Tuesday 15 September 2015

Decolonising the Colonised African Mind – The First 5 Steps

I have recently been reading of and writing on many African issues. One thing that strikes me quite strongly is the depth to which false perceptions of Africa have sunk in our collective subconscious. While I think it is forgivable for people whose only experience of Africa is aid adverts with awfully malnourished children and news bulletins featuring some rabid warlord spouting maledictions – this delusion of utter dependence should not be replicated by Africans. This is why we have autobiographies and biographies. The person describing herself has greater insight than the person retelling the tale. A self-portrait is not a caricature. We Africans have flipped the script. We have reproduced the caricature in our understanding of ourselves, in telling our stories and understanding the heart of Africa. We have replaced the cradle of life with a heart of darkness. So I have a 5 step solution. We need to begin thinking and fast.

What is Africa? Take a step back from all that has been said, especially by the media. Read the works of Africans. Look at the Africa around you. Africa is not the few unscrupulous leaders we have, Africa is its people. So look at its people. Africa is an eternal thought in the mind of God. There was always Africa. Ignore the countries/states. While I am not in favour of the breakup of states, we must remember that nation-states are made, not imagined. The states in Africa were imagined by people who never set foot on our tropical shores. Obama once said ‘The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of our past.’ We need to claim our identity as African and divorce this quest from a political one.  We have bought into thinking we can truly be what we should be by ensuring our ‘brothers’ place in political office. How’s that working for you thus far? Go and explore, and think what it means to be Africa. Africa was before Nigeria.

Colonisation and the sense of inferiority: Now I really do hate to bang on about colonialism. However, let us say as an analogy, someone scratched you with a sharp nail. Then went away. The scratch becomes septic because the wound is not cleaned, because the damage is not understood. Do we say the scratch is in the past and fail to treat the wound? By no means! We may forgo pursuit of the culprit. We may refrain from a lengthy and arduous litigation, but we do not deny existence of the wound. Make no mistake colonialism is a wound on the psyche and insult to the soul, a generational offense that lingers unacknowledged on the edges of our subconscious.

Thomas Pynchon, said, ‘Colonies are the outhouses of the European soul, where a fellow can let his pants down and relax, enjoy the smell of his own shit.’ (Imagine!)

Our Africa was the Petri dish in which the experiment of empire was conducted. And when the experiment failed, the apparatus of psychological oppression hangs on in our minds like a never-fading apparition. How did a handful of administrators manage to shackle the African giant? By imprisoning the most important part of a people – their sense of self-worth. By making us believe that we were inferior, that our laws, customs ideas were of no value, thus our minds were captured into the colonial Black Maria and our bodies soon followed. We see vestiges of this in everyday discussions and actions: Parents failing to teach their children African languages, people using ‘that’s what they do in London’ as a trump card in arguments, skin bleaching, naming of children, the repugnancy principle, acceptance of non-African standards of beauty……. The list could go on for years.

Patrice Lumumba of Congo is famed to have said to the departing Belgian colonists ‘Nous ne somme plus vos singes [or macaques].’ ("We are no longer your monkeys). The truth is more complex as words are cheap. Attitudes need to change.

Self-knowledge: The first step to changing attitudes is self-knowledge. Africans, I believe have a problem with self-awareness and self-knowledge, especially as concerns the nature of that self- knowledge. Arundhati Roy talks about the psychology of globalization thus: ‘It's like the psychology of a battered woman being faced with her husband again and being asked to trust him again. That's what is happening. We are being asked by the countries that invented nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and apartheid and modern slavery and racism - countries that have perfected the gentle art of genocide, that colonized other people for centuries - to trust them when they say that they believe in a level playing field and the equitable distribution of resources and in a better world. It seems comical that we should even consider that they really mean what they say.”’

The problem with Africa is that we still trust foreign ideas more than our own. We take these false narratives, these illusions of altruism and we internalise them and make them our own. In the quest for a better world, we intuitively understand our world to be worse. We make no allowance for our intersectionality. We are black, generationally oppressed, women, men, children, poor, third world… yet we do not speak of how these factors affect us personally. No one else can see our pain. This pain is ours, but we swallow it, we stomach it, and let it fester deep within us like fermenting cassava, its poisonous cyanide, killing us from the inside. Spit it out!

Ask a hundred non-Africans to describe Africa, there responses would be fairly similar. Ask the same of a hundred Africans… Self knowledge unlocks the heart of Africa. Africa defies definition, but that is no excuse not to think of her.

