02.08.2004 Feature Article

The African Tragedy – Superstition or Religion?

The African Tragedy – Superstition or Religion?
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At this period of time in history, in 2004, when homo sapiens africana, alias homo “erectus” africanus is supposed to be more erect (which is never the case since we are more bent than ever), there are many people in Africa who would do everything to get hinged to the so-called African credos to justify the sub-saharan precariousness and therefore shift our incompetence, ineptitude, selfishness and the immutable lethargy, the actual culprits of our failure, on someone else or on ideas. Here in Africa it appears common sense is very beyond the reach of the majority so corruption and tribalism continue with amazing prevalence.

In 1856, wrote Alan Moorehead in “The White Nile,” Richard Francis Burton, a British explorer had these to say about Africans, “They were cursed by an external suspicion combined with a mullish opposition to change, a savage conservatism. They were utterly dishonest: when they assert they probably lie, when they swear they certainly lie.” In his forever contemptous arrogance he asserted “The African seems to belong to one of those childish races which, never rising to man's estate, fall like worn-out links from the great chain of animated nature.” “To Burton,” writes Moorehead, “the Africans were to blame for their own savagery, and from the first to last he treats them as delinquent children with marked criminal tendencies.”

These observations about the people of Africa, the craddle of humanity, may unfortunately be considered extravagant, if not discriminatory, and many Africans may consider them scandalous and may go lengths to prove the opposite. Yet one can hardly deny, that civilisation has exacerbated the tendencies which are amplifed in function of the increase in populations. While other explorers of Burton's era did certainly not feel this way many shared varied opinions almost along the same lines of reasoning. For instance, Sir Samuel Baker, Moorehead wrote, “had a theory that Africans were not and could not ever be equal to white men.” This time around, over a hundred years, in 2004, what is the reading on the scale of ethics in Africa? A quick eye-sweep horizontally and vertically across the continent is worth its tale, and those views, far from being denied, could now be certified and endorsed. In fact other words have found their way into the big game; materialism and illiteracy, in a continent where the majority is still overshadowed by ignorance. So with limited thought-process characterising our rudimentary behaviours we have no motivation for or inclination towards refinement. Now, if Burton's assertions are not true what are we doing as a nation (African) to prove our unrightness? If it is true what are we doing to revamp our moral precepts and lift our image? Are we sufficiently on any right track to change?

A lot of ink and time have been spent so far in our endeavours to explain the causes of underdevelopment in Africa, and while some are in fact half-truths and do not really address with objectivity and erudition the causes of the African tragedy others reflect the mindset of the average African in arguments which for most part are as illusory as mirages in the Sahara.

Of late Ghanaians have been fuming over an idea of Pat Buchanan, a United States politician as he treated our dear land as a « failed state » and why someone could take offence at all at such a fleeting classification is as mysterious as the sub-saharan African who is never taught to accept truths if even they were engraved on his forehead. If anything could be said about that misplaced remark it is the occasion which prompted him to it as he referred to the Secretary General of the United Nations Organisation, Kofi Annan, in an issue having nothing to do with Ghana as a country. Otherwise, turning the question round, one could vividly ask if Ghana, (a country of very “intelligent” humans, a tropical country with excellent annual rainfall, a country with several mineral resources, a country with one of the best Education systems since 50s) fifty years after independence, is a successful state?

Others find solace in blaming our underdevelopment on colonisation and the infamous slavery. Recently “The trial of Irrationality in West Africa” by Kofi Akosah-Sarpong and commented on in a rejoinder by Y. Fredua-Kwarteng on the GhanaWeb, which sought to inculpate superstitions made interesting reading but fell short of explaining the real problem. While agreeing with them that superstitions are very degrading, irrational and help us understand the moral and psychological bearing of the people finding any satisfaction from them it is only fair to admit that our first major problem lies in the head: The Conscience of the African. The second is that of Identity: Who we are and where we are going, we, as a defined historical entity. The third most people know: Tribes and Ethnicity, which, I am afraid, may never be easily overcome. The reason is Simple; as I write everything is being done every one metre square area on the African continent to enlarge cracks already developed by the ill-assorted history of our existence. And our failure to recognise the fact, effect a change and shed the old cloaks myopia raises us to individuals with selfish minds which outweigh our collective interest, that of putting the state above and before everything else. In passing, our moral judgement is eclipsed, nullified by our greedy attempts to raise ourselves above our means at whatever the cost and in the midst of chaos.

