THE VILLAGE RULES: The Impact of the Village on the Future of Africa 

In exploring the role of the village in African society, it is valid to observe that village influence does not end in rural areas but extends to towns and cities as well. It is therefore important that strategies evolve that can help bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, writes Gazette Special Correspondent DOUGLAS RASBASH

Africa’s rich tapestry of cultures, traditions and histories is intricately woven with the fabric of village life. The village, as a central institution, has been instrumental in preserving African identities, fostering community bonds and upholding social norms.

However, this same institution is often viewed as a double-edged sword where its strengths in preserving culture can sometimes impede progress. This feature explores the value of the African village on the future of Africa.

The role of the village in Africa’s future is a complex narrative, encompassing both its invaluable contributions and its potential drawbacks. Cultural preservation and social cohesion villages in Africa are the custodians of tradition and culture. They are the spaces where oral histories are passed down, where traditional practices in agriculture, craftsmanship and medicine are preserved, and where communal values are instilled. The village structure supports a tightly-knit community, offering social support systems that urban environments often lack. This social cohesion is essential in providing a sense of identity and belonging, which are critical in maintaining the continent’s diverse cultural heritage.

Moreover, village leaders play significant roles in conflict resolution and maintaining social order. Their authority and influence can prevent local disputes from escalating and ensure that communal harmony is preserved. In a continent as diverse as Africa, these roles are crucial for social stability. However, the economic implications of village life present significant challenges. Traditional agricultural practices, while sustainable in many ways, lag behind modern agricultural advancements that can enhance productivity. The reliance on subsistence farming limits economic growth and opportunities for the younger generation, leading to a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break.


Cultural integrity

The conservatism observed in African villages, deeply embedded in the desire to preserve traditions and resist external influences, plays a significant role in shaping the region’s developmental trajectory. While this conservatism protects cultural integrity, it also poses substantial challenges to adopting new technologies, modern agricultural techniques, and educational reforms. The Village remains the primary institution responsible for registering births marriages and deaths, and in many places registration for voting in elections. Moreover, applications for residencies and citizenship have to be approved by a village chief.

Understanding the roots of this resistance and its implications is crucial for fostering progress in African villages and beyond into urbanity. The scepticism towards change in many African villages is not solely an aversion for the new but is often rooted in historical experiences of exploitation and marginalisation. Colonialism, in particular, left a lasting legacy of mistrust towards external influences. Colonial powers often imposed changes that disrupted traditional ways of life and exploited local resources for their gain. As a result, many African communities have developed a cautious approach to external innovations and reforms, associating them with potential threats to their autonomy and well-being.


Genetically-modified crops

For example, traditional farming methods, passed down through generations, are deeply ingrained in village life. These practices, while sustainable in some contexts, often lag behind modern techniques that can significantly enhance productivity. Moreover, basic education perpetuates traditional agricultural practices rather than the new. For instance, the introduction of genetically-modified crops or advanced irrigation systems may be met with scepticism. Villagers may fear that these innovations could harm their soil, disrupt their ecosystems, or lead to dependency on external corporations.

As a result, they may resist adopting these new methods, preferring to stick with traditional farming practices. The digital divide between urban and rural areas in Africa is stark. In many villages, there is a reluctance to adopt modern technology, such as smartphones, computers, and Internet connectivity. This resistance can stem from concerns about the erosion of traditional communication methods and the potentially negative influences of global media. For example, introducing e-learning platforms in rural schools may face resistance from parents and educators who are wary of replacing face-to-face interaction with digital tools. Traditional education in many African villages is focused on imparting practical skills and cultural knowledge. There may be concerns that an emphasis on modern subjects could devalue traditional knowledge and skills.

Additionally, parents might be sceptical about the relevance of modern education to their children’s future in a village context where traditional skills are more immediately applicable. Balancing tradition and modernity requires a nuanced approach that respects cultural heritage while promoting sustainable development.


Village influence

In exploring the role of the village in African society, it is valid to observe that village influence does not end in rural areas but extends to towns and cities as well. So it important that strategies evolve that can help bridge the gap between tradition and modernity. Involving village leaders and community members in the planning and implementation of new initiatives ensures that changes are culturally sensitive and locally accepted. For example, agricultural extension services can work with local farmers to demonstrate the benefits of modern techniques through pilot projects that respect traditional practices. Educational reforms should integrate traditional knowledge with modern subjects. For instance, incorporating indigenous agricultural practices into the science curriculum can create a more holistic and relevant educational experience. This approach helps preserve cultural heritage while equipping students with contemporary skills. Introducing technology gradually and demonstrating its practical benefits can help alleviate skepticism.

Community workshops that teach villagers how to use smartphones for accessing market information, weather forecasts and healthcare services can illustrate the immediate advantages of technology. Acknowledging the historical reasons behind resistance to change and addressing these concerns transparently can build trust. Development initiatives should emphasise how modern innovations can enhance rather than replace traditional ways of life, ensuring that villagers feel their cultural identity is respected and valued.

Village influence plays a central role in shaping the identities and values of its leaders. Despite the rapid urbanisation and modernisation seen across the continent, the roots of many African leaders are firmly planted in the rural, agrarian lifestyle. This connection manifests in various ways, from personal interests to policy decisions, and has a profound impact on leadership styles and priorities. The blending of traditional village values with contemporary governance challenges creates a unique dynamic in African leadership. Many African leaders maintain strong ties to their villages, often owning farms and livestock, and engaging in traditional agricultural practices. This connection to the land and rural life is not merely symbolic; it reflects deep-seated values and a sense of responsibility towards their communities.

Julius Nyerere 

For instance, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, known as the “Father of the Nation,” was famously connected to his rural roots and emphasised the importance of agriculture and rural development in his policies. This rural affinity can be seen in leaders’ personal interests and activities today. Owning cattle or managing farms is often more than a hobby; it is a continuation of their upbringing and a reflection of their identity. For example, in Kenya, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group, showed interest in agriculture and livestock, which are integral parts of Kikuyu culture. Such interests highlight a connection to traditional ways of life that remains influential, even in the highest echelons of power.

The agrarian background of many African leaders influences their governance styles and policy priorities. Leaders who have experienced village life firsthand often prioritise rural development, agricultural sustainability and food security. For example, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has implemented numerous policies aimed at modernising agriculture and improving rural livelihoods, recognising the sector’s importance for the nation’s economy and food security. This rural influence can also lead to policies that emphasise self-reliance and community-based development.

Thuo Letlotlo

Nyerere’s Ujamaa (familyhood and/or fraternity) policy in Tanzania, which promoted collective farming and rural self-sufficiency, is a historical example of how village values can shape national policy. Although Ujamaa faced significant challenges, it underscored the importance of community and cooperation, principles deeply rooted in village life. While the village-centric mindset offers valuable insights and grounding, it can sometimes clash with the demands of modern governance and global integration. Leaders who prioritise traditional agricultural methods may resist adopting advanced technologies and innovations that could enhance productivity and economic growth. This tension between tradition and modernity is a recurring theme in many African countries.

For example, Zimbabwe’s land reform policies under former President Robert Mugabe were driven by a desire to return land to indigenous populations and support traditional farming. However, the execution led to significant economic challenges, illustrating the complexity of balancing traditional values with modern economic realities. In Botswana, ‘Nyereresque’ policies are very much in evidence with enthusiastic effort and considerable resources directed to livestock farming such as Thuo Letlotlo rather than the fourth industrial revolution upon which the future of all nations depends. The village rules Africa directly and indirectly, mindset changes are needed, and they must start from the top.