People often talk about Africa and its problems and offer (clichéd) explanations for it. The most helpful explanations are the ones that are the least talked about and when they are, they are quickly glossed over.
The other day, I was thinking about one interesting trend in our country which is the way Nigerian public office holders, including those at the presidential level, always fly off to foreign countries for medical services when they are in need of them. Here is the question: if they believe that Nigeria lacks capable doctors (which of course it doesn’t) why don’t they just fly in these wonderful foreign doctors over to Nigeria with all their medical equipment and everything? I’m sure these wealthy rogues are quite capable of doing that. Why do they prefer adding more shame to their country by constantly flying abroad for something they could easily import over to their own country even if it is only to serve themselves? It almost seems to be a badge of honor among Nigerian politicians, just as it is among the regular citizenry, to be able to say that they “went abroad”. If they could, they would prefer to live in another country, especially the ones where they have stashed their spoils, than live in the same country they have destroyed.
Regarding the “electorate” themselves, it often seems that there is no limit to the level of abuse that Nigerians can take from their leaders. Having to walk like circus acrobats on the edges of mud-filled gutter streets. Driving on “roads” with enormous potholes. Endless spells of darkness coupled with noise and air pollution caused by generators. Even with the knowledge that the government is colluding with foreign companies that sell generators to keep Nigeria in darkness – a piece of knowledge that many ordinary Nigerians possess – they still fail to be driven to violent rage against their government. They would rather flee to other countries than deal with the very people causing the problem despite the ubiquity and accessibility of such people. They would rather suffer all day long under rain and intense heat in front of foreign embassies than take out their anger on their government officials. They would prefer to risk their lives by crossing the Sahara or stowing away in ships headed for Europe than risk their lives by killing at least one of these hoodlums reigning anywhere from the local government level to the federal level.
When I talk about taking action against these government officials I do not have in mind the act of staging demonstrations. That sort of activity in this part of the world is tantamount to mass suicide. Furthermore, it is unlikely to result in any sort of acquiescence on the part of the leaders themselves, at least in any significant way. Nevertheless, if people are sufficiently enraged about something, they will inevitably do things that would make the targets of their rage realize that they are living in a very inhospitable and dangerous environment and they will think twice about what they are doing. But this is certainly not what these agbada-adorning rascals feel. On the contrary they feel quite welcome and unthreatened by the citizenry that they are defecating on.
It is obvious that the level of anger Nigerians feel about their situation does not come anywhere close to matching the level of frustration they feel. It is one thing to be unhappy and frustrated about something. It is another thing to be seriously angry about it. Nigerians apparently do not possess such anger. One explanation for this curiosity is that it may be because they are used to it. It is the condition into which they were born and have adapted to. But I do not find this explanation satisfactory. Because it is clear that, far from being comfortably adapted to their circumstance, many, if not most, ordinary Nigerians are acutely aware that it is a very problematic one and that it isn’t the way things are supposed to be. Why else would they be feeling frustration?
One cynical way in which I have sometimes attempted to understand the lack of action and apparent lack of rage on the part of ordinary Nigerians about their situation is what one might call the sex factor. Human beings, like all animals, have an intrinsic desire to survive. In the case of humans, one could say it may be in order to make the best out of themselves in life. But in an inhibitive society that provides few opportunities, kills people’s dreams and extinguishes their potentials, what else is there that makes them want to cling on so much to life? Is it to be married and introduce more and more kids into the quagmire of poverty? For what? My suspicion sometimes is that it is simply because of sex…or the pleasure of it. The prospect of enjoying the greatest and most widely available pleasure that life has to offer (sexual intercourse) is probably what keeps many people moving through life in the midst of abuse and humiliation without doing anything challenging that would jeopardize that prospect. It is in this same way that I have sometimes tried to explain the slavery that took place in the united states. The fact that millions of black men lived day after day, year after year, watching men of another race rape their women as they pleased while faithfully living in servitude to them and (even worse) continuing to produce children for the same white men to exploit is something that boggles the mind. It would seem that as long as the advent of enjoying sex was guaranteed (even if it was only with the least attractive black women that the white slave-owners didn’t particularly want) they were willing to go on living. This is the same phenomenon that goes on even today in America where the humiliation of black males continues in various forms and white males constantly steal their best looking females. Yet black Americans never do anything. They continue to kill each other because they know they will get away with it but they never direct their anger at the very people abusing and humiliating them.
Mind you, when I use the word humiliate I don’t mean that the people I am referring to share this sentiment at least to the degree that I do. It is very likely that they simply don’t find these things all that humiliating if at all. My point is that the enjoyment and prospect of sex has watered down any feeling of humiliation or anger they might otherwise feel given such circumstances. A sexually starved man is an angry man but a sexually gratified man is a pacified one.
Before someone accuses me of slandering my own race, let me make it very clear that I have never believed that this is in any way unique to any particular race. I am talking about certain universal and very unfortunate aspects of human nature.
