The entire essence of the continent of Africa – its peoples, its landscape, its climate – is still a bizarre puzzle to all those who have cause to deal with the continent for any reason whatsoever even after more than five centuries of recorded association with the rest of the world. The continent, from time memorial, has never ceased to be a playground to all sorts of adventurers, explorers, exploiters, pseudo-experts and genuine experts alike that tended to see Africa in all kinds of ill-assorted shades, colours and paradoxes. In their efforts to make sense of these perceptual contradictions, they were compelled to offer analyses and interpretations that in some cases not only were they banal as well as offbeat but also hilariously ludicrous. Of course, some of the pronouncements were profoundly informed by xenophobic and racial prejudices but still some others were genuinely rooted in the tradition of liberal education that is motivated by a sincere search for truth.
Africa has been portrayed under different lights. Some experts saw it as a continent under evil spell or magical curse. Other experts said it is a repository lands for cheap labour another way of saying it is a slave market. Some saw it is as an under-utilised rich land full of resources but still begging for exploration and exploitation. It was also described as a continent congenitally sunk in manifold calamities of natural and man-made disasters such as, hunger, debt and civil war and of recent of health epidemics like the HIV/AIDS virus. Other groups said it is still a primitive continent in need of sympathy from the civilised world because its inhabitants, though human are of a lower race and are therefore intellectually ill equipped to manage themselves in a civilised competitive world. In fact this last myth was adequately reflected by European writers in the 19th century who commonly refer to Africans as people of ‘the lower race’.
Impact of Colonialism
Immanuel Wallerstein in Africa: The Politics of Unity while analysing contemporary social movement in Africa observed that because of slave trade and imperialist conquest of Africa ‘the relationship of black man to white man both in Africa and in the Western Hemisphere became unmistakably that of social inferior to superior’. Modern writers have fared no better, the phrase, Third World, which the United Nations and its agencies have glibly adopted as a descriptive term for the categorisation of Africa, carries the same negative connotation. Even though the economic experts will claim no slight is intended, the term still gives an impression of a third rated people in the comity of races. The continent of Africa that for more than 500 years has enjoyed all kinds of interactions with explorers, traders, missionaries, colonialists, investors, pirates and marauders has not ceased to amaze observers. Africa’s peculiar state of comparative retrogression to the rest of the world has led to question like, why have the supposedly valuable interactions with the ‘civilised advanced’ world failed to improve or change for the better, at least in the modernisation and developmental sense, the quality of life of the people of Africa?
The crucial question facing objective analyst of Africa at the beginning of a new millennium is, what has the continent gained or lost from the various intercourses with peoples of the so-called ‘superior race’? It could be argued that in a relationship of master-servant where each is quartered apart, both socially and physically from engaging in any day-to-day informal interaction, there could never have been any intercourse in the true sense of it. What kind of a relationship could there have existed anyway between the exploiters who saw and still see themselves as the ‘superior’ race and the exploited ones who seem to have psychologically accepted the status of the ‘inferior’ race? The artificial gulf based mostly on concocted myths and outlandish misconceptions about the two races would have been and is still too deep, too anachronistic and too inflexible to scientific evidences to permit any meaningful human relationship.
However, if that was the case during the colonial regime, what then has happened since the political independence of the various nations of Africa? Has the African race redeemed its trampled and mangled consciousness and human dignity? Have the people of Africa succeeded in freeing themselves psychologically from the demeaning treatment meted to them by the so-called superior races during the colonial time and which seems to be continuing in the post-colonial era? The answer to these questions could be found in the report of diverse social, political and economic surveys conducted by the United Nations and other research institutions. These reports seem to be emphatic in their conclusions that the quality of life of Africans is more miserable than at anytime in history and it is rapidly lagging far behind all the other continents of the world.
Anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, economists, scientists, and recently, the geneticists too have not been able to resist the temptation to ask some sensitive and uncomfortable probing questions in their comparative studies. Although, these questions cannot be asked too loudly because of their emotive and political undertones, nevertheless, they ask, why is Africa so unresponsive to developmental efforts, either in the socio-economic or political sense in the manner that is similar to other continents, like Australia and North America that were colonised less than three centuries ago by the Caucasian race?
