Africa Through Structuration Theory - ntu

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Africa Through Structuration Theory - ntu

Africa Through Structuration Theory - ntu - Chapter One

African-Centred leadership’ and the theory of structuration: a response to Obiakor


Dissatisfaction with one system of organisation or governance can lead to calls for a change for the better. There are numerous such calls specifically aimed at Africa wanting, hoping and urging it to emerge and better the lives of its people. One suggestion that is represented here by accounts from the 2004 Obiakor’s article has been for Africa to recapture itself in a typical Hegelian cycle of opposites of structures or systems of governance. This chapter attempts to reframe the problem with African leadership using Giddens’ duality of structures and proposes a slightly different discourse that should be given voice in the African leadership narrative and renaissance.


This chapter uses Giddens’ (1979, 1984) social theory of duality of structures to reconceptualise the narrative of renewing with ‘intrinsic’ African values associated with the pre-colonial Africa, lost in the colonial era, and further alienated in the post-colonial time. It begins with a summary and then an analytical review of Obiakor’s (2004) article which traces African leadership through the periods of pre-colonialism, colonialism, post-colonialism to post-dictatorship and advocates for an African-centred education that would produce ‘patriotic’ leaders and ensure that Africa makes an irreversible entry into prosperity. The review is then followed by an outline of the theme of duality of structures within Giddens’ social structuration theory which is linked to his views on modernity. His concepts equip my writing of this chapter with a theoretical framework to question and consider some of the pertinent issues that have so far remained unexamined. The section ‘A new perspective for Africa using Giddens’ structuration theory’ re-examines the role that individual Africans would have played in the formation of their pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial institutions. Reflecting on what needs to be done if the leadership of current and future institutions/movements/projects (states, African-centred education, African renaissance etc.) is to be successful, the chapter concludes by arguing that a cross-section or multi-fields engagement with social phenomena that is constructed through the interplay of structure and agency is what is needed.

Giddens did not develop a coherent methodological perspective for his structuration theory; hence, an increasing sense of self-scrutiny on the one hand and decreasing fear on the other hand are my experience-based indicators of the effects of such interplay and could serve as possible ways of testing the duality of structures in the context that is discussed here.

There is something that the reader needs to know before proceeding. This chapter was originally submitted for publication in an international peer review Journal. It was accepted initially and the comments from reviewers are presented below. It was then denied publication for the reasons that appear at the end of the chapter where the author shares his response before proceeding on to other chapters.

Reviewer(s)'Comments to Author:

Reviewer1: Comments to the Author: I say well done and congratulation for engaging in an innovative thinking to solve an enduring problem; and also for promoting integrative analysis of multiple perspectives. That's good scholarship. However, avoid using Eurocentric terms such as “tribal.” Also, make sure that at least one (XXX) reference is included in the reference section.

Reviewer 2, Comments to the Author: This article deals with an important topic and is worthy of publication with a minor revision. The article needs a careful revision in order to improve its overall clarity and readability. There are mechanical issues and awkward expressions here and there. Two examples will suffice.

The following unclear sentence appears on page 2: “One such question is: ‘what has been and should be the role of Africans as actors in previous systems (pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial) and future ones (institutionalised African-centred education, African renaissance etc.,) being put forward?”

Then, on page 3, there is also a convoluted construction: “He cites the example of chiefs allowing their children to inherit their thrones which he contrasts with a servant being able to marry a King’s daughter if he were hard working, to make the point of the pragmatism of African culture but at the same time briefly allude to the ‘structure and/versus agency’ theme when he asserts that Africans ‘did everything for themselves and their communities.’”

Why Obiakor matters and what does he say? A summary

Social media and academic work are awash with Africans bemoaning colonisation and what is believed to be its modern day mutations through globalisations, international bodies, and Western academies. Mentan’s (2015) work entitled Unmasking Social Science Imperialism: globalization theory as a phase of academic colonialism is just one such example. Convinced by such legitimate rhetoric, you and I can be forgiven for looking for inspirational practices of leadership, for example, closer to home. The chances of achieving such a noble quest become improbable when the reality on the ground is that of nationalistic oppression as Mentan (2009) documents in Democratizing or Reconfiguring Predatory Autocracy? Myths and Realities in Africa Today.

Disillusioned by current practices of our fellow Africans in power, a recurrent salvific suggestion has been to renew with African traditional values. But just how do we go about it, what do we hope to find and how do we adapt that new knowledge to the world today? These are just some of the questions that are yet to be adequately articulated. Obiakor’s (2004) article ‘Building patriotic African leadership through African-centred education’ makes a contribution worth our attention.

