The reality of what we are doing to one another is explosive. The secret content of our lives is terrifying. There is much to scream about. There are great pollulating lies and monsters running around in the seabed of our century. […]
Something is needed to wake us from the frightening depths of our moral sleep.
Ben Okri, The Human Race Is Not Yet Free.
This essay is my endeavor to contribute a critical thought on Gidaland. I do so in hope this plagued land might be healed.
Before I begin may I humbly suggest you pour yourself a mug of tea or coffee; a glass of wine or, my favorite, cognac and tuck yourself into bed and prop your head with fluffy pillows; or, if any of these is your preference, recline your reading chair, or push yourself comfortably into your sofa, and charmingly beg your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend; the sons, the daughters to indulge you some time alone, and surrender yourself to The Thoughts of A Man Who Recently Reunited With His Destiny. I promise you it will not take too long—you should tell your family this; it will help ensure they leave you alone and undisturbed for the time it will take to read. And let me say this beforehand. In this age where time to nurture the mind, the spirit is increasingly scarce, I thank you, and your family too, for allotting some of your precious time to read my essay.
I would like to begin by acknowledging this essay benefited tremendously from numerous conversations with Òdodo regarding Gidaland’s tribulation in particular, the human condition in general. Moreover, his writings have profoundly affected me, and inspired and greatly informed this essay; specifically, his thoughtful essay, The Two Kinds of Persons.
I begin with notes on myself.
I am a man who recently achieved a self-transformation and thereby reunited myself with my destiny as indicated by my name.
My name, Jéjélayé, roughly translates: gentle, the life (live life gently). In our culture we believe a name suggests the innate nature of the bearer, and this nature will manifest in his or her earthly demeanor. Thus, implicit in my name is this: I was destined to be a happy-go-lucky, humble person. My earthly demeanor as the dictatorial ruler of Gidaland, and an actor in the drama of global domination (popularly called, international politics) all these years clearly proves I had abandoned my destiny. But that is in the past, for, as I say, I have reunited with my destiny.
For some time, more so since my transformation, I have been intensely reflective. At no point in my life have I been so intellectually challenged. My pondering led to an itchy desire to offer my thoughts on the agonizing human condition in Gidaland, one result of which is this essay.
Although my name is Jéjélayé, They call me the “Sphinx.” Who are they? I use they as a collective designation for those who call themselves Gidaland’s intellectuals. Their self-imposed calling is to engage in social criticism. They accuse me of being a despot. They call me a Beast. They say I am immoral, ruthless, selfish, cunning, domineering . . . They say I am abusing my power by hindering the freedom of our people, their human rights, their dreams, causing them great suffering. They say I am mismanaging Gidaland’s affairs and finances, enriching my allies and myself in the process. They say I have engendered a society plagued with widespread corruption, economic mismanagement, political fraud, lawlessness . . . Nothing that happens in Gidaland misses their criticism. Being intellectuals, and having appointed themselves promoters of Freedom and public spiritedness, I suppose they have the right to opine their thoughts on Gidaland’s socio-economic-political and ethical life.
I am not disputing their accusations. I am guilty of all they accuse me. I acknowledge they are doing the moral thing by denouncing me for my dictatorial leadership and deplorable deeds. What I disagree with is their identifying me as the cause of Gidaland’s plagued existence because what that essentially mean is this: they are accusing me of being the clog in Gidaland’s wheels of progress. And in that respect, they are mistaken, grossly mistaken. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a critical mistake to think me an impediment to Gidaland’s progress. Why do I believe so?
The truth of the matter is I am a symptom of Gidaland’s social illness, not its cause. And, immoral I am not. I am a man of God. I admit I have not always allowed my sense of morality to inform my thoughts and influence my actions. It is true I am cunning and ruthless in my dealings with our people, be they civilians, or civic-minded members of the Military. How else is one to ensure obedience, and preserve one’s rule? How else is one to deal with opponents who refuse the riches one is willing to bestow them? What better way to deal with them if not by crushing them? Cruelty becomes one’s most reliable ally; one is compelled to fully utilize it. Cruelty, will and caprice are indispensable traits of a despotic leader; without them he cannot survive. (And I should mention this: we often fail to point out, especially when denouncing despots, that we all have the innate capacity for those traits.) A despotic leader must be cruel, he must be able to assert and execute his will and caprice in order to silence the opposition and to keep his people fearful. Our intellectuals should have pondered and realized this is what a despot does, what a despot is compelled to do to survive. They should have understood that, to maintain the domination of his people instilling fear in them is indispensable to a despot. And what is a better way to instill fear in one’s people if not ruling willfully, capriciously, cruelly?