This line of reasoning has posed some other fundamental questions, such as: Could there be any statistical correlation between the ‘under-development’ of Africa and racial factors? Is the climate or some yet to be discovered environmental conditions a hindrance to intellectual development necessary for higher cognitive thinking? Are Africans deficient in reasoning faculty and capability, the prerequisite conditions for the development of a scientific culture that could make inquiry, experimentation, discovery, innovation, invention and application of knowledge possible? Does the African culture, particularly the belief systems that venerate nature, respect tradition and are cocooned in fear and superstitions, forbid tendencies toward philosophical inquiry of ideas for a rational scientific development of new theories? Could the cultures have contributed to a lack of scientific understanding of the meaning of life as well as the inability to focus the mind on the need to conquer and to master the forces of nature?
Simply, is there anything significantly different in the nature of Africans when compared to other races? Is it true Africans are incapable of developing the scientific and technological inventiveness, entrepreneurial initiatives and organisational competences, the sine qua non tools for conquest, domination and acquisitiveness both for economic and political powers or for grandiose empire building? In psychological parlance, is the African race deficient in higher intelligence quotient needed for high-level reasoning? Probably, because of this deficiency, some expert might argue that this is the reason why Africans seem to be contented with the minute convenience nature has given for a mere wretched existence. This inference could be drawn from the salient fact that seems to suggest that Africans are incapable of knowing any better and therefore have failed to recognise that the gifts of nature can be improved upon to suit the circumstances of man. The white supremacist theorists have argued that as a result of these congenital intellectual deficiencies Africans had ‘no historical achievement…no records, no monuments… no high culture, no world religion, no great empires, …no alphabets, no literature, no music’.
It is remarkable but very disheartening when it is realised that these and other similar questions were asked; mind-blowing propositions were offered; and highbrow-raising conclusions were drawn at the tail end of the nineteenth century. Yet, after one hundred years these questions are still topical. These types of philosophical reflections or scientific inquiries and researches and the ensuing results, opinions, interpretations and analyses that emanated from them have not gone down well with some Africans. The elites of Africa could easily see bias and with a blind patriotic zeal they have often interpreted these research efforts as attempts to rubbish Africans particularly when such results and theories come from non-African researchers.
Notwithstanding the bruised egos of some ‘powerful’ Africans, the damning facts remain that the summary of these results show that Africa has problems of a gigantic proportion worse than any race or continent under evaluation with similar scale of references. A review of the annual United Nations Human Development Index designed for cross-country comparisons and ratings of global development has consistently revealed massive poor performances on every socio-economic indicator. However, some zealots are quick to raise queries against the parameters of the surveys, the theoretical assumptions of the questionnaires and the general methodologies the researchers chose in their efforts to unravel the causes of Africa’s problems.
As a result, a host of ignorant but patriotic Africans have raised hell over the suggestions that the totalities of the African race have problems coping with the global economic order and technological development. It is fascinating to realise that the African ‘elites’ who are managing the political affairs of the continent, are always in the forefront to refute all inquiries that carry any implicit suggestion of an endemic chronic continental problem. In their agitated defence, they often resort to rhetorical attack on the so-called outsiders who dared to air views on the poor conditions of Africa. The overzealous guardians of Africa would fervently query the audacity of these self-appointed experts and would ask, what gave the experts the right and the effrontery to suggest that Africans, particularly the African governments, cannot manage themselves?
Of course, the facts are incontrovertible. The overwhelming evidences show among other things, that Africa is a continent wallowing in debts, that all the nations singly and collectively are bankrupt and that without economic aids and other charitable assistances from western creditors and charity trusts that the African governments have neither hope nor the pecuniary means to survive without major political implosions. The African leaders often play down these disturbing facts. They often respond publicly in characteristic flamboyant fashion when asked about the state of affairs of Africa by well-meaning or otherwise critics, thus, “Don’t worry, we are a resilient race; we are down but not out. We don’t need foreign methodologies since we are currently adopting African home-spun strategies to solve the temporary handicap placed in our path by our detractors”. You can trust, there are always enemies to blame for these afflictions. They will add for effect and bravado, “We don’t need any outsiders to advise or to counsel us. Leave us alone, we can manage our problems by ourselves”.
