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Towards Understanding African Communalism and Western Capitalism: A Comparative Guide (By Mr. E. David, E. Peter, Mr. J. Igwe)

Updated: Jul 3


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Synopsis by Mr. Bright Joseph


The article "Towards Understanding African Communalism and Western Capitalism: A Comparative Guide" by David, Peter, and Igwe offers a comprehensive analysis of these socio-economic systems. It uses comparative philosophy to explore their foundational principles, societal implications, and economic structures.
African communalism, rooted in African cultural history, emphasizes collective ownership, unity, and mutual support within communities. It promotes social cohesion, consensus-based decision-making, and community-oriented ethics. However, it faces criticisms for hindering economic development and fostering ethnic conflicts.
On the other hand, Western capitalism is characterized by individualism, private ownership, and market-driven economies. It promotes efficiency, innovation, and economic growth but also leads to income inequality, labor exploitation, environmental degradation, and social disparities. Capitalism's focus on short-term profits can undermine long-term sustainability and social welfare.
The analysis suggests that a synthesis of both systems could offer a balanced approach. Afro-constructism, a hybrid model combining African communalism's collective values with Western capitalism's market-driven incentives, aims to foster economic development while preserving community values, promoting sustainability, and addressing socio-economic inequalities.
Understanding and integrating the strengths of both systems can lead to more harmonious and resilient socio-economic structures. Recognizing the value of diverse cultural and economic paradigms can lead to a more informed and inclusive dialogue on global development.


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Background of Study:


This study aims to delve into the intricate realms of African Communalism and Western capitalism, seeking to understand and compare the foundational principles, societal implications, and economic structures inherent in both systems. By examining key cultural, historical, and economic aspects, this research intends to shed light on the unique features that define these contrasting paradigms.


Through a comparative lens, the study seeks to highlight the strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas for synergy between African communalism and Western capitalism, offering insights that can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of diverse socio-economic models and structural development.

 

The Purpose of Comparative Analysis:


Comparative Analysis is a philosophical approach that offers numerous benefits to the study of reality. It provides a comprehensive, critical, and far-reaching grounding for understanding reality, as it is the foundation of all disciplines.


Comparative philosophy equips scholars with the intellectual dexterity to examine reality, deepening their knowledge and understanding of other philosophers' thoughts. This involves being meticulous, reasonable, and open-minded, exposing differences and similarities in human thought. Comparism also provides the basis for further research and appreciation of various perspectives.


Comparative philosophy also provides a platform for philosophers to deepen their knowledge of reality by examining the thoughts of two or more persons. With a dialectical or analytical mindset, comparative philosophers can expand the depth of our knowledge of reality, although this approach may create or raise further challenges.


For example, David Hume, despite not comparing the thoughts of John Locke and George Berkeley, was aware of the challenges faced by Locke and Berkeley in the empiricist theory of knowledge.

 

Comparative philosophy also rekindles the zeal for translation by scholars, as they need to study the language of the alien society in order to get their facts correct. Being bilingual or multilingual helps enrich the capacity of people to understand other societies and cultures, ensuring that researchers do not take translation for granted.

 

Comparative philosophy enhances the capacity of scholars to interpret and understand alien conceptual schemes, encouraging cross-cultural dialogue and communication. Different peoples and cultures have different ways of acting or behave and criteria of justification.


Without the platform for dialogue provided by comparative philosophy, misunderstandings and misinterpretations would reign supreme, providing the critical tilt that is an essential condition for peaceful society.

 

Comparative philosophy has the capacity to enhance world peace by providing a platform for cross-cultural dialogue and mutual respect between cultures. For example, Alfred Bloom cites the example of the Chinese language where the hypothetical (conditional) is missing, resulting in a peaceful atmosphere among cultures.

 

Lastly, comparative analysis helps close the gap in a world that has become a theatre of crises from Africa to Europe, Asia to the Americas. By focusing on philosophy as one discipline and a way of life that exists in different cultures, comparison can help close the gap of difference and provide a free and open platform for the dance, display, and dialogue of cultures.


