During my first year (2003) in Ireland, I met an African elder from Cameroon who has lived there for over ten years. In our conversation, I asked him a lot of questions and to which he answered with impeccable precision both morally and intellectually.
In the end, after gazing in the sky for a while, he asked me a question: “When will an ordinary African start living a normal and decent life?” I attempted to answer and shared with him how Africans in Namibia live, but he shot back wanting to know whether the ordinary African in the rural areas of Namibia live the same life of luxury as the wealthy, be they black or white, in the capital city of Namibia or for that matter of any African country?
And finally he said: “Well my son, find an answer to that question, and you will live to understand the African condition.”
Simply, I have not yet found an answer to the Cameroonian elder’s question which can be paraphrased: when will an ordinary African start living a life free from war, hunger, mental slavery, poverty and suffering?
In my search for answers, I reflected upon the African condition widely. I thought about how life must have been in Africa before the advent of Europeans and before the Scramble for Africa.
I thought about the pains of colonialism and slavery inflicted upon the African people; I thought about the concomitant suffering both physically and emotionally which centuries of slavery and colonialism have left upon the face of all Africans worldwide.
In all these thoughts, I reached a conclusion that poverty and suffering however is not the monopoly of Africans. After all, our continent is the world’s second largest and has not yet reached a population of 1 billion unlike Asia, for example, with its nearly 3 billion people.
I consoled myself also that ours was a continent full of natural wealth and mineral resources which have been the catalyst of all vultures of capitalist greed and racist subjugation of the African person.
I realized right then that the search for an answer must not be from a position of inferiority complex nor of submission, but rather seeking an answer as an African offspring from generations of proud African people who believe in finding sustainable solutions to the challenges and problems facing Africa.
I recalled there and then that two years earlier (in 2001), I took a ten-day bus tour of mainland Europe which also oriented me to the other coin of life for ordinary poor Europeans.
For example, upon my arrival in Brussels, Belgium, a white woman with a child on her back begged for “spare change” in order to buy some bread for herself and her baby. And so I found the same in Austria, Germany, Holland, Italy, France and so forth.
This phenomenon shocked me slightly because to me Europe was a land of ‘milk and honey’. After all that is what we see on our African televisions.
Earlier experience (1990s) in the Americas and elsewhere had also enlightened me to the realization that poverty is not an exclusive feature of the African personality but rather even the mothers of capitalism and colonialism are still much faced with hunger and poverty until possibly the coming of the Messiah from another planet.
Why then do we still cling to the view that the ‘master’ is better all the times and in all spheres of life, or perhaps that partly explains why an ordinary African still lives in poverty?
Who shall tell the story?
Like all African peasants, I equally was born and grew up in an atmosphere of poverty, suffering and physical hardship. Thus, in a small way, this places me amongst the plight of the majority of the African peasants who inhabit the landscape of rural Africa.
Considering that we have 53 independent African states, with own governments and responsibilities over their own territories, why is an African child going to bed hungry or why albeit we claim independence yet we are poor?
Professor Basil Davidson, in his book, The Black Man’s Burden, alludes to this African challenge and examines the plight of and the Curse of the Nation State, adding that European nation-state has become widely accepted in Africa “as being entirely necessary to civilized progress”.
The question then is whether these institutions we have inherited from our colonial masters are sufficient instruments to address the poverty and suffering facing the majority of African people on the continent and in the Diaspora or whether there are other options to explore?
Handicap of inherited
In Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, he asserts that “the handicap of our inherited nation-states” relates to the fact that some of our ‘independent states’ have allowed themselves to be subservient to foreign manipulation including the “second-class, hand-me-down capitalism” which we protect as though it was our own invention.
It is known of course that our continental union ‘Organisation of African Unity’, the predecessor of the African Union, resolved to respect the borders of the 1884 Berlin Conference.
It is argued that this was done in order to maintain peace and stability. But have we truly been peaceful as we would have wanted to since 1957 or does this ‘flag independence’ simply mean a democratic expansion of Africa’s misery and suffering amidst abundant natural resources?
Our leaders are elected but another second election follows immediately thereafter when they fly to Washington DC, London, Berlin, Paris and so forth to meet and seek the masters’ approval about economic policy and report on our plans and programmes.
But to those who have voted, we tell them about democracy. Has there ever been a day when a president of US or Germany comes to Africa shortly after being elected to consult our leaders?
In my view, Achebe is right, we remain largely subservient to foreign manipulation and thereby we have become more English than the Queen of England and more Catholic than the Pope without even realizing it.
If foreign direct investment is billed as good for Africa then how come after centuries of slavery and colonialism those ‘investors’ have not developed Africa in the same way they enriched their countries in the West or elsewhere?
Indeed it is largely our fault as African governments and peoples for the enduring mentality that permeates through our deeds and actions that the ‘master race’ is always better than us the ‘slave race’.
For instance, our immigration laws are so skewed in favour of the ‘master race’ to the effect that a well-dressed European lands at any African airport with smiles of ‘welcome Sir’ from his/her African hosts.
