Q: What do you think is culturally the MAIN reason that Africa has been so slow to catch up with the rest of the world economically?
A: I am afraid I find the premise of the question a little naïve. In the first place Africa is not a single country and certainly does not have a single culture. Africa is indeed a construct of the West. The reality is that the continent has 54 countries and at least 800 cultures. These countries are in different economic and historic circumstances. For example, Ethiopia adopted Christianity as a state religion in the third century whereas Zambia did not do so until the 1990s. Ethiopia was never colonised, having militarily overcome Italian attempts to do so in 1896. On the other hand most African countries were overrun very quickly by the colonial powers. In the medieval world, there were only about five top universities in the world; they were Oxford, Timbucktu, Djenee, Cambridge, and Bologna. You will note that two of these were in Africa. This alone surely proves that the continent need not lag behind anyone.
I would suggest you confine your question to Zambia. If that is the case, I would respond that there are three cultural impediments to development in our country. The first is colonialism which undermined people’s confidence and instilled into them a culture of underperformance and feelings of inferiority, in addition to destroying traditional institutions of government and creating new institutions that were alien and therefore had to evolve. This is not the first time this phenomenon had occurred in history. There is evidence of this from the London colonial experience. After the Roman conquest, many Londoners believed themselves incapable of great achievement. This mentality was not entirely banished until about a century after Roman colonialism
The second impediment is that Zambia had a particularly inept leader after independence. The leader and many of his colleagues were very innocent in basic economics. There were of course exceptions but in general the new Zambian regime underestimated the importance of free enterprise and the criticality of using the capitalist machinery to generate profits that would in turn finance social services.
The last impediment I would refer to is related to the second. In the absence of a strong private sector a culture of unhealthy and destructive competition for jobs in the public sector emerged. People were promoted not on the basis of merit but on their ability to kow tow to political masters. Very quickly the entrepreneurial spirit was replaced by a culture of jealousy and intolerance toward merit based success. In the meantime, in response to the claim that the state would provide everything for Zambians, a deep subculture of dependency came into being. Zambians thus learnt to look to the state for their basic needs; when the state failed to deliver, they looked to foreigners for largesse; having in the meantime convinced themselves that they were not as able as other nationalities. In the circumstances there was little innovation and people based industry.