A number of friends recently forwarded a link to a popular blogsite titled “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!” to my email inbox.
It’s written by a Zambian doctoral student based in the United States of America, a Mr Field Ruwe.
It has an anecdotal beginning wherein it offers a real or imagined scenario about an assumedly black African sitting next to a white American on an aeroplane ride from Los Angeles to Boston.
It turns out that the white American has worked extensively in Africa and spent a lot of time in Zambia (he even knows the nickname of Zambian President Sata!)
What follows as one reads further is what I would hazard to call “bar-stool” conversation.
The white expatriate who is referred to as Walter, explains much to the initial shock and then eventually “deification” acceptance of his one person African audience everything that is assumedly wrong with African society, intellectuals and African political leaders.
On the face of it, the observations made by “Walter” are premised on assumptions of “hard facts” or alternatively a “let’s cut the white/black man nonsense” and look at facts.
The underlying truth, however, is that “Walter’s” arguments are made on the very same basis, ie a white man lecturing an assumed ahistorical black figure on the comparative historical successes of “western civilization”.
All this done with the seemingly neat caveat that it is completely the fault of the Africans that they are where they are today.
And to make “Walter’s” argument seemingly insurmountable and beyond reproach, he invokes the now ubiquitous comparison of what the Japanese, Chinese and Indians have done to play “catch-up” with the Western world.
Never mind the fact that the historical trajectories of these three countries have been profoundly different from those of Africa.
In any event it is an argument that dismisses Africa’s historical arrival at where it is in favour of substituting the making of African history for a Western trajectory.
So much so to the extent that it would not be surprising had Mr Ruwe’s “Walter” character insisted that Africa first undergo not only an industrial/technological revolution a-la-carté the West but ensure that the same is “teleologically” accompanied by a couple of World Wars (with the attendant horrific genocides) as well as never ending “war’s on terror” against one “bloc” or the other from the global east.
Knowing my colleagues as I do, they probably forwarded the link to me because while they might find some of the blog’s contents unpalatable, they are probably drawn to what they think are some valid points.
Particularly if the argument entails moving away from the syndrome of blaming the “Western other” in dealing with the challenges that Africa and Africans are facing continentally and globally.
In fact, Mr Ruwe’s friend goes into a semi-confessional mode where after the “real or imagined” berating and denigrative lecture from ‘Walter’, he undertakes a serious self whipping act of contrition.
After which, he then offers advice to Zambian President Mr Sata not to be “highly strung” by “Walter”.
This contrition however has a “technological” catch to it wherein Mr Ruwe argues “Knowing well that King Cobra will not embody innovation at Walter’s level let’s begin to look for a technologically active-positive leader who can succeed him after a term or two.
That way we can make our own stone crushers, water filters, water pumps, razor blades, and harvesters.
Let’s dream big and make tractors, cars, and planes, or, like Walter said, forever remain inferior.” And therein lies the fundamental problem with the argumentation.
Its premise is too embedded in a wrong assumption that Africans are “inferior” because they do not make tractors, cars, planes and razor blades even (in fact we do make cars or contribute significantly to the making of them, even though we might not have been the first to invent them).
We might not be as technologically savvy as our Western compatriots but we are not here to be judged inferior as human beings by them on the same basis either. If that is the case, we might as well all manufacture nuclear weapons.
Our challenges may be more numerous but in some instances are not any more different than those of our compatriots in the West.
That they hide their societal challenges from full purview does not mean the same challenges are in any less need of redress.
Contrary to the assertions of “Walter”, we are all equal as human beings.
Wholesale judgements of the success or failure of a continent have rarely been made elsewhere save with regard to the “native” African and the African continent.
To seek to perpetuate such judgements is borderline acquiescence to racist stereotypes of our continent. It can only be viewed as an unfortunate attempt at the “prejudicial truth”.