The African Question
Decline or Hope: Where is the continent headed?
A turning point of record proportions is billed to usher Africa from yesteryear ravages to a re-mastered dispensation of peace, progress and positive growth.
There is a fresh upsurge of optimism that Africa is set to overturn the conditions that have short-supplied its epic quest for better days and relocate from the backyard of civilisation to a pre-eminent station in international affairs.
Impassioned campaigns for a mass crossover to destiny are fermenting across Africa. There is a joint effort among statesmen, media practitioners, authors, academics, artists, pressure groups and clergymen to awaken our continent to the incredible possibilities within its range of possibilities.
Africa’s ascendant trajectory is at high tide, with the prime impetus occasioned by the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) held on May 25, 2013 under the tagline “Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance”.
Incepted in Addis Ababa in 1963 and baptised the African Union (AU) in July 2002, the 54-member body’s 50th anniversary has given the continent at least one point to agree about, that is, Africa is ready to mellow with age.
Yet one step needful before tapping into the lyrical mode is to process the promise and peril, the reality and rhetoric underlying our reconstruction blueprint.
Chinua Achebe, the late, lamented patriarch of African literature, had a harsh reminder for his compatriots in The Trouble with Nigeria which I am moved to extend to the rest of the continent, in the hope that it will provoke objective consideration: “One of the commonest manifestations of underdevelopment is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations.
“This is the cargo cult mentality that anthropologists sometimes speak about – a belief by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have ever dreamed of possessing.”
Which author will not recoil for hesitancy before releasing such words to his slate? Even so, they challenge us to justify our great expectations on rational grounds. Failure here portends disappointment everywhere.
Veteran journalist Fareed Zakaria notes that leaders campaign in poetry but govern in prose. There is a customary switch from the rehearsed characterisation of a cause, that sweet assortment of promises which masses are inundated with during campaigning interludes, to the roughshod policies that run the tapestry of the working tenure.
Having rattled the podium and drawn impassioned acclamation, there still remains to contend with mass disillusionment and despondency. At this point, leaders often find the sceptre too hot for comfort, owing to a backlog of unresolved problems, unanswered questions and unfulfilled promises.
Africa needs answers.
Will the emergent shape-shifting designs carry the day? Or will they renege also into faltering mode with the brevity of stillborn election promises and ceremonial interludes in a general 3-D drama of death, destruction and despair which is currently beaming from the African cinema.
Must we not abdicate our mastery of the podium awhile to confront the realities that threaten our present sojourn to better days?
Promise and Peril
What’s wrong with Africa today?
Pessimists are lamenting a glass half-empty. Optimists are celebrating a glass half-full. Will new Africans, worth their salt, be neither pessimists nor optimists but realists who acknowledge the best and the worst of both worlds and ultimately demand an overflowing glass?
Writing from the former extreme, Achebe questions the greatness ascribed to his own country and argues that far from being great: “It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive and inefficient places under the sun.
“It is one of the most expensive places and one of those that give the least value for money. It is dirty, callous, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.”
Speaking from the latter extreme, Nkrumah justifiably incriminates history for short-changing Africa, through the double-barrelled tragedy of slavery and colonialism.
Be that as it is, Nkrumah defiantly pledges to abolish poverty, ignorance and disease and remarks that: “It is therefore patent that we in Africa have the resources present and potential for creating this kind of society.”
Here we have a manifold scourge of problems visited on Africa by imperialism, our own leadership deficit and widescale aversion to responsibility by citizens on one hand. That’s our glass half-empty. These are our desperate hitches.
We have, nevertheless, the vision, determination, resources, ideology, industry, past achievements, growing competence and potential on the other hand. That’s our glass half-full. It calls out for enhancement. Even before then, it requires chlorination from the atrocities we have allowed to loom in our midst.
What is clear enough is that the Africa we want is not readily redeemable for optimistic speeches. It cannot be conjured up from the abstract to perceptible reality by unison hype. There are odds to overturn.
When Fareed Zakaria’s poetry is distilled to prose, subsequent to ceremonial interludes, and progress remains sluggish, leaders have a way of shying away from these odds. One is rapping off-shore detractors ad-infinitum to deflect attention from domestic shortfalls.
Yet another ploy is conveniently deferring the vision to the furthermost posterity, smarter still, because then credits and failures will have to be negotiated when the incumbent custodians of the vision are past their terms.
AU Chairperson Hailmariam Desalegn and his fellow delegates at the Golden Jubilee are tempted to defer our African Dream fifty years from now, a staggering hundred years from Nkrumah’s OAU: “We all recogniSe that Africa’s aspirations of lasting peace and prosperity still remain to be realized and the vision of our founding fathers is yet to be fulfilled. It is my earnest hope that by 2063, we will have a continent free from the scourge from conflicts and abject poverty.”
Who is infinitely patient to wait for a century?
The problem with Chairperson Dalesagn’s hope, however earnest it may be, is that it imputes Africa’s stagnation on the brevity of time past, and erroneously assigns the actualisation of the African Dream to more generous calendar extensions.
