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African Language and African Styles of Organization

Beyond Eurocentrism and the Western organizational model (Part #1)

Note presented to a Colloquium of the Union of International Associations: The Identity of Associations and the Participation of INGOs in Africa in the Context of a New World Order (Brussels, October 1984). Published in Transnational Associations, 1985, 1, pp. 28-32 [PDF version]
Sources of clarification of the concern
African management
Family structure as an infra-logic
Epistemological mindscapes
Alternation between languages
Cross-cultural communication

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Organization in the international community has been extensively, if not completely, moulded over the past decades by the Western organizational model. Indeed an "organization" has come to mean a Western style organization. This model has acquired considerable credibility owing to its successes in many different arenas. The techniques contributing to these successes have been studied and reinforced by management schools, staff training colleges, diplomatic academies, international training programmes, and intergovernmental organizations themselves. Programme failures have been attributed to inadequate training and experience in these skills. The universal validity of the Western model has therefore not been questioned as a possible explanation of the very limited success of many development programmes.

The purpose of this note is to draw attention to the possible merits of non-Western styles of organization, especially in non- Western cultures such as Africa. The point emphasized here is that it is the widespread use of Western language (and the procedures it reinforces) which both encourages the belief in the universal validity of Western styles of organization and conceals the non- Western basis on which other styles of organization could emerge.

This problem is particularly distressing when considering the emergence of African organizations and their participation in the international community. Under present circumstances the prevailing mind set is such that it is doubtful whether any encouragement whatsoever would be given, nationally or internationally, to any form of organization which did not correspond to the "normal", "effective" Western model. This raises the question as to the "African-ness" of what are documented internationally as "African international organizations". Clearly some percentage of them, especially those sponsored with Western assistance or in terms of Western-inspired intergovernmental procedures, may well prove to be ineffective vehicles in the long- term for the expression of African interests and concerns.

ffective vehicles in the long- term for the expression of African interests and concerns.

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