Achebe, Chinweizu and Ngugi: a longstanding debate on African Literature

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            In order to identify and explicate common elements among the essays of Achebe, Chinweizu and Ngugi, I believe it would be relevant to mention the historical context of colonization and decolonization processes in Africa. Besides reflecting on the outcomes of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the three essays in a certain way represent a response to each other. In other words, I believe that when comparing the three essays, Achebe sort of sets the ground for discussing territorial, mental and intellectual colonization, while Chinweizu and Ngugi develop and deepen Achebe’s thoughts.

            The African colonization process when analyzed through the perspective of exploitation can certainly be characterized as cruel and unfair. Allan Lester, in his article “ Settlers, the State and the Colonial Power: The Colonization of Queen Adelaide Province, 1834-37”,  considers that the nineteenth century is featured as a period of dramatic changes in the African political scenario in which African kingdoms and empires suffered deep modifications in their political structure. In the long run, political instability aligned to lack of competitive technological warfare, results in the Africans’ inability to organize and maintain effective resistance force against the European invaders.  The so-called humanitarian aspect of colonialism hid despotic policies, which resulted in mental and intellectual colonization (1998, p. 237). Later on, in the age of decolonization, William Zartman in his article, “Europe and Africa: decolonization or dependency?” questions to what extent Africa is truly being decolonized. The author further elucidates that while sovereign and military control was removed from the African territory, Europe still kept exerting political and economic control. Last but not least, the European cultural conditioning remained affecting Africa and Africans in several areas such as the construction of knowledge in the “African literature” (1976, p. 326).

            The concept of African literature has been intensively debated among African writers. Among the most popular topics are the imposed influence of European elements on Africans writers and the usage of English and other national languages when writing about African culture and literature. Gikandi (2008) delimits the occurrence of what is now known as modern African literature in the crucible of colonialism. He also clarifies that although oral literature and Arabic writing were thriving practices in the pre-colonial period, the current literary scholarship could not have happened if Africa and Europe had not faced an impactful encounter (p. 54). That said, much has been discussed about the state of African literature and its definition. For instance, during the Makerere University conference in 1962, the final verdict about African literature and its definition is, “creative writing in which an African setting is authentically handled or to which experiences originating in Africa are integral” (Ten, 2011). Nonetheless, Achebe (1975) discords with that small and neat definition; the author complements highlighting that African literature should not be seen as one single unit but as a group of connected units (246).

            Assuming Achebe and Gikandi’s principles that African literature is a complex interaction between national and international cultural elements, one can clearly notice that in “Things Fall Apart”, Achebe responds to Conrad’s novel “The Heart of Darkness”, showing the clash between colonialism and traditional culture using the Africans’ point of view. Achebe provides Africans and the rest of the world with a different perspective about his country and culture. As a consequence, the author opens doors for other African authors to write about themselves and their culture as autonomous individuals. Old paradigms such as the classification of Africans as “rudimentary souls” presented by Conrad were fiercely questioned by Achebe (p.41). Later on, in “Decolonizing the African Mind”, Chinweizu (1987) urges the reader to start the “re-Africanization” process, in which consists of the restoration of the African cultural personality. Chinweizu believes that Africans were culturally conditioned by two different factors: the Europeans using industrial civilization as means of control and the Arabs using religion and the promises of the celestial kingdom. At this point, one can attribute the “dismantling of white supremacist beliefs” practice, suggested by Chinweizu as an element that is also present in Achebe and Ngugi’s works. For instance, Achebe in “ An image of Africa”, makes it clear through the statement, “ […] quite simply is the desire- one might say the need- in Western psychology to set Africa as a foil to Europe, as a place of negation, at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will manifest […](p.108). In other words, the British point of view expressed by Conrad in his novel corresponds to an image of Africa as the antithesis of Europe and as a consequence, an antithesis of civilization. Thus, Achebe is angered by the Africans’ dehumanization presented by Conrad, which also resides in Chinweizu’s concept of “white supremacist beliefs”.