Although Africa was deliberately underdeveloped for centuries by foreigners who have never shared a modicum of our patriotic sensibility, our own leaders who are our kith and kin must not ask for more centuries to keep Africa stationed in the comfort zone.
Bill Saidi, some of whose ideas repel me from afar, nevertheless, has an irrefutable date with reality when he says: “Africa must fast-track itself to development.”
I concur because the more we procrastinate from grappling for Africa’s legitimate destiny out of the heart of odds, the more lost generations we are bound to have.
If the stakes are high, the sojourner can either evade them and derail from his original destination or confront them en-route to where he is supposed to be.
It is pertinent to inquire from the elites and masses of our continent: Can we fail to see that the whole discourse for about a better Africa has overstayed its gestation zone.
The perceptible fruition of the African Dream is now long overdue. This is the message we must spread in the boldest colours on the highest banner and pitch at the central point of Africa for all too see.
Hindsight to the continent’s progress through colonial history, posts a graphic depiction of our people’s urgent determination to press out of poverty, conflict, suffering and repression.
The current flare of optimism is not without precedent. It is antedated by the very preliminary phases of the decolonisation campaign when Pan-Africanist firebrands, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, Edward Blyden, Sekou Toure and Julius Nyerere, were militating for Africa’s urgent tap into the dream dispensation through the ‘master key’ of self-government.
Patrice Lumumba, that grand statesman of the African Renaissance, signifies the unmistakable note of urgency that ran the tapestry of the movement: “We have long suffered and today we want to breathe the air of freedom. The Creator has given us this share of the earth that goes in the name of the African continent; it belongs to us and we are its only masters.
“It is our right to make this continent a continent of justice, law and peace. We wish to bid farewell to the rule of slavery and bastardization that has so severely wronged us.”
Lumumba, the founding premier of independent Congo, who had a short-lived tenure in office, was survived by his articulate rendition of the African Dream: “Despite the boundaries that separate us, despite our ethnic differences, we have the same soul plunged day and night in anguish, the same desire to make this African continent a free and happy continent that has rid itself of unrest and of fear and of any sort of colonialist domination.”
Kwame Nkrumah was hostage to similar urgency: “We have too long been victims of foreign domination.
For too long we have had no say in the manner our own affairs are run or in deciding our own destinies. Now the times have changed and today we are masters of our own fate.”
On the threshold of his country’s independence, Nkrumah pledged: “We shall measure our progress by the improvement in the health of our people; by the number of children in school and by the quality of the education and by the availability of water and electricity in our towns and villages and by the happiness which our people take in being able to manage their own affairs.
The welfare of our people is our chief pride and it is by this that my government will ask to be judged.”
Going by this billing, one would expect Africa to be an epitome of positive transformation 50 years on. Far from it!
To date, Africa has barely defrocked her Dark Continent tag, not to mention that she has found herself immersed in even greater mess. The ascent to better days has derailed and Africa is gravitating deeper into the miry bog.
Frustrations show up at every turn, and the “master key” of self-government has failed to open every door, with multitudes across Africa still gasping for the air of freedom and peace.
All is not well with Africa and aside the colour variable citizens being massacred in Africa’s trouble spots will not hesitate to equate new leaders and warlords with slave-drivers colonial taskmasters.
The observation has been long viral that despotism has merely changed hands from white to black.
As Charles Mungoshi notes in “Walking Still”, customs and costumes have changed but the conditions are still the same.
And now, the new breed of leaders has abdicated from confronting generational problems and is giving in to further problems.
The insistence on African solutions for African problems, while bearing the all marks of an enlightened cause, has not yielded many tangibles for the ebbed man at the bottom of the class pyramid simply because it has been hijacked by the higher offices.
Although I belong to the mainstay of Pan-Africanist firebrands, I cannot readily appreciate our representatives at Africa’s highest multi-lateral organisation fighting star wars with ICC when citizens are languishing in the body and soul of death, disease, austerity and injustice without a visible defender.
Even our keynote media portals have become luxuriant hubs for elitist issues and abstract concepts which do not translate to immediate surcease for the suffering majorities.
Granted, Africa for Africans is the only legitimate way to go but how does that translate into immunity for a butcher of hapless blacks in Darfur, who aside having his morality questioned by a foreign court has been absolved African leaders by virtue of his credentials as an African leader. Several of our leaders are overstretching sound ideas into open-ended mandates for the forfeiture of accountability.
What I am driving at in no uncertain terms is that the African Dream is obsolete as far the AU is concerned. It’s star wars among supposed representatives and no reprieve for the “scum of Africa” whose reprieve from suffering has been slated for half a century to come.
Sourcing help from offshore resorts has also proven a compromised recourse as the relations entered are slanted to Africa’s disadvantage and fraught with double standards.
As long as Africa remains stuck at the base of the geopolitical pyramid she is not likely to register a significant presence on the global scene.
Ariston Chambati, Zimbabwe’s late Finance Minister, once recounted an exchange he had with Henry Kissinger on the sidelines of a United Nations summit. The latter had presented a report outlining the emerging dynamics among world economies – except Africa!
Later during the summit Kissinger took Chambati, who had registered offense with the deliberate discrimination, aside and said: “Unless you Africans begin to take yourself seriously, nobody will take you seriously.”