That brings me to the central point of this discourse. Apart from the natural desire for procreation, there is another internal feature that drives humans and that is the ego. That is the sense of self that each one of us has that enables us to have a sense of pride and self-respect and a developed sense of self interest and self obligation. Human beings often fight, die and kill for their egos. A person’s sense of self and identity is constituted by several external factors, the most potent of which are his kin and his social group. Also, one must not underestimate the role that language plays in establishing a person’s sense of self. Without language one cannot even be self-conscious. Therefore one’s socio-linguistic group plays a predominant part in constituting one’s ego. When a person’s ego, including any of these factors that contribute to it, is harmed, insulted or threatened, that person tends to feel a deep sense of pain and anger. In my estimation, the tendency of humans to defend their egos overrides even the tendency to procreate. At the very least, these two urges are on par with each other and sometimes fight each other over control of a person’s actions. Goi
ng back to the issue of Nigerians and their lethargy in the face of government shenanigans, it is pretty clear that the egos of most of the people that inhabit the piece of land called Nigeria are not much affected by the situation their so-called country is in. They may be irritated and bothered by the situation but it doesn’t hurt, much less wound, their egos.
This is precisely what I think is the biggest and most fundamental problem with Nigeria and most Africa. Nigerians and most Africans do not have states, countries, that correspond to their personal egos. In other words, the countries in which they live are not actual nation-states that match the self-identities of the people inhabiting them. This is a condition that only the African continent suffers from. The rest of the world, from Europe to Asia to the Americas and Australia generally enjoys the natural privilege of having nation states in which the majority of the people share a common identity and the state significantly constitutes the ego of the average citizen. When Italy is insulted, the average Italian will feel the sting deep down because he regards it as an insult to his people, his culture, his language, his heritage and almost everything that makes up his identity. That is why he is willing to shed his blood to defend the dignity of his country Italy, be it from external abuse or internal abuse. His country is his tribe, so to speak. The same thing can be said about most other countries in the world except for the ones in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa. This is why most people in African countries, especially ones like Nigeria (which is one of the worst case scenarios if not the worst), lack a deep sense of patriotism that is essential and fundamental in any political system.
It is no news to many people that colonial administrators such as Lord Luggard severely crippled any chances of African people having meaningful governments dedicated to their interests by creating the countries in the fashion that they did, i.e.: deliberately establishing mutually antagonistic multi-ethnic/multi-national states and calling them ‘countries’ – something they (the Europeans themselves) would never allow anybody to do to them.
People who underestimate just how big of a problem the multi-ethno-linguistic nature of African countries are to the prospect of having good governance and tend to dismiss such sentiments simply have no construction of what the notion of ‘government’ actually means. Governments are formed in early stages of human society to counteract the dangers of a state of nature where everything goes. From tribal bands to chiefdoms to city-states, governments evolve continuously and at the very core are tribal in nature. A government is not a piece of paper by which certain officials must follow certain rules. Human beings make up governments. There is nothing to stop government officials in any country from conspiring together to loot government funds other than just sheer tribalistic patriotism which acts as a powerful check on such practices to the extent that the desire to engage in them do exist. In the absence of such, people in positions where they have access to enormous public funds are likely to do the natural thing which is enrich themselves and their families and enjoy life as best as they can. Furthermore, in societies with fractured identities it is easy to pit the populace against each other and distract attention from one’s thieving bonanza. It is also easy to use the police and military to brutally oppress the citizenry because the men who make up these armed forces feel little kinship with the people they are being set against. This is particularly true in countries like Nigeria where only one of the many ethnic groups dominates the military. (In the case of Nigeria it is made even worse by the fact that it is an ethnic group that is deeply embedded in a retrogressive Islamic culture and generally shuns the ideals of modern progressivism. This is something the British obviously took into account before handing over power to them pre-1960 despite their hypocritical espousal of Christianity and western values to the rest of Nigeria).
In the olden days, many African societies had highly complex, organized and democratic social and governmental systems. Whenever their leaders – kings or chiefs – failed to deliver, they had ways of dealing with them. This, of course, is no longer the case and we have European colonial powers to thank for that. Instead, what we now have are societies where people have lost their national identities and float from day to day in a state of hopelessness and meaninglessness while voicing their frustrations at things that are merely symptoms and not the actual problem which is the very constitution of these countries. Therein lies the biggest tragedy of it all: the fact that most people in Africa – and all over the world for that matter – do not see what the problem is with these countries. Rather they tend to focus on racist reasons such as low intelligence or a penchant for black people to be corrupt (as if Europeans don’t have this penchant themselves). It seems to me that there is a deep seated racism going on in the sub-conscious minds of most people with respect to African people wherein the largely homogenous ethnic nature of most European and Asian countries are conveniently overlooked and formerly heterogeneous ones like Yugoslavia are permitted and even encouraged to break up into true nation states but when it comes to Africa such notions are dismissed out of hand. I believe that what is responsible for this double-standard is the fact that the racism that most people harbor in the minds against African people forbids them from granting the slightest modicum of credence or interest as to their various unique linguistic, cultural and ethnic attributes and permits only a tendency to group them under all-encompassing artificial identities.