In conclusion, comparative philosophy is essential for sifting antagonistic views and learning new things from other peoples and cultures. By engaging in philosophical comparisons, we can avoid a cabin-restricted world of strait-jacketed humanity, and distill our views to meet the needs of our historical conditions.

 

Comparative Analysis In This Context:


The comparative analysis will navigate the intersections and disparities between African communalism and Western capitalism. It will examine how these ideologies address issues of wealth inequality, social justice, and community resilience. Specific case studies will shed light on instances where these systems either complement or clash with one another, offering insight into the complexities of their coexistence in a globalized world.



Impact on Social Structures:


This segment will explore how African communalism and Western capitalism influence social structures the individual, familial, and community levels. Topics include the role of extended families in communal societies versus the emphasis on nuclear families in capitalist cultures, as well as the impact on education, healthcare, and social mobility.


The article will conclude by assessing the overall well-being of communities under these contrasting systems. It will consider factors such as quality of life, cultural preservation, and environmental sustainability. By analyzing indicators like happiness indices, social trust, and community resilience, we aim to provide a nuanced understanding of the holistic effects of African communalism and Western capitalism.

 

The Focus and Findings:


In navigating the intricate dynamics of African communalism and Western capitalism, this comparative analysis aims to foster a deeper appreciation for diverse socio-economic systems. By recognizing the strengths and challenges inherent in each ideology, we can contribute to a more informed dialogue on the future of global societies, acknowledging the richness that arises from the interplay of these contrasting threads in the fabric of human civilization.

 

African Communalism vs. Western Capitalism


The coexistence and collision of diverse socio-economic ideologies have long been a focal point for scholars and observers, seeking to unravel the complexities of human societies.


Rooted in rich historical legacies and cultural networks, these systems have shaped the destinies of their respective societies in unique ways. By examining their foundational principles, socio-economic structures, and cultural impacts, we aim to foster a deeper understanding of the dynamics that underpin African communalism and Western capitalism.

 

However, African communalism and Western capitalism emerge as distinct threads, displaying contrasting narratives of community, wealth, and societal structures.

 

African Communalism:


Communalism is a system that integrates communal ownership and federations of localized independent communities. It is not a new system of living, as even the apostles of Christ lived in communes.


The term communalism, coined by libertarian socialist Murray Bookchin, is a theory of government where independent communities participate in a federation and practice communal ownership. This political structure was practiced in traditional African society, where families and cultural structures were founded on communal principles. Communalism promotes unity, togetherness, brotherhood, and cooperation, which are essential elements for globalization.


The Concept of Communalism:


Communalism is the belief that individual members of society focus on communal activities, involving individuals in the socio-political environment and working relationships. It is defined by the Africa Economic Development Institute (AEDI) as a strong allegiance limited to one's ethnic group, characterized by collective cooperation and ownership. Cultural history and values enhance collective cooperation, making the given culture peculiar.


Tunde Obadina adds to this definition, the notion that communalism contains a strong identity and devotion to the interest of one's own minority or ethnic group, rather than societal as a whole. It is based on the assumption of common identity, believing that people belong to specific groups, sharing history, language, culture, and historic space. Membership is determined by criteria that define the community and afford members rights and loyalty.


Polycarp Ikueobe and Aborisade Olasunkanmi argue that African communalism is a system that prioritizes the collective group over the individual in a worldwide context. African communalism is believed to be both god-made and man-made, as it cannot be culturally understood independently of its inhabitants. The basic ideology is community-identity, with the aim of producing and presenting an individual as a community and culture bearer.

 

D. N. Kaphagawani argues that African communalism is a state of affairs where individuals consistently pursue fundamental virtues to enhance a common or social good. This social structure pervades traditional Africa, where every member voluntarily cooperates. The origin of this lifestyle can be traced back to Africa, where elders were the only ones held to have all knowledge and wisdom.

 

Communal knowledge, whose subject is still the individual, arises from the needs of the common life in the community and aims to preserve the community's life, heritage, laws, customs, and traditions. Political authoritarianism emerged from these situations, leading to political leadership in traditional societies.

