I hit my nose on Sunday. OK, to be more precise I got hit in the nose on Sunday… hard enough to break it. I’d love to tell you a story about how I took up semi-professional boxing; or that I was fighting with a bear in order to save a little girl’s life. But the reality is: it was a simple case of someone bumping their head into mine, a loud cracking noise, followed by lots of pain and a nasty little concussion.
I’m sure that by now, you are wondering why on earth I’m telling you this story. After all, you come to this blog for information about Africa or food or fair trade. Why would you care (other than the fact that I’m sure you are just generally a caring soul), what the condition of my little nose is today? Well, you’ll have to follow me forward to my visit to my neighbor’s house to know. I popped into visit her yesterday morning after spending most of the morning dizzy and in bed. I casually mentioned my concussion so that she knew that I wasn’t drunk at 9am; and she said: “Wow, isn’t this your 3rd time now?!” (It is; but I won’t bore you with the details; other than to say I was caught off guard by a little girl… twice… in the past!) She continued: “Once you break your nose, you have to be really careful for life. It is incredibly easy to break again.”
This is going to sound really stupid; but I never knew that. Sure, I knew it about bones. Rather, I knew that some people “had problems” with a formerly broken ankle or knee for years afterward. That some of them call it their “weak ankle” for life. But, somehow I thought that it was something to do with the severity of the break. And besides, it’s just cartilage in your nose, right? Here I was thinking someone had put juju (voodoo) or an ancient Indian curse on my poor little nose. Nice to know it isn’t the case!
Again, what does this have to do with Africa? Well this morning, now that my head is feeling a little better, I started thinking about the parallels. Africa has been “broken”. Colonialism, slavery, apartheid, dictatorships, AIDS… the list goes on. But, what do we do now? We can sit and complain about how it isn’t fair. We can tell ourselves that someone has clearly put a magic spell or curse on our continent. We can talk about how unlucky we are and how much life “owes us” because we’ve had an undue amount of hardship. We could do any of that and many would say that we’d be completely within our right to. I though, would disagree.
I think that part of our problem in Africa (or in much of it) is that we have reacted and continue to react. We don’t plan. The problem is that reaction implies that someone else is acting. The actor, the one who makes the initial decisions, is the leader… we are the followers. Like a dance where you allow the other to lead. We are allowing ourselves to be lead into the future. And in some cases, we are like bulls with a ring in their noses (their already broken ones), with a master who holds the chain attached to that ring leading us down the path to slaughter.
We have allowed our leadership to sell off our resources (one word: China); to continue to steep us in hatred (see: Zimbabwe); or to convince us that as long as we have someone outside of the country who can send us money to eat, all is well (see: Eritrea). But all is not well. Those of our children who are becoming educated are using their new skills to build someone else’s empire be it in Oslo, London, Paris or New York. We continue our mass exoduses from countries like Ethiopia, Somalia or Senegal in order become the workforce (often illegal) of another nation. We tolerate living without democracy because our dictator du jour tells us we aren’t ready for it yet or that democracy is a Western concept. Rubbish! There has never been a more democratic place than Africa. We had chiefs selected by their communities when Europe had kings. We had participation of the people when America’s colonies were still in the planning stages of their revolution. Let us learn our histories before we were colonialized. We have known glory. We seem interested in forgetting all of our history before colonialism. That is our error.
But, I’d like to suggest a more interesting option. Let us admit our weakness and our challenges and move forward. I know now that my nose is more likely to break in the future (at least the near future). We know that Africa is still fragile and able to be broken again if we aren’t careful in our planning. Does this mean we put our hands up in the air and quit? We know that hundreds of years of colonialism have left their scars on our nations. Of course, how could it not? We know that in places like South Africa or Zimbabwe, where we only recently regained our freedom from colonial rule, the “breaks” were even more severe. But, that should mean that we plan with even greater care. It should mean that instead of putting ourselves in harm’s way out of some reactionary desire to hurt the one that “broke us”; we should plan methodically to ensure that our future’s mean we are safe and happy.
I think it is way past time for us to say “Yes, we are fragile; but we have been strong before and can do it again with careful planning.” With time, we will one day forget we were ever injured. It will just be ancient history in our great-grandchildren’s history books. And most of all, they will be proud of what we were able to build for them.