The Missing ‘Missing Links’ (Part 1)
Life is never at a standstill. Even though life does not run along a straight and linear line, it is connected. Events of yesterday are connected to events of yesteryear. A baby lies still, then sits up, then crawls, then walks, then runs, before he or she is a full person who can serve or commit a crime.
We must live in order to die, and who knows what happens thereafter. Maybe we come back and account for what we had done. But there is a connection, which we must never lose. We in Afrika are perhaps in the quagmire we find ourselves in today with our systems of governance, our levels of greed, our indifference towards those in our midst who are hurting, our work ethic and sense of triumphalism when we are in power, the violence we continue to visit upon one another, because there is something missing.
We have lost our identity, our languages, our cultural values, we are now losing our souls because something is missing — the past is talking to the future and we are in a blimpy bubble that is floating at the mercy of the strength of the winds – and going nowhere. There can be no today without yesterday and no future without the past. There is always a connection, a link that connects things one to another. What happens today has happened before, not in a superficial dreamy déjà vu way, but because that is how things work.
Charles Lyell, a forerunner to Charles Darwin commonly known to have generated the theory of racial (white) superiority versus (black) inferiority in human beings, first used the term “missing links” in an effort to describe samples of natural fossil findings. The term is often used by paleontologists to sketch important evolutionary processes in anatomical features in the evolution of things from what they once were to what they are today.
Even though the theory of the “missing links” is outmoded in post-modern biology and historiographies, its usage remains a current altruism that modern sciences continue to use when making complicated phenomena simple and simple phenomena complicated. Theorists use it to explain many things in perhaps an over-simplified manner to explain transitional forms from one stage to another. True, the history of evolution encompasses countless “missing links” of moments and epochal events as all species move all the time along a continuum of change and adaptation to their environments and economies over time.
To start with, Afrika’s self-development was rudely interrupted by what we know today as globalisation through slavery, colonialism, and the latter day white imperialism of apartheid. Then Afrika jumped to modes of governance in the same forms of colonial administration. There has been no effort to assist the continent to make the transition by way of reorientation and deliberate adaptation of what was brought here to what was found here to create a link between the past and the present, between the old and the new.
There has been and is still no organic link to prepare Afrikans for self-rule according to the new rules predicated upon equality and human rights for all. This foundation would allow Afrikans to understand and appreciate that the world wherein they live today is unlike the world they were found in, when they were invaded, and that they cannot go back to the past even if they wish to, because that past is gone forever. The struggle for independence, often in the form of war, was an aberration which altogether deprived the selfhood of Afrika to grow into ripeness.
Both foreign rule on the one hand and the struggle for national political independentism (as opposed to real independence) ill-prepared Afrikans for self-governance in the new world where they ought to participate as equals and by the very same rules they criticize as prejudicial to them when things do not go their way.
There is a complete disconnect between the new state which rules over foreign determined borders and draws blood from the natural bodies of the electorates. Only the political elite understand and defend the state which is their milking cow whereas the rest of the population waits for the benevolence of the leaders to give them food and blankets as voting cows.
It is therefore not too far-fetched that some people ask when this independence will be over so that life can go back to normal! The political elite is so married to the past and the idea of independence that they are completely unable to move beyond independence celebrations. The elite are frustrated that people do not know enough about the project of independence so much so that schools are opened to teach their version of history, a history which only continues to create more missing links instead of opening all doors to learning to all citizens to become aware of who they are, who they were, where they were and how they got here.
This points to the fact that Afrika has a missing link between the pre-colonial and post-colonial reality. In other words, it cannot be correct that our history started with colonialism and ended with the attainment of independence. There is a link missing to show us that Afrika was there before and will be there even when independence will be over.