 

Heinz Kimmerle argues that traditional African societies show harmonious forms of life without class antagonism, with an ethics of mutual help and caring for each other.

 

The African community spirit is emphasized in Ubuntu and communalism, emphasizing the importance of the community in African thought and practice. This emphasizes the importance of mutual help, care, and sharing through dialogues.


Despite issues like struggles, envy, and hatred, every member can rely on support from extended family members in times of trouble. Under communalism, the small community was the main unit of government, with every adult participating in decision-making and execution. Decision-making was a process of resolution of views among all citizens.

 

African socialism is found in the potential human and social resources of traditional African communalism, which derives from the village solidarity and grass-roots. Kwame Nkrumah supports this view, arguing that traditional African society is egalitarian in structure and has no class antagonism or exploitation. However, he also argues that liberalism, individualism, elitism, fascism, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism are products of bourgeois ideology. Traditional African society is not capitalistic but egalitarian and communalistic, which is not compatible with capitalism.


At the heart of African communalism lies the principle of collective responsibility and shared resources. Communities thrive on cooperation, emphasizing interconnectedness over individual pursuits. This section will explore the historical roots of communalism across diverse African cultures, showcasing the strength derived from unity and mutual support. Examples from various regions will illustrate the communal approach to land ownership, decision-making, and social cohesion.


Merits of African Communalism


1) The philosophy behind the African Communalism is that, it guarantees individuals’ responsibility within the communal ownership and relationship (Olasunkanmi, 52).


2) The ethics of mutual help, of caring for each other is founded on communalism (Kimmerle, 4).


3) The idea of communalism implies a way of decision making which is based on consensus, found through dialogue. Here, political decisions are taken, where everybody participate and speak.


 4) Democratic participation on major issues was all inclusive. This was noticed in the fact that there was freedom of expression.


5) Community spirit - meaning that there is a high estimation of the community in African thought and practice, higher than that of the individual.




7) African communalism enhances internal security against any possible invasion because of the bond of unity, togetherness and close-knit.


8) The whole African society is a living network of relations almost like that between the various parts of an organism.


9) Polycarp Ikuenobe highlighted that there exists a moderately liberal African communalism that allows the individual to engage in critical reasoning and acquire rational beliefs within the normal structures that oral tradition and elders provide for the well-being of the community (online).


10) Ikuenobe uses the African saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, this, for him, suggests the importance of African communal belief and philosophy and the education belief and philosophy that westerners could gain from learning them.


11) He further supports his argument with a conception of personhood and the relationship between the individual and community. One that's expressed in various African cultures as dynamics that reflect legitimate and critical African modes of inquiry and representation or morality. In light of the above Ikuenobe explains that, moral thought in African cultures are reflections of communalism, and has features of rationalism, naturalism, humanism etc (online).


However, in spite of the numerous merits of African communalism, some scholars have argued that this African communal lifestyle is the main obstacle to African development.


Effects of African Communalism on Economic Underdevelopment in Africa


There are still many reasons why Africa has a long way to go before reaching economic prosperity. One of the many reasons lies in cultural characteristics of many African societies, such as communalism.


1) The argument is that, in Africa, communalism is often praised, and recognized by many political thinkers as the main foundation of traditional society.


But that in spite of this, it is one of the most important obstacles to Africa’s economic success, and as well clashes with the mobilization of labour and capital which are important factors of production that contribute to economic growth.


2) Tunde Obadina states that outsiders within the communal communities are viewed as enemies. That though these strangers are well joined into their community, they are not integrated or assimilated, no matter how long they stay (online).


For such reasons, therefore, people are not inclined to do more or to stay in places where the locals have a strong sense of communalism. This is so because, they do not want to be treated as second-class citizens or denied the possibilities of integration.


This lack of internal integration is a major obstacle to economic development. Etinan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria is a good example where non-indigenes are not allowed to invest in their economy. They still remain under-developed since they refuse to open up for others to come in.


