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Culture Clash – why China meets Africa’s Needs

Jon Twigge

The following is a ‘guest blog’ by Jon Twigge, an ardent Spiral Dynamics Integral enthusiast and supporter of the Centre of Human Emergence – UK. Jon wrote the piece for his own blog and has graciously consented to it being published here as well.

It was a few weeks ago that I read on the BBC that the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, had praised the way that China deals with Africa.  Apparently, unlike the West, China invests in Africa and trades with it which helps it build up its infrastructure.  The West on the other hand, according to the Rwandan president, is more likely to offer aid and to tie it more to conditions.

Kagame – seen below with American president George W Bush – went as far to say that European and American involvement was polluting Africa.

Why would that be?

It immediately struck me, from a Spiral Dynamics point of view, that we are seeing a values clash here.  Essentially we have 3 different cultural sets of values that interact in different ways.

From a very simplistic and generalised point of view we could summarise the relevant aspects of the 3 different cultures.

Much of Africa still lacks good infrastructure and is based on agriculture far more than many other places in the world.  Tribal and power based organisation and values are still very common.

The next stage in Spiral Dynamics evolution terms is for Africa to build much more solid infrastructure and government.  This will allow them to build beyond the tribal and power based society towards a more centralised and organised government and control that will allow individuals the safety to work for their families and wider communities more effectively.

China has already got strong infrastructure in many areas, although this is of course by no means universal.  This has allowed them to more recently engage in rapid commercial growth in many sectors. China has a booming economy with rapidly expanding exports and is looking to build strong trading partnerships with other areas of the world.

A strong relationship with parts of Africa is ideal for China to expand their economy into with large investments looking purely towards their own commercial growth and success.  This investment fits in very nicely with Africa’s need for inward investment to help them build up their own infrastructure.

There is in fact a natural resonance between China and Africa with China sitting just one level ahead of Africa on the Spiral journey first described by Clare Graves.  With a mix of values close enough together to allow profitable interaction the relationship can blossom.

The West
A much more complex set of societies than either of China or Africa, the West has a mix of different values driving its industry, growth and social equality.  As the strength of liberal equalitarianism acquires ever greater power in Western society, more and more rules are added dictating what is right or moral including in business and government.

Despite a healthy clash in the way that the values of the West re China are expressed, Communism vs Democracy, the underlying vMEMETIC values being expressed are close enough that the western consumer is happy to buy the results of Chinese industry and commerce.

The clash
However, when we try to put the West together with Africa, we see a different kind of relationship arise altogether.  Without a healthy African industrial engine producing goods the Western consumer has nothing to buy from Africa.  In the wake of a strong trading relationship Africa is seen, to Western eyes, as needing help.  After all, Africa’s lack of basic infrastructure and Western values is interpreted as a lack of civilisation.

Western governments and NGOs alike try to help Africa with charitable monies and aid.  However, seeing this basic lack of civilisation the aid is often tied with calls to get organised and put things in order.  Human rights and Democracy come high on the reform agenda.

The trouble is, generally much of Africa is simply not ready for these things yet.  Based on the need to meet the life conditions that they find themselves in, there simply is not yet room in their lives to take on board these idealistic Western values.  First they must build infrastructure and secure their industrial future.

Too much uninformed Western interference and demands are indeed counterproductive and polluting.  Surface implementations of Western morals and values in cultures that do not yet have social stability can only lead to even more corruption and failure.

A difficult road
From a liberal Western point of view this is indeed a difficult dilemma unless the nature of the Spiral of values is recognised.  We have to put aside our ideas of absolute equality and rights to allow Africa to grow its own way.  Eventually, given time and support, and a stable infrastructure and then economy Africa will find its own ideas of equality and rights for all.

If we do not learn these lessons then in time, our relations with much of Africa and the Commonwealth will be replaced with African/Chinese relations.

We should listen more closely to Paul Kagame, before it is too late.  Otherwise Democracy may one day follow the same fate that the British Empire did and be left behind in terms of world relevance.



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  1. jtwigge says

    And, in what was coincidental timing, Rwanda has now joined the Commonwealth – the second country to do so without a historical connection with Britain:

  2. jtwigge says

    And just to clarify. We don’t need every action to be thought about from every possible perspective. We need groups that cater for their own needs but who are aligned to the needs of ever larger collectives as well.

    A simple anaolgy is that when the body is working effectively individual cells get on with their own tasks but they are also aligned with the needs of the organs which they make up. In turn the organs get on with their jobs but again are aligned with the needs of the whole body.

    The Holacracy model is based on this simple model of approriate organisation t appropriate levels together with organised communiction and alignment between levels. One of the key points that I envision for Network Britain.

  3. jtwigge says

    I am not always too hot on all of the details. I like to illustrate principles, raise ideas and create debate. Through that, if we can raise awareness and consequently action then I will be really pleased.

