As far back as 1933 a descendant of former black slaves in America, Carter Godwin Woodson, wrote a seminal book titled ‘The Miseducation of the Negro’, wherein he attempted to explain what he identified as the root problem that always afflicts black people in their relations with one another, wherever they are in this big wide world.
Woodson summarised the seat of the problem to be the mind(set) of the black person himself or herself. This problem germinates in and from the black person’s self-perception, self-definition, self-understanding, self-affirmation and self-direction – all of which are bereft of self-worth, so much so that black persons always despise themselves and what is theirs in exchange for what is not theirs.
Woodson concluded that a black person derives great pleasure and satisfaction from either witnessing the pain of another black person, and even feels better, accomplished and successful if he/she is responsible for the pain and suffering of the other black person. That is when a black person feels a sense of success and arrival, in essence the feeling that he/she is no longer in a position of suffering like the rest.
Frantz Fanon – in his treatises in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ – warned poignantly against another manifestation of this black illness when he described the pitfalls of the national consciousness of the black political elite after the attainment of political independence in formerly colonised Afrika.
Fanon went on to illustrate that the post-colonial black elite, that is those who dislodged their erstwhile enemy, colonialism and seized political power from their former colonial masters are constantly incapacitated to lead their nations by two distinct diseases, namely intellectual laziness and moral or spiritual bankruptcy.
Fanon could not have been more correct, as it is evident that Afrikans have demonstrated that they have intellectual rigor and prowess during their fierce debates that informed and propelled the liberation struggle but once the days of their oppression are over and political independence is attained, intellectual debate is frowned upon by the political leaders in power and all people are expected to speak with one voice, to paraphrase Chinua Achebe.
Those with gifts to think, theorise, analyse and reason, as they try to contribute to unravel the great and eternal mysteries of life, are harassed, humiliated and banished to seek existence where they do not belong or outside of their motherlands.
The consequence of the anti-intellectual political culture that has engulfed the post-colonial Afrikan political sphere is continuous dependency upon others and those who deepen the psychosis of black inferiority complex that robs Afrika of the necessary self-confidence to dream and to reach for the dreams.
This dependency syndrome is the converse side of what Carter Woodson described as the root of the black problem of self-worthlessness, which continuously manifests itself in self-doubt, self-pity and self-hate. If we valued ourselves we would not treat ourselves and those who look like us so shabbily. Leaders would not steal from their own, knowing that what they are taking what belongs to the people and who think in the context of their own civilisations and political cultures.
Afrika remains standing at a corner with a begging bowl for fruits of ideas that their own intellectuals often generate outside. In post-colonial Afrika, the political elite continue to wallow in the glory of political independence and self-glorification – nothing more, nothing less.
Most of our leaders assume saviour stature manicured by themselves and those who carry the drums between their legs and beat their monotonous rhythm of praise around the politician, the Big Man, to whom they owe their economic and at times total survival.
Fanon had a premature hope for Afrikan youth when he implored them with the following words: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity discover its own mission and betray it or fulfil it.” What seems to change in Afrika is the fact that people differ in generations that some are younger than others, and that the young people are more in number.
They are only more in number. They are copycats of the generations before them and even further. They act like them who have been. They represent issues and dreams of yesterday and yesteryear. Instead of discovering their own missions, the youth in Afrika try to replicate the struggle that had ended a long time ago and in the process render themselves more irrelevant and out of time.
Stephen Bantu Biko died in Pretoria Central Prison on September 12, 1977 after the Soweto uprising, which he assisted with his fresh reasoning around Black Consciousness, which he once described as a state of mind, not the colour of skin.
One of the core features of Biko’s Black Consciousness is the clarion call to black people to think differently about themselves first before they could turn to others, never mind to the oppressor, to certify whether what they were doing was correct or not. He argued most convincingly that the most potent instrument the oppressor has is the mind of the oppressed. Many of us have yet to find our own minds before we can be liberated!
The Rev Dr James David Manning of one of the major black churches in New York speaks of ‘The Problem of the Black Race’ and argues most painstakingly and painfully that black people have what he calls a ‘God Problem’.
