ideology which protests against contemporary capitalism and every other occidental value (Engelhard 2004, 26). This is the case with the Al Qaeda or of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Islamic fundamentalism considered like this is a typical example of movements’ evolution in warlike reactions. Muslim society deconstructed by modernity’s corrosive action will develop violent forms in the attempt to reimpose lost identity. Muslim activism is a measure of its disappointment. In fact, in Senghor’s give-receive meeting, the dream of a possible synthesis between Muslim Arab’s inheritage and modernity was revealed to be a delusion. We don’t know how to do modernized Islam or Islamized modernity. It is clear that there is not a possible mixture in this context, because occidental culture, seen in its post-modern form, is an anti-culture.

If current terrorism is sometimes due to Islamism resisting obliteration, what other movements of resistance could be included in this same zelotism section? We have for instance, extremism among Brahman Hindus in India; the genocide of micro-nationalists in Africa (violent attacks and expulsions of refugees in Libya, in Equatorial Guinea, in South Africa); Christian syncretist sects in United States; Uighur and Tibetan cultural movements in China; Sandinista movements in Nicaragua; the Zapatists in Mexico (Namero & Salas 2007); national socialism of the far right in Europe. This last case is evidence that some Westerners consider their current culture illegitimate. [Editor’s Note: This phenomenon of resisting globalization and culture change also explains the far right nationalist objections to immigrants in the United States.]

Unfortunately, zelotism leads only to more violence and seems rather to play into the Western pseudo culture, since it contributes nothing to the universal culture. This is contrary to Muslim culture’s own historical traditions. Islam’s Golden Age always tolerated Afghanistan’s gigantic Buddhas, Egyptians’ mummies and pyramids, and the different religions around it, including the Christian religion.

Adaptative Reactions

Herod the Great, at the time of Christ, was known for adapting his power to the reality of Roman oppression. He did not want a confrontation with the invader; he rather adapted to it. So, herodinism, as opposed to zelotism, is a harmless falling back identity, while also remaining a valid creator of cultural values.

In reaction to Western mega-culture’s resistance to cultural values other than those it judges suitable to integrate within itself, some cultures will be aware that their cultural industries are insufficient to rival with this large pseudo culture. Instead of a warlike response, they will try to adapt to Western anti-culture. This is the precise case of a great part of black Africa’s and Amerindian’s people. Their cultures have been relegated to the peripheral rank by Western titanic culture. A solution is for these cultures to reconstitute around a central vernacular community. This reinforcement of tribal link will be characterized by solidarity and mutual aid, such as the creation of many ethnic and cultural associations, of tontines and family systems). We also note the reconstitutions of syncretistic religious communities who say “yes” to Christianity and/or Islam, but continue to respect traditional religions as well! The example of the rastafaraï cultural movement, which tries to give substance to Jamaïcans’ black identity with African countries is a precise case.

This is a type of a peaceful and original resistance, falling back on one’s cultural distinctives. It enables the revival of traditional cultural schemas. Open to alternatives, it can propose many resources for a genuine world-civilization’s construction.

African “Ethnicist-Nationalism”: A Channel for Alter-globalization?

Nationalism is sometimes developed in societies where a modernist project appears as strange and foreign to local populations. Ethnic distinctives, both linguistic and historic, constitute the base of these reactionary projects. The differences which animate nationalist projects are embodied in the culture’s myths.

One category of nationalism is fundamentalism that produces ethnocide, such as in the case of Rwanda and Bosnia. This “essentialistic nationalism” as it is called by Samir Naïr, can find its justification in the despair of vulnerable cultures’ inability to adapt. He says:

Essentialist nationalism, emotional and nihilistic, comes mostly from the social link’s dislocation and the incapacity of leaders of groups to elaborate a … satisfactory explanation for their disaster” (Naïr 1998, 92).

But the nationalism that distinguishes itself by its herodinistic/adaptive reaction is what I call “ethnicist-nationalism.” This attitude is essentially black African. African nation-states dispossessed of their duties have the problem of social integration. The state which is unable to fulfill its social welfare responsibilities because of an alienating globalized system, will return to its traditional clan system. This “neo-clanic” movement will exclue mega-machine, transnational systems. In such techno-economic systems, necessary social benefits, both political and economic, are almost non-existent. Cultures that resist the steam-roller of standardization, will be characterized by generosity, solidarity, and mutual aid. This reinforcement of traditional links and the construction of new networks are a form of anti-globalization which is underground and peaceful.

This ethnic groups’ modern tribalism should not be confused with the Kantian egoistic moral, which considers only what is useful to its ethnic group (Kant 1986, 1086). The function of ethnicist-nationalism groups will “allow (…) the development of multilateral relations and a readjustment to the international peace, established on more fairness.” (Breton 1993: 24). So, in peace, “neo-clanic” constructions are giving a plural identity to to Africans by building a postmodern society which overcomes the opposition between individual and community. This situation is a precious help to the inter-globalization project.

