It might be both important, as well as necessary, for people who are truly interested in Afrika’s wellbeing to identify some key impediments to socio-economic development so that appropriate remedies are explored to arrest the rut of underdevelopment in post-colonial Afrika where, when two steps forward are made, five are taken backwards.
A serious analysis of these impediments might offer policy and development planners a new lens to see beyond the old excuses of foreign rule and inject courage in the leaders to take responsibility for the good, the bad and the ugly under their watch.
A new frame of mind and methods are needed to tackle frontally the spectres of uncontrollable greed, wanton corruption and unfettered abuse of power. It is critical that we understand and face our diseases and dis-eases that continue to cripple the Afrikan personality of today.
A doctor cannot cure a disease without going into its history, its make-up and its tendencies to reinvent itself. It might be uncomfortable to say or hear, but the truth is that Afrika’s terminal disease is in the heads of Afrikans themselves. Other nations were foreign-ruled and abused by others too, but they managed to get out and recreate their own reality and are now on the way forward. Afrika is going nowhere very slowly. Following is a list of the real enemies of today and tomorrow:
The Future: Afrikans have a major problem with the future. In 1969, John Mbiti in his seminal book, African Religions and Philosophy, concluded that Afrikans in their languages have a way to describe the past very lively, the present very actively but have no real vocabulary about the future. He wrote: ‘To live here and now is the most important concern of African religious activities and beliefs… There is neither paradise to be hoped for nor hell to be feared in the hereafter.’
This partly explains why in post-independence Afrikan countries, the narrative around political independence has taken over everything – the past, the present and the future are all in the story of independence. One’s relationship with independence is the beginning and the end.
To be a relevant citizen, one has to have a story – real or imagined – about the liberation struggle. Hence, people create stories to fit somewhere, somehow or anyhow. They reinvent how they or their parents were in the struggle, either directly or offered shelter or food to Plan fighters for one night, or attended a Nanso meeting somewhere, or threw a stone at a South African soldier (and missed), or was in prison for whatever reason, or even failed at school – just to claim war veteran status.
There are many who were nowhere near SWAPO activities, but who are claiming that they were in the liberation struggle. People are almost compelled to make some relationship with the past to be here today and be part of tomorrow. Political leaders are preoccupied with the need to retell the history in a manner that suits them, instead of allowing the future to unfold and the generations to claim their piece in that history. They forget that, as the Athenian tragic poet, Agathon, put it: “Not even God can change the past”. The future is for us to shape.
Change: Charles Darwin wrote in Origin of the Species that the type of human being that will adapt to change the best is the one that will survive better than others. Afrikans are the slowest to adapt to change, so much so that racist theoreticians can be forgiven when they state that the Afrikans are the least evolved compared to others, who are on the same planet handling the same challenges of change and yet are running their affairs better. Hence, Keith Richburg opined: “In Africa, things stay the same until they fall apart”.
Disease and Death: Most of the world’s most manageable diseases and that cause death are in Afrika. It would appear that Afrikans are the most afraid of death. Most stories about sorcery (witchcraft) in Afrika are about managing the fear of death, by explaining that nothing is natural. Healers are feared, as much as sorcerers are, because the belief is that if you can heal, you can also inflict death, and death and disease are man-made. Healing is managing relationships, rather than curative science.
Equality: Afrikan civilisation is predicated on inequality, be it by clan-tribal-ethnic identification, or rulership or age or gender or warlordship. In Afrika you cannot acquire equality if you were not born equal. It is like an unwritten ‘grandfather/grandmother clause’ that says that if your grandfather/grandmother was not an equal, you cannot be equal yourself, regardless of your talent and potential contribution.
Ingenuity: Afrikan society is not welcoming to individuals with gifts to imagine and to create. Independent thinking and creativity is shunned in Afrika. Those who are ingenuous and creative are considered freaks that possess destructive powers to hurt others. The Wright brothers, who through playfulness started the aeroplane, would have been ostracised in an Afrikan village for drawing too much attention to themselves and slowing down the normal pace of events in the community.
The Youth: Afrikans either do not have the capacity or the language to appreciate that young people by virtue of their age and energy can play a meaningful role the life of the society. This is so because young people were always seen as unpaid messengers of the ruling groups, delineated by their claim to important or less important clans.
In the main, young people are to be seen, not heard, and when they are heard it must to clap hands and/or praise-sing the bloated leaders, whose greed has become increasingly unappreciable to the young Turks, who dare to dream of their own world – wherein their rules are more important than the rules of the past.
Challenge: To most Afrikan ears, challenge talk borders on intimidating people to change the way they think, do things and end up living in poor conditions. When leaders communicate in Official-Speak to people about the challenges facing them, it sounds as though the leader is not an inner member of the community with the problem.
Hence, he/she simply comes there to ‘loudspeak’ problems and go away. Thus change is not an invite to belong to the identification of the problem, work collectively towards resolution and have a common language to speak about what happened. Here there would be a coterie of leaders, self-appointed to claim the credit and intimidate the rest to toe the line, for fear of being labeled counter-revolutionary.
Power: Other nations upon assumption of power peacefully or not so peacefully, comprehended that power to be used for the benefit of the bonus commune, the common good of society through decentralization and distributive justice. The Afrikan civilization always believed in one central government the king or the chief who was the custodian of the community’s wealth and wellbeing.
