In my response to “Africans: The Way The World Works,” I did not discount or minimize the negative impact slavery and colonialism has had on the African continent. The central argument of my essay was simply this:
“…In as much as I agree that slavery, exploitation, and colonialism in all its forms is evil, inhumane, sinful and injurious — we have had time to correct some of the imbalances and injustices…to suggest or to blame the West for all that ills the continent is simply not fair and correct. Africans have a hand in the destruction of their own land. Colonialism and slavery (alone) is not responsible for Africa’s woes. And so Africans must take responsibility for their own lives…” Please see: “Africa and the World: Responding to Paul Adujie”
For this, Mr. E. Terfa Ula-Lisa joined issues with me. And he especially took umbrage at my suggestion that Africans should stop “playing victim.”
Must a man or a nation or a continent that is beaten to the ground remain on the ground and wallow in self-pity? Must we Africans use the injustices and the atrocities committed against us as an excuse for bad leadership? Must we continue to point to the wickedness of a time “long gone” as the reason why we have a continent that is troubled, conflicted and vastly underdeveloped; must we allow the events of a time that once was to cloud our judgment and our vision?
Is Terfa Ula-Lisa attributing the dearth of leadership in Nigeria to slavery and colonialism? I wonder! Well, see his response to my rejoinder: “A Reply to Sabella Abidde’s response to Paul Adujie on Development Problems in Africa.” This blame game, this blame the West game is nothing but an excuse on the part of Africans and African leaders for their poor leadership and bad managerial skills.
There is no better way to paint most of the leaders Africa have had since the early years of her independence: they were lazy, corrupt, and spineless. Most were. And even today, most are spineless, corrupt and lazy! What is Nigeria but a country “governed by third-rate leaders who, along with their cronies, have plundered the nation’s wealth and ruined the country’s institutions; a country that has managed to curtail her people’s aspiration and possibilities; a country that assassinates her best and brightest and encourages an atmosphere of fear and death? Nigeria, we all know, is a country that does not provide public goods and services for the vast majority of the populace.”
Africa is not a peculiar continent. Everything that has ever happened in Africa has happened elsewhere. Slavery? Wars? Colonialism? Natural or man-made disasters? Ethnic conflicts? Corruption? You name it and it has happened in other places, too. But while other continents seems to be getting their houses in order, things seems to be adrift in our own continent. Nothing works. And there is a pronounced disconnect between the government and the vast majority of the people. Why, for instance, is it taking Ethiopia a quarter century or so to recover from food and water shortage?
There are those who complain that corrupt government functionaries, along with transnational corporations and foreign governments colludes to do African countries in. This may be true. If we didn’t have corrupted governments would these external interests force African governments to do their biddings all the time and on every issue? The national security interest of a country is of paramount importance. But not so in Africa where government functionaries would as soon sell off their country and their people for personal gains.
Our leaders find ways to weaken or corrupt our institutions; they manipulate the poor and the uneducated; they play regional and sectional politics; they are masters of ethnic and religious politics; they draw no boundary between public and private interests thereby illegally enriching themselves; they have no respect for human life and human dignity; and they rely on coercive agencies to do their biddings. And in so doing become masters of survival strategies and strategies of survival and of divide-and-rule. All of the aforesaid have caused unmitigated sorrow. Dreams are lost and hopes are diminished.
Men like Nelson Mandela, Murtala Mohammed, Thabo Mbeki, Jerry Rawlings, Mohammed Buhari and a few others give us hope. As Africans, we can pull ourselves out of the “leadership shit” we put ourselves in. We can do it, but not by blaming others. Can you imagine how post-Apartheid South Africa would have turned out without Mandela? Or imagine where Nigeria would have been today without Sanni Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida at the helm of state?
Whether you conduct historical analysis, institutional analysis or any type of systemic research, you will come to the same conclusion: the problem of Africa is mostly about leadership and not about slavery and colonialism.
And so when friends and colleagues like Paul Adujie and Terfa Ula-Lisa speaks of the twin-evil of colonialism and slavery as being the root cause — and perhaps the only cause of Africa’s underdevelopment — my reaction is to vigorously say, “No, no, no…that’s not all of it!” Find capable and purposeful leaders and all other things will fall in place. It may take a while; but we will almost immediately notice the difference between a purposeful and committed leadership and leadership that is adrift, lazy and corrupt.
It is all right to “complain of the effect of slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism.” And why not? After all it is part of our history and experience. But please do not dwell on it. What has happened has happened. It is time to move on. Our most recent history, most recent reality and most recent ex
perience are that Africa has a problem with leadership and development issues. Once we were “slaves”…once we were “victims.” But no more!