Stephen Bantu Biko once wrote that the most potent weapon the oppressor had was the mind of the oppressed. One of the first things the oppressor gets hold of is the mind of the oppressed and succeeds at organizing and directing the way the oppressed thinks not only about things around him/her, but about himself and her. The oppressed begins to identify and define himself in accordance with the standards set and declared as correct and proper by the oppressor.
Malcolm X explained this phenomenon by referring to a house Negro and field Negro. A house Negro identified himself as an extension of the housemaster such that when the master fell sick, the house Negro said they were sick. The field Negro was the slave who looked for the nearest opportunity to break away and run free as an exercise to find himself in the world as a man.
In post-independence Afrika, this free mind remains elusive as most of us Afrikans are still operating as extensions of our former colonial masters. This is so because first of all the world in which we operate is disdainful of all that is Afrikan and we are expected to be more intelligent and more relevant when we behave in manners that do not put forward our own interests. As a matter of fact, we do things as nations in order to be certified by others as good and noble while at the same time we are our own worst enemies when it comes to developing our own people. We do not know what our national interests are as we speak, and our leaders never explained what and where these interests are.
Our excuse when we abuse our resources and one another is that we were colonized. Afrika is not the only place that was colonized. Many other countries were colonized: America was a British colony, and so were many others. Yet these countries managed to get out of their colonized states to what they have become: full nations with their own civilizations, some already teaching Great Britain a lesson or two about how to govern and how to be a better nation. Afrikan countries were not the only parts of the planet that were colonized and/or ruled by foreigners. Others, such as Japan, China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Bangladesh and even parts of Greater Europe, were colonized. Yet they managed to crawl out of their conditions of subjugation and reconstructed themselves into cohesive socio-political societies that serve the interests of the greater commonwealths in those lands.
These countries are also composed of multiple ethnic and linguistic groups in their diversities that make for their overall strengths, and they have their fair share of artificial borders and continuing border disputes, so much so that some East Asian countries like Korea, Vietnam, were racked by destructive civil wars in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But still Asia managed to prosper while Afrikans remain mired in poverty forever.
It is the Afrikans who remain in the rut, the ‘gat’ that was dug for them by others and they continue to scream from that gat how the world owes them everything, and that the world must take them out of that ‘gat’ which they now use to justify their greed, mindlessness and heartlessness and indeed their own inhumanity to their own. The great rhetoric about the bright future that never came was the official talk of Afrikan independence leaders, non-stop.
Billboards, often accompanied by megalomaniac and self-aggrandizing Heads of State stated the continuum to rule through banal systems of patronage by which leaders distributed positions to cronies who have very little to bring to the lives of their nations, and through this largesse, continued to siphon the meagre resources from their nations to pay their sycophant loyalists. The tale of this great but not altogether happy continent continues today while political independence is being celebrated ad nauseam while at the same time most people cannot share in the dividends of independence. It is so sad that many people on the continent even look with nostalgia to the days of colonial oppression and in some countries in West Africa people started to ask: When will this independence be over?
This Afrikan tale of dashed hopes and assassinated dreams continues, yet those in power would like the masses to celebrate them and their success. Afrikans are the most patient with their leaders, even when they know that the leaders are bad, until there is nothing left to build upon. And the leaders continue to blame the colonialism for their own failures, incompetence, maladministration, malpractice, malfeasance, misfeasance, corruption and poor or no planning!
– 1960 was called Africa’s Year
– The 1980s were described as Africa’s Decade.
– The post-1990s was heralded as Africa’s Century, with the short-lived new awakening, billed as the African Renaissance, which came and went with South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki – yet Afrikans continue to suffer, this time at the hands of their very own people and liberators. Now Afrika lacks idioms and expressions of even the good things that are happening on the continent and the absolutely positive strides made by admittedly a few Afrikan countries, such as Namibia, in its move to establish a new civilization of good governance and good leadership that will hopefully galvanize the continent towards a New Afrika.
This is the background of the debilitation that makes most Afrikans who are not in power suffer from Afro-pessimism. The majority of Afrikan scholars continue to tell the stories of Afrika with more pessimism than optimism. The only people who do not peddle Afro-pessimism are those in power and members of the politically connected and only while things are going well for them. Helplessness and hopelessness seem to continue unabated in most of Afrikan life. The reality of post-independent Afrika, with more than 50 years of self-rule and self-governance, is that life is not good for the majority of this continent’s inhabitants – from whom great numbers flee their motherlands in search of better life for their children. For some reason, Afrikans are very good democrats and human rights champions when they are not in power, especially when they are oppressed. The moment they reach the top, they are the most insensitive towards their own people.
They begin to see themselves apart from others and even eat on behalf of the rest.
– Colonially imposed puppets reigned by serving the interests of their own and their masters instead of the people.
– Revolutionaries came, liberated their countries and proceeded to run Afrika into the ground.
– Soldiers came, promised redemption, and hastened to run Afrika into the ground.
– Civilians came and keep coming, better equipped at running Afrika into the ground.
– Freedom fighters and Liberators as leaders of liberation movements came and turned their countries into slaughter houses and theaters of the Four Vs: the liberators who were once victims of the colonial systems, then they become victors, then they become vanguards of dignity and hope; later they become villifiers of all who hold different perspectives and who are critical of their wayward styles of rulership. In the end the rulers become the villains, and we go back to Square One, namely the search of the real problem. This problem is in the mind of the Afrikans themselves; the lack of imagination, the fear that besets the Afrikans to be original, the lack of faith and lack of pride in what is ours and what we can do, the self-doubt, self-pity and self-hate that are ingredients of the Afrikan mindset – all of which manifest themselves in the attitudes we harbour in relation to one another, greed and unfeelingness towards ‘the other’ in our societies and our people, especially those who are in the twilight of life: the poor, the aged, the sick and disabled, the women who have been marginalised by habit, custom, and tradition and the children – the helpless and the voiceless.
WHERE IS THE AFRIKAN PROBLEM?
The seat of Afrika’s troubles is in the Afrikan mind. In 1933, Carter G. Woodson located the problem of the black people in America (and by extension in the diaspora) in the heads of Afrikans. In his classic ‘The Mis-education of the Negro’, Woodson argued that the black man is incapable of innovating and taking things forward as his mind is too preoccupied with imitating others, borrowing from others, imagining himself to be other than what/who he is, and despising that which is of his own. With power and wealth, this mind is too busy escaping from those who remind it of its origin and in so doing, it barricades itself with symbols of power and wealth, assembles an army of song writers and praise singers to reinforce its exceptionalism from the rest of the wretched of the earth, and from within mobilize and orchestrate through fear and material rewards ‘the whole people’ to speak, loyally, with one voice to the ruler. (To be continued)