What is even more disturbing is the unabashed attempt to put religion into the fray. Nowhere in Ghana's history is religion forced on anyone. Even Islam, misinterpreted by some of its followers in most countries to include violence, is moderate and civilised in Ghana. The New Testament on which is based Christianity preaches standards so entrenched in priciples of moral domain that a society like ours predominantly christian should necessarily have got very efficient and effective governing institutions where values play their role. Now, those who really believe in these religions do so in good faith and this hurts no-one. The so-called church leaders, child-raping, women-coveting and money-conscious pastors et all the ceteras go to the church with those ideas as prime intention, just like the unloyal African politician. Such religious leaders exploit the weak for their great faith. It is not surprising therefore, that most of their victims are women and children. After all there isn't any African country more religious than is Brazil yet corruption is very much controlled there, and the progress they are making in development could not be underestimated. Other countries like Italy, Greece, Poland are but few examples.

Mr. Kofi Akosah-Sarpong writes that “Much of the reason for the sharp rise of attacks against certain cultural values that are today deemed to be counter-productive to West Africa's development is the fact that the region is rated by the UN as the poorest in the world; Nigerian defence researchers have revealed that of the 37 successful coup detats in Africa 32 have occurred in West Africa (making the region the most unstable in Africa); and security experts have concluded that nearly all of the most horrendous civil wars, communal violence, high profile corruption cases and crimes in Africa have occurred in West Africa. Most of these troubles are rooted in West African culture.” I find it particularly unreasonable to believe corruption and crimes could be rooted in a person's culture. The challenge we face here in Africa is that of ill-will, narrow-mindedness and the refusal to raise moral standards to requisite heights. What do we see as consequence? Empty heads who are presidents, pastors who are politicians, thieves who are military officers, farmers who are engineers and bureaucrats!

Other examples will edify one's understanding of the problems:

In Ghana people were unsatisfied with Nkrumah's political orientation and constituted a notorious renegade bent on sabotage which we all know about. Then came a british-educated “highly intelligent” Amankwa Afrifa patted on by the CIA to overthrow the regime, and those involved in those plots known to everybody today refused to think about the future of the country and were occupied incubating their ambitions projected for the future. What price do we pay today? General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and his cohorts did a “better” job with the disco-on-wheels, women with fat backs and whose standing “bobbies” could enter mouths as a criteria for qualification for golf cars, and the famous “Yentua” policies which « helped better shape » the country as it is now are a few examples of the real intention of coup plotters. It would be inane, if not preposterous to wrap these in superstitions. All these hyper-crooks in military uniforms whose sum-actions derailed the smooth course of the country's economic and political bearing are the main architects of our present predicament. And these were the people given “fitting burials” as if someone is content with what they did to the country. In certain countries people face capital punishment for taking the life of others. General Acheampong and his accomplices assassinated a whole state! Where is the place of superstition or juju-marabou in this?

It is pitiful, when one considers for instance the ignoble and disgraceful situation in Darfur in Sudan – the tear-inviting TV images showing mal-nourished children with flies all over the face as if all, together with their mothers were issues of inanimate matter, that is, belonging to no-one or nowhere. What a shame! This dreadful situation started brewing since long and nobody cared. It is noteworthy that the Sudan has suffered almost similar situation long ago. This is what Alan Moorehead has to say, “...In the Sudan the old pattern had collapsed...The country was becoming depopulated. Slatin at a later stage estimated that, of the nine million inhabitants, about 75 per cent were exterminated during the Khalifa's rule. The continual wars and the slave trade destroyed many thousands every year, deseases such as small pox and syphilis were endemic, and now in 1889 (emphasis mine) the country was overwhelmed by famine. Great areas of cultivable land had been left idle while the Arabs went off to war or congregated in the capital and in the province of Darfur where the Khalifa had put down a revolt with the utmost brutality, wild animals had taken possession of the empty plains...” Rudof Carl von Slatin, who himself became a victim of the brutality, was a young Viennese officer sent to Darfur to help govern and check the excessive slavery and massacre of the Africans by the Arabs. The Khalifa Abdullah was an “unbelievably” cruel ruler of the Sudan at the time. Now more than a century what do we see?

