There was this wonderful story in the June issue of The Readers Digest about Joseph Lekuton, a 35 year-old Kenyan teacher at The Langley School, McLean, Virginia.
Very proud of his heritage, this young man has created an interesting tradition in his community. Since 1996, he has been taking some American families on his summer trips to Kenya. Through this indirect tourism project, huge hard currency is not only flowing into the country through him, the rich cultures of his people are also being projected to the outside world. On each trip, the wealthy Americans are so highly impressed as to look beyond the poverty in the land to appreciate, respect and learn about the great, value-based Mazai civilization.
On one such trip, Lekuton reportedly asked his guests a very thought-provoking question: “what is civilization? Are people who live in mansions in McLean more civilized than my mom, who lives in a cow-dung hut?”
This question and indeed the entire story were so touching that I couldn’t help dispatching a letter to the editor, proffering answers to the question. Incidentally, so excited was the editor about my comment that he called to inform me of his decision to publish it.
This story came as a breath of fresh air in this part of the world where nothing positive is ever shown or reported in the prejudiced media about the Sub-Saharan African continent. The only issues that interest the Western Media are the wild-life reservations, HIV/AIDS victims and the civil wars in nations such as Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia.
For example, when Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel peace prize, her story was barely mentioned in the mainstream American media. It took the Black-oriented media to treat her story with the importance it deserved.
For those in the West, negative projections on Africa serve a very veritable purpose. In the United States, for instance, the homeless, the hungry and the poverty-stricken members of the society and especially among the minorities only have to view or read about the “African jungles” and they’ll forever be grateful to be Americans.
It’s therefore not surprising that many Americans don’t even know that there are modern cities in Africa. At a personal level, there has been a manifestation of this abject ignorance in the e-mails I get almost everyday and at almost every book signing and speaking engagement where I have been privileged to talk about my literary novel, The Price of a Reckless Past.
Ironically, while Africans had been the projected primary audience for the book, the greatest patronage enjoyed by the book so far has been among the Americans (Blacks, Whites and Hispanics) and Europeans. One can therefore understand the type of questions and observations that have been coming my way.
In fact, one of the most frequently-asked-questions that I had to deal with recently was over the setting of the book. Many of these non-African readers thought it was a figment of my imagination. They just couldn’t believe in the existence of skyscrapers, airports, clubs and other trappings of modern society even in the 21st Century Africa.
At a stage, I was forced to ask my audiences if they had expected some cave-age settings in the book. I also wondered if they had been looking forward to read about a bunch of African savages in the book. But of course, one could not blame them entirely for a genuine ignorance that stemmed largely from (1) what they have been used to reading in some other African literatures and (2) what they have been seeing on Discovery channel etc.
And while the Western media are determined to dish out negative information about Africa, it’s quite a shame that some Africans, mostly Nigerians have also been making considerable contributions in this direction. Their usual excuse is the need to criticize our leaders. This in itself is a civic duty we all need to perform in a bid to keep our leaders on their toes. Except that in the process, the overzealous critics are often distracted by some ulterior motives. Consequently and most of the time, they end up throwing the baby away with the bath water.
In the case of Nigeria, we can’t deny the fact that it had been a victim of bad leadership in the past. But neither can we, in all sense of responsibility, pretend to be unaware of the emerging crop of energetic, self-less and incorruptible leaders at the elms of our political
, economic and social affairs. It’s just so unfortunate that the large pile of rot is so overwhelming as to almost overshadow the salvaging efforts being made.
One major obstacle that stands tall in the way of our nation’s quest for growth is corruption. But fortunately and, for once in the history of the nation, we finally have a leadership that is determined to do battle with the cancerous problem of corruption even as endemic as it appears.
And instead of looking for scapegoats among the poor little guys in the society, the leadership has been demonstrating its seriousness by going after the big human termites. So far, the dragnets have caught up with some erring cabinet ministers, senators and even the Inspector General of Police.
Incidentally, we Africans are no longer alone in our quest for developmental growth. International rock and movie stars such as Bob Geldof (of 1985 Live Aid fame), Bono of U2 band, Will Smith, Pat Robertson, Brad Pitt, P. Diddy, George Clooney and several others have embarked upon what they call a campaign for Africa.
In the past few days, these mega stars have been busy on behalf of the African people. While Bono met with the European Commission on June 9, 2005, Geldof is organizing series of concerts and a “Walk to Scotland” where leaders of the G-8 nations are meeting. The ultimate objective here is to campaign for the cancellation of African debts, seek end to hunger and pave way for growth strategies to yield fruits.