This anecdote shows the futility of sponsored recovery. The fact that Europe and America are at leisure to dispatch yardsticks or benchmarks, diplomatic synonyms for rules, to Africa, whereas the reverse would be an unimaginable feat, goes to show that cosmetic progress has been made in the quest for total decolonisation.
It is clear enough what needs to be achieved but just how it is to be achieved eludes our best minds. The range of attitudes at this crossroads oscillates between complacence, resignation and indifference.
All sorts of jerky and witty tirades are being levelled against the West for their hand in our tragedy but, while this position can be historically ratified it misses the essence of the moment.
The question that must claim currency in our forums is not: Who are the villains and who are the saints? It is the old question asked by Martin Luther King for Africans in the dispersion during the civil rights movement and is yet to be answered by Africans at home. The question is: Where do we go from here?
“We neither look West or East. We look forward,” Nkrumah once defiantly proclaimed. Africa has evidently forgotten this formula. We have become willing sub-characters and mercenaries in the East and the West’s struggle for domination.
Alexander Kanengoni HAS recounted how African journalists mobbed Mikhail Gorbachev on the sidelines of a U.N summit and probed him as to why he oversaw the dismantling of U.S.S.R leaving Africa at the mercy of America.
This is how degenerate Africa has become, even amid the flare of rhetoric.
We have become a byword, alternating our allegiance to the cardinal points of the bipolar geopolitical compass: East or West.
Even during Nkrumah’s time, the late Osagyefo reckoned with the hurdles along the path of self-actualisation and ceded his non-conformist standpoint to throw his lot with the Marxist East. At the threshold of Congo’s Independence, the hubbub in international media was which side of the Cold War Congo would enlist: Capitalist America or Socialist Russia.
No talk of a home-grown great African republic.
Africa leaders need to honour the red line between smart synergies and the slavish subjugation of her people and cheap siphoning of her resources.
What’s more, as recession and moral disintegration dissembles the foundations of erstwhile superpowers, African parties wean their orientation from naïve second-fiddle politics.
Faith of our Fathers
Where do we go from here? With manifold crises, recession, terror, decadence, war, crime, disease epidemics, anarchy, natural disasters and the menace of a nuclear conflict flaring full circle over the erstwhile powers with unprecedented intensity it is imperative on Africa to go the homegrown route to recovery and disinvest interest from the East and the West.
Kirk Cameron, in his 2012 documentary “Monumental”, brings up an interesting formula: “Sometimes, the only way to look forward is to look backward.” Cameron’s documentary notably concurs with the issue at hand because it probes conditions making for America’s precipitate downward spiral over the recent years and sets out to prescribe a reconstruction blueprint.
Cameron notes: “Maybe it’s as simple as this: maybe, we have forgotten what made this nation great in the first place.” Subsequently, Cameron traverses England and America on a treasure hunt for this lost key to greatness before coming to the conviction that America has forgotten God; that its undoing is in its veneration of secularism.
Cameron’s case is a pertinent import for Africa. With so many of our prolific authors hunched over to fault the claims of God on public life, it might be a mammoth assignment to build such a case but I am emboldened to prescribe it as the most imperative Pan-Africanist response to our crises. Only then will Africa rediscover the lost key that can urge its weight forward.
A vision without the moral currency to deliver is vain rhetoric. This is what Africa has missed. The cyclic perpetuity of problems is a crisis of morality; the retardation of progress is the deficiency of faith.
Retrospect to the original drawing board of Pan-Africanist thought is replete with examples of how devotion to God on a national scale was central to the articulation of the desired transformation.
The legendary co-pioneer of Pan-Africanism, Edward Blyden wrote in Hope for Africa: “It need not imply any pretension to prophetic insight for us to declare that we live in the shadow of remarkable events in the history of Africa – events whose consequences will be of transcendent importance and unending interest not only on that downtrodden land but to the whole human race.”
Blyden, who espoused spiritual enlightenment with continental greatness, however, remarked that: “The problem of African disenthrallment and elevation is beyond the power of human ingenuity.”
Kwame Nkrumah understood the indispensable nature of the Christian faith to the African discourse. No wonder he declared: “May I say however that to meet Christ on the highway of Christian ethics and principles by way of Christian salvation, and turn back, is a spiritual impossibility.
“The burden of my life is to live in such a way that I may become a living symbol of all that is best in Christianity and in the laws, customs and beliefs of my people. I am a Christian and will ever remain so but never a blind Christian.”
In extolling the inalienable values of justice, equality, unity, duty and mutual respect, the early liberators appealed to God’s Word as the ultimate arbiter in demonstrating the authenticity of their cause and the feasibility of their aspirations.
Christianity was the ideological engine which was invoked at the African awakening.
Du Bois implores God in an afterthought to his seminal classic “Souls of Black Folk”, where he warns his countrymen to despise not justice, mercy and truth lest the nation be smitten with a curse:
“Let the ears of guilty people tingle with the truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations in this drear day when human brotherhood is a mockery and a snare.”
• Stanely Mushava is based at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Visit his blog mschavar.wordpress.com to view more of his work.