Obiakor sees Africa generally regressing in its education standards, economies and political leadership despite isolated success stories in a handful of situations (countries). This, according to the author, is due to the adoption of Euro-centred frameworks. Those frameworks are not clearly articulated. However, in an attempt to resolve the situation, the author begins by bringing to our attention the assumption that ‘the kind of education the citizens receive reflects the kind of leaders it produces’ (Ibid 415). He then goes on to recommend the revamping of Africa’s educational systems that would ‘incorporate African-centred problem solving, partnership building, and collaboration and consultation’ (Ibid 416) as its building blocks. With a robust African-centred education hangs Africa’s ability to change attitudes through its systems of beliefs and ideals.

The rest of the author’s article is essentially a historical retracing of events which brings him to the conclusion that the African traditional values to be enshrined in the African centred-education existed in the ‘precolonial Africa and were lost during the colonial and postcolonial periods’ (Ibid 416). Those values, according to the Obiakor, resurfaced in the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Nkwame Nkrumah.

As we engage in a critical review of Obiakor’s article in the next section, it is important that the views on African values and their presence and/or absence through the eras of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial do not go unquestioned and hopefully reframe what has come to epitomise the African narrative. With the reality of contrived collegiality (Hargreaves 2003), just how are we to understand collaboration here? Who is to collaborate with whom and on what basis? These are important questions that need answering.

When paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, the American president said:

…we will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, so it falls to us, as best as we can, to follow the example that he set, to make decisions guided not by hate, never discount the difference that one person can make and strive for a future worthy of sacrifice (Barak Obama 6/12/2013).

The above extract is carefully worded. It recognises the ‘unrepeatable’ uniqueness of these great African leaders in ‘we will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again…’ To that extent, those leaders had special traits that set them apart from the rest of us. The extract, however, recognises that (African) leadership is an art that can be learnt and developed: ‘…it falls to us, as best as we can, to follow their example…’

But how did these great African leaders exercise their leadership aimed at shepherding their nations to their ‘true African-ness’? Was it just a matter of excavating those lost traditional values and reinstating them in the Africa of today? Are African education systems ready for the African-centred education that Obiakor and many others are proposing? The contention here is that, there is something much more central that needs to be articulated and through which African education and other fields can be understood. ‘Education (like leadership and others, my Italics), in the African traditional setting cannot (and indeed philosophically should not) be separated from life’ (Reagan 2005:62).

This chapter and the entire publication for that matter is an attempt to understand African life, whether modern or traditional. But there is also a moral duty that requires of us to engage in creative thinking in order to reverse the continent’s on-going plights. This chapter begins a kind of pedagogy of African leadership ideals using structuration theory and the author argues, in later chapters, for a rapprochement between structuration theory and African ontology (ntu).

Obiakor and the African-centred education for African-centred leadership: a review

Obiakor (2004) is just one in a growing list (Du Bois 1973; Foster 1997; Lomotey 1994; Murrell 2002; Rabaka 2003; Warfield-Coppock 1995 and Wilson 1992) of academics who focus their writings on African-centred education. Reference to Du Bois’ (1973) definition of African education will be made. This is essential in as far as it is rooted in African continental origins and ‘values’.

To say that Obiakor (2004) is not impressed with African leaders in the time of writing his article is an understatement. He uses his breadth of knowledge drawing from different sources to make his central point about the need for African education systems to be African-centred which would lead to the production of more patriotic leaders who would, in his view, do better for future generations. African-centred education is only a means to achieving the goal of patriotic African leadership. The intention here is not to unpack the ins and outs of what he proposes as African-centred education; this chapter focuses instead on, as implied in his article, the ups and downs of his goal: ‘African leadership’.

‘The institutionalisation of a pragmatic system of African-centred education that opens concrete rooms for African experiments and African experiences and fosters the use of African body, soul and mind’ (404) is an ideal that Obiakor (2004) traces back to the pre-colonial Africa. At that time, he argues, there was a pervasive sense of collaboration, trust, integrity, consensus, and amicable conflict resolution to name but just a few. Looking beyond single practices such as storytelling, the entire individual acts of pragmatism were, it would seem manifestations of what he calls the ‘cultural continuity’. He cites the example of chiefs allowing their children to inherit their thrones which only highlights the ‘passive’ role that Africans would have played in the shaping of their institutions. One could argue that this may not have mattered to the ‘Ubuntu’ style of leadership (Mbigi 1997) which is generous, people-oriented and as Obiakor (2004:407) would put it ‘tied to the apron string of traditional African culture’.