It has also been noted by Tunde Obadina that communalism is instrumental too much of the recent bloody ethnic conflicts between indigenes and settlers in central Nigeria, and these are people who have lived alongside each other for generations (online). Similarly, AEDI (Africa Economic Development Institute) argues that communalism creates hostility between different ethnic groups; this is attributed to lack of internal integration which ends up hindering economic development.


One of the criticisms against African communalism is that formulated by V. G. Simiyu, a Kenyan political scientist. He argues that communalism in Africa is an idealization of traditional life in African communities. He speaks of the democratic myth in the African traditional societies. He thus makes it clear that hate and struggle were not unknown in these societies (online).

 

Western Capitalism


Contrastingly, Western capitalism is grounded in individualism, private ownership, and profit-driven motives. This section will scrutinize the foundational principles of capitalism, tracing its evolution from the Industrial Revolution to the contemporary globalized era.


The focus on competition, private enterprise, and market forces will be dissected, highlighting how these principles shape wealth distribution, societal hierarchies, and the pursuit of material success.


Capitalism is an economic system characterized by private ownership of the means of production and the pursuit of profit. Like any economic system, it has both advantages and disadvantages.

 

Advantages of Capitalism

 

Efficiency: Capitalism tends to allocate resources efficiently as prices are determined by supply and demand in a competitive market. This encourages producers to use resources effectively to meet consumer demand.

 

Innovation and Technological Progress: The profit motive in capitalism incentivizes innovation and the development of new technologies. Competition among businesses drives them to seek more efficient and cost-effective methods.

 

Individual Freedom: Capitalism often supports individual freedom and choice. Individuals have the autonomy to make economic decisions, including what to produce, sell, and buy.

 

Economic Growth: Capitalism has historically been associated with economic growth. The pursuit of profit encourages investment, job creation, and the expansion of businesses, contributing to overall economic development.

 

Diversity of Goods and Services: Capitalism provides a wide range of goods and services to consumers due to competition in the market. This diversity allows individuals to choose from various products and services based on their preferences.


Innovation and Technological Progress: The profit motive in capitalism incentivizes innovation and the development of new technologies. Competition among businesses drives them to seek more efficient and cost-effective methods.


Disadvantages of Capitalism


It's important to note that the impact of capitalism can vary based on the specific implementation and the regulatory framework in place. Here are some commonly discussed disadvantages of capitalism:

 

Income Inequality: Income inequality is the uneven distribution of income among a population, with a significant gap between the rich and the poor. It is often measured using the “Gini coefficient”, and causes include differences in education, skills, access to opportunities, discrimination, inheritance, and market conditions.


Systemic factors like tax policies, social welfare programs, and labor market structures can also influence income distribution. Economic growth can lead to prosperity, but it may disproportionately benefit the wealthier segments, exacerbating income disparities. High income inequality can hinder social mobility, leading to increased social tension and political instability.


It is a global issue, with globalization and technological advancements contributing to both increased and decreased income inequality. Addressing income inequality requires a combination of economic, social, and political interventions, including education, taxation, labor market regulations, and social safety nets.



Critique: One of the most significant criticisms of capitalism is the tendency to generate significant income and wealth disparities. The gap between the rich and the poor can widen over time, leading to social and economic inequality.


Exploitation: Critics argue that capitalism can lead to the exploitation of labor, especially in unregulated or under regulated markets. Workers may be subject to low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of job security.


Exploitation is the unjust or unfair use of someone's labor or resources for the benefit of others, often discussed in the critique of capitalist systems. Key aspects of exploitation include unfair working conditions, low wages, power imbalances, child labor, forced labor, and unequal bargaining power.

 

Hard working conditions, such as long hours, low wages, and unsafe workplaces, can be a result of exploitation due to a lack of alternative employment opportunities. Low wages can also be a form of exploitation, as they do not adequately reflect the value of the labor provided. Power imbalances between employers and workers can also lead to exploitation.