            Another interesting point is the longstanding debate about using English as a communication vehicle of African literature. Ten (2011) interestingly sheds light on how Ngugi is appreciative of Achebe’s complex novels and to a certain extent was inspired by him. Nonetheless, Ngugi radically accused Achebe of betrayal because of using English when writing African literature. Furthermore, Ten (2011) explains Achebe’s “preference” for writing in English since it would be challenging to reach out for readership on a large scale if he published in his mother language. For Achebe, the advantages of promoting African literature and preserving Africans’ history and customs using English, surpass the disadvantage of also promoting the “oppressors’ language”. On the opposite end of the spectrum in the debate, Ngugi fiercely attacks the usage of English when writing about African literature. Ngugi’s point of view is that besides being a communication vehicle, language also carries a nation’s culture, history, tradition and ideals (p.02). Indeed, to some extent, one might wonder if deep cultural aspects of a given nation would not be possibly lost in translation when switching from the mother tongue to a national language such as English. How authentically and effectively portrayed would the African culture be, if the writer is taking the risk to lose the intricacies of his mother tongue? In addition, Ngugi (1993) addresses what is almost a lack of respect to Africa and its culture; the so-called experts in African literature are not required to have a minimum knowledge or familiarity with any African language. It is almost unquestionable that a French literature expert would have to know how to speak the French language. While both Achebe and Ngugi are concerned about preserving disappearing cultures, Achebe seems to be more acquiescent to the reality of post-colonial Africa. Contrarily, Ngugi acts more radically and calls for resistance against ongoing oppression in a continent under the influence of neo-colonialism.

            Another common element among the essays of Achebe, Chinweizu and Ngugi can be represented by an excerpt of a 2008 Transition interview in which Achebe affirms that, “I think that where we’re headed is the final realization that Africans are people: nothing more and nothing less.” Whether through Achebe’s common sense, Ngugi’s radical attitudes or Chinweizu’s exhortation to critical thinking, all of them urge the readers to notice Africans as people: “nothing more and nothing less”. Thus, the understanding of Africans as people also means the understanding of their full intellectual, cultural, political and economic capabilities. In “Creating Space for a Hundred Flowers to Bloom”, Ngugi (1993) brilliantly recalls how literary and intellectual movements are often a reaction to social and economic domination. For instance, one might cite the Negritude Movement in which the writer Senghor shifted the ideology of response to racism to a political movement exhorting Africa’s independence.  Although there are several definitions of the Negritude Movement, it is quite complex to achieve a common denominator since it addressed many areas of thought.  Examples are Sartre’s definition as “antiracism racism” and Irele’s as “the quest for identity in the heritage of African civilizations’ histories” (Lowder, 2003, p. 4). Another interesting aspect to point out is that the evolution of the Negritude Movement also reflects Senghor’s life. In other words, Senghor’s duel identity as an African and French man and his struggles to integration reflected on his writings. As consequence, the Negritude Movement was a product of colonialism, as was Senghor.

            To conclude, one might infer that probably the most important common element among Achebe, Chinweizu and Ngugi’s essays is the fully realization of Africans as capable people. In order to acknowledge Africans as capable people, it is important to respect the African culture and their sovereignty as means of collaborative production with other nations, not submissiveness. The three authors recognize the need of interaction with European nations, however, the Europhone should have its proper place; as a “footnote in African literature” (Ngugi, 1993, p. 156).  Also, the three authors believe in learning and enriching through diversity, provided that Africans apply their critical thinking and decide whether or not to use foreign elements to their benefit. The decolonization process is more than an external battle; it is a battle within each individual against ingrained cultural conditioning.

References

Davis, Paul et all. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: 20th Century. 3rd ed. Vol. 6. Santa Barbara: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. Print.

Gikandi, Simmon. “African Literature and the Colonial Factor.” African and Caribbean Literature. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012. 379-397. Print.