However, an African government ‘official’ arrives at any Western airport met with suspicion and uninviting hospitality of “what are you looking for?” And if you are lucky, they might call you ‘Sir’.
Equally, it has not ceased to amaze me that even those of us who are so-called ‘academics or intellectuals’ are only too happy to tell those around us that we had travelled to London or New York, but hardly do the same enthusiasm gets to be displayed when we travelled to Bujumbura or Kinshasa – speak less of much knowledge existing of such cities.
Africa must be
its own master
The simple point that needs to be made is that since the beginning, Europe had imposed its will on Africa at the point of a gun, until Africans took up guns to fight their way to freedom nearly fifty years later. We are our own liberators of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Therefore, let us assert ourselves in the search for solutions to Africa’s challenges. Reading the book on “Scramble for Africa” one learns in there that David Livingstone’s solution for Africa was the ‘3 Cs’: Commerce, Christianity and Civilisation, a triple alliance of Mammon, God and Social Progress believing then that “trade, not the gun, would liberate the African garden of Eden”.
The Africans however viewed the scramble as having a fourth ‘C’ namely Conquest, which would predominate. Indeed when Europeans trekked in the African inland “they travelled like chiefs, in white hammocks carried by eight strong African bearers”.
Today, although we are supposedly independent, nearly in all the 53 African countries the human right of a European is more highly valued than the life of an African peasant.
An African from Namibia cannot freely travel through these 53 African countries; an African from the Diaspora cannot travel freely through these 53 African countries; with slight exceptions, there are some of our countries with good road networks but on a vast majority of our continent we have simply neglected the infrastructure that is necessary to consolidate our freedom and independence; instead, we are seeing Africans dying as they peddle their way to Europe.
On his/her part, as the master arrives in Africa by airplane as an investor/tourist we fall head over toes exclaiming ‘mashita you are welcome to Your Kingdom’.
In other words, we could reverse this trend – it is possible to extend prosperity to all Africans but, as Africans, we simply are reluctant to take bold measures to do so lest we anger the ‘master’.
Those foreign investors
In recent years, investment in Africa has also seen new players apart from the traditional former colonial masters. The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has accordingly joined to be a major player in Africa by investing in infrastructure in exchange for vital resources of Africa including oil, diamonds and copper.
As such, China’s foreign policy has its critics, the majority of whom are in the West. They for example are accusing China of supporting “corrupt African regimes to facilitate its imports of oil and raw materials from the resource-rich continent”.
It is noticeable however that even its critics are prepared to acknowledge that China has built a significant presence in Africa, investing about $6,72-billion by the end of 2005, and building ports, railways, roads and dams.
It has used soft loans and millions of aid to secure natural resources – oil and precious metals – to feed its fast-growing economy.
I therefore agree with President Robert G. Mugabe who was quoted by Xinhua news agency that by dealing with China as opposed to our traditional colonizers, “We have nothing to lose but our imperialist chains”.
In other words the Western countries that have plundered and corrupted our continent for centuries without constructing roads and railways connecting all the 53 Nation States have nothing to complain about a China that has no historical colony in Africa.
Thus the colonial cold-war mentality to dissuade China from benefiting from the raw materials of Africa, while benefiting Africans, will not fool anyone. A caveat must be added however – China or any genuine investor is welcome in Africa but we must never allow such investors to abuse and trample upon the human rights of African workers.
coverage of Africa
Considering that Africa’s 53 nations are sovereign and independent, what efforts have we and are we making to project our African continent in the positive light?
And our ambassadors or plenipotentiaries from various African countries are there allegedly to advance the ‘interests of their various countries’ but what is this interest if on a daily basis their continent and people are depicted through emaciated children and perpetually depicted as a ‘dark continent’?
Even for the so-called African intellectuals or academics, why do they get satisfaction in being silent and not defending or depicting Africa in the positive?
Of course, there are exceptional Africans and institutions such as New African Magazine and other pan-African publications, who are doing a better and wonderful job in the name of Africa.
But, by and large, the image of Africa is bad even on the continent itself. On the other hand, Europe as well as its Diaspora namely the USA, Canada or Australia are always depicted in the positive, often as heaven on earth!
For example, how often have African television stations shown the donkey cars of Eastern Europe or the poor in Europe, never mind even to show all the strategic minerals that go to the West from Africa?
Put simply, the West has been and is successful at public relations whereas we in Africa we are pathetic at it. We accept to watch images of dying African children but our conscience bleeds if those images are of European children – why do we allow this image massacre of our people and continent?
It is of little wonder therefore that a poor South African in Guguletu survives upon a fictitious Western induced media spin that somehow being poor in South Africa places him above “President Mugabe or any other black person outside the illusion of wealth apartheid has left in South Africa”?
The Western Aid to Africa or is it?
To cement further the view of ‘master’ worshipping, what never ceases to amaze me is the amount of spin doctoring that characterizes the G-8 summits.
Occasionally, they would practise the policy of ‘rent a black president’ and who they would parade as a representative of Africa.
I remember the 2001 G-8 Summit which took place in Genoa, Italy, where about three of these presidents were paraded, without shame, as having had the wisdom to start NEPAD which would be given billions of dollars at that summit.
