Is Africa doomed to failure?

Let’s begin with a quote from a French anthropologist, Stephen Smith, who declared that: “Since independence, Africa has been working at its re-colonization. In any case, even if this was not the intention, it couldn’t have done a better job. The continent is doomed to failure. No one is ready to take it on.” Shocking? On the surface, yes, but when you go deeper into the facts, you might discover that it possesses some truth in it. Enough with blaming everything on the back of colonization! Though I am fully aware of the deep scar colonization has left on the African psyche. Taking responsibility can only make us improve. If Africans don’t change their mindset, they are definitely “doomed to failure.” There is myriad of examples to back my point. One day, I was at the Hilton Hotel in Yaoundé, Cameroon – the poshest hotel in the country. A Cameroonian person casually dressed tried to go in the hotel, but he was stopped at the gate and turned away by his countrymen. The reason was that he wasn’t dressed up enough to be accepted inside. A couple of minutes later, a French man dressed in rags came and the doorkeepers bowed to him and let him in. Why? Well, because he was a French man, so he was entitled.

Gaston Kelman is a Cameroonian writer who lives in France. He is now a French citizen. He is also the manager of a development company. He took some of his employees – who are white French citizen – to his village. When they got there, the villagers rolled out the red carpet for the white French men and ignored him. As he tried to introduce his employees, folks interrupted him and said that he should shut up because he had nothing to tell them, but that he should let the white men talk. They believed that nothing truthful could come out of a black man’s mouth, just like the proverb in my village that says that “only the truth comes out of a white man’s mouth.”

There are many examples of self-discrimination in the day-to-day lives of many Africans. Some still think that they cannot take care of themselves. The leaders, after embezzling public funds, point an accusing finger at the West. Now that they have been sufficiently bullied by their bosses in the West, they are turning to China. Guinea’s late president, Lansana Conte, was praising China in 2006 in these words: “There’s no one like the Chinese! At least they work. They live with us in the mud. Some of them grow rice like me. I gave them a worn-out piece of land. You should see what they have done with it!” The old man’s face was so bright and looked like he was rejuvenating while he was mentioning those words. In the same line, the former Nigerian president, Obasanjo, said that it was time for China to lead the world and it was in Africa’s best interest to follow China. African leaders are so excited about China taking over the continent. In their views, China is the savior who is going to save them against the bullying West. More importantly, China doesn’t put its nose in their politics and governance like the West does. Sassou Nguesso, the president of Congo-Brazzaville, pointed out that as opposed to what the West is selling, Africa doesn’t need democracy, but Africa needs development. I wonder if democracy and development are exclusive or inclusive.

Everywhere in Africa now, little Africans are learning Chinese with such frenzy, but their counterparts have nothing to do with local languages. It seems to be a done deal now; even some prominent officials from the West admit that Africa has gone East. An American diplomat in Brazzaville said bluntly that: “God bless the Chinese. They build roads and dams, and quite frankly we don’t have what it takes to do those things anymore. All we can do is give English classes and try to sell our technology.” Okay, Africa is a market, I mean a big cake, but where are our leaders in all that? What role do they play? To cut a cake, you need a knife and a hand to hold the knife. Are our leaders conscious of where they really want to take the continent? I am all for the cooperation with China, but shouldn’t there be some kind of guidelines? Granted, they are hardworking people, but when they overpower the little street cleaner or cart pusher who rely on that to feed his family of ten, shouldn’t the government do something? Should we trust the Chinese? We have been deceived many times in the past. The Europeans also came as saviors, with their big bibles, as the messengers of God. They asked us to get rid of everything that defined us: totems, talisman, ancestors and beliefs, they said we were worshiping Satan. Then, they began to build churches and schools, and before we knew it, we were colonized. Desmond Tutu said it best: “When the Europeans came, we had the land, and they had the bible. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes, and when we opened our eyes, they had the land, and we had the bible.” They effectively applied the MMM: Merchants, Missionaries, Militaries. Now we have the Chinese proposing cooperation only in the field of development, and they let our leaders messing up with national revenues. What are their long-term goals? We endured the atrocities of the West; what would be China’s punishment? Poor Africa, where are your protectors? Why do they let you be ripped apart with no mercy?

Oh, children of Africa, we are to blame too. Traditional Africa is dying! Where are those values that saw me grow up? Sharing, nurturing and caring, what have they become? Empathizing and sympathizing with our neighbors, gathering under the big Baobab or around the fire to tell stories and congratulate each other on our achievements, where has that feeling gone? One’s success was the pride of the whole community, but not anymore. Why? We do know what is wrong with the continent, why don’t we fix it? All we have now is jealousy: if you do better than I do, I will kill you; instead of I will support you like we did before. If your child does better than mine, I will poison him; instead of I will bless him like we did before. All we have now is witchcraft: if your child is smarter than mine in school, I will eat her in witchcraft; instead of I will give her a present like we did before.

We used to be good in communication, because of our oral tradition. Oral communication was our faire valoir. Now, we are left with poor communication. We never get to say what we think. We conceal the truth and give poor directives, because we want others to fail. We used to be good and understanding, but now we lack understanding badly. We create unhealthy working environment and refuse to be in others’ shoes, because we don’t want them to succeed. Extremist tendencies were foreign to us, but now we lack affirmation; either we underestimate ourselves, or we overestimate ourselves and become arrogant and inefficient. We lack vision and we are professionally short-sighted sometimes. We have become unabashedly egocentric. We think of us first before thinking of the others. We don’t want to give room to our successors, just like our leaders who have been in power for decades and don’t want to go.

This is what we need. We need to radically change our mentalities: believing in magic doesn’t develop the country, tribalism doesn’t build the nation, colonial mentality doesn’t strengthen the state. The help we receive from developed countries is not the solution. Needless to say where that help ends up. Furthermore, we are just having fish and don’t learn how to fish. Let’s stop being leeches. Our solution would not come from outside, it would come from within ourselves. We need a new leader who will train and change mentalities. Mentality of dependence is our real poverty. Our continent is rich, let no one tell you the contrary; but we as people are poor mentally. We should think about what we can do for our continent and not the other way around. Knowledge is the base. We should hungrily look for knowledge. We should build skills. We should build capacities. We should learn how to manage information. We must develop an entrepreneurial spirit. We should set high standards. Let’s not forget that it took centuries for some developed countries to develop.

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