Maintenance: The late Ali Mazrui once offered a theory for why Afrikans are good at maintaining what they have – or even what they found – in place after colonial administrators gave way to the new political elite. He argued that the reason Afrikans do not build sturdy houses or maintain things is that the climate of Afrika spoiled us.
It is never too cold in Afrika to force people to plan for the winter. It takes a few days to construct a hut and when it falls to the winds, it is easy to replace with materials that do not need any measure of preparation. Societies that have to survive in cold climates do not have the luxury that Afrikans have of temperate climates throughout the year. It is a common experience that Afrikans do not maintain what they have as carefully as other societies in the world.
Hospitality: Whereas it is an age-old golden rule that to be hospitable is good, the Afrikans’ take of hospitality, which derives from the Ubuntu notion of ‘Mugenda ture kwaNawe’ – meaning that the best food and cutlery, even good manners come out only when we have visitors – has gone horribly wrong! Visitors from totally different contexts came and abused this trait and left Afrikans with a self-loathing complex that they are eager to serve their foreign guests with a hospitality that they do not have for themselves.
Afrikan governments have no problems allowing non-Afrikan nationals to enter their countries without any restrictions, but woe unto fellow Afrikans who enter without ‘papers’. At a local level in Namibia, good manners are exhibited and towns are cleaned only when visitors or big politicians visit!
Theory: In Afrika, there is very little theory that precedes reality because reality is reality. The idea of role-playing does not exist in Afrika. For instance, a concert does not take place on the stage with motionless spectators. It is an event with everybody participating in the singing and dancing. A national soccer team in Afrika would not be seen as a winning team by ‘borrowing’ players from other countries, as is often the case on other continents.
Freedom: Afrikans have a hard time managing freedom. Their notion of freedom seems to be limited to the ‘freedom from’ oppression and colonialism, not the ‘freedom to’ let others be free to be and follow their own free will. Afrikan freedom is always subject to the pleasure of the ruler.
Institution Building: Afrikans have yet to prove that they are capable of building institutions that can stand the test of time. They are happy to keep what they found there, such as traditions, taboos and habits, but not real institutions with durable templates. This is in part because in Afrika most institutions are attached to individuals or rulers who claim to be the beginning and end of such institutions.
Absence of Blind Rules and Regulations: In Afrika rules and regulations are not blind and always target individuals or communities that need to be fixed. Laws change and are adapted according to the status of the offender or accused. The notions of the rule of law and due process are alien to many Afrikan leaders, regardless of how educated they claim to be.
Envy: In Afrika he who produces more from the same rain is abnormal and is to be watched and children’s access to such individual is strictly monitored. When he or she persists in the success, avoidance and ostracism follow.
Fear, mistrust of own things: Afrikans suffer from a deep inferiority complex when it comes to cherishing their own. They feel bigger and more important if they look as different as possible from their own. It is this complex that Chika Onyeani gives expression to in his book, Capitalist Nigger, where he argues that if an Afrikan wants to sell goods in an Afrikan community, he has better chances of success if he hires a European salesman. Afrikans are more than eager to forgive anyone but those who look like them.
Poor or No Planning: Planning is linked to predicting scenarios that might not work and this is seen as doomsaying in Afrika, with the ‘doomsayers’ being held responsible when things do not go right, and events are seen to be based on the predictions.
Lack of Competition: Afrikans and competition are not the greatest of friends. In Afrika, life is communal and associational, not competitive. To compete is to strive to destroy the other, or to minimise their goodness to and in society, therefore not a good trait to have. This is why opposition leaders are denied the right to be or offer an alternative, because they are branded as destroyers of the good and valuable.
Difference: The concept of difference is almost antithetical to the Afrikan worldview of continuous relationships. In a prototype Afrikan village everybody was related to everybody else and difference was discouraged in the promotion of relationships, based upon and caring and sharing. That is how child rearing, marriages, conflicts and even deaths were managed.
Succession: Politics of succession always brought trauma to Afrikan societies. As political leadership was hereditary, either matrilineal or patrilineal, succession was not through elections or voting, but by customary and associational arrangements monitored by elder midwives.
Succession politics continues to traumatise Afrikan states long after independence, because often the people who win through the democratic ballot do not have the traditional anointing or legitimacy they need to rule, and thus face continuous emotional rejection by those who are upholders of tradition and, therefore, for better or worse turn the new leaders into tin-pot dictators to protect their newfound power – to be clear: power they would not have if Afrika was not colonised.
In fact, throughout the history of Afrikan politics, there was always strife at the point of succession. When and where there was more than one aspirant to the throne, one of them had to die, or flee to start a kingdom somewhere else – away from his brother or uncle.
Leadership succession feuds have reared their unpleasant heads in a number of traditional authorities in the country in recent years: the Ovambanderu in Otjozondjupa, the Aandonga in Oshikoto, the Royal HaMbukushu, VaKwangali and VaShambyu in Kavango, the /Khom /khaua and the /Khai /khaua (the Goliaths and the Isaacks) in Kharas and Batswana in Omaheke are cases in point.
Without addressing these issues, particularly within our education system, we will continue to mimic other people’s traditions, while we go forward in reverse!