Africa is an enchanting continent in terms of vegetation and topography. It is an intriguing one in terms of diversity. It is a warm one in terms of people and weather. It is a rich one in terms of nature’s endowments. It is a blessed one in terms of the absence of natural disasters. It is truly God’s own continent despite the swagger and precocity of the Americans in claiming that appellation. But, unfortunately, it is an abused and raped continent.
Abused first by the colonialists who claimed to have ‘discovered’ Africa as if people were not living there before. Abused later by the slave traders who used guile and gifts to betray the trust of local chiefs. Abused also by those who used foreign religions to replace the culture, heritage – and identity – of the people.
And worse of all, it has been incessantly abused by its own leaders who took the exploitative baton from white supremacists. The abuse which has been both material and spiritual has led eventually to the loss of self – worth.
An average black man today sees a white man as superior and defers to him. An average black man sees a black political leader as superior and defers to him. Worse, an average black man sees a rich man of any colour as superior and defers to him.
And some of these political leaders in turn see the white man whether in Europe or Africa as boss and defers to him. That is the result of decades of abuse and rape on the psyche. Colour and material acquisitions matter more to some than character and intellect.
As if to rub it in, those who plundered Africa; those who supported and encouraged the emergence of weak and corrupt leaders at the expense of strong and committed ones; those who under-developed Africa overtly and covertly; those who damaged the psyche of Africans are the ones who profess and broadcast an exaggerated tale of an under-developed of Africa. They are the ones who use derogatory remarks to describe Africa.
I don’t think there was any well- travelled person from Africa in the 70s and 80s who did not have to contend with an embarrassing depiction of Africa. It goes on even as we speak. It starts from where we live, what we eat, what music we listen to, what we wear to how we breed. Everything is subjected to their patronising curiosity.
Just under two weeks ago, the President of USA, the so called land of freedom and immigrants upped the ante with a sweeping statement that exposed his ignorance and bigotry. To be sure, it is not what was said—I refuse to repeat it—because similar comments are made every day by people you would think would know better by virtue of their education, but who said it and where it was said.
The role America played along with some other European countries in aiding and abetting the under development of Africa is well documented. But this is not a blame game article. After all, many of our sons and daughters are complicit.
And the ease with which they find willing accomplices among the rank and file of African leaders and businessmen is worrisome. That is what needs to be addressed. In fact, President Trump’s un-presidential statement should challenge us more than irk us.
Let me state for the avoidance of doubt that I am not at all happy with our continent in terms of development. It is the least developed of the five continents. It wasn’t always so and we know why. We have consistently put square pegs in round holes.
We have been selfish and self-centred. These have suited the interests of those whose goal it is to exploit our rich natural resources. Africans have to change the narrative themselves and to do that, they have to think development 24/7. Now, a few things are basic to development.
One of them is knowledge. The exploits of Africans in the diaspora show that collectively, we have the requisite knowledge in every field of human endeavour to take us out of the doldrums in which we are currently languishing. But for knowledge to flourish, there must be a suitable environment. And this is what is lacking across Africa.
First, we must learn to respect knowledge and give it its pride of place in the scheme of things. Then we must support knowledge with requisite facilities. If we respect knowledge by putting merit ahead of ethnic and religious considerations then we will encourage our children irrespective of their background to push the frontier of knowledge higher rather than look for godfathers or short but crooked corners.
The situation where our brightest brains go abroad to find professional fulfilment will be severely curtailed.
Another basic thing to development is orderliness. Progress can hardly be made in a fluid place that is devoid of structures. Just as genuine progress cannot be made in a chaotic environment. And basic to orderliness is the rule of law.
Africans love to find political solutions to everything. We just love expediency. And expediency sometimes breeds injustice. The law should be able to catch up with the perpetrator of a crime irrespective of lineage or status or political connotation. Another basic is genuine passion for the country. Passion builds.
Passion endures. It is passion that will make us say like Prof Soyinka ‘I love my country I no go lie; na inside am I go live and die.’ Or like Buhari’s ‘we have no other country but Nigeria. We must all salvage it together.’ Intrinsic to all these three basics is leadership.
We need leaders who will respect knowledge with all it entails; rule of law with all it entails and great passion for the development and greatness of the country above sectional interests. Our job in choosing our future leaders—if we do not want to be constantly derided by the likes of Trump—is to look for those who possess these attributes along with other qualities.
A leader with a private agenda outside these three is not fit to rule and we have a duty to ensure he no longer gets to the position of power. Finally, a leader that the Western powers find ‘acceptable’ should now be viewed with caution.
We do not want a malleable leader who will dance to the tunes of Western powers who will exploit us only to turn around and pass derogatory and vulgar remarks at us. We need to develop our continent. The time to start is now. All hands must be on deck. Trump’s remark should be a wake-up call.