However, privately, without any shame or remorse at the contradiction and ensuing hypocrisy, they seek forgiveness for the ever-spiralling debts owed. They plead with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to write off these debts; they seek donations from every ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’; they grovel as they beg for assistance in cash and in kind no matter the conditions attached by the ‘Good Samaritan’ (as if there is a free lunch in the global economic arrangements). All these behind-the-scene manoeuvrings are couched in diplomatic lingo of negotiations for debt rescheduling and of bilateral talks, multilateral conventions and conferences with the Paris or London Club of creditors and regional bodies of the western world for technical and financial aids.
Unfortunately, the world since the last century has become one open theatre, and so the idea of leaving Africa alone to wallow in ignorance, disease, hunger and bloodshed is not on. Moreover, Africans cannot expect these creditors to fold their arms while their human and material assets go up in flames. The international lending houses and commercial banks that pumped so much fund into Africa and funded all the white elephant projects dotting about in the African jungles can no longer wait for that African unique solutions. The mass media partly motivated by humanitarian ideals have refused to keep quiet either about the deplorable inhuman conditions seen all over Africa. The journalists, humanitarian workers and other like-minded people who strongly believe that the civilised world should not sit idle and watch innocent children and the poor die or suffer unnecessarily have kept up their seemingly obsessive crusades to highlight African problems at every opportunity in their dispatches.
What is so astonishing about the whole matter of Africa is that African leaders with a befuddled sense of patriotism that has no basis whatsoever have failed to see that the plight of Africa today is a critical situation that cannot and should not wait a day longer for that yet to be invented ingenious African solution. What else can anyone do to convince the elites of Africa to see the situation for what it is, a dismal failure in all sphere of human endeavour. Rather than engage in a macabre image promotion – a mediocre spin doctor-type – to which some of them have become obsessed lately, the good leader like a good commander ought to at this stage give the signal to the ignorant followers to withdraw tactically from all sentiments. These leaders ought to realise that this is the time to reinforce men and resources for a realistic battle of survival as the world moves proper in to the twenty-first century.
It is essential for the elites of Africa to be more than magnanimous in acknowledging the good works of the ever-intruding world media that send out reports on some of these critical issues. They ought to recognise that it does not serve any useful purpose going on the defensive as they always do to fob off these matters as nothing of great importance or as the evil machinations of political opponents and enemies. As an optimist and a believer in the creative talent of man, one feels the end of the second millennium and the beginning of a new one is too important a landmark in the history of mankind and should not be allowed to pass by without a review of the African situation. This period should not be allowed to pass away without allowing ourselves a little intellectual indulgence as we set out together to reflect on the whereupon and the wherewithal. It is the wish of this writer to stimulate Africans and friends of Africa to undertake similar critical reflections about Africa and its unacceptable below par position in the twenty-first century world. The aim of these reflections should be to contribute to the pool of knowledge and intellectual materials that are being devoted to a true enlightenment of Africans and for the eventual emancipation of the African race from its present predicament.
What is to be done?
It will be dishonest to hide ones personal feelings that hover around confusion, frustration, anger, sorrow, shame, hope, faith, and love of Africa. Despite this pot-pourri of emotions, this writer still believes that it is possible to unravel objectively and scientifically the superficial illusions and the deep realities that set Africans apart and made them seem awkwardly different from other races of the world. Would it be asking too much if this writer appeals to every African and all her friends to undertake this task of analysis aimed at identifying the strength and the weakness of these differences (if there are any); and what strategies can be adopted to enhance the positive aspects of these differences for socio-economic and political changes of Africa. The same appeal is being made to those who have devoted years of hard work to the cause of Africa not to pack it up as a wasted effort since no result seems to be coming out of these selfless endeavours. There is an urgent need to awaken and stimulate Africans about learning some crucial lessons from the ancient and contemporary philosophical thoughts, historical materials and scientific and technological works that have made the most significant difference to the history of mankind.