Child labor and forced labor, such as human trafficking, can also be a form of exploitation. Unequal bargaining power can also lead to exploitation when workers have limited bargaining power.


Global exploitation can occur across borders, with workers in developing countries facing low wages and poor working conditions as they produce goods for consumption in wealthier nations. Commodification of labor can severe exploitation by treating labor as a commodity rather than a valuable human contribution, leading to dehumanization and a focus on maximizing profits.


Efforts to address exploitation often involve advocating for workers' rights, implementing labor laws and regulations, promoting fair trade practices, and fostering a culture of corporate social responsibility. Organizations and activists work towards creating a more equitable and humane approach to labor that respects workers' dignity and rights.


Boom and Bust Cycles


Boom and bust cycles are recurring periods of economic expansion and contraction in a market-oriented economy. They are characterized by fluctuations in economic activity, employment, and overall production. The cycles are caused by changes in consumer demand, interest rates, investment and speculation, government policies, and global factors. The effects of these cycles include increased unemployment during bust cycles, inflation and deflation during booms, and business and consumer confidence levels during booms.


Governments often respond to these cycles through monetary and fiscal policies, such as adjusting interest rates or implementing stimulus measures. Understanding and managing these cycles is a complex task for policymakers, and efforts to smooth their impact on individuals and businesses are areas of ongoing research and policy development. Overall, these cycles are inherent features of market economies, and efforts to manage their impact are ongoing.

 

Critique: Capitalist economies can experience cycles of economic booms and busts. Periods of economic growth and prosperity are often followed by recessions or depressions, leading to instability and uncertainty.


Consumerism


Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in increasing amounts. It is often associated with a culture that values material possessions and the belief that happiness and success can be achieved through accumulation. Consumerism has both positive and negative aspects, with positive aspects such as economic growth, innovation, and variety. However, it also has negative aspects, such as environmental impact, debt and financial stress, social inequality, and a focus on material success.

 

Responses to consumerism include sustainable consumption, minimalism, and conscious consumerism. Sustainable consumption promotes responsible and ethical choices, while minimalism prioritizes experiences and relationships over material possessions. Conscious consumerism encourages consumers to make informed choices, considering the social and environmental impact of their purchases. Balancing the positive aspects of consumerism with efforts to mitigate its negative impacts remains a challenge for individuals, businesses, and policymakers.


Critique: Capitalism tends to promote a culture of consumerism, where individuals are encouraged to pursue material wealth and consumption. This can lead to overconsumption, environmental degradation, and a focus on short-term gratification.


Monopoly Power


Monopoly power is a situation where a single company dominates and controls an entire market or industry, giving it significant market power and influence. This can have negative consequences for consumers and the economy, such as higher prices, reduced quality and innovation, allocative inefficiency, limited consumer choice, and social inequity. Monopolies often emerge when there are high barriers to entry, such as high startup costs or exclusive access to resources. They also have control over prices, supply, and consumer choice, potentially leading to reduced product variety and innovation.


To address monopoly power, countries often implement antitrust laws, regulatory oversight, and market liberalization. These measures aim to promote fair competition and protect consumers, while also preventing the abuse of market power. Ultimately, addressing monopoly power requires finding a balance between promoting competition and allowing companies to operate efficiently.


Critique: Capitalist economies can sometimes result in the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few corporations or individuals. This can lead to monopolies or oligopolies, limiting competition and potentially harming consumers.


Environmental Impact: The pursuit of profit in a capitalist system may sometimes disregard environmental concerns. The focus on economic growth and profit maximization can lead to overexploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation.


Short-term Focus: Short-term focus refers to a mindset where individuals or organizations prioritize immediate gains over long-term goals. This perspective often leads to quick returns, earnings pressure, and a limited time horizon. The consequences of short-term focus include lack of strategic planning, underinvestment in innovation, risk of burnout, sustainability challenges, and missed opportunities.


Balancing short-term and long-term goals is crucial for sustained success and well-being. Organizations can benefit from strategic planning that considers both short-term and long-term objectives, investing in innovation, prioritizing sustainable practices, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.


