One drop at a time

The July 11, 2012 issue of the New Statesman carries a very interesting interview between Michael Semple and an unnamed veteran Taliban commander in Afghanistan.
The Taliban commander is referred to as “Mawlvi” to “protect his identity”, and naturally it is easy to be cynical about how genuine this interview is because the subject carries a pseudonym.
What could make some people doubt its veracity even more is the languid manner in which Mawlvi declares he is happy that former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead and the repeated manner in which he expresses that the Taliban cannot hope for a military victory in their war with NATO and its local proxy, Hamid Karzai.
But it would be hard to think the New Statesman would run a fake interview and Michael Semple has spent years researching on Afghanistan and liaising with the major political actors there. Further, I for one am an admirer of the bold style of writing of John Pilger, one of the New Statesman’s regular contributors and so I will take it the exchange is real.
Anyway, that is that.
At one point, Semple asks Mawlvi, “Now that NATO has clearly announced a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, what is the justification for the Taliban to continue their armed campaign?”
Mawlvi replies: “The Taliban believe that they are obliged to fight for a certain period to gain acceptance as a power that people have to deal with. They also believe that over time they will become stronger than the Karzai regime.
“Their situation is like the Pashtun tale of a bird seen sprinkling water from its beak on the forest fire.
“When asked why it was trying to do the impossible, the bird answered that it simply carried as much water as it was capable of carrying.”
It is a statement loaded with the weight, power and beauty of the simple logic of a people un-spoilt by the march of modernity.
All that is required of anyone putting out a fire is carrying as much water as they can. No effort is meaningless, no bead of sweat is worthless. Just carry as much water as you can.
And, who knows, when every little bird carries its bit of water in its beak the fire just might be put out.
This is something that we find hard to believe in a world where Herculean efforts by supermen (and women, lest the feminists crucify me!) are thought to be the only way out of our fires.
Similarly, everyone has a duty to play in lifting Africa out of the malaise that it currently finds itself in.
Poverty surrounds us, hopeless youths haunt us, and the cries of children who are needlessly dying because of the lack of medication have become the dirge that accompanies us throughout the days of our lives.
But it need not be so.
There are things that we can all immediately deal with to ensure Africa advances; things like corruption in the public and private sectors, things like our attitude towards hard work, things like applying fairness in our dealings with our fellow citizens on this continent.
They may seem like small things, but they are the drops of water in a little bird’s mouth as it does all that it can do.
And of course there is the small matter of how we look at and think of ourselves.
Having been bombarded with messages of how doomed and irredeemable we are as a people, there is always the temptation to think that Africa will never amount to anything and that trying to drag this continent out of this morass is an exercise in futility.
We have been told that we cannot think like Westerners and Asians, that we are culturally and morally inferior and that we are poor in every way we can conceptualise poverty.
That is far from the truth.
Whenever faced with such attitudes, I recall the words of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2010 as he accepted the chairpersonship of the African Union.
He said, “Africa is not a poor continent, but it is the people of Africa who are poor.”
In essence, what we need to do is first appreciate that we have the means of getting ourselves out of the hole we have been dumped in by centuries of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, corruption and lethargy.
It is all about a state of mind, and right now too many people in Africa – both the leaders and the led – simply have the wrong state of mind.


November 2012
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