Pushing the struggle against corruption
By 1968, 41 African countries had attained independence and were being run by black leaders.
Egypt was the first country to govern itself in 1951 with Sudan, Tunisia and Morocco following suit in 1956 and then in 1957, Ghana came on while Guinea got its freedom in 1958.
Eighteen more countries – Chad, Benin, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Togo, Zaire, Somalia, Congo, Gabon and Cameroon – had theirs in 1960.
Sierra Leone and Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda were freed in 1961 and 1962, respectively, while Kenya and Tanzania threw off the shackles in 1963.
Between 1964 and 1968, nine more countries – Malawi, Zambia, Gambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius and Swaziland attained independence.
But by 1968, most of these countries had had coups largely because the military was unhappy with the way government was being run or there were greedy individuals who wanted power.
Congo (Kinshasa) fell to Mobutu Sese Seko in 1960; Togo, Abbe Youlou of Congo (Brazzaville) and President Maga of Benin went down in 1963 with Gabon falling in 1964.
By 1965, Algeria, Benin, and Burundi had been hit while in 1966, Burkina Faso, Central Republic of Africa, Nigeria (twice) Ghana and Burundi were under military rule.
Sierra Leone fell to the military in 1967 along with Algeria and in 1968; Sierra Leone was retaken when Mali’s Keita lost to Captain Traore.
And in 1968, Ayi Kwei Armah published his book ‘The Beautifyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’, an indictment of what the continent had become and where it was heading.
Indeed, at the moment most of the people on the continent are out for a quick buck and would either offer or receive a bribe.
In the story, Armah’s character – the man – who tries hard to stay clean in the midst of stinking rot, lives during the early days of Ghana’s independent under Kwame Nkrumah.
One does not have to delve deeper into the novel to fully grasp the story, the anger, the desperation those who try to be upright in a crooked society experience.
Here is a summary of the chapter: The man (for the main character in the book is just the man) is on a bus. Scripted on the bus are words ‘The Beautiyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ from where the title of the book comes from.
There are three incidents which put the man in a tight spot. First, is the old notes used then in an independent state. They are old and they stink. Second, the bus driver unleashes phlegm, which lands on the man’s cheek and lip, and third, the man throws rubbish where there is a sign that says keep your city clean.
All these things happen within moments of each other and are so symbolic of the nature and gravity of corruption involved.
Stinking notes is simply corruption since such money is used mostly for bribery purposes and whoever gets it in the soiled form, also gets the murk.
The phlegm from the driver that lands on the man’s cheek and lip also show that while one may not be actively involved in a corrupt act, they become part to the rot by passive complicity. Indeed, we see those we stay or work with engaging in corrupt acts and we choose to remain silent. That makes us complicity to corruption which will, in the end, affect our children’s future.
The unconscious dumping of bus tickets where such an act is prohibited talks much about bad habits brought about by corruption.
When corruption becomes an everyday occurrence, we accept it as normal.
Today, very few people raise an eyebrow when they see a police officer asking for a bribe or when a person offers a bribe to get their things done illegally.
But apart from this passive complicity, Armah’s man tries his best to stay clean of corruption and in the process becomes a laughing stock.
When he tells his wife that he has refused a bribe at work, she teases him saying everybody is doing it. While others were getting rich, the man sticks to his conscience, trying his best not to fall into the deeper hole of corruption.
The struggle becomes the guilty feeling when one asks themselves if, by not being involved in corruption, they are doing what is right.
Most of the times, honesty does not pay. It does not bring you friends. But in this case, the only man standing in this novel pushes the struggle against corruption at all costs. He is called a fool and coward but his conscience is clean and clear.
Such men are a rare breed in Africa today and it’s a struggle to find them.
He is like the shit man who carries waste products but does not give in to corruption. Instead, he holds onto his dignity despite doing a job considered lowly by many.
Armah’s portrayal of the teacher – educated and elite – as a symbol of corruption casts a dark shadow on the continent’s educated lot. And true, most cases of corruption involve the educated who can scheme and plan to loot.
Then there is the woman who thinks materialism is everything the world should be. All over Africa, state apparatus have all become symbols of rot – government buildings, the police, civil servants and members of parliament are all corrupt.
While corruption has been accepted, those involved know that what they are doing is wrong.