The unpardonable Rwadan genocide, which should have been discouraged by Christian teachings and also by lessons from Western wars such as the napoleonic campaigns in Europe and the hitlerian second world war, depicted one of human beings' most atrocitious conflicts in history, and the African mind at its best. A country such as Rwanda, blessed with lesser tribelines than any West African nation, and an overwhelming majority of christians should have known better. As if in defiance of “Thou shall not kill” and “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” and of God (The majority of Africans believe in the supreme deity) the worst carnage occured in the churches! Do those who perpetrate the sub-human acts believe in the Christian God or were they obeying the dictates of superstition and religion? Where was their collective conscience? As if not enough for the poverty-ridden continent the West African sub-region was to see its turn of such wickedness in Liberia, Sierra Leone and now Ivory Coast. And the best we could do is blame culture!

When Mobutu was slated to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, the one who engaged his services, he executed this in appreciation of some of his compatriots. Little did his followers know what was ahead of their country when his excellency, Field Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Gbendu Wanga Banga, formerly known as Joseph Desiré Mobutu would buy over twenty mansions, houses and castles around the world, covet people's wives, kill his opponents and have millions of Dollars in private accounts. Has this anything to do with superstition? Now, where is the pride of Congo the most richest state in Africa? Mobutu in one of his fantastic daydreams thought it enticing to build rockets and missiles and actually tried at the moment when structural reform animated the imagination of countries in Asia.

When the President-rapist, the mass murderer Etienne Eyadema, now Gnasingbé (Because Mobutu his best friend asked him to change his whiteman's name) went around extorting people's wives and murdering others who demurred, some with their husbands the Togolese people adopted the classic ostrich approach and continued lavishly their “animations” in full praise of their demi-god. Tax-payers money was distributed free of charge, the future and the welfare of the state could go to hell. This tyrant had girlfriends all over, even in Ghana and in Zaire, and is he said to have companies in South Africa. While emergent democratic nations like Ghana ought to decry the dictatorial Togolese government long supported by France President Kufuor skipped all reasons and said in an interview accorded “Jeune Afrique l'Intelligent” that he took all the advice such a person gave him, endorsing his long reign in the process. When you praise someone like this you actually condone his beliefs. Now what kind of advice could Eyadema give someone? How can development in Africa be achieved with this kind of negligence by President Kufuor?

In Ivory Coast the “ghost” of the late President Felix Houphouët-Boigny may have been lamenting regretfully in disbelief over the chaos in his country. Even alive he may never have believed situations could turn round dangerously after his death. Helas, Ivory Coast, world's first cocoa producer, like others in similar conflits, risks fading into oblivion as empty windbags like Guillaume Soro tries to make his field day. All politicians in Ivory Coast including Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo are selfish Africans whose presence on the political platform would never give Ivorians any respite. Whose fault? Superstition or religion? At the end of the Eighties the former Ivorian President, one of France's most privileged suggested and invited others to let burn stocks of cocoa in protest of the pathetic price offer of the Western markets, an idea he opposed long ago when Kwame Nkrumah proposed it, and for the same reasons. He was one of those short-sighted African leaders who fervently opposed Nkrumah in his famous quest for African Unity. Houphouët-Boigny refused for mainly two reasons: He and other french colonies would remain under the french rule, so he could, as his mind suggested, become what he became. Secondly he didn't see it praticable that “rich” nations should share their riches with the poor nations of the desert! So the nice president who in later part of his years is alleged to have fed humans to his crocodiles remained deaf to all efforts deployed by the Osagyefo. In truth the U.S of Africa would not have worked; problem of mentality. The idea was therefore buried with all the dreams and consequences. On the other hand a very highly coordinated Pan-African military intervention force of the Africa envisioned by Nkrumah, had it worked, could have quenched the Ivorian fire long ago. The conflict may not even have got started anyway since the question of ethnicity, part of which is the problem, may have been attenuated to its minimum. In retrospect it is worthwhile believing the African leaders at the time simply had no foresight and that Nkrumah was far in advance of his time. ECOMOG failed in Liberia for lack of coordination.

