Many years ago, I was convinced that the majority of Africa’s problems stemmed from colonialism. I was completely persuaded that we would have been light years ahead of the rest of the world if only we’d been left to continue our own traditions and progress at our pace.
I’d like to clarify one thing before I say anything else: Colonialism did change the landscape of Africa, permanently, irrevocably and deeply. There is no doubt about that. We need to ensure that our children learn this and understand it. But what I want to talk about is the “What now?” aspect of it all.
There are many who have a tendency to get lost in our victim-hood. People who love Africa are often trapped in these muddy waters while diving deeply into our past and are then unable to see clearly. When they exit the water and start to discuss planning for our collective future; they seem to still have that muddy water clouding their vision. Although I respect their dedication to Africa, I think that they do us more harm than good in the end. Here, is why:
If you ask any scholar of history, he will tell you that there isn’t a single region on earth without a turbulent history. Rome once controlled a large part of Europe and most of North Africa; thus forcing local populations into a second-class status, if not into slavery. Native Americans lost their territories to each other; and then, eventually lost most of their land to the early American government. In Brazil, many native ethnic groups in the Amazon are still being persecuted and having their lands stolen.
My point here is that everyone has known suffering, abuse and victimization. There is no point in trying to play the “who has suffered more” game. Power comes from how we face adversity.
European powers did set Africa up for failure, no doubt about it. Our borders were drawn arbitrarily at best; with “divide and conquer” in mind at worst. But we are not alone in this either, ask the former Yugoslavia.
So now, my sweet Africa, let us move forward. Let us find the positive aspects of our past as quickly and passionately as we find the negative. Let us remember our kings, our queens and our chiefs who led well and with fairness. I grew up hearing about how our grandfathers shared their food with anyone in need. I am sure that all of you would hear the same if you asked your grandmothers. We are now missing that sense of solidarity.
We have the borders we have. Let’s work to create strong, inclusive societies within them. We are diverse like no other continent: from the desert in Sudan to Lesotho’s snow-capped mountains; from Mali’s camel-back nomads to those working in skyscrapers in South Africa; from farmers who plant in the hot Ghanaian sun to doctor’s working in hospitals in Angola. We speak hundreds of languages and have thousands of ethnic groups, each with their unique history and culture. This doesn’t begin to touch on the fact that we have the world’s largest reserve of natural resources: minerals, biodiversity (both plant and animal) and human capital (hard-working, bright and energetic).
Let us leave the labels behind. We are not “poor”. We are under-developed economically. We are not “backward”. We are under-educated. We are not “aid recipients” or “refugees”. We are people who need to focus on freedom, peace, solidarity and building our own future and destiny. Enough with buying into the shackles of our past. Enough with feeling that we need the West or China for hand-outs. Let us walk forward on our own terms and pick up where our grandparents left off. It is time to take off the label of victim and proudly wear the label African.
It is my hope and prayer that in leaving our victim status behind and boldly claiming our future on our terms… that being African for our children and grandchildren, will mean being the current generation in a long line of successful people who showed the world that from little, much can be built; as long as the focus is “us”, not “me” or “them”.