Self-improvement unlike globalization is not a new concept in Africa. Traditional African societies have practiced it for many years. The only difference between self-improvement as seen in the west and as practiced in Africa is that people in the west have devoted many books to the subject. Africans, on the other hand, were primarily concerned with preserving their advice for self-improvement through myths, taboos, and cultural practices.
An example of self-improvement strategies practiced by African communities is the phenomenon of “night runners”. This is a practice that was once practiced in the Kissii community in Kenya. Community members would gather after sunset at a common meeting place. They would then embark on what can now be seen as a cross country run across the country. The aim of the run was to propitiate the spirits and their ancestors. But that was not the only benefit that the members of this community had. The Kissii are said to have been swift warriors whose pace helped conquer many neighboring communities.
Another example of a cultural practice that helped improve the individual is the circumcision ceremony among the Maasai community in Kenya. The young initiated “Morans” went through a cumbersome routine that included being sent to kill a lion and being locked in a termite-infested Manyatta (mud hut) for days. The Massai therefore had brave warriors who conquered many communities and in the event that one of them was captured and held captive, giving in was out of the question.
A coal burner placed in a room that is not well ventilated can cause the death of an individual in the same room due to carbon monoxide. In my community it is explained in simpler terms. The coal miner is said to “drain one’s blood at close range” and this essentially kept people away. Some might argue that this is not a self-improvement strategy, but it has helped save lives.
The self-improvement strategies mentioned above were not only aimed at improving the individual, but also the community as a whole. Most traditional African communities were of the perception that what is good for the community is also good for the individual. In light of this, the community has always come first.