Balancing short-term and long-term considerations is essential for long-term resilience and prosperity. By incorporating a broader vision and strategic planning, individuals and organizations can achieve sustained success and well-being.

 

Critique: Publicly traded companies in capitalist systems often face pressure to deliver short-term profits to satisfy shareholders. This can lead to decisions that prioritize immediate financial gains over long-term sustainability.


Social Services and Inequality


Social services are essential in addressing and mitigating social inequality. They encompass public and private programs designed to support individuals and communities' well-being and quality of life. These services include education, healthcare, housing, social assistance programs, and legal aid. They help reduce inequalities by providing essential resources and opportunities, promoting social mobility, addressing basic needs, preventing social exclusion, and improving public health. However, challenges include unequal access, underfunding, stigma, and policy design.


Efforts to address social inequality often involve expanding and improving social services, promoting policies that foster equal access to education, healthcare, housing, and economic opportunities, and ongoing evaluation and adjustments to social service programs. Addressing systemic factors that contribute to disparities is crucial for promoting equal access to these services.


Critique: Critics argue that capitalism, if not properly regulated, may not adequately address social welfare needs. Access to healthcare, education, and other essential services can be uneven, contributing to social disparities.

 

Consequently, it is important to note that many proponents of capitalism argue that these disadvantages can be mitigated through thoughtful regulation, social policies, and ethical business practices. The balance between free-market principles and government intervention is an ongoing debate, and different countries implement capitalism with varying degrees of regulation and social safety nets.

 

Communal Capitalism: Towards a New understanding of Political System


In the diversity of socio-economic ideologies, communalism and capitalism often stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. While each possesses unique strengths and weaknesses, envisioning a synthesis of these seemingly disparate ideologies could pave the way for a more harmonious and balanced societal structure.

                    

Communal capitalism, called “Afro-constructism” by some scholars, is a hybrid economic model that combines African Communalism and Western Capitalism. This approach aims to balance individualism, community, and the role of economic systems in shaping society by incorporating aspects of market-driven economies. It involves exploring how communal values, emphasizing collective well-being, can coexist with capitalist principles of individual initiative and market-driven incentives.

 

Communal capitalism holds significance for several reasons. First, it integrates the strengths of both African Communalism and Western Capitalism, potentially fostering economic development while preserving community values. This approach aims to address socio-economic inequalities by ensuring that individual success contributes to the well-being of the entire community.


Second, communal capitalism promotes a more sustainable and inclusive form of economic growth by emphasizing shared responsibility and ethical business practices. This seeks to reduce negative externalities often associated with urestrained capitalism, such as environmental degradation and social inequality.

 

In a global context, communal capitalism offers an alternative model that respects cultural diversity while addressing pressing issues like poverty and wealth disparity. It encourages a holistic perspective on development, taking into account not just economic indicators but also the social and environmental impact of economic activities.

 

Communal capitalism is crucial for fostering a socio-economic system that goes beyond mere profit accumulation. It places emphasis on community welfare, fostering stronger social bonds, and encouraging ethical business practices. This includes fair labor practices, environmental sustainability, and responsible resource management.



Communal capitalism also promotes inclusive development by aligning individual success with community well-being, reducing socio-economic disparities and contributing to a more balanced distribution of resources and opportunities. It encourages environmentally sustainable practices, recognizing the long-term importance of preserving the environment for the well-being of both individuals and the community.


Lastly, communal capitalism respects and integrates cultural values, preserving aspects of African Communalism while adapting to the realities of a globalized, capitalist world. This allows for the coexistence of diverse cultural identities within the framework of economic activities.


Communal capitalism may enhance societal resilience by fostering a sense of shared responsibility, enabling communities to better weather difficulties during economic challenges or crises. Furthermore, communal capitalism seeks to enhance overall human flourishing, including factors like education, health, and quality of life.


In essence, communal capitalism represents a holistic approach to economic and social development, aiming to create a system that not only generates wealth but also contributes to the well-being of individuals, communities, and the planet.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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