    For me the simplest mesage we have is that even a basic awareness of the reasons why people operate from different values allows first of all an emerging tolerance and understanding followed by action that takes account of everyones needs rather than just select groups.

  4. Keith E Rice says

    Thanks for this, Colin. Considering where Rwanda was 15 years ago, this is stunning progress.

    From the limited information in the article, it would appear Kagame is certainly operating from a very sophisticated – quite possibly 2nd Tier – level of thinking. From the sounds of it, he’s being remarkably successful in stimulating BLUE discipline (minimal corruption) and ORANGE-driven economic advancement.

    His challenge is going to keeping PURPLE tribalism healthy and not in conflict with each other while at the same time restraining or neutralising the RED-focussed warlords.

    If he can do all this, then we need to model him. He might just have a template for macro-managing the Spiral.

  5. Colin says

    HI Jon, whilst in general terms your description of the dynamics between West/Africa/China is clarifying, I think that there is something a little different about Rwanda.

    I have attached a recent report which describes what appears to be a very interesting process going on there. I would suggest that there is a strong 2nd tier dimension to the leadership in Rwanda. Kagame may well know exactly what he is doing and what his country needs.

    One of the more hopeful places in Africa.

    African economies can learn from Rwanda’s growth
    Publication date: Tuesday, 24th November, 2009
    Nathan Were

    A few months ago, Rwanda was named the world’s easiest country to do business with by a recent World Bank study. The survey assessed a series of indicators such as ease of starting business, dealing with construction permits, employing workers, getting credit and paying taxes.

    Rwanda scored high on starting a business, employing workers, protecting investors and contract enforcement. Therefore, what lessons can African economies learn from this tiny country with an unfortunate history?

    Rwanda has made strong strategic choices and developed systems to closely monitor and implement reforms. These reforms have created a conducive environment to attract foreign direct investment and stimulate economic growth.

    It has set up good public sector governance systems, a facet that has attracted the donor community.

    The former British premier Tony Blair has been a resident volunteer advisor to the president of Rwanda on a series of government issues including policy formulation, coordination and creation of a think-tank. The think-tank steers Rwanda’s regeneration and ensures a well-planned infrastructure.

    The administration in Kigali has embarked on development of the central business district. The country is promoting public private partnerships as a means of providing the badly needed capital for investment projects.

    The political commitment to minimise corruption has meant that projects are approved on time with minimal delays.

    The country was named by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, as the number one country in East Africa on Information Communication Technology. Rwanda has heavily invested in technology and over 1,500 primary schools are equipped with computers.

    There are a number of things that Rwanda is doing right. The country has established key priority areas needed to steer its development.

    The country has embarked on systematic reforms cutting the costs of starting and sustaining business by almost half. It now takes one day to start a business up from 16 days. The registration fees were slashed from $400 (sh800,000) to only $43 (sh86,000). Rwanda’s evolution teaches African economies that developing countries have the potential to deliver sustainable development which can change the livelihoods of their people.

    The writer is a researcher at the Microfinance Support Centre

    This article can be found on-line at:

  6. integra7_KeithE says

    The West’s attitude to Africa is still largely built on Walt Rostow’s policy of mutating 3rd World countries into agricultural and industrial powerhouses to feed the West with raw materials in return for which the West would return finished, consumer goods for the subsistence level 3rd worlders to spend their hard-earned pittances on.

    Sounds ridiculous, eh? Well, it worked for British manipulation of Indian misery for well over 100 years!

    As for Walt, he was incredibly influential in the 60s – especially in the Johnson White House – indeed, some would say Walt was the architect of America’s disastrous Vietnam venture. Many of Walt’s policies are still adhered to today by the American and other Western governments.

    Of course, it was all meant to hold the pernicious Communist influence at bay while the West sold these people things they didn’t need at prices they couldn’t afford.

    Rostow was anti-tribal. He wanted African men off their family agricultural or communal farms and into the towns to work in sweatshops in the towns on the premise that they would be able to send home to their families far more money than they would have earned if they had stayed on the land.

    Rostow’s emissaries carried his messages through to the tribal grounds on the first radios those people had heard – blatantly anti-traditional, anti-tribal messages. In Spiral terms, Rostow was deconstructing PURPLE in the name of delusional ORANGE.

    The West is largely still trapped in the missionary paradigm of trying to help the uncivilised savage to a better life – just look at the West’s foolish attempts to impose (BLUE-ORANGE) Western-style Democarcy on the PURPLE-RED tribal thinking in Iraq and Afghanistan…!

    China, on the other hand, having taken a step out from the master-slave relationship Andre Gunder Frank described between the Capitalist West and the 3rd World and being, in the process of developing an entirely new economic model, can approach Africa on a totally-different footing – without expectation derived from historical bag & baggage.

    But, lest, anyone think I’m being romantic about China…yes, I do know that many of their industrial workers (at this stage) barely get subsistence wages and that a comment like this in Beijing or Shanghai would most likely get me a bullet in the back of the head!