‘Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just “home.”’ Beryl Markham
Africa is home, I am Africa…

Historical and Contemporary knowledge: There are very few things that upset me and annoy me as much as an African spouting inaccurate and derogatory ‘facts’ about Africa. A multiple degree holder once told me, ‘no African entity had ever succeeded.’ I had to physically restrain myself, or else we would have needed industrial cleaners to clean the blood from the walls. Did he not know of the Ghana Kingdom with its riches in gold that existed for 1000 years? Or the Oyo Empire that traded far and wide? Or the Buganda and Bunyoro kingdoms of present day Uganda? Or the supposition that Africans do not know about leadership… All I have to say to that is… Mai Idris Alooma, Nana of Itsekiri, Askia Mohammed (Askia the Great), Sonni Ali, Shaka Zulu (kaSenzangakhona), Mansa Kankan Musa, Sundiata Keita, Alaafin Oranyan, Cetshwayo kaMpande, Ahosu Ghezo, Asantehene Opoku Ware and ASANTEHENE OSEI TUTU AGYEMAN PREMPEH II!!

And African women? Oya come and read this:
Cleopatra, Moremi Ajasoro, Iyeki Emotan Uwaraye, Efunsetan Aniwura, Queen Amina, Inikpi of Igalaland, Taytu Betul, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Queen Nzinga, Omu Okwei of Osomari (Felicia Ifeoma Ekejiuba), Aba women’s Riot, Lagos Market women’s riot and the Dahomey Mino (a Fon all-female military regiment).
If you don’t know who these people are or what I am talking about, shame on all the education systems in the world. Our history is a fact that happened no matter what you have heard, I dare you to act like it.

Answer me these questions:
Who discovered the River Niger?
Who was the first man in South Africa?

We need to be aware that schools set up by the colonial powers were primarily set up to enable communication between the coloniser and the colonised. In that sense they were mainly centres of instruction. However, they have gradually become educational institutions, though educational content in many African curricular still retains vestiges of post-coloniality. This the point of the questions I asked above.

On the other hand, African indigenous education emphasises training individuals to contribute to the development of their community and the benefits of a cohesive communal life. Conversely colonial education emphasised the value of the individual and deemphasised the importance of community and culture. Where education seems to isolate the individual from her community, education and its proponents become a communal enemy. These incongruences as well as the colonial purposes of education result in an irrelevant curricular – Shakespeare taught without context – inherited inadequate teaching methods, and disengaged cohorts of students.

Why do we learn Shakespeare? Or why is cramming an integral part of our education?

Education is not entirely beneficial if it becomes a means by which a person’s identity, culture and language becomes obscured. Education is meant for the FULL development of the human person – the mind, the body, the heart and the soul. Nelson Mandela once said ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language… that goes to his heart.’

We fail to learn our own languages, sing our own songs, dances to our own rhythms, to the beat of our hearts, to the steady thrum of our soul. The problem is that we approach knowing from an externalised perspective. We see knowledge as something outside of us that we have to assimilate. But it is not. We need to read more, [aim to read a book a week – any book will do], to be more self-aware, then connect what we have learnt with who we are, for the full development of the African personality that lies inside of us.

As Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley sang
‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.’

Self-esteem: The first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize, Wangari Mathaai said ‘our people have been persuaded to believe that because they are poor, they lack not only capital, but also knowledge and skills to address their challenges. Instead they are conditioned to believe that solutions to their problems must come from ‘outside.’’’

We can only shed this innate belief when we accept the validity and worth of our existence. What the colonised African mind suffers from is a severe case of post-colonial internalised oppression. Even when the primary source of the oppression no longer exists, we oppress ourselves with our own feelings of inferiority. We think anything from ‘oversea’ will be better than ‘tiwantiwa’ just by the fact of their different sources. Aba shoemaker will make fine shoe and stamp Italy on it. As some status-conscious person once told me, even her dead body would refuse to wear lace that wasn’t Swiss or other European origin, to the extent that we import traditional attire. I am sure many Nigerians will refuse to enter a car that is made in Nigeria.

On a more psychological level and especially in the diaspora, we see many people exhibit shame and refuse to identify as African. To this end they twist their tongues into unimaginable shapes to produces sounds completely unintelligible, in attempt to adopt an accent foreign to them. We call our languages vernacular, yet these are languages of a living people, not a jargon to be hidden from the sun.

