Those Impressions About Africa Cannot Be Right
A friend of mine recently sent me what I consider as a rather spurious and vague message on WhatsApp. It was supposed to be about Richard Smith, the accomplished, famous British guitarist. The message talks about an interview in which Mr. Smith was quoted as saying he had been asked many times what he thought of Africans. And his personal assessment of Africans, “without language and without taboos” was that they sell everything to the highest bidder, even their land. Then they poison themselves with everything that is edible. Mr. Smith was alleged to have said he was not racist because he didn’t believe for a single second that he was superior to the black man. The difference with them was that “we think of our descendants. We are calculators. We protect our interests and we’ll kill for that, if need be. We are not emotional: we have passed that stage.” He is said to have said that if the lion had pity on the gazelle, it is the lion that would die of hunger – possibly a reference to the relationship between Europeans and Africans.
Africans, he was quoted as saying, had lions at home but they did not understand the laws of nature. For everything, Africans confided in superstition and religion. The difference between the others and the blacks was that while others reflected, blacks did not think. They would not use their intellectual capacity and very few blacks were analytical. “We brought them to our God and continuously invented fuzzy concepts to confuse them more. In one hundred years, their descendants would be more slaves than they are now. They are already more unhappy than the generation of their parents and they naively believe that numbers will be their strength. Just watch how they drown at sea to come here. We conquered them with a few tens of ours and the active help of theirs. Blacks are selling their own for fake jobs and prostitution. We forced them to speak and write in our language. They even judge each other by how much one can speak like us. We will control their descendants more than we control them right now. It is already happening. Other people understood our game, like the Chinese, Indians and Koreans. They started to use the same technical knowledge as us to protect and dissuade. But the blacks did not understand anything. I am sorry to be brutal in my franchise. Nothing personal, I’m just being plain.” And that was said to be honest Richard Smith.
I am not very sure that it was actually Mr. Smith who said these words or created these mythical impressions. We all know how malicious the social media could be, sometimes.
However, I quickly forwarded the message to some of my contacts and, guess what? A good number of them replied: “So sad and so true!”
Since then, I have taken a second look at the message. And I am convinced more than anything else that nothing could be farther from the truth. Without making issues or taking sides, I will explain my position quietly and systematically.
It is absolutely true that Africans sold, and still sell their land to the highest bidder. But it is untrue that this attitude is peculiar to Africans. Land selling is not peculiar to Africa. In every country of the world and as far back as history recollects, land and landed properties have always been sold either by government or indigenes who own them to those who have the money to pay for them and the capability of developing such land or refurbishing such properties. It doesn’t matter where they come from.
Today, many Africans own properties in Europe and America. They did not appropriate those properties. They bought them legally. The properties were sold to them. By the same token, some Europeans and European companies have bought land and landed properties in parts of Africa. It is called business. And whoever denigrated them on that account? Even here in the United Kingdom, a Nigerian, Adebayo Ogunlesi not only bought the Gatwick airport, the second biggest airport in the United Kingdom, he went ahead to acquire four more airports, making them five airports owned by one man, an African in the UK. So, selling or buying land and property is something that is done all over the world. It is not an African issue, per se. It happens in Europe. It happens in America, Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere in the world.
Now, while it is true to some extent that most rural Africans do not regulate the quantity of food they eat or even care about its quality because of the mostly agrarian lifestyle they live, it will be wrong to create the impression that this happens only in Africa or that Africans “poison themselves with whatever is edible.” The situation whoever authored that message seems to be appraising is even more critical in Europe and America. In Europe and America, the people, especially the younger ones eat a lot of junk food. In fact, there are warnings all over the place, mostly in the media, about eating junk food. Part of the result of eating this “poison” is that too many people from Europe and America have become obese and the number of obese people in Europe and America far outweighs the number in Africa. So, I think that distinguishing Africans as the ones who poison themselves with everything that is edible is an overstatement. There is absolutely no empirical evidence to prove the assertion.
Again, accusing Africans of not thinking about their descendants is a complete misnomer. Africans not only think of their descendants, they also plan for them in a much better way than Europeans and Americans do. In fact, they are much more committed to their descendants generally than Europeans and Americans are to their own. In Europe and America, for instance, if a man dies, he dies with his debt. As far as his debts are concerned, no one remembers he has a descendant. Or maybe his bank is his descendant! On the contrary, in African culture, the son of a man is called upon to pay his father’s debt if his father died owing. This means that descendancy plays an important role in the African way of life. A typical African family can trace its roots five or more generations back. But in Europe and America, it is not usually the case. If a man like American President, Donald Trump, who should be knowledgeable about these things does not even know where his own father was born, if he does not know that his father was born in America and not in Germany as he had claimed on occasions, what is anyone talking about Europeans and Americans thinking more about their descendants than Africans?
Now, whether people are from the developed or the developing countries, it is always necessary for them to protect their collective interest, even though at the end of the day, it is the interest of the wealthy ruling class that is being basically protected. For example, if you don’t have money, how do you invest in Africa? How do you gain from Africa’s vast natural resources? Killing people to acquire their properties is certainly not the civilized thing Europe and America should do. They get blamed for doing that sort of thing because it is not the best option, as history has shown. Killing another, just to “survive”, is jungle justice.
For countries which claim to practise the democratic dispensation, care for the weak and vulnerable in the society has always been a hallmark of the importance of that form of governance. So, the lion has got to find a way to convince the other animals that he needs food and that it should come from their territory. Something like that. And the other animals like the gazelle would convince the weaker ones they too are hungry and that food must be provided from their territory, down the line. At the end of the day the animal kingdom would be facing extinction starting from the weakest to the weaker. And by the time you know it, the lion would be at war with the leopard and the elephant and other superpower animals that are insatiably “hungry”.