Gidaland’s intellectuals are highly educated, and well-informed. They comprise writers, social critics, lawyers, judges, university professors… Accordingly, one would think they are familiar with thoughts on the issue of despotism and despots, and realize I, a despot, am able to rule Gidaland despotically because it is a despotic country, a jungle. (Although it has not always been so. I will explain what I mean shortly.) And because it is unthinkable they are not familiar with literature on despotism and despots, I must conclude they have opted to ignore such work. That would explain why they always espouse passionate criticisms that identify me the cause of Gidaland’s plagued existence, which, essentially, amounts to shallow thinking, babbling, a fervent display of passion to “right the wrong” in Gidaland.
Besides identifying me the cause of Gidaland’s problems and denouncing me for them, Gidaland’s intellectuals, and foreign critics of Africa, wrongly affirm these are what impedes Africa’s development: corruption; tribalism; nepotism; military dictatorship; (assumed) lack of democracy; controlled-economy . . . That is simply not true. Besides military regimes, African countries have “democratic” governments. Where has it led us? It has led us backward, not forward; we are regressing, not progressing. And dare I say nepotism, corruption, controlled-economy are extant in many countries and governments all over the world, even in prosperous Europe and North America . . .
So, Gidaland’s intellectuals are greatly mistaken. My rejoinder to their criticisms of me is this: Wake up! Revolutionize your thoughts! Start thinking profoundly! Why? Because your thoughts are shallow, no more than a passionate display of your sense of justice, no more than a showy display of your intellectual ability. What do I mean by “thinking profoundly”? It is time you realize I am not Gidaland’s fundamental enemy. It is time you realize I am not the clog in Gidaland’s wheels of progress. Nor is it the factors foreign critics of Africa affirm. I say to you, and your peers all over the world who have made African Affairs their area of focus: it is time all of you realize Gidaland’s fundamental enemy, Africa’s fundamental enemy, is invisible but nonetheless real, like a deadly virus hidden deep within the body, slowly consuming it. It is time all of you realize Gidaland’s fundamental enemy; the intangible but nonetheless real enemy of its progress; the real clog in its wheels of progress; the non-material deadly virus consuming it is its historical reality. It has made a jungle of Gidaland; it explains its dog-eat-dog existence.
Gidaland’s historical reality and its role in making Gidaland a jungle of a society is the thought provoking issue Gidaland’s intellectuals and their peers all over the world should have raised, and be pondering rather than squandering their intellectual energy denouncing me, advocating my removal from Gidaland’s leadership, proclaiming it must be done “at all cost because historically despots have not been known to relinquish power without the ardent struggle of the people.” My dear critics seem not to comprehend Gidaland’s historical reality engendered its plagued existence. All they do is criticize me no end. They delight in arguing for my demise as the panacea for ending Gidaland’s suffering, as if all would be well if I were to abdicate leadership, and we were to institute a “democratic” government forthwith . . .
Let me now discuss what I mean by Gidaland’s historical reality and how its jungle existence is explained by it.
Because it is fundamental to human existence I begin with the issue of worldview.
As Òdodo in our heady conversations and in his writings often refers to it, by worldview I mean the cosmogony-cosmology of a people, which Òdodo often calls a story. I prefer to call it a worldview; they are essentially the same. When Òdodo says a people is the Story it tells itself on [about] Existence, he means a people is essentially its worldview. That is, the story that people tell to explain the origin of the universe, to make sense of the world. I totally agree with him.
From the vantage point of today, we now know, should know, this: the worldview of a people is the root of that people’s culture. The worldview of a people is that which informs, influences and orders that people’s way of life—the visible social, economic, political philosophies, and ethics and religion of that society. The Way of Life is the visible superstructure, the worldview is the invisible substructure that holds and supports it, without which it will collapse. Here is a useful illustration:
Way of Life (visible)
Therefore, a worldview should also be understood as a psychological armor that enables a people to engage Existence, to live, to endure. It should be understood as a practical and cultural necessity that identifies and maintains a people as a cultural entity, informs and influences its existence, and from which it derives its unique culture and ethics for organizing its society, without which society is impossible.
From the vantage point of today we also now know, should know, this: the battle of worldviews is what wholly and truly explains human history to date . . .
Human beings (a people) need a worldview so as to make sense of the world, to endure. The people of Gidaland are, of course, no exception to this. Therefore, we have indigenous worldview regarding how the world came to be, the nature of God, the relation of God to Man and His relationship with Man, the nature of Man, what the destiny of Man is, how He must live, the relationship of Man to Man, what constitutes the “good life” . . . It is our indigenous worldview that used to inform, influence and order our indigenous way of life that we derived from it.
In light of the foregoing idea of worldview I now turn to a discussion of its relevance to Gidaland’s historical reality and how its jungle existence is explained by it.
A jungle has its operative logic that informs, influences and orders its existence. Willfulness, selfishness, cunningness, cruelty, caprice are prevailing traits in the jungle. They are the jungle’s operative traits, the behavioral foundation of its existence. Their prevalence exposes the precariousness of survival in the jungle . . .
A country where despots and despotism thrives is a territory tantamount to a jungle. Thus, a system of overt and covert despotism caused and maintained by fear, insecurity and self-preservation, and an inclination for control reign supreme in such a country. Therefore, blaming a person in such a country as responsible for the jungle existence, as our intellectuals do me, betrays a lack of understanding of the workings of the jungle . . .