Lester, Alan. “Settlers, the State and Colonial Power: The colonization of Queen Adelaide Province, 1834-37. The Journal of African History. 39 (2):221-245.Jstor. Cambridge University Press. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/183597

Lowder, Deborah. “From Racism to Universal Hybridity: The Evolution of Leopold Sedar Senghor‟s Negritude.” Academia.edu 19 Mar. 2003. Print.

Moore, David, Heath Analee, and Chinua Achebe. “A Conversation with Chinua Achebe.”Transition 100 (2008): 12-33. Jstor. Indiana University Press. Web. 27 Sept. 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20542537 .

Ten, Kristina S. “Vehicles for Story: Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o on Defining African Literature, Preserving Culture and Self.” Student Pulse 3(05) (2011). http://www.studentpulse.com/a?id=530>

Zartman, William. “Europe and Africa: Decolonization or dependency?” Foreign Affairs 18 Jan. 1976. Foreign Affairs. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/25081/i-william-zartman/europe-and-africa-decolonization-or-dependency&gt;.

How much does grade configuration matter?

 Great books for young adults

               Some scholars affirm that grade configuration seems to play an important role on students’ academic achievements. Nonetheless, Schwerdt and West (2011) highlight that the way grades are set is still largely ignored by most of the literature about the differences in students’ achievements across the country.  According to a study carried out by Schwerdt and West (2011) in Florida public schools, students who move to middle schools have their academic performance substantially decreased in subjects such as math and reading. One of the reasons is that they have a hard time transitioning from the elementary school to the middle school setting. In addition, they are also more prone to drop out of school by grade 10.  In the 1960s, educational reformers started to argue that as young adolescents have peculiar social, cognitive and neural needs, it would be best to place them in completely separate buildings with well-prepared middle school teachers (p.3). Although it was one of largest efforts at educational reorganization in the history of American education, just the fact of designating an institution as “middle school” would not guarantee that young adolescents would have their needs met (Brown and Knowles, 2007, p. 79). Therefore, there have been organizations such as the Nacional Middle School Association (NMSA) in 1973 and the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1986 that have advocated and developed strategies to meet teens’ specific developmental needs. For instance, due to neural and cognitive changes during early adolescence, middle schoolers have the need of “challenging learning experiences in order to sustain cognitive growth process” (p. 27). In other words, preparing middle school students for reaching proficiency in high-stakes tests should not be an educational goal per se; it should be the results of a well-rounded education. Problem-solving skills, critical thinking, historical awareness and scientific knowledge are critical in a society in which the focus has shifted from industrial production to knowledge/ innovation production.

             The K-8 Model is another grade that has been discussed in the educational field. Some advantages would include having a smaller school and mitigating behavioral problems that normally occur in large middle schools (Brown and Knowles, 2007, p. 88).  In another study developed by Schwerdt and West (2011), this time using data from schools in New York City, they found that students attending grades 5-8 or K-8 schools outperformed middle school students in grades 6-8. On the other hand,   Brown and Knowles (2007) alert for the pitfalls of the K-8 model such as less exploratory and extracurricular activities directed specifically for young adolescents; less common planning time, and educators might not be well-prepared to teach teens and address their unique needs, since the organizational focus of the institution is on the elementary rather than the middle school level.  With regards to junior high schools, one can clearly realize that as the K-8 model, junior highs lack the appropriate staff and are more concerned with keeping the content-specific curricula instead of developing practical and active curricula designed to address early adolescents’ specific transformations.

           After all, one might infer that the key problem is not the structure of the school, but how they address young adolescents’ unique developmental needs (Brown and Knowles, 2007, p. 89). One might also think that in order to facilitate the process of staffing and create specific school protocols, the middle school grade configuration might be the best option.  Yet, the physical structure or grade configuration of a middle school serves solely as a facilitator to implement the needed curricula change, which is also a change in the mechanical world view paradigm. I strongly believe that students need just as much socio-emotional development as academic excellence and that without socio-emotional development, academic excellence will hardly be achieved. Therefore, it is crucial that schools, parents and community work together in order to create middle schools that fit into young adolescents’ physical, cognitive and neural transformations.