Of course those billions never came and those presidents wasted taxpayers’ money attending the ‘Presidential Beauty Pageant’ in Europe.
It seems we never learn and we always forget that we are being used by the engineers of these summits to promote the interest of the ‘master’ – by the way, whatever happened to Tony Blair’s NGO, a certain Commission for Africa, which saw some African leaders falling over each other to be seen with the murderer of innocent Iraqis, who apparently had a humane heart for Africans?
Forgive my cynicism, I don’t believe that Western NGOs in general are in Africa to pursue African interests, on the contrary, MOST of them are here to advance the interests of their sponsoring governments!
After all, we have no NGOs operating in Europe, USA or Australia that are sponsored by African governments but we have many masquerading in our midst funded and sponsored by the West.
While there are some with good causes such as helping certain African communities in areas such as education and other developmental sectors, many NGOs are an affront for neo-colonial manoeuvers and Western infiltration of our cultures, societies and democracies.
There are many worthy causes in Namibia such as the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) which advocates for housing for the poor and the Otjitoilet project based in Otjiwarongo which advocates for affordable toilets to improve sanitation amongst the poor.
Instead of funding these worthy social projects the Western governments are funding NGOs that want to take Cde. Sam Nujoma to stand trial at the International Criminal Court?
And some wannabe African intellectuals telephonically give pats on the shoulders of those who want to bring chaos and war to this country: what a sham of leadership is this?
Why is Western money not being used to seek reparations for the atrocities that Africans have endured for centuries through slavery and colonialism? Why is the Western money not being used to take to the International Criminal Court and to The Hague those who have caused untold miseries against Africans such as FW De Klerk, Wouter Basson and Magnus Malan, amongst others?
Reparations and the question of corruption in Africa?
As a young person who has also schooled in the West and who has read extensively about world events, I cannot but wonder whether the lives of Africans are comparable to, for example, Europeans and others.
For instance, millions of Africans have died in slavery and apartheid colonialism but when debates for reparations surface we are told dismissively that these atrocities took place many years ago.
Yet others like the Japanese and Jews can claim the same, and reparations are paid out for atrocities committed against them during the so-called World Wars.
And so to add insult to injury, amidst all the atrocities of colonialism and apartheid, not once have our African leaders converged on a common position to demand reparations for the centuries of conquest, slave trade, murder, mass exterminations, holocaust and genocide inflicted upon the Africans.
This hypocrisy pains me to the extreme. Instead, today we continue to worship the ‘master’ and have become fluent in the languages of these European countries as opposed to in our own languages.
Our names, food and culture have been abandoned to these civilized ‘names, food and culture’. One SADC country, in the name of South Africa, has even gone as far as passing a legislation to legalise homosexual marriages all because that is what the countries of Europe find as being civilized democratic behavior.
In addition, the sitting South African President Thabo Mbeki unceremoniously fired his then Deputy President Jacob Zuma allegedly for corruption. A day after firing Jacob Zuma, President Mbeki was visited and congratulated by then World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
Why was the firing of Jacob Zuma receiving praises from the architect of the illegal invasion of a sovereign Iraq? Why was the firing of Jacob Zuma made, implicitly receiving approval from the Western corridors of power?
Is it to be believed that the alleged corruption was ‘African made’? Who actually benefited the most from the deal to supply those weapons to South Africa?
If anything, the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz himself from the World Bank did demonstrate corruption to be endemic in the West; and the refusal by the British Government to investigate the BAE Arms Scandal involving bribery and slush funds amounting to billions of dollars in Saudi Arabia even amplified the level of corruption in Europe than in Africa.
Yet, while BAE, Britain’s largest arms manufacturer, was engaged in all these corrupt activities, with the full knowledge of the British Government, Tony Blair and all his cronies were left singing hallelujah and lecturing Africa about corruption.
Actually, regardless of which arms manufacturer, whether British, American, German, or French, at the end of the day, they all depict the reality that they seem to do their business through corruption.
Yes, corruption is bad, but the situation where some people try to give themselves a moral high ground above others such as happened in South Africa is tantamount to abuse of State power to please the ‘masters’ in the West.
In Namibia, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was initiated by the SWAPO Party Government with the good intention to rein in corruption. The legislation came in towards the final years of the Founding President’s term of office.
It should have been obvious from the word go that to curb corruption in any African country we should begin with the ‘corruptor’ such as those Western companies who come here to have cocktail parties with our so-called new ‘elite’ at all levels.
In other words, the majority of the corrupt dealings do not take place at villages but in air-conditioned offices in the capital cities of our countries.
Unfortunately, our ACC started off on the wrong foot when it began to align itself with the vocal minority in the society. This instantly alienated the silent majority from the ACC and who began to perceive it as a pawn of the anti-SWAPO alliance in Namibia.
Efforts appeared to have been made in recent months for the ACC to reassert itself. However, the recent investigation in the Hanahe Butchery at Omuthiya was clearly the work of the NSHR and some of its collaborators in high places who seemed to have a political axe to grind with the owners of the butchery. And that is where the anti-corruption efforts in Africa will continue to be quest