He concludes that black people have not been able to and cannot develop anything on their own, because they have an unhelpful attitude of understanding the world. He peddles the opinion that black folk have a deficiency and, therefore, cannot run nations. This deficiency is inherent in how they value themselves as people and those around them.
In the 1990s an African-American international journalist Keith Richburg chronicled his experiences in black Afrika in the context of what he witnessed first-hand during the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi in 1994.
As a black person covering the genocide story he was easily mistaken for a Hutu by the Tutsi, or as a Tutsi by the Hutu. Thus his only protection was to convince both sides that he was neither Hutu nor Tutsi, that he was not an Afrikan, but that he was an American.
Upon his safe return to America he wrote a book ‘Out of America’, wherein he thanked God that his ancestors were taken away from Afrika as slaves and that this spared him from the barbarism he saw when Afrikans were slaughtering one another without a sense of humanity. The Kenyan firebrand Professor Patrick Loch Otieno (PLO) Lumumba is one of the most vocal contemporary progressive intellectual voices that castigate and indict the current crop of Afrikan leaders and Heads of State, when he says inter alia: ‘Because we have failed to see opportunities, our young men and women are drowning on a daily basis in the Mediterranean Sea, where they are running away from our own countries to go to Europe… When I look at Africa many questions come to mind… Afrika is at war with herself.’
At the heart of the development rut across Sub-Saharan Afrika is the inability of us Afrikans, especially those in power, those who enjoy three meals a day, those who have more than enough to wear, and those who have seceded from the common women to feel the pain of the others.
The Afrikans ‘who have arrived’ are unable to see the tears in the eyes of those who look exactly like them. Afrikans who ‘have arrived’ patronise the rest with emulated mannerisms of speaking, often self-referencing to put on display positional power – the power that they exhibit day in and day out.
One Jewish leader in a conversation put it rather obnoxiously, but not too far from the hurtful truth that black folks need to heed, for their own sake. He says: ‘Black people kill their fellow blacks daily instead of wanting to see them do well. Every successful black wants to spend his money in the country of his colonial masters… they go on holiday abroad, they buy houses abroad, school abroad etc. instead of spending money, this money, in their own country to benefit their people. Statistics show that the Jews’ money exchanges hands 18 times before leaving his community while for blacks it is probably a maximum of once, or even zero.’
He goes on to rub it in: Well, nothing is ever the black man’s fault. His compulsive habit of killing his own, compulsive material consumption. His inability to build business or preserve wealth are usually somebody else’s fault…’
My Nigerian brother, Chika Onyeani, who wrote ‘The capitalist Nigger’, crowns this pessimistic reality by positing that if a black man wants his business to be successful in a black community, he will do well to have a white person to market his products. Black people are likely to believe the marketer, rather than the owner.
It hurts. We all know this to be true. Black leaders are self-congratulatory when things go right, yet hasten to blame the past for their dismal failures and shortcomings, forgetting that we are now our own worst enemies – no longer our colonial masters.
Let us face it: we have a problem. Afrikans in power are more cruel towards their own than they would be towards others. Let us hope and pray that this psychosis that the black race suffers from so chronically is not in any way an indication that we are the least evolved in the family of nations and, therefore, closer to the animal, whose life is ruled by basic instincts of survival and subsistence, whereas other races have moved on to create, develop and sustain institutions, systems, charters and laws that regulate life in in their social contracts in what is called a Republic.
Republics are inhabited by citizens who are equal before the law and have space to agree to disagree without fear or recrimination. All citizens in a Republic have equal opportunity to be and become, and to make a contribution to the best of their abilities to the general wellbeing of their societies and nations.
Ben Okri is correct. In his book, ‘Strange Love’, he alerts: ‘Our history has not hurt us enough; otherwise these abuses would have ended a long time ago’.
When will we stop hurting one another so that we can start caring, for the sake of tomorrow, for the sake of Afrika, and for the sake of our children and theirs? Something must change before the Gods become crazy, or angry, or both!