Why is knowledge of these institutions important?
These institutions – in particular social, political, economic and legal – define African culture. Let me give you just two examples where such knowledge is important. In agriculture, the vast majority of Africa’s peasant farmers are women, because of sexual division of labour in traditional Africa. The cultivation of food crops has always been the avocation of women, while men preoccupied themselves with hunting, fishing and other dangerous tasks. Women use farm harvests to feed their families, and sell the surplus on village markets. As a result, market activity, especially in West Africa, is dominated by women. Thus, one cannot start an agricultural revolution in Africa using male-driven agricultural machinery.
The second example comes from conflict resolution. In Western jurisprudence, the emphasis is on punishing the guilty. In traditional Africa, the focus is on restitution, reconciliation and restoration of social harmony. For example, if after apartheid was dismantled in South Africa Western jurisprudence had been applied, there would have been few whites left in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was set up was rooted in African jurisprudence.