As part of the effort to unravel the mystery surrounding Africa, can we ask whether Africans were deliberately denied opportunities to appraise and to apply this universal body of knowledge at any time in their history? If not, why has this body of knowledge failed to enhance the evolutionary and intellectual development, growth and progress of the people of the continent? Can the situation of access denial to universal knowledge be re-addressed, if it is true? Consequent to the above, this writer believes, the most crucial tasks facing Africans and her friends at the beginning of a new millennium is to establish from the perspectives of African ‘elites’ or the leading political players if it is indeed true or not true that Africa has problems at this juncture in the world history. If they are in the affirmative, then the next stage will be to unravel along with these ‘elites’ the nature and genesis of the problems facing Africa; and to seek, in partnership with them, practical answers devoid of nonsensical sentiments or hollow patriotic pride or shallow egotism.
In order to save valuable time, let us just mention that a comparative review and analysis of already existing volumes of reports and information on world economic, political, social and psychological indicators languishing in library shelves all over the world will reveal the extent of these problems, that is, if these ‘leaders’ care to look. There is a saying in the book of Tao Te Ching as well as in the Christian Bible, which says, unless a person realises that he/she is ill it is impossible to receive healing. Unless African leaders accept there are serious problems in Africa, it will be impossible to help the continent out of its predicament.
Let us go back again to the question, does Africa have any problem? Can the so-called leaders of Africa agree on this question? Can the present leaders be trusted to articulate these problems objectively and do they have the humility to search for genuine solutions? Do they have the moral will to endure the sacrifices and the temporary pain this solution will entail? Are African elites willing to put a stop, at least for now, to their propensity to shop around the world for all kinds of conspicuously expensive silly toys and other sophisticated consumption goods? These misleaders need to be told that these types of consumption have contributed nothing so far to the emancipation of the people but have merely boosted the over-bloated egos of these unenlightened elites as mere stupid globetrotting copycats among their less fortunate and ill-informed admirers.
Impact of Globalisation
Meanwhile, with the overwhelming negative social, political and economic evidences, is it still a sensible alternative to ask the rest of the world to get off Africa’s back and to allow her to solve her problems alone? Is it practicable and would that not entail throwing a blanket around Africa to block it out of sight of the civilised world? This strategy might help the world at large to live and sleep easy, less fretfully and less guiltily, maybe, – a sort of, out-of-sight and out-of-mind solution. At least it will remove the disturbing obtrusive lenses and pens of journalists that regularly inundate the world media with damning pictures and grim lamentations of the suffering and deprivation in the continent. Although, it is ironic that in a world where so much go to waste in one part, a good number of the people in Africa still wallow in abject scarcity of every basic needs that have become very common and already taken for granted in other parts of the world. As will be expected, this pragmatic strategy to blackout Africa from world news and events would definitely draw a massive cry of disapproval from the morally concerned people of the civilised world.
The political pragmatists have not failed to ask why the civilised world should continue to prop up the losers? Why wouldn’t the civilized world allow Darwinian theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ take care of the hopeless situation? Of course, they have a point, even the Christian Bible advised that it is dangerous to ‘cast your pearls before swine’. Incidentally, a verse before that statement says, “Hypocrites! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”.
This observation from the Christian Bible leads directly to the most significant dimension of the problem of Africa. This is the overwhelming impact of the global political economy which strongly impinges, though negatively, on the sincere efforts of some few African leaders who have demonstrated in the past a desire to take their people to the ‘promised land flowing with milk and honey’. The reality facing developmental economists in Africa and other parts of the poor world is this nagging question: can the acclaimed conventional global economic order as presently constituted and constructed solve Africa’s problem or indeed the Third World problem? In fact, can a system fundamentally rooted in a philosophy of ‘winner-takes-all’ and that does not pretend any modicum of compassion for the loser in the competitive economic world market salvage Africa from the depth of its present deprivation and wretchedness? These and many other questions one believes should preoccupy the minds of all Africans and her friends all over the world at this moment in history.