The consequences of this situation should not be underestimated. However, the problem is mitigated in many other African countries by the fact that, unlike Nigeria, they are relatively small and easier to manage. Also, the smaller the country is in geographical size, the more likely the different ethnic groups that are embedded within the boundaries are to be historically and culturally familiar with each other. Therefore, most of Nigeria’s African neighbors are much better off than her at least in terms of having a serious chance of improving their condition without breaking up into mono-ethnic states. As mentioned earlier, Nigeria’s case is made even worse by the fact that it is a sort of mini-Sudan where a Sahelian Arab-affiliated ethnic group dominates the country and oppresses the largely Christian southerners. It is mostly southern (and central) Nigerians that suffer from the shame and humiliation of the calamities that have befallen the country. The dominant northern ethnic group are hardly unconcerned and do not care. The southerners (who have been trapped in a western materialistic culture without the prerequisite governmental institutions to meet its demands) are the ones sleeping in front of foreign embassies in their attempts to flee the country. They are the ones suffering from the disrespect and abuse from people in other countries, not the northerners.
One look at the map of West Africa is enough to give one an insight into why Nigeria is in this sort of predicament. Neighboring west African countries that are bordered by the ocean have these Arab-wanabees within their population but they are only a minority and do not rule those countries. The only other one in which they constitute a lion’s share of the population – Guinea – is also one that happens to have being colonized by the French who did not employ the same sort of shenanigans the British employed on their biggest and most evil African project, Nigeria. In Guinea they do not monopolize the army and, in any case, most of the population pract
ices the muslim religion. Although conditions in those other artificial countries are far from perfect and they too have suffered the tyranny of colonialism and neo-colonialism, one positive thing that former French colonies enjoy that fosters more unity among the populace is a common language. Unlike the British, the French chose a direct rule system in their territories that resulted in the French language being spoken by the entire population, both educated and non-educated alike. Nigeria, on the other hand, lacks a common language. The vast majority of Nigerians cannot and do not understand each other. This further exacerbates the already fractured nature of the country.
The spectacle of a human corpse on a Nigerian street as everyone ignores it and walks or drives by it or even over it perfectly captures precisely what the malady is that is afflicting a country like Nigeria. Nigeria is in reality a war zone. A war zone in which no actual war as we conventionally understand it is being fought. There are no bombs being thrown or dropped from the air, no machine gun fire erupting constantly in the streets. The war is going on in the hearts and minds of the people themselves inhabiting the land. Nigeria is a psychological war zone. Only the future will tell if it will one day metamorphosize into an actual physical one. But for now the country exhibits many of the symptoms one would find in a country that is in a long civil war: despair, hopelessness, fear, apathy, quick-tempered violence, incivility, mutual distrust, deep-seated hate, transnational flight leading to refugees all over the world, etc, etc… This sort of condition (war) is exactly what one would expect in a country that is constituted in the fashion that Nigeria is: different cultural-linguistic groups of people who do not particularly like or even know each other locked in the same geo-political unit without their consent. In other African countries we have seen this type of colonial constitution result in physical civil wars. It happened for a relatively brief period in Nigeria during the late sixties though it did not engulf the whole country. However, the usual manifestation of this perpetual state of civil war that is grounded in an internally toxic state tends to be stealthy in nature and expresses itself not necessarily in the form of bombs and tanks but rather in the form of chronic un-patriotism, selfishness, neglect and corruption.
It is no coincidence that Botswana, which is the only sub-Saharan African country that essentially has only one ethno-linguistic group, is also the most economically successful and free of corruption. Most people in the world have never even heard of Botswana simply because it has never had any problems. It’s a very peaceful democratic country with a political class that is very different from what is seen in much of Africa. To be precise, Botswana actually has two ethnic groups but the second one is so small and so assimilated with the larger one that the country can for all practical purposes be regarded as mono-ethnic. Some racists may argue that the relative success of the country is simply due to the fact that it has a minority white population. But what about other southern and central African countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe that also have minority white populations but have been plagued with corruption and ethnic fighting? As a matter of fact, I would argue that, if anything, the whites are actually a hindrance to the complete self-actualization of the natives of the country. By the way, I do not include Ethiopia and Somalia in my categorization of “sub-Saharan African” countries. These Afro-Asiatic countries are by and large ethnically homogenous but they have cogent historical reasons for being in the tragic mess that they have been in during the past few decades. Ironically, in the absence of war and famine, they are in many ways better off than Nigeria.
The saying is well known that the first step in solving a problem is understanding what the problem really is. As long as Nigerians and Africans in general do not understand what the real problem is with their so-called countries, there will continue to be hopelessness and despair because the outward symptoms have no real solutions in themselves. If people continue to think that the problem with Africa is simply corrupt leaders, they will remain hopeless because why would the corrupt leaders ever go away when they and their accomplices are benefiting so much from the corruption? If they think the problem lies with they (the people) themselves, how will that ever change since, according to that fallacious and racist assumption, that is the way they are born? If they think the problem is that African countries lack strong institutions because they are young countries and therefore need more time, it simply conveys to them that they and their great grand children will have to live and die in misery before this so-called maturation actually happens. The sooner we black people understand why our continent, with the sort of unnatural countries that have been created in it, is uniquely ill-placed to develop and succeed, the better.