To apply the same logic today does matter, not least because of the numerous acts of unpatriotic leadership throughout Africa. The degree of what Letseke (2013:351) calls ‘shocking and horrifying incidents of moral indiscretions’ (violent crime, premeditated murder, rape, assault, homophobic attacks and police brutality) in South Africa, which could be extended to the rest of the continent, is a reminder that Africans can be active agents (albeit in a negative way as implied in Letseke’s article) and, more importantly, that healthier articulations/expressions/manifestations of Ubuntu and African-centred leadership are necessary. It suffices to say that the narrative of the pre-colonial Africa in Obiakor’s article firmly grounds or subsumes the individual within the community and the temporal within the continuity. Individuals did not only act for themselves, they did so for the community since they are an extension of the whole, of the structure.

The good times, or better still the seamless flow of the ‘cultural continuity’, seemed to have been interrupted by what he calls the ‘Eurocentric intrusion’ which according to Onwudiwe and Ibelema (2003) continues to be felt today though not known now as ‘colonisation’ as it was then. This intrusion is presented by Obiakor as another system that superseded African cultural continuity. This system, on which the author only focuses his critique on education, is characterised as leading to the satisfaction of European selfish ends, and destroying traditional African values and their gatekeepers (resisting rulers and chiefs) on its expansion pathway. In what seems to be the continuation of his theme of Africans as individual moral and reflexive actors being lost in the changing structures, Obiakor cites the example of traditional courts replacing the African family collaborative structures in resolving problems. The mushroom courts were representative of a version of structures/systems that did not tolerate any deviant individual acts. Another structure or institution that is cited is Christianity which ‘destroyed some great traditional values’ (408). Once again, the individual (African leader in this case), wherever he/she stood, was absorbed by the institution in such a way that he or she became a puppet serving the interests of the new (colonial) structure.

The advent of an independent Africa, according to the author, saw some examples of impressive leadership, but generally, the promises of self-determination were short lived. For the best cases of post-colonial Africa, the author cites the examples from Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania for their daring authentic educational initiatives. The author does not state the goals in question but singles out Nigeria and Sudan as two of the nations that attempted to establish an education system with ‘a national philosophy’ (410). He then praises the patriotic move in Tanzania for its socialism agenda whose ideology ‘transcended virtually all social, cultural, economic, educational, and political levels of Tanzania’ (410). While others might see these changes as Marxist experiments with Soviet backing, it does not mean that they are un-African.

One can then say that these initiatives were nationalistic and to some extent still had an institutional dimension. However, Obiakor presents them as singular and conscious attempts to write one’s own destiny rather than be part of a narrative that sees individual actions predetermined by a constraining (foreign) system. That, however, is still what happened according to Obiakor as colonial domination was replaced by African forms of (military) domination. The egoism of one tyrant meant that entire nations and all their subjects had to dance to the tunes of the new version of domination and, like in the colonial period, the deviants were decimated. Adi Amin’s oppressive rule in Uganda and that of Mobutu in the then Zaire, are just two poignant examples to illustrate a new devastating episode in the chain succession of subjects’ subsuming structures.

In summary then, the narrative of the African leader and Africans as subjects that Obiakor eloquently and patriotically presents can be understood as one string of structures after structures that have at times, especially in the pre-colonial Africa, encapsulated the African spirit and at other times, in this case the colonial and post-colonial, betrayed it. His optimistic post-dictatorial/military Africa is, in my reading of his argument, yet another indulgent moment with the structure of the pre-colonial Africa. The foregoing phrasing of Obiakor’s narrative should not be misunderstood to be an anti-thesis to the consensus around the nobleness that the pre-colonial values represent. Most of them, for example: the freedom bells, fighting corruption, democracy, self-reliance and skills-focused education for problem solving, partnership building, collaboration and consultation are based, it would seem, on the principle of human justice and in a sense are not exclusive to Africa.

The Pedagogy of the oppressed by Freire (1970), for example, can be understood as a Latin American version of a call for more patriotic leaders who would put social justice at the heart of their policies. Underpinning the pre-colonial values, one could argue, is the desire to humanise. On the subject of humanisation, Freire (1970:25) writes ‘both humanisation and dehumanisation are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation’. Yes, this vocation can be culturally ring fenced and protected but it is, according to Freire, a vocation of the people, which the author takes to mean all people. Humanity belongs to all and it could be argued that all the conceptual ideas (Giddens’ and others that are highlighted in this chapter) that help ‘humanise’ different groups, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, survive the bias of being another form of educational or intellectual neo-colonialism (Altbach 1971). To return to the main point, Obiakor’s pursuit of a (pre-colonial) structural rediscovery leads him to argue that:

‘…Interestingly, these skills used to be evident during the pre-colonial Africa and were lost during the colonial and post-colonial periods’ (416).