Mr. Kofi Akosah-Sarpong stated that “General. Sani Abacha revealed how juju-marabou mediums have been undermining the stability of Nigeria.” Abacha's hypocritical interpretation of things failed to tell him that the biggest factor undermining stability is stealing state coffers and that Nigeria is by far weaker after he stole four billion dollars belonging to that country.

Coming back to Ghana, in 2004, when we are supposed to be more effective and lucid in the course of our duties to the country the wilfully maladroit Finance Minister of the Fifth Republic of Ghana tried to convince Ghanaians he signed in the name of the Government and twenty million people documents in Germany without knowing their contents because they were in German language! Is this a farce or does he consider his position a child's playground? This man who occupies the most critical state position actually engaged very ignominous loan agreements unpardonable in any success-minded state. Could any of these have been inspired by superstition or religion? To say the least, the Mr. Finance Minister has no sense of nationalism. President Kufuor, confronted on allegations of corruption in his government retorted corruption started with Adam and that in every society there is corruption. The implications are a catastrophe and very frightful. Unfortunately, however, this was the same person, in opposition, who went on top of his voice accusing the previous government of corruption. Where are we going with this kind of thinking?

I recently read on the GhanaWeb that the P&T, with the same workers, functioned better with a foreign than Ghanaian management. Why should it be so? I could remember remotedly a news report in one of the Ghanaian Newspapers in the Eighties, that Neoplan (Ghana) Limited, after a breakdown in one of their operating machines asked for assistance from their parent company in Germany, which reluctantly sent an expert only for the expert to come and find out the problem was actually lack of hydraulic oil in the one of the systems! And Neoplan is said to have trained experts in Germany prior to establishing that company! One time too in 1986 I had the chance, as a curious individual, of visiting the famous VORADEP in Ho in order to appreciate how efficient the Agricultural projet was taking root and was shocked to realise on a normal work day at 1030hrs Greenwich Meantime four-fifths of the workers were absent. I was to learn that most of the workers, in efforts to complement their meager salaries have gone for their personal jobs and may not be available till the next morning. The truth was that they were overstaffed. So where is the superstition in all these?

The President Omar Bongo of Gabon, who was not only content with his extravagant taste for suits running into several hundreds of thousands of french francs apiece had young ladies delivered to him along with the dresses by his french fashion house! For the rest, think a little of the self proclaimed emperor Bokassa who gave his country free for exploitation by the French, Idi Amin enjoying in the Gulf after his massacre of some 350000 Ugandans, Charles Taylors, Foday Sankos, Babangidas... Superstition or religion?

A person who is not asleep and pretends to be asleep is difficult to wake. Africa pretends to be asleep and in her refusal to wake up remains dormant. She may, forever, remain behind in the race. The worst is to provoke very bad-taste mockery from others and get trampled upon as our “presidents” hold pans begging for money and food around.

Ghana is just about 50 years old. If really we are intelligent it's never too late to mend. If we are not, well, this is our country... One more thing, it is necessary to feed the masses, to educate them, to widden their scope of understanding, to clothe them, to house them, and most of all not to relegate anyone to second or third class citizens and the superstitious beliefs would have no place. Stupid political ambitions and antagonisms will only let grievances live: Politicians often forget one great ingredient for development is peace.

Finally I recommend the reading of “THE BLUE NILE” and “THE WHITE NILE,” both by Alan Moorehead. This could permit the understanding that Africans are stubborn and impervious to change, and that our underdevelopment comes forth from the head, an old problem of mentality, as old as the day we saw this world. If someone thinks of creating a company one should think of a company capable of cleaning inside the brain of every African, especially those occupying spaces in and below the Sahara. Problems may be involved, certainly: Nepotism and Bribery, since families may want to be better of than others. In any case Martin Luther King Jr would not have put it better as he said, “I am convinced, that if we must go through the right type of world revolution we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from person-oriented (emphasis mine) society to thing-oriented society...” Any prospects for any tomorrow? The end of the tunnel is nowhere near...

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