Changing culture, changing course

Taiwo Odukoya

Taiwo Odukoya

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking…. (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Nations, like individuals and businesses, sometimes fall, but they rise again. Over twenty-two years ago, the Rwandan economy was flat on its face, following a bloody civil war, and economists and analysts had all, but written it off. But today, through a combination of determined leadership and popular support, the Rwandan economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, moving from a negative growth of -11.4 per cent in 1994 to 7 per cent in 2014 and 6.9 per cent in 2015. Turnarounds are possible, but they are often preceded by a paradigm shift, by a change in behaviour, by a change in culture.

In their seminal work, Rwanda: Rebuilding a Nation, Ndahiro, Rwagatare, and Nkusi had this to say: “The RPF-led government introduced a paradigm shift that considers political stakeholders as partners and not enemies; the rule of the game being that consensus is privileged over confrontation. This strategic choice not only saved Rwanda from the perverse effects of democratisation, but also cemented national unity and economic progress.” It then follows that Rwanda’s transformation, economically and otherwise, was enabled, amongst other factors, by a change in mind-set, a shift away from the prevailing culture of strife and acrimony. And it is not alone in this. Singapore’s well-documented transition from Third World to First World relied heavily on Lee Kuan Yew’s conscious effort to change the prevailing culture of the people. Yew instituted several reforms that inspired a culture of innovation and hard work, values, which were driven home in schools and every other place. And these are facts.

Many years ago, the German social scientist, Max Weber, drew an interesting link between culture and economic activity, by using the example of how the protestant work ethic of the time, supported by reformation teachings, inspired the virtues needed for maximum productivity. This accounted for economic prosperity in protestant nations like Germany and England.

The truth is that it will be a tall order for Nigeria to make any significant economic progress without reversing the prevailing culture of corruption, nepotism, sectionalism and greed, underpinned by a political system that enables it. To move Nigeria, not just out of the recession, but also into a position of sustainable economic prosperity and political stability, there has to be a change in the way we think and in the way we deal and relate with one another.

We all have a role to play in bringing about this necessary cultural and attitudinal change: top down efforts and bottom up commitments. This has to be deliberate. We have to be conscious of the requisite values needed to succeed as a people; values of honesty and integrity, of hard work and creativity, innovation and excellence, fairness and equity, cooperation and collaboration. These have to be evident in the way government business is conducted, drummed up in our homes, schools and places of worship with systems of rewards and punishment to encourage good behaviour and deter negative ones. We can no longer afford to pay lip service to these things. We cannot think and work ourselves out of a recession with the same habits that got us into the current situation in the first place.

Stephen Covey might very well have spoken about Nigeria, when he said, “The more people rationalise cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle. Because suddenly, if everyone else is cheating, you feel a need to cheat, too.” No wonder this has been the motivation for most of those seeking political power – talking of a culture. This is what we have to change. We have to acknowledge that we have an entrenched culture of negative values and understand how much of it is responsible for holding us back. The prevailing culture of corruption, impunity, suspicion and nepotism will only serve to keep us in this cycle of mediocrity and retrogression. A generation of leaders and followers must arise to draw the line and say it stops with us. We can choose to be that generation. We can seize the opportunity the recession offers to effect this cultural change. Change truly begins with change.


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Taiwo Odukoya
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