The focus on English, French and Portuguese as languages of instruction and national communication has also contributed to the disappearance of African languages and customs. Prof E. E. Adegbija notes ‘Over 90% of African languages,…exist as if they don’t really exist; they live without being really alive. Living functional blood is being sucked out of them…’

So we live a half-life as Africans, other people tell us what should matter to us. The West tells us we should resist our ethnicities and cultures, our governments and their corruption. Our governments tell us that the West is our enemy, and that our next door neighbour is our enemy and ‘see, I built this road!’ Did they build it with their own money? 

These are the symptoms of self-oppression, not being able to refute the fallacies around, because we fear the dark recesses of our own minds and fear lurking in the corners of our consciousness. If we dare to, quietly and stoutly, consider all around us, take those books off of the shelves and learn of truth that is not really hidden, we may learn one certainty. Our minds are being held captive by our own thoughts, that captivity imprisons us into a life less than we were made for.

How did a handful of administrators manage to shackle the African giant? By imprisoning the most important part of a people – their sense of self-worth. By making us believe that we were inferior, that our laws, customs ideas were of no value.

How will we unshackle the African giant? By freeing our minds from mental slavery, by realizing that we are worth as much as anyone else, by eschewing narratives based on inferiority, by connecting once again with the Africa that lies inside of us - The true Africa whose heart is golden.

Monday 7 September 2015

Africa is poor and 5 other myths | Simon Moss | TEDxWarwick

Nigeria's Democracy Delusion

Nigeria has been at the democracy game for  about 15 years now and a lot of talk goes on about the  ‘dividends of democracy.’ This makes it sound like democracy is some kind of equation where D (democracy) + SS (sovereign statehood) = DoD (dividends of democracy, fill in the gaps.) 

So I try to work out in my head, why is Nigeria a democratic country? (and I am using the term democratic as loosely as possible, we are a civilian autocracy, or a subgroup oligarchy,  a pseudo democracy, or a confusion of people led by an embarrassment of politicians but who cares about labels?) is it because we, the people, want it? The answer is no. what the people want has no impact whatsoever on the systems of government in a country. (a critical study of history will reveal this) 
However, to step into the arena of international relations, a government has to prove itself to be suitably amenable to standards acceptable by the big dogs (except you have oil like Saudi Arabia, then no one will dare tell you, that you can’t be a monarchy.), it’s like when Abacha empowered ECOMOG as regional peacekeeper, (costing Nigeria millions) to keep the eyes of the world from his internal chicanery. To borrow money from the international financial institutions one has to exhibit a modicum of democracy. Then the millions are released to the leaders who spirit the money away to the ubiquitous Swiss accounts that dot the Zurich landscape.

A quick study of countries and their welfare of their people reveals that democracy is not a cure for our ills but an occlusion of our woes, while we fight the ballot box and watch for the councillors and congressmen we shove aside the true problems. While the country is wrapped in a bubble of pseudo-democracy, the world can rub its hands in self adulation while death and destruction continue within a state.

Examine the following

  1. Under a flag of democracy, the US (and several other countries) traded in human flesh, locking human flesh in the holds of vessels to endure the horrors of the middle passage, which only half of the ‘livestock’ survived. The injustice of it was continued and compounded when the south went to war in indignation when their right to keep, sell, rape, and kill other human beings was challenged.
  2. In 1948, by means of the popular vote in South Africa 70% of the population was forced onto 3% of the land. The world watched in relative impotence and indifference as black men and women were killed, tortured and treated like vermin.
  3. The largest democracy in the world, India, continues side by side with democratic government to allow untouchability and the burning of brides unable to pay their dowries.
  4. Germany was democratic when six million Jews were burned Auschwitz and other camps, which some politicians in democratic countries now say was a holiday camp.
  5. A democratic government deliberately killed 64, 000 in Nagasaki and Hiroshima tainting the land for years.

Am I saying no to democracy? No I am not, but making it a bench mark when it is no guarantee of rights or fair treatment is like calling a dog a cat so you can give it milk. If asked any Nigerian will tell you he/she wants security of person, food, employment; I think it is rare person who will plead for democracy. Then why are we being given a rude imitation of what we didn't ask for? I have no idea. What I know without a shadow of a doubt is that no one will give us what we want, what we need... we have to take it. We the people, are the owners of Nigeria, we should not be distracted by ethnicity to the detriment of unity. The politics of tribalism and religion is the price of our servitude.

God bless Nigeria.

Welcome to Lagos: A misnomer, an insult or no more than absolute truth?

(For anyone unfamiliar with the TV program 'Welcome to Lagos... Youtube/Amazon is your friend!' This is a rewrite from 2010)

Hi everyone! 