Gidaland today is a jungle, although it has not always been so. The majority of those with whom, and those through whom, I rule Gidaland have jungle mentality—myself included, of course, but that was before my transformation. Their traits are those of the jungle. They are willful, selfish, cruel, cunning, corrupt, capricious. All are indispensable traits in our business of domination in the jungle territory, the dog-eat-dog, the Darwinian society Gidaland is, and in which our distressed people live, struggling daily to stay alive.
How did Gidaland become a jungle?
Gidaland is a society in transition. By transition I mean a period in which a society shifts from its indigenous worldview and the way of life derived from it to a foreign worldview and way of life. The transition could be willed from within the society itself or imposed by external agents. The indigenous societies of Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Australia and the South Seas are examples of societies whose ongoing transition was imposed by external agents/ factors—their so-called discovery by Europe.
It is in a society’s transitional phase that the jungle comes into being, then flourishes and proliferates . . .
For Gidaland, the transition occurred from one of a society founded on a harmonious, indigenous worldview—the “animistic”-magico-religious worldview—to the cacophonous one of today, in which the remains of our indigenous, “animistic” worldview exists alongside a trio of foreign worldviews: the Islamic, the Christian, the “rational-scientific”. The transition was not willed and induced by our people, but willed and imposed cunningly, brutally by the outside world . . .
Gidaland became a jungle when the outside world “discovered” it. That is what I mean by Gidaland’s historical reality. Gidaland’s jungle existence today is the sad reality its contact with the outside world has made of it.
The outside world “discovered” Gidaland and set about supplanting our indigenous worldview from which we had derived our indigenous culture, and in accordance with which we had organized our indigenous way of life, which had sustained us for millennia. That effectively ended our erstwhile autonomous existence. It was a three-prong attack. The Arabs told us their Islamic worldview, and, with the sharp edges of their swords grazing our throats, forcibly converted a multitude of our people to the Islamic faith. The Occidentals deemed us barbarian, idol worshippers; their “Christian missionaries” told us their Christian worldview and cunningly, brutally converted a multitude of our people to the Christian faith. Their secular counterparts, the “scientific explorers”, exploited, and continue to exploit our natural resources. Contrary to their claim, they did not introduce us to science and the scientific method; they introduced us to their “rational-scientific” worldview. (They did not introduce us to science because long before the Occidentals “discovered” us, our ancestors were science-literate and were master-practitioners of the Trial and Error process characteristic of the scientific method, the distinguishing characteristic of which is collecting data, analyzing it and deducing Knowledge from the process. That Africans were a millennium ago smelting iron in internal combusting furnaces to produce iron implements is one example that testifies to this. Many more examples abound if you care to investigate ancient civilizations in Africa.)
With the systematic inculcation of the Islamic, the Christian and the “rational-scientific” worldviews in our people, our indigenous worldview and way of life—our Lifeline—was forcibly displaced, tactlessly cut off and replaced with those of the foreign worldviews. They made Allah and Jesus Christ and Reason our new God. They disrobed us and attired us in caftans and turbans. Attired us in white robes and crucifixes. Attired us in suffocating suits and ties. They gave us new names. Koranic names. Biblical names. Named us after their names for the days of the week, astrological names: Sunday, Monday, Friday. They twisted our tongues with their language. They bended our minds, re-oriented our thought process and thinking, our sense of justice, morality and fair play. Thus, we became cultural-amphibians. They turned us against one another. Brothers fought and conquered brothers. Sisters yelled and spat at sisters. Sons disobeyed mothers. Daughters disobeyed fathers. Mothers, the pillar of our existence, were deposed from their rightful place at the head of the family, accused of being temptresses, ordered to conceal themselves from neck to ankle, relegated to the back room, the kitchen, ordered to serve men thenceforth, and thus they invented Women. They replaced our indigenous shrines with mosques, and with churches. They replaced our oral tradition, whereby our customs, and our knowledge of the world were passed on from the old to the young, with their written tradition and through it taught their customs and knowledge of the world to us in “colleges.” They replaced our hands-on approach to acquiring skills, whereby our trades and crafts were taught by our masters at them to apprentices, with their theoretical approach and through it taught their trades and crafts to us in “technical schools”. They replaced our communal courtyards with member-only country clubs. They replaced our judicial system with the court of Sharia Law, the court of Confession and the court of “Rational” Law. (I recall Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart.) Our pantheons and cultural artifacts that embody our indigenous worldview, tell our history, testify to our glorious ancient civilization, were hoarded and shipped to Europe. Many of them would later show up in museums in Europe and North America. I recall Ben Okri’s poem, Lament of the Images; especially this stanza:
They took some images
And brought them across
The whitening seas
And stored them in
For later study
Of the African’s
Dark and impenetrable
They called them ‘Primitive objects’
And subjected them
To the milk