Today, a country like England is in alliance with most of its former colonies in the Commonwealth of Nations. The idea was to form military and economic cooperation that would benefit member-states. No country needs to be “killed”, so to say, in that sort of arrangement. England or any other member-state might have lions in the den they call the Commonwealth of Nations, but the lion must not kill when it is hungry or else frightened member-states would be forced to scatter. Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. The story was originally meant to explain why the world's peoples spoke different languages. According to the story, a united humanity in the generations after the Great Flood spoke a single language. As they migrated eastward, they came to the land of Shinar. There, they agreed to build a city and a tower tall enough to touch the heavens. But God confounded their speech so that they could no longer understand each other. And they scattered throughout the world.
Any day Britain is seen as a threat to her African allies in the Commonwealth, the African people might be tempted to make new friends with Russia or China or even North Korea. Reasonable people who place value on life, especially human life, would rather negotiate. They could put pressure. But they would never kill to get what they want because they are civilized. We know that possibly Europe and America have passed that stage. But assuming that they hadn’t, will that condition of the lion eating the gazelle not depict the hypocrisy of their world? And why should African countries be blamed for the double standards of Europe and America, should such a thing ever happen?
It is absolutely true that Europeans came with their gun and Bible and submerged the African culture. It is obvious that when two cultures clash, the stronger culture usually submerges the weaker culture. And that was why when the Europeans came to Africa with their guns, the Africans could not stand up to them with bows and arrows. But even before they came, Africans already had their forms of religion. The typical African is a very religious person. Africans had their own gods. In Egypt, Ethiopia and other then developed parts of Africa, they had the god of the land and fertility (Ala deity), the god of birth (Chi omumu), god of wealth (Igwe), god of protection (Amadioha) etc. Europeans introduced monotheism and Africans adopted it because it made sense to them also. They have found it useful especially these days they value money and money has become to the world like a goddess that must be worshipped. That is why the Church in Africa today has become big business. So, there is no confusion there. Money has become very important in the contemporary world and the Church has continued to preach that, and to encourage prosperity.
The man touched on modern slavery which is a global phenomenon and not exclusive to Africa. Many Europeans are migrating from their birthplaces to look for greener pasture elsewhere because they are as well trapped in a vicious circle of economic deprivation. The class war between those who could endure the “pain” to go to school and university and those who couldn’t is still very much a pattern of European lifestyle. Modern slavery includes economic deprivation, homelessness, mental slavery which subtly bars people from even thinking for themselves and so on. These vices are more manifest in Europe and America than they are in Africa. It is also not true that Europe forced Africans to speak their languages. No one can force anyone to speak a language he is not interested in. The point is that there is always the need to communicate. And if people must do business, they must learn to speak the language of their host country in order to do business with them. It is only expedient. It cannot be by force.
I think that people, like whoever originated that message, should disabuse their minds of these obsolete ideas about Africa. To understand and appreciate Africa, one has to spend some days or weeks in Africa. That is the only way to understand the people and to come to terms with the reality of their existence. Africans today live in mansions not on top of trees as modern Europeans were erroneously told by their ancestors. The only problem Africans have, which is a major problem, is visionless and greedy leaderships. Many African countries are rich but they remain paradoxes because the leaders succeeded in creating a two class society of extremely rich families and extremely poor families. And this goes down to their history which was in existence before the advent of the Europeans.
Like many other continents around the world, myriads of social, economic and political problems have continued to take their toll on the African continent over the last century. Africans are concerned. They are asking questions. They are reading books to understand more about their past. They are doing whatever they can to redefine the role of leadership in Africa in order to facilitate the continent’s self actualization in the face of current threats of terrorism and global uncertainty.
The most recent expression of these redefinitions was the overthrow by the common people of Sudan a few days ago of Sudanese strongman, Omer al-Bashir, after 30 years of autocracy. Only a few years ago, no one would have thought that feat possible. But it has happened and in a most subtle way it has become a wakeup call on other African countries where the leaderships have continuously toyed with the fate and fortunes of their countrymen and women. Obviously the tides are changing and who knows what African country is next in line after Sudan.
But come to think of it: if African leaders could utilize all the vast resources on the continent which include gypsum, magnetite, lignite, uranium, copper, lead, limestone, dolomite, zinc, galena, magnesium, tin ore, wolframite, tungsten, silver, columbite, kaolin, kyanite, clay, talc, silica, fluorite, mica, barite, potassium, gold, bitumen, coal, molybdenite, tantalite, quartzite, salt, phosphate, iron ore, marble, gemstone, feldspar, tar sand, crude oil and gas, laterite, potassium, gold, amethyst, glass sand and gravel among many others to develop the continent; if they could put in place good universities with modern libraries and modern facilities, build large factories that are agriculture-oriented, huge hospitals with modern facilities and pharmaceutical companies to manufacture needed medications; if they could build good roads and great infrastructure with all the money in the continent, believe me the best and the wealthiest in Europe and America would be sending their children to come school in Africa. Europeans and Americans would be looking for work in Africa. The equation would reverse and Europeans would no longer be dreaming of enslaving Africans and their descendants after all the havoc they already caused. But the truth is that the problem of Africa is not Europe or America. Their problem for them is how to elect visionary and effective leaderships that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of other countries of the world in defence of human rights. And so, it is obvious that Mr. Smith or whoever initiated those impressions about Africa cannot be right.
Mr. Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ (Vol. 1 & 2) and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."