References:

Brown, Dave, and Trudy Knowles. What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know. 2nd ed. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann, 2007. 290. Print.

Schwerdt, Guido, and Martin West. “The Impact of Alternative Grade Configurations on Student Outcomes through Middle and High Schools.” Harvard Graduate School of Education (2011): 49. Ed Week. Web. 28 Feb. 2015. <http://www.edweek.org/media/gradeconfiguration-13structure.pdf

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HR Management- University of Liverpool

The Multifaceted Role of HR Professional and Line Managers

It would be interesting to start this discussion with a couple of definitions on some key concepts that make part of HR management context. According to Pilbeam and Corbridge (2010, pp. 7) organizational transience refers to what is passive of change inside and outside the organizational environment. Besides facing technological disruptions, organizations also face the mutability among employment relations. Combined variables such as technology, globalization, micro and macro-economic scenarios result in a dynamic market place where the notions of job for life and stability have been disrupted. On the other side, there is the generation Y that responds to such changes in an adaptive manner. The Millennial Generation has a commitment to self-improvement and inner satisfaction rather than loyalty to the organization they work for. With that said, one can connect employability and technological improvements. It is of fundamental importance that employees take responsibility for their careers proactively, other than that they will become obsolete. Another interesting point is the link of transactional psychological contract with the X and Y generations. The negotiation aspect involved in the transactional psychological contract showed by Pilbeam and Corbridge (2010, pp. 6)   is very much featured in the X and Y Generations’ profile. On the other hand, the relational psychological contract could be associated with the Baby Boomers generation.

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There are a range of organizational modifications that impact HR professionals and line managers such as the nature of jobs; downsizing and delayering; markets, disruptive technology, consumer behavior; human capital; knowledge based economy, etc. As the economy goes from industrial based to knowledge based, visible changes on the way of doing business emerge. The workforce is characterized by being computer savvy and innovative. As a consequence of technological advancement and financial crises, the nature of job has also gone through changes. Many employees are working as part-timers or contractors, outsourcing is frequent practiced among multinationals and the concept of cross training is being implemented in several industries such as financial institutions. In the bank where I work for instance, Tellers are no longer just Tellers. The new title is Customer Associate/ Teller. The employees are being cross trained in order to open and close accounts, transfer money, print debit cards, act as loan originators, notaries, solve problems that before were solved by managers, etc. In that way the bank will cut costs and stimulate the development of new skills in its employees.

How should HR professionals and managers address the variables discussed above in order to promote value creation? According to CIPD Surveys (2005, pp. 2) it is of fundamental importance that HR professionals and managers know how to extract the most out of human capital. The survey also demonstrates that psychological contract and change are indelibly linked and in order to manage change successfully, it’s necessary that businesses work to keep a positive psychological contract. Actions such as reward packages including financial and non-financial compensations should be carefully planned according to the employees’ profile. Elements that compose employability such as career advancement, personal development and sense of making part of an organization that has a bigger purpose than just profits are also primordial in order to foster employees’ motivation. According to Mckey and Sisodia (2013, pp. 78) employees want to work for a company in which they feel proud of. There is this intrinsic need of doing something valuable for society which would result in elevated self-esteem and consequently work-place motivation.

In summary, the business environment has been going through technological and ethical changes. HR professionals and line managers are urged to understand and implement those changes into the organizational environment. They need to reconcile organizational and employees goals in order to achieve optimal results.

References:

Pilbeam, S. Corbridge, M. (2010) People resourcing and talent planning: HRM in practice. 4th ed. London: Prentice Hall International.

CIPD (2005) ‘Managing change: the role of psychological contract.’ [Online] Available: http://www.cipd.co.uk/nr/rdonlyres/06b92739-19f8-4bb4-ae47-796ea5f5cb15/0/manachang1105.pdf(Accessed: 17 January 2014)

McKey, J. Sisodia, R. (2013) Conscious Capitalism: liberating the heroic spirit. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.