Africans’ “falling-back” identity, characterized by the vernacular community’s reconstitution, brings back distinctive qualities which have characterized traditional Africa. It presents itself as a potential engine for a global-civilization that faces the facts of cultural globalization. Because every muntu, that is every human being, as the African ethno-philosophy has pointed out, comes from the primordial ancestral couple (Adam and Eve in the Christian tradition or re-mut in pharaonic Egyptian tradition), every human is therefore a Bantu, seen as a member of the universal tribe. This linguistic value creates the African humanism with its corollary of solidarity, mutual aid, and compassion.

In its theorized version, this approach acknowledges the human capacity for cooperation in every society, of compassion, of creativity and accountable choices. It is what will advocate international cooperation at the global level, with economic and environmental justice as objectives. It will have the aim of reorienting global, national, and local priorities, and create clear and permanent human societies. This identity reaction, by refusing zelotism, Islamitization, tribalism, or racism, will be attached to the establishment of an alternative human milieu within distinctive cultures.

These distinctives are elaborated under many forms: the respect of human dignity; going beyond formal equality to an effective equality in regard to access to education, to services, and to health; the liberty of everyone to come and go freely; opportunities for entrepreneurs to pursue use of the land’s shared possession; to the liberty in the personal and associative life; non-discrimination; to the development of cooperation and fraternity among people (Minot 2003, 40).

Ethnicist-nationalism refuses the logic of competition and individualism. Equality and liberty exist only in the context of fraternity. Solidarity among the people within a group is conceived as a reciprocity and a co-responsibility of everyone towards each other, from the interpersonal level to a global solidarity. This includes the protection of humanity’s shared goods necessary for both current and prospective generations. There will be balance between identity and being open to other cultures and interbreeding.

According to the African, culture is not the conquest of new horizons in the nature’s space, with its idea of culture’s loss. It is rather life’s harmonization according to a human being’s relations to nature and to fellow creatures—that is, acculturation. It is what allows human beings to find answers to the being-existing and being-with problem. This contrasts with the occidental pseudo-culture which finds the solution to the problem of being in science and technology.

Huntington was not right when he claimed historical necessity in the shock of civilizations. Indeed languages, beliefs, projects of societies are different and sometimes opposed, but they need not have any antagonism with a warlike potential. “They are rather by nature to complement one another for lack of combination” (Ntsame Mbongo 2004, 34).

New African cultural thought can be substituted for the thought of occidental culturation. The racial, national, religious, or cultural community need not become an instrument of fighting. The muntu or human being is the center of every cultural dynamic. This humanism can recreate mutual respect, a dialog’s frame, a historical sense among the different cultures for the perpetuated peace.

To conclude this analysis, the ethnicist-nationalism approach that I present is based on the principle of an intercultural ethic that recognizes the constant tension between the globalization and “neo-clanic” groups. It calls for the wise use of resources present in every culture, taking into account their comprehensive relationship to the world and to human beings. This intercultural ethic is an ethic of tolerance.

The West should therefore exhume its traditional culture which is full of values and the East should stop counter-attacking in such a way that both the West and East are able to take part in a “give-receive” meeting. This is proposed as a genuine world-civilization in which UNESCO, FRANCOPHONY, and COMMONWEALTH will work together to promote cultural differences.


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[1] Club assisting foreign students and help them integrate into the Lebanese society. It is a platform which enables to value other cultures in the direction of tolerance and exchange.

[2]. The strict minimum modern possibilities which African societies can afford

[3]  This integral globalization is summarized in the various components of globalization (Cf.  Jean Matouk in Mondialisation et Altermondialisation, Les essentiels Milan 2005). These are commercial, agricultural, monetary and financial, industrial, human, cultural, and criminal components.

[4] E. B. Tylor, (Primitive culture, 1871) cité par Pascal Perrineau in «Sur la notion de la culture en anthropologie», Revue française de science politique n° 5, 1975, p. 948.    

[5] Present-day western culture is characterized by a cult for fashion, for show business, for sport, it worships wealth and materialism. It is also a civilization of television games, of tele-reality programmes…

[6] Bombing claimed by Al Quaïda respectively on 11 September 2001, 12 October 2002 and 11 March 2002.

[7] In effect, the Fukuyama address goes much further by tolerating some inequalities in egalitarianism.

[8]. Acculturation, which is a slow process of adaptation, consists of voluntarily getting rid of some component parts of one’s own basic culture and to replace them by new elements borrowed from a neighboring culture. It is this culture that creates synthesis identities.