Writing in 2001, the then South African President Thabo Mbeki goes at great length to define the African renaissance by attempting to strike a balance between a return to a pre-colonial structure and at the same time redefine its very self. Addressing his South African audience, he says ‘the institution of traditional leadership can and should play a central role in the African renaissance’ and goes on to say ‘…to speak of African renaissance is to speak of coming into being of a new African identity…’ Justifying this rhetoric was the setting up of an ‘African recovery programme’ by African leaders to eradicate poverty across the continent. It is worth noting that despite this initiative coming earlier than the writing of his article; it did not stop Obiakor (2004) from deploring what he saw as ‘unpatriotic’ leadership. Nevertheless, while Obiakor’s African-centred education is a different initiative from the African recovery program of Mbeki in that the first produces great patriotic leaders and the second is a step towards the renewal of the new identity, they are both articulations of institutionalised vehicles for structural values to be transmitted. More efforts then need to be made to understand, define and promote the interactions that individual subjects or citizens have had with previous structures and will have with the new suggested structures. Simply appealing to people to create and commit to new structures that supposedly have people’s interests at heart (be it African-centred education or African recovery programs), without giving voice to an agentic African narrative seems to me short of a credible renaissance and (African-centred) leadership.

For the purpose of my argument, the next section outlines Giddens’ (1979) theory of structuration and appreciates its relevance in the context of a more globalised world or high modernity (Giddens 1984). This leads to posing some pertinent questions regarding the place of African citizens in what the author deems to be a one-sided structuration narrative. The section refers to Giddens’ original texts as well as other commentaries (Archer 1995; Elster 1982; Fuchs 2003; Jones and Karsten 2008; and Stones 2005) that faithfully elucidate on and scrutinise his rather complex theory.

Giddens’ theory of structuration

Giddens (1979), like Bourdieu (1984) for example, is concerned with the dichotomisation of structure and human agency in the shaping of social reality. He dislikes functionalism which places the system needs over and above the needs of individuals. Giddens’ call to social theorists then, and the author would argue that the same call applies to those attempting to understand social phenomena with an economic, political, cultural and ethical interest, is to bear in mind that,

The pressing task facing social theory today is not to further the conceptual elimination of the subject, but on the contrary, to promote a recovery of the subject without lapsing into subjectivism. Such a recovery, I wish to argue involves a grasp of what cannot be said (or thought) as practice (Giddens 1979:44).

In an attempt to provide a coherent social theory that is not caught up in the logic of either functionalism or interpretism, either structure or agency, Giddens proposes that social environment be viewed in a duality of structures. This concept is essential in understanding the interplay that Giddens envisages between structure and agency and therefore avoid the imperialism of the subject advocated by the interpretive sociologists against that of the social order vehemently defended by the functionalists/structuralists (Fuchs 2003). He first sees societies as having rules and resources. The duality of such structural properties is felt in that they both constrain and enable. One of the succinct ways of explaining the constraining and enabling process of social phenomena is by Jones and Karsten (2008). They argue that,

Giddens proposes that structure and agency are a mutually constitutive duality. Thus social phenomena are not the product of either structure or agency, but of both. Social structure is not independent of agency, nor is agency independent of structure. Rather, human agents draw on social structures in their actions, and at the same time these actions serve to produce and reproduce social structure (129).

In this way of thinking, there is room to argue that the past could have been (and the future could be) different, as structures get reproduced through the instantaneous actions of individuals. This dialectic between agency and structure and its focus on the here and now has come under criticism. The first is not so much of a criticism as Giddens is aware of the fact that the natural world has a constraining hold on individuals without giving the actors any enabling option. To illustrate this, one has only got to imagine that one cannot walk across the Atlantic Ocean without drowning. Metaphorically and in the context of the social world then, pre-existent social actions (Archer 1995) can define the conditions within which one acts in the present. These pre-existent social actions (elected or imposed as laws and norms) are, according to Stones (2005), what Archer refers to as external structures and Giddens calls the objective existent. They both refer to structural properties that the individual cannot change.

To further clarify structuration theory, Stones (2005:20) argues that the pre-existent social actions or norms are not to be thought of in a causal process where there is a ‘sequence in terms of a discrete structural moment being succeeded by a discrete and entirely separate moment of agency, which is then succeeded by another discrete moment of structure, and so on’. With regard to the ability of individual agents to change their environment in the on-going dialectic of duality of structures, Giddens distinguishes between the constraint as normative sanction and as structural constraint (Stones 2005). In the former, rules and norms may build pre-existent conditions that are resistant to change. However they, especially inequitable rules, ‘are not experienced that way as they don’t prevent her from doing what she wants to do – they may even enable, facilitate desired actions’ (Stones 2005: 59) though gatekeepers of the structure may impose punishment on the transgressors. A bit like some aspects of the natural world that cannot be changed (the example of ‘not being able to walk across the Atlantic ocean without drowning’ has been used here while Giddens uses the example of ‘a person not being able to walk through a wall), the latter, structural constraints, refers to engagement, contract or even norms that confront the actor as an external reality which cannot be changed, but that is only in as far as it is viewed as an external reality. It is worth wondering whether, in social interactions, constraints as normative sanction are ascribed the same nature as structural constraints and vice versa.