The above greeting is my attempt to start this piece with a light-hearted comment, to diffuse the tensions between us, or the tensions against BBC and W2Lag (for the uninitiated that’s Welcome to Lagos). Events may have overtaken the airing of the series (the hanging of the British parliament, the cultural and allegatory crisis at the BBC, impending scrapping of the licence fee, the deletion of a Nigerian president, the clueless era, the prediction of electoral doom and purported goslowedness in 100 days ...) I hope these events may give us an objective look at the documentary. 

Given the detrimental nature of exposure naija and Lagos gets usually I was quite sceptical about watching W2Lag. What convinced me to watch it was the number of FB comments on Esther and her problems with her husband. It made me wonder if the BBC was actually going to show true Nigerians and not some demonised version which seems to be imprinted in people’s head. So I watched W2Lag, from part 3 to part 1, then from part 1 to 3. 

One thing struck me as profound about the series. I have been in the UK for a while now, so I guess it must have been particularly poignant for me to see everyone with a smile. In the most squalid of circumstances, everyone was smiling. And not that fake just-for-the-cameras kind of smile, but a smile that extended from the slightly askew teeth up the dusty face into the rheumy eyes, no matter the circumstances. I believe that the eyes are the window of the soul and a smile that goes to the eyes, tells of souls that are undefeated despite the situation around them, undefeated despite the fact that those who have taken oaths of office to serve the people are ready and willingly to smash the people’s homes and throw into the street the meagre collection of the people. If W2Lag achieved nothing else it de-demonised my people and for that I am grateful. I would like the whole world to know that Nigerians are not criminals or fraudsters, but a people pushed to the edge of their limits by murderous, bloodsucking and power-hungry leaders and an outside world that have grown too selfish to care. I would want all to understand that at the edge of those limits lies an untapped resource of strength, resilience, imagination and courage. God bless all true Nigerians!

Nevertheless, this does not detract from the reality that in a programme titled W2Lag, the BBC crew bypassed the airport, clean roads, and rows of palatial houses before they deigned to bring out their cameras to signal a welcome. It is the cinematographic equivalent of describing the essence of a flowering frangipani tree by studying its roots, the roots may be an integral part of the tree, but its not the part that welcomes you. On the other hand the BBC has no duty to market Nigeria and its beauties, if we don’t market, and by we, I mean our epileptic non-government which grows fat on the flesh of children and distracts us by fomenting strife among those who should join together and kick the unmentionables out of office and existence. 

This link is a letter written by the Nigerian High Commission to the UK addressed to BBC. The letter laments the fact that the BBC did not set itself up as an advertising agency for the work that Fashola is doing. In addition to these sort of presumptuous statements, the letters contains such elementary errors as substituting the word “slums” with “slumps” and “scanvage” instead of “scavenge.” The second example clearly showing that, the high commissions computer either does not have spell-check or the 'Seke' doesn’t know how to use it. (The latter reason is most likely as he/she probably got the job as per who-you-know and not what-you-know. In this case not much.) The letter says that this documentary is a distortion of life in Lagos. And thereby they deny the existence of a large percentage of the population of Lagos, and the rights they have to a better society to be provided by our inept, inadequate and demented government. 

Of all the sinners at the table of W2Lag; BBC, Nigerians and the Nigerian Government; the greatest sinner in my opinion (as you may have surmised from my restrained descriptions) is the Nigerian government. The government’s reaction to the documentary is irrational, illogical and moronic. As for BBC, they do what they want to do and always get away with it, but in this instance they seemed to have inadvertently captured the hearts and lives of people we will hardly ever see on international TV, evoking with clean cinematography and an almost flawless soundtrack the complicated nature of lives and dreams of SOME people in Lagos. Maybe we should not ask a biased, ex-colonial for more than that, after all “Nous ne sommes plus leur singes.” And as for until we learn and are able and free to tell our own stories, it is to the Esthers, Vocal Slenders and Zagedes that we look to, to speak our heart, to tell of our realities and to be to the world, the real Nigeria.

Stronger Than Hate

The history of humanity seems to be defined by human eyes 

looking away... 

Looking away from dead bodies floating in the water, 

Looking away from p
eople trapped in steel cans, 

Looking away from dead bodies, 

Looking away from people turned to blood and bone, 

Looking away from people turned smoke and dust

Looking away, looking away from dead bodies... 

Always we look away, turn away, go on with our day, 

Guard jealously our plate...leave them to their fate... 

Let's leave them to their fate, 

They died long before, 

Long before their breathing ceased,

Long before their blood was shed,

Long before the bombs and the fire,

Long before the waters bore them away,

They died from indifference much stronger than hate.