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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 8, Issue 2, November 2005

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

Public Benefit Commissions

The Public Benefit Commission: A Comparative Overview
David Moore

Charity Commission for England and Wales
Richard Fries

Moldovan Certification Commission
Ilya Trombitsky

Armenian Governmental Commission Regulating Charitable Programs
Tatshat Stepanyan

Articles

From Elections to Democracy in Central Europe: Public Participation and the Role of Civil Society
Susan Rose-Ackerman

Reinventing Liberia: Civil Society, Governance, and a Nation's Post-War Recovery
J. Peter Pham

The Law of Zakat Management and Non-Governmental Zakat Collectors in Indonesia
Alfitri

The Power Shift and the NGO Credibility Crisis
James McGann and Mary Johnstone

Annus Horribilis for Smaller Nonprofits: Restoring Hope Through Building Donor Resiliency
Charles Maclean and Jim Moore

Review

Understanding Organizational Sustainability Through African Proverbs: Insights for Leaders and Facilitators
By Chiku Malunga, with Charles Banda
Reviewed by Emeka Iheme

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Download this issue (PDF) | Editorial Board

Understanding Organizational Sustainability Through African Proverbs: Insights for Leaders and Facilitators

By Chiku Malunga, with Charles Banda
Impact Alliance Press / 83 pp. / $18.95
(Buy Now)
Reviewed by Emeka Iheme

Organizational sustainability ought to rank high on the agenda of development in Africa, where a large proportion of institutions (including states!) and development programs are not self-supporting. Yet the issue fails to generate much concern. Far too many African organizations, even those whose lapses threaten their sustainability, embark on organizational development only at the insistence of a donor.

Chiku Malunga's concise and lucid book may help draw attention to this tragically neglected topic. Malunga expresses a profound understanding of the challenges of organizational sustainability in Africa, as well as very useful approaches for addressing them. He identifies and analyzes various ways of ensuring the sustainability of an organization. In exploring organizational culture as a base for sustainability, he discusses the types of such cultures and the efficacy of each one. Organizational development consultants will find especially useful a chapter devoted to their work, the issues it raises, and ways to enhance its effectiveness.

Indeed, everyone involved with organizations in Africa – and perhaps elsewhere – can probably benefit from this slim and remarkable volume. I found fresh insights as well as a refreshing discussion of familiar principles. Yet the book's unique approach fills me with ambivalence.

Malunga relies on African proverbs as tools for analyzing organizational problems and for discussing principles of organizational development. He asserts that African proverbs hold “timeless wisdom,” and later writes: “Proverbs are the common property of Africans because they are ascribed to the wisdom of all the ancestors. A statement, such as ‘so said the ancestors,’ preceding a saying accords the proverb its unquestionable authority.” Although these sentiments would readily be endorsed in many African communities, I believe they are quite flawed.

Proverbs and the use of proverbs, of course, are not peculiar to Africans. They are probably to be found among all peoples, though they seem to enjoy greater prominence in non-literate cultures. Essentially, what seems to set apart several African (and some other) peoples is the attitude that the words of their ancestors provide unquestionable wisdom. In my view, by contrast, proverbs – African or otherwise – can at best express the understandings of yore. A proverb may or may not offer wisdom, and its wisdom may erode with time. Some proverbs are simply creatures of rhetoricians, to be employed when expedient.

This is not to say that proverbs are useless – far from it. They can give us a firm foundation, but we must build on it rather than rest on it. We build on it when we critically examine the words and ways of our ancestors, accepting the ideas that we believe retain validity and rejecting those that seem inadequate or retrogressive. Interestingly, although Malunga venerates traditional proverbs as unquestionably wise, he condemns a number of “traditional practices that reinforce fear in organizations.” Why uncritically embrace one of tradition's manifestations but critically assess another?

Blind reverence for the "wisdom" of our ancestors undermines efforts to move Africa forward. Africans today face new challenges, yet the culture often discourages the adoption of new strategies. Consequently, many an African society faces extreme difficulties. This issue must be addressed before we can hope to see an African renaissance. As the writer and Occidentalist from Nigeria, Chinweizu, has said, we do not act in disrespect by criticizing our elders; rather, we stand on their shoulders to discover our own duties.1

This sort of pragmatic attitude toward old "wisdom" gently flowed in the winds of Western civilization (before turning into a hurricane in the Age of Enlightenment2). In the 12th century, Bernard of Chartres employed the same metaphor that Chinweizu would use nearly nine centuries later: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants; we see more things, and more far-off ones, than they did, not because our sight is better, nor because we are taller, but because they raise us up and add to our height by their gigantic loftiness.”3

Some proverbs are indeed timeless.

Notes

1 See generally Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us (London: Nok Publishers, 1975). South African President Thabo Mbeki also endorsed this approach in the magnificent speech he delivered at the United Nations University, Tokyo, on April 9, 1998. See Thabo Mbeki, The African Renaissance, South Africa and the World, UNU Public Lecture Series (Tokyo: United Nations University, 1998). An online version is available at www.unu.edu.

2 In his essay Answer to the Question: What is the Enlightenment?, Immanuel Kant wrote: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s understanding without another’s guidance.… Dare to know! [Sapere aude!]” See Louis J. Munoz, The Roots of the West: An Introduction to the European Cultural Tradition ( Ibadan, Nigeria: Bookcraft Ltd., 2001), 195-96. The gains of the Age of Enlightenment, of course, led to the Age of Revolutions – the American, the French, and the Industrial – and to ideas and practices that now hold universal appeal.

3 Quoted in Munoz, Roots of the West, 3.

 

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