To summarise the argument, Giddens’ structuration theme of duality of structures has highlighted a number of things. The first is the primacy of the duality of structures over dualism. This means that social phenomena are no longer to be regarded as an exclusive domain of either objective social structures or the individual subjects. Ontologically, objective social structures and individuals are now to be regarded as standing on equal footing. Historically, the past, present and future are a mobilisation of structural resources by individuals who, in turn, reproduce structures. To elucidate on this point, Stones (2005:21) writes,

the structures, in a sense, must come first into the agents before they can be drawn upon. Agents have structures within them. Equally, structures – the perceived configurations of legitimate and illegitimate actions, conventionally accepted meanings, and distributions of economic and authoritative power – are seen both to have agents within them and to be the product of agents.

The recognition of individuals’ agency is even more essential as traditional structures, that would have guided individual actions, dissolve as a result of globalisation and modernity through increased information technology. Skilled social actors that would reflexively shape and reshape the new institutions in the context of what Giddens (1984) calls ‘high modernity’ are necessary.

Secondly, both Obiakor and the author write with a social justice agenda, which is to emancipate and make human life more liveable. A value free historical interplay between social structures and individual agents, therefore, is not enough. Hence, the resources that constitute the social structures are both individuals’ responsibility and an opportunity. A responsibility in that they (individuals) would have contributed to its existence and an opportunity since the resources can still be used dialectically to reproduce further structures and change the course of history for the better.

There are rules that can constrain but it is important to remind ourselves that unlike the natural world that cannot be changed, we agree to engage with constraint as normative sanction not because the social world imposes unchangeable structural constraints on us. The rules and norms as normative sanctions can enable and facilitate desired actions (Stones 2005:9).

There can also be a tendency when thinking about these concepts to conceptualise the interaction between structure and agency as an end in itself. The responsibility and opportunity element root the theory of duality of structures firmly on the central goal of critical theory which is human emancipation (Britannica academic edition). The next section uses Giddens’ concept of duality of structures to reframe the African-centred education or African leadership discourse.

A new perspective for Africa using Giddens’ structuration theory

It is now worth looking back before looking forward. Before attempting to outline a new approach in the African leadership narrative in the light of Giddens’ structuration theory, it is essential that a retrospective reflection that would affirm the centrality of the theme of duality of structures in the African leadership narrative is provided.

One area of reflection is what appears to be the tyranny of various structures over individual emancipatory prospects. The historical turning points, right from the pre-colonial to the ‘post-dictatorial/military’ Africa, appear to be the time when structures were the way through which to conceptualise individuals. In the pre-colonial time, individuals were at an advantage which they lost in the colonial and dictatorial eras. The thinking seems to have been dominated by a tendency to replace what seems dysfunctional in the eyes of colonial Europeans with regard to pre-colonial values and post-colonial ‘unpatriotic’ (to stick to Obiakor’s terms) leaders with regard to colonial values with another structure. It is therefore legitimate to wonder if Africa is effectively in an endless cycle of recreating the problems that she was dissatisfied with in the first place.

The view here is that it is possible to recreate earlier problems if no attempt is made to reframe the problems that the African continent has encountered thus far. As indicated above, the problem does not lie in a bad system superseding a good one but rather in failing to recognise the role that individuals have played and need to play by drawing on the structural resources to produce and reproduce their social structures (Giddens 1979). Below are a few examples to illustrate this point.

A pre-colonial example

Though one of Fafunwa’s (1975, 1976) goals for education in the pre-colonial time, as cited by Obiakor (2004:406), was to ‘inculcate respect for elders and those in position of authority’, this could not be possible if individual acts by Africans did not happen to produce what is referred to, nostalgically, as ‘African values’. When placed in space and time, these values (or structural resources to use Giddens’ terms) were produced by agents of that time and there is no guarantee that agents interacting with structures today would reproduce the same values as those of the pre-colonial era unless one decides to defend a philosophy contrary to the one implied in Heraclitus’ famous metaphor which reads one cannot step in the same river twice (Johnson 2004). Hence, the African traditional values were what they were because individual agents made the structures what they were then. ‘No traditional societies were wholly traditional, and traditions and cultures have been invented for diversity of reasons’ (Giddens 2002:40). Let us use an abridged version of one of African stories (from ‘Keeping the Promise’ - unpublished) as an illustration.

Desperate to raise a child of their own, a couple goes to see a witch doctor to help the wife conceive. The witchdoctor performs his magic and next the lady falls pregnant. Rather than conceiving a baby, she carries a monster instead. Sensing some strange things in the house, the husband is instructed by another with doctor to exorcise the wife and the monster leaves finally her.

