Development, Cultural Forces, and Women's Achievements in Africa



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    • ***OBIOMA NNAEMEKA is Associate Professor of French, Women's Studies, and African American Studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis. She was a Rockefeller Humanist-in-Residence at the University of Minnesota, and the Edith Kreeger-Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor at Northwestern University in 1991-92. She is the President of the Association of African Women Scholars. Her publications have appeared in edited volumes and scholarly journals including Signs, Feminist Issues, and Research in African Literatures. Her books Marginality: Orality, Writing and the African Woman Writer (Routledge), Agrippa D'Aubigné: The Poetics of Power and Change (Peter Lang), and edited volumes, Feminisms, Sisterhood, and Power (Africa World Press) and The Politics of (M)Othering (Routledge) are forthcoming.

  • *My thanks to Ambassador Robert Payton who read an earlier version of this paper and made useful comments.

**French and Women's Studies, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN 46202. Telephone: (317) 278–2038; fax: (317) 274–2347; e-mail:


Based on the premise that cultural forces are at work in positively determining and sustaining the development process, this paper seeks to delineate the nature, dynamics and modalities of these forces and in so doing interrogate the tendency in development studies to dismiss culture as either a neutral factor or an impediment to the development process. The paper argues that the nonrecogni-tion and dismissal of cultural forces as positive elements in development limit proper and meaningful articulations of project design in the same way that disciplinary limitations in the definition and articulation of notions such as “development,”“achievement,” and “progress” preempt proper and full accounting of African women's achievements. In grounding its arguments, the paper draws from the insightful elaboration of the behavioral aspect of cultural forces as contained in research on the economic psychology of African ethnic groups but goes further to focus on the structural and institutionalized aspects in the form of indigenous women's associations. Ultimately, by focusing attention on the cultural imperatives that guarantee successes in the development enterprise, the paper argues for a reimagining of social change (in theory and practice) not so much in terms of introducing and establishing new paradigms and structures but in terms of the intelligent refashioning of old structures to respond to new ideas and chart new directions. Although the paper focuses on African women and programs in Africa, the fundamental argument that undergirds it has a wider and more global application and relevance.