The Millennium Alarm
This essay is an awakening call to all Africans and friends of Africa. It is summoning Africans to rise to the challenge of undertaking well-meaning, well-defined and well-positioned actions for the rescue of Africa from self-extermination. It is asking Africans to put on deck, every vision, every mind, every hand and every resource at the disposal of Africa as the planet earth and our world progress into the new millennium. This urgent demand is necessary for the singular and sacred task of setting into motion the yet to be tapped hidden energies of the African race in the Diaspora and on the continent. This most urgent call is important in order to help all Africans to seek the truth, the knowledge and the understanding about the errors of the past and the foolishness of the present.
This writer believes that it is only by knowing and understanding the truth about Africa’s painful situations that the first crucial step towards recovery can be taken. It is only by coming into full awareness of the problems facing Africa that the spiritual and mental energy that can set Africans in motion on the well-treaded path of civilization and emancipation can be released. Therefore, let the emancipated Africans begin in earnest to articulate strategies that befit the challenges of the present and of the future. These strategies, without any gainsaying, ought to be guided by informed and well-balanced insights that are focused on clearly defined intentions and built around a specific single goal. The goal at this point in history for Africa should be the total emancipation of Africans from mental and psychological enslavement as evidenced in the high level of racial inferiority complex that is comfortable with social inequalities, economic slavery, cultural ape-like mentality, and conventional racial inequalities and global injustices.
It is important for all enlightened Africans to ensure that this new goal should not be allowed to degenerate into another make-believe emancipation project of the independence era. Let all emancipated souls in Africa resolve to make this project a real and genuine action that can set the African race free from the over-burdensome vagaries of nature, from unfounded cultural fears and superstitions, from the fictitious economic, political and cultural enslavement by the rest of the world, from wicked tyranny of the past and of the present and from the current indefensible prevailing high state of ignorance in the continent. These are the roots of all the problems facing Africa. Africans need to wake up from their slumbers to challenge the diseases of ignorance and intellectual laziness.
This is a call for action towards total spiritual, intellectual, psychological, political, social and economic liberation. This is a call seeking for pragmatic actions from all enlightened souls as we shake off the indignities of the past millennium and as we embrace the reality of a universal idea, knowledge and wisdom of liberty, equality and justice that is freely on offer in the new millennium. It is important for all Africans to see and welcome the new millennium as a precious gift wrapped with the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the last three thousand memorable years of mankind. Africans should see and accept this gift as a ready-made package that is freely available to all seekers of truth. This gift of true knowledge is the only recipe that can lift up the spirit and liberate all human races from the vicissitude of the paralysing state of nature and from the wickedness and inhumanity of man to man.
Africa needs to see this period as a golden opportunity to be seized with both hands as we reclaim and rebuild our mangled and trampled identities. The sons and daughters of Africa should claim this new millennium as their own precious gift from Mother Nature. However, Africa needs not adopt the strategy of war, murder, rape, looting and arson, like the imperial empire builders of the past. The same and even better glory and honour can still be attained by peace and love. Let all the sons and daughters of Africa solemnly declare in words and by actions that, Africa’s time and light have come to shine and that Africa is ready to share with the world her unique divine nature of love, humane kindness and peace.
It is an historical fact that the marauding exploiters from the east and west trampled on the African innate virtues with impunity. Unfortunately, it was the African virtues of innocence, love and kindness that enabled the Arabs and the Europeans to subjugate, loot and rape Africa. Nevertheless, having laid to rest the pains and the shames of the past and having forgiven but not forgotten the perpetrators of the wicked past and the activities of the present foolish ‘leaders’, let all Africans arise in good faith, in good spirit and under the grace of divine wisdom and say to the world: Never again shall Africa be humiliated as it happened this last one thousand years. Never again shall Africa be ridden as a mule of the world. And never again shall Africa accept a subservient third-rated position to any race in the world. Let the work of redemption begins in earnest. Let the awakened wake up their sisters and brothers as we put the past behind us and face the future with hope, courage and determination in the spirit of those that have been redeemed by truth and knowledge, of those that are eager to overcome the present global tribulations and injustices and of those that are willing to create and ready to build a new world for themselves and their posterity.
Sam Abbd Israel