The moral, and arguably at the heart of African value system, is the idea that children are a God given gift other than it being the domain of witchdoctors. We may seek to inculcate this African and also ecumenical value to the next generations. But the development of modern technological procedures such as IVF that Africans may (or may not) want to use, for example, make a reframing of the whole narrative an essential enterprise.

The focus, therefore, should not be on ‘African values per se’ but rather on better and healthier interactions between Africans and institutions that they help to create. In community cultures ‘where a singular feeling (reasoning or choosing – my italics) self is not necessarily the primary axis of signification (Riessman 2008:2), highlighting the role of individuals may seem an unsettling proposition. Such a constituency need not worry since my argument, in the light of Giddens’ theory, is not about a lapsing into subjectivism but rather making subjects take their effective role in the building (producing and reproducing) of social and communal structures. In societies that take pride in their traditions, ‘becoming detraditionalised’ (Giddens 2002:43) does threaten many things, not least people’s identities. The agenda of duality of structures as used here is not an attempt to erode and replace traditions but rather to renew, rethink and get to grips, as it were, with the real African values and traditions in order to guide actions for a better Africa. It is therefore inaccurate to consider African values without recognising the contribution of everyone albeit within the rules and resources available to them at any given time, the pre-colonial in this case.

A colonial example

As already said, this period was characterised by ‘Eurocentric intrusion’. It had ‘puppet’ leaders. The term ‘puppet’ can be taken to mean brainwashed people who are trained to think and act as they are told without having a mind of their own. However, since the vast majority of Africans then had a mind of their own, it is logically sound and within the theory of structuration to argue that puppets acted in accordance with the norms which they could not change for fear of sanctions. Such constraints, in Giddens’ term, are constraints as a normative sanction and did not prevent individual agents from doing what they wanted to do even to the point of going against what one had to do. Inexcusable acts of cruelty of the colonial era will remain what they are and were and the thinking here is not that of victimisation. It is, rather, recognising the pivotal role that subjects play in the reproduction of societies and begin to realise that new structures that suppress individuals are based on shaky grounds.

A post-colonial or independence example

After citing the example of Idi Amin’s unpatriotic rule in Uganda, Obiakor concludes by saying ‘it might be reasonable to summarise that, during postcolonial period, education failed to emancipate the African people’ (2004:412). What suffered, in my view, were not the African values that, as already argued, would not be the same today even if the colonial era had not been there. It was rather the place/role of the individual in the shaping of a society in which he or she was a proud agent.

It has been said earlier that the aim here is not to unpack what ‘African-centred education’ might mean. However, it is worth mentioning that the idea of education being used to determine the path that individuals would take instead of promoting and empowering individuals to reshape their social structures is rather contentious. Those who might want to develop Obiakor’s idea of ‘African-centred education’, would then be faced with the task of clarifying where it sits in the continuum of ‘education for the economic needs of a nation’ on the one hand and ‘education for its own sake/development of subjective thinking skills’ on the other hand (Hodge 2012), or integrate both principles. An elaboration of the concept of ‘African-centred education’ is even more necessary so that it does not become a perpetuation of specific power relations that favour the dominant societal classes (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990; Grenfell 2008) as the pre-colonial example mentioned earlier might suggest.

Du Bois (1973), for example, has advanced a theory of African education that could help to avoid the perpetuation of dominant classes. His work is primarily aimed at the education of African Americans in the United States. However, his theory of education is linked to the historical and geographical origins of African Americans which, in my view, makes it somewhat applicable to Africa as a continent. African education is defined as involving a critical study of African as well as world history, critical cultural study and an understanding of present and future vital needs of not only continental and diasporan Africans but also of humanity as a whole (Du Bois 1973). Such a view of African education cannot flourish if structural and institutional values of the pre-colonial era, for example, are all that we are concerned with. The critical approach advocated by Du Bois suggests that a different understanding of the unfolding of social phenomena is necessary. That it is not bounded but rather dynamic, interactive and globalised which requires skilled social actors to shape and reshape modern (not idealised traditional African) institutions (Giddens 1984). It is the contention here therefore that validating ‘African-centred education’ can be considered only as an attempt to make a more serious point about reviving or recovering a healthy agentic force that would rehabilitate societal structures.

Even when assuming that the argument that has been made so far can stand the scrutiny of its harshest critics, there is yet an unresolved question of, how in African contexts, one can concretely operationalize and get a feel of a duality of structures’ inspired leadership. In general terms, its best concrete application would be felt when individuals and societies interpret and act on their social realities in a way that alienates neither one nor the other. There are, however, some small steps that can be taken that are discussed below.