The future is absent in most Afrikan discourses and narratives of self-celebration and bogus triumphalism. The future can only be strong once we understand and internalize our national interests over self-interests of the party, the tribe, the language group, or even the business interests. This is why in our national politics and discussions about sustainable development, people’s merit do not matter. In our set-up, it is people’s positions that matter, not what they can bring to the table to make the nation stronger and more ready to manage change. It is who you know and how they know you as opposed to what strength you bring to the collective, when the collective was so important in the pre-colonial Afrikan community.
Post-independence Afrikans are more ready to connect to others’ stories except their own. It is no surprise that almost all Afrikan leaders are excellent lecturers on democracy and human rights when they tour Europe and America where they go to beg for foreign aid, but they undermine democracy in their own countries where they are totally intolerant to any opposing views. West Africans tell many stories about their leaders, such as Paul Biya of Cameroon who is in his country when he is on vacation, but lives in Paris for the rest of the year where he is busy reminding the French of their colonial sins in his country.
The missing link is particularly painful in the realm of religion. While other civilizations maintain their own concepts and words for their own religions, Afrika does not have words for its own religion. Hence the schizophrenia that the Afrikan Christians suffer when they live in two worlds and worship two Gods all the time. The western God is visited during weekends and for fundraising and guilt-tripping the former colonialists. For the rest of the time, especially when disaster strikes, Afrikans turn to their own sleepy God – the God who understands them better and more directly. Hence the mushrooming of the so-called charismatic churches with apostles and prophets who foretell victory in national elections, job security, wealth and the imminent arrival of husbands and/or wives. There was a time when we were Johannes and Petrus and Helena and Elizabeth. Then we became John and Peter and Helen and Liz. Now we are Natangwe and Kavemuii and Magano and Kasiku. Our grandparents cannot recognise us and the connection is missing.
Then there is a serious missing link in the formal communication skills we need to convey messages about our republican life where we live as One Nation in our Land of the Brave, where fear pays and courage becomes a punishable offence – politically. For instance, whereas we adopted English as the only official language, there are deliberate plans in the new political system to prepare our leaders to acquire sufficient skills in this new most essential mode of readiness to govern and to compete in the rest of the world with. We Namibians speak the worst English in the SADC region, worse than the Rwandese who adopted English later but where the government spends more proactive efforts to equip the nation’s representatives, the teachers and the youth to learn and master this new tool of trade.
Furthermore, the Afrika of old prepared political leaders properly in the habits and duties of leadership and governance of resources in the manner that the Greek philosopher Plato advocated the socialization of philosopher-kings who were reared to know what was expected of them and how they remained inextricably accountable to their communities. Afrikan rulers of old were connected to their subjects and served as custodians of values and wealth of the ‘whole people’. In the new Afrikan politics, our leaders are not prepared – they only need to demonstrate loyalty to their new executive tribe, the political party. If it is true that more than 20% of our honorable Members of Parliament do not have Grade 10 high school certificates, we have a huge missing link between readiness and leadership. Yet nothing is being done to remedy this perilous situation by training them and getting them up to speed to serve. Hence our MPs believe they are beholden to the party and not the citizens.
American Senator Tipp O’Neill once said that all politics is local. In our new Afrikan politics, perhaps with the exception of strides that are being made in West Afrika, there is very little connection between national politics and local interests, except after every four years when the candidates criss-cross the nation to make promises, then come back only after four years. Judging from the assortment of officials in the executive to advisers, there is no consideration of the people on the ground. The people are only intimidated and manipulated to accept hell as heaven. If the interests of the people on the ground mattered, the so-called governors would be elected, not sent to arrive in the regions with an official vehicle, an official residence and advisors but no accountability to the people except to listen in for the President – just like the old Bantoesake Kommissarisse (Bantu Affairs Commissioners) who used to be sent from Pretoria to Namibia to come and preach the white gospel and spy on behalf of the South African President who sent them. In this system of governance that renders Afrika to be absent in Afrikan affairs, our confusion takes over and instability grows! Yet we continue to blame colonialism and apartheid, or those amongst us who can see our follies that we are now our own worst enemies, until we find the links in the manner we must govern ourselves! (To be continued).