And good enough, on Saturday, June 11, 2005, the G-8 nations did resolve to cancel more than $40 billion owed by 18 Third world nations. While 14 of these nations are in Africa, 9 other African nations are also slated for consideration.
The practical efforts of these stars have therefore paid off handsomely. This is all the more noble as these super-stars neither owe Africa any obligation nor have they got anything at stake in Africa. Yet, they have proudly identified with the yearnings and aspirations of the continent.
They could have conveniently joined the ranks of other international figures that are only good at denigrating the African continent. Worse, they could have chosen to be like the typical Nigerian arm-chair critics whose only contribution to the growth of Motherland is the running of their mouths without any attempt at concrete actions.
A few days ago, one such Nigerian went as far as writing an article in a British newspaper to protest against the efforts of the international stars. He did not only condemn the selfless efforts of these individuals but also used the opportunity to launch into the usual sweeping diatribes (for which his ilk is known) against all African leaders. Yet, not even once did he offer an alternative avenue for the economic emancipation of our continent.
What this man failed to realize is that Geldof, Bono and the other stars already knew about the bad leadership that once reigned all over the continent. But they are also fully aware of the past political, economic and social roles played by the G-8 nations in pushing Africa to its present precipice. Just a couple of days ago, an American senator was quoted saying that he was dazzled by Bono’s astute knowledge of domestic issues and international affairs at a recent meeting between the two.
These are intelligent individuals who know about the various African depots of old who were propped up by the same G-8 nations. Moreover, they know about the neo-colonialism that the World Bank and IMF represented while advancing those shady loans to ensnare the mineral-rich, but poorly managed African nations. And finally, the stars know about the activities of a country like Switzerland who Professor Fafunwa has aptly described as the most corrupt nation in the world. Yes, by accepting stolen goods to grow fat, Switzerland is as guilty, if not more, of corruption as the primary looters of the African wealth.
It’s worth stating here therefore that by campaigning for Africa, those superstars are not really begging for crumbs on behalf of Africans. Rather, they are appealing to the consciences of those who contributed in no small way, to the present plight of the Sub-Saharan African continent.
In the meantime, it’s very convenient for the Amnesty International (A.I.), Transparency International and other so-called international monitoring agencies to pass moral judgments on Africa. One might wish to ask why these agencies never find it necessary to confront some G-8 nations over their adverse roles in Africa. From the scrambling/partitioning years to the divide & rule strategies of the cold war era and the many proxy wars they financed in a bid to gain access to cheap or free mineral resources.
Trust Americans, they will never tolerate a negative critique of their nation by foreign individuals or groups. The first rule in the U.S. is never tell an American what to do! Amnesty International is still reeling from the backlash of its recent “Gulag report” on America. Even those who passionately hate President Bush and his policies have united with their arch-enemies in the far right to condemn the A.I. for having the audacity to paint their Fatherland so “negatively”.
Ironically, this is the same A.I. along with several other “monitoring” agencies whose negative reports on Nigeria are not only celebrated but echoed for months by some Nigerian public commentators. The only time these chronically cynical individuals disputed a report was when the Nigerian people were found to be the happiest in the world. The Nigerian cynics did not only call for the heads of the agency personnel but also cried and agonized over this report for months!
Only very recently, the spurious report of an agency that is never known to exist in the intelligence community attracted jubilation among the Nigerian cynics. And what’s the cause for jubilation? The report predicted the disintegration of our nation! Even when the American authorities later debunked the report, our dear critics insisted that it was the disclaimer and not the report that was wrong!
This therefore brings one to the difference between the Kenyan whose story appeared in the Readers’ Digest and the Nigerian cynics in the diasporas. While the former is dedicated in his own “little” way to contribute toward the growth of his country, the latter has no contribution to make except to diminish and, if possible, invoke Armageddon on their country.
Interestingly, these Nigerians are often referred to as “elites”. But what type of elites will, for ethnic, economic and personal reasons, embark on a career of assaulting their nation with self-immolating prejudices and stereotypes? And these individuals still hold on tight to their Nigerian passports, with no plans to renounce their citizenship of the nation they disparage so much. Nigeria can go up in flames for all they care! And this because their immediate family members are with them in the diasporas—–in foreign lands where they will forever be referred to as “those African immigrants!”
In spite of the impoverished state of his own ancestral homeland, a Kenyan citizen could still identify one positive aspect of his country for which he is so proud as to propagate. But wither the Nigerian cynics in the diasporas? Are they so blind with prejudice that they never see anything good to be proud of in their nation—–from the North to the South and from the East to the West—–nothing at all to showcase to the outside world besides constant whining?
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