Looking ahead: taking small concrete steps

An essentialist approach to African-centred education would characterise it as being able to alter the deep-rooted disposition of an individual that would make him or her act patriotically in a position of leadership. What this does is exclude the vast majority of people who fall outside of the affordability-based education and sideline them from playing an active role in the duality-of-structures based construction of social phenomena. In addition to this is the question of whether formal education is a liminal stage where new ideas about society get created or a reflection of the unfolding social life (Hargreaves 2003). The position here is that, it is both. And in as far as it is a reflection of social life; formal education is only one of the many theatres, or fields’ to use Bourdieu’s (1993) term, of the duality of structures. A non-exhaustive list of other theatres could be hospitals, religious groups, associations, cultural groups, the media, governments, regional and international bodies. To bring all these fields into play, a cross-section engagement with social phenomena that is constructed through the interplay of structure and agency is what is needed. And it cannot happen unless it is triggered by, whether lobbied and willing or pressurised, leaders of all these theatres. This, somewhat civil society tone may have Eurocentric origin but it is also what would have characterised the vision of arguably great patriotic African leaders such as Nelson Mandela.

From the author’s experience of growing up in, visiting some other central African countries and receiving a Western higher education, one is able to propose some perhaps early indicators or signs of a healthier engagement with the duality of structures. They are increasing self-scrutiny by those in leadership positions accompanied with decreasing fear on the part of individuals. In an environment where politics is a dirty word and associated with dishonesty, increasing self-scrutiny has to be done with honesty. And yet, it is almost impossible to penetrate the realm of ‘people’s intentions’ for us to tell with precision if they are being honest or not. Decreasing fear on the part of individuals then becomes the only reliable measurement of sincere increased self-scrutinising structures. These two elements are what should theoretically be the guiding force of not only the many national conferences, dialogues or other variations ‘les concertations nationales’ as well as truth and reconciliation commissions but also of the business of leading public institutions.

Some literature on truth and reconciliation commissions, for example, have focussed on whether truth does actually lead to reconciliation (Gibson 2004). If ‘truth’ is not a given, then it might be procedurally worthwhile to invest some of our research energy into understanding whether structures allow (self) scrutiny and that subjects would feel free enough to tell the truth that would shape and reshape their institutions (example: a more reconciled society). What has been missing in African literature therefore is empirical research based on the degree to which individuals have felt a sense of agency in shaping and reshaping their social structures.

How do the two indicators apply in the leadership of Nelson Mandela held here as a prototype of structuration theory-ntu? There are many examples of his leadership where increasing self-scrutiny on the part of an institution lead to decreasing fear on the part of the South Africans in a compressed time and space and we hope that other writers, even posthumous biographers, will begin to enlighten the world with more examples of Mandela’s leadership of institutional increased self-scrutiny and citizens’ decreasing fear. We will however provide two that happen in a decompressed time and space, meaning there is a distance in time and space between the two examples that are evoked here.

Under Mandela’s leadership, Archbishop Desmond Tutu oversaw the proceedings of the truth and reconciliation commission which was an eloquent example of institutional increased self-scrutiny. This was not just about the past institutions coming clean about the atrocities under committed in their era but also a statement that leadership draws its strength from admitting its failure unreservedly and allowing the citizens to have a say on the shaping of the institutions of the future.

Despite retiring from active institutional politics, Mandela’s leadership continued, this time drawing more attention to the promotion of agents’ (Africans’) decreasing fear. As the founder or co-founder of a group called ‘the elders’, a body that brings together older state’s personalities around the world, Mandela presented this body as one whose aim was ‘to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair’ (Mandela 2007). From our grasp and analysis of the current state of play in Africa, it does not take a genius to conclude that those living in fear and therefore in need of the support that Mandela was talking about are the agents, the citizens.

Giddens’ failure to develop a coherent epistemology and methodology to go with his ontological concepts (Stones 2005) does not help. But that does not diminish the relevance of his conceptual thinking that this chapter hopes to have been able to demonstrate as well as engage with the challenge of identifying a suitable epistemology when debating similar ideas in similar contexts. Hence researching people’s sense of (decreasing) fear and their ability to (self) scrutinise institutions and societal structures become potential indicators of Giddens’ duality of structures.

However, the prospects of whether possible ‘truth and reconciliation commissions’ or national conferences or dialogues or ‘concertations’ run in the true spirit of Giddens’ structuration theory are slim if this miniature duality of structures is not replicated in the day-to-day affairs of, say, any governing activities. This is where my growing concern with information ministries on the African continent comes in. These government institutions feel more like internal or external self-defence and propaganda mechanisms instead of being used as means for self-scrutiny for internal efficacy and citizens’ opportunity to shape and reshape their structures. Decreasing self-scrutiny in brutal regimes of post-colonial Africa does not help decrease but it rather increases fear amongst individual agents and perhaps makes constraints as normative sanctions seem like structural constraints.


An analysis of Obiakor’s (2004) synopsis of African eras from pre- to post-colonial Africa has led me to argue that the narrative so far has been essentially about a succession of different systems or structures of leadership which brings structure and agency dualism to the fore. With an interest in both understanding the role of Africans as actors in previous systems (pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial) and redefining their place in current and future structures (states, institutionalised African-centred education, African renaissance etc.) being put forward, a much more focused analysis using Giddens’ theme of duality of structures within his structuration theory has enabled me to propose a different reading of African history. This reading locates the ups and downs of African leadership in the use or neglect of individuals’ agentic force to shape and reshape their social and political structures which need skilled social actors to keep up with continuous changes associated with the modern world. Challenging the essentialist view of education as a means to produce patriotic leaders, this chapter proposes a cross-section engagement of structure and agency with increasing self-scrutiny on the part of leaders and decreasing fear on the part of individual citizens as methodological indicators.

After the minor revisions, the article was denied publication, for the following reasons:

Comments to the Author: Reviewer 1

Who is Obiakor? Why is he important? What did he say that is worth listening to? There should be a summary of his main points before proceeding; otherwise, the article and its significance remain confusing.

The categories of “pre-colonial,” “colonial,” and “post-colonial” are very Eurocentric and need to be interrogated, especially in a paper dealing with “African-centeredness.” By the way, why is not “African-centered” defined? What does it mean to the author?

There are too many “I” in this text, which gives the impression that the article is based more on opinion than research.

Why not use a theory produced by an Afrocentric theorist, like Molefi Asante, instead of one produced by Giddens, who certainly did not African in mind. This article reads as a purely intellectual exercise. It would benefit greatly from engaging truly Afrocentric scholarship and building upon it with an eye on making concrete recommendations on how to improve our reality.

Reviewer: 2 Comments to the Author

Scholars of the same intellectual persuasion as the author of “African-Centred Leadership and the Theory of Structuration” are likely to reason that this article makes a compelling case for a re-orientation and Africanization of the values that underlie African education in order to yield a set of leaders who would lead with a sense of patriotism. However, the paper seems to be weak on how this sort of almost revolutionary educational objective could be operationalized at the various levels of education in light of the well-entrenched and prevailing neo-colonial social orders on the continent. Perhaps, a discussion of the latter issue of “how” may become the subject of a sequel to this initial piece.

In response and to set the scene for subsequent chapters of this book, the author writes:

Dear Dr XXX,

I am grateful for the comments from the reviewers but I cannot hide my disappointment with the decision to deny publication of my article despite the glowing comments when it was initially accepted for publication. All I wanted was to share my thoughts on the matter and certainly was not intending to have the last word.

My paper devotes an entire section on Obiakor and his article published in (the X journal) with the same headings as “pre-colonial,” “colonial,” and “post-colonial”. I adore the work of Molefi Asante but I simply wanted to introduce another way of thinking using Giddens. I didn't set out to carry out field work but argue a point using a specific theory and in that sense it is an intellectual work with a practical contribution, I hoped.

But I now understand that this may have something to do with (me) being of a particular intellectual persuasion as reviewer 2 seems to suggest. The second reviewer goes on to say that ‘Perhaps, a discussion of the latter issue of “how” (this sort of almost revolutionary educational objective could be operationalized at the various levels of education in light of the well-entrenched and prevailing neo-colonial social orders on the continent) may become the subject of a sequel to this initial piece.

With these reviews in mind, it is evident that this chapter offers something worth considering especially in a world where solving problems requires freeing ourselves from a monolithic thinking of a zero-sum game called ‘truly Afrocentric Scholarship’ and embracing multiple perspectives as reviewer 1 seems to suggest. The first of the last two reviewers even misses the point when he or she asks why ‘African-centred’ is not defined. Yet what the entire chapter does is to define ‘African-centred along the lines of the theory of structuration where the construction of social phenomenon is based on the interplay between structure and agency.

It is also true, as suggested by one of the reviewers, that this initial piece sets the ball rolling for a sequel, not only to address the ‘how’ question (methodology) but also to discuss other issues for example ‘Why not use a theory produced by an Afrocentric theorist, like Molefi Asante, instead of one produced by Giddens, who certainly did not African in mind’ picked up by the reviewers. Overall, this chapter can be viewed as reactionary in the sense that it is mainly a response to an article. Therefore, before other discussions are introduced, it is important to develop and apply duality of structures as an independent theoretical framework when talking about Africa. The following chapter attempts to do just that.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Dr Paul Garland for his critical readership and proofreading an earlier version of this chapter.