A prominent Zimbabwean banker recently told me how he wanted to be a taxi driver when he grew up. This is because he lived near a taxi rank as a child and every day the glamour that played out in front of him was a taxi driver gliding past, playing loud music and seemingly living a care-free life.
There nothing wrong with his dream except that it was framed only in the context that he understood at the time.
There is, we all know now, much more to dreams. Before we go there, however, I must risk incurring the wrath of Pan-Africanists by quoting French Nicolas Sarkozy, who I do not admire at all, but who certainly had the guts and courage to say the following in a speech to Senegalese youth in 2007:
The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history. The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time, rhythmed by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words.
In this imaginary world where everything starts over and over again there is no place for human adventure or for the idea of progress.
As you can imagine, there were huge emotional and indignant ripostes from Africas intellectuals at Sarkozy for daring to speak thus. If you have not read the entire speech, here it is. You can make up your own
mind.http://www.africaresource.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=437%3Athe-unofficial-english-translation-of-sarkozys-speech&catid=36%3Aessays-a-discussions&Itemid=346 and the response:
Mbeki was thoroughly lambasted for praising the speech.
Mbeki is no idiot and has done more than anyone I care to remember to fight for the restoration of dignity for the African. We are not going to achieve it if we are emotional about issues worth reflecting on even when they come from descendants of erstwhile colonisers. I am not interested in being politically correct. My preference is for Africas development.
We have heard from African intellectuals, when they choose to attack African governments, how South Korea and Singapore were poorer than Ghana at Independence. Let us forget the first forty years of independence and start from the year 2000.
Africa remains a net consumer of knowledge rather than a producer of it. We could have patented Viagra long before you could say blue pill, found a cure for diabetes through many a grandparent who died taking the secret with them to the grave and many other lost opportunities.
I do not know what became of the fantastic idea by Doctor Sibanda to run local natural medicines alongside Western medication in a post-independence Zimbabwe clinic. Pfizer anyone?
Why is South Korea forging ahead with Samsung tablets while we do the same with consuming ARV tablets? When is the first Zimbabwean pill, Nano car, cellphone and television coming? Why are we still going to school to pass examinations in Western education instead of going to school to produce new knowledge as a result of our interaction with our local resources and environment? Why are we not the worlds leading solar energy experts? Why are we not acting upon life?
Why is life acting upon us?
We are frenzied about selling diamonds. Is beneficiation really that difficult? Could we not send a dozen of our brightest on a tied or bonded scholarship that compels them to come back home with what they have learnt in Brussels or wherever?
Do you know how AQ Khan brought the bomb to Pakistan? If we could once be the leading experts in elephant herd management because the elephants happened to be here, why can we not be the same for gold, diamond, nickel beneficiation, cloud seeding and drip irrigation?
Do we have to learn these things from a National Geographic magazine? What is this idea that says we must still be exporting all raw material fifty years into Africas independence?
We take pride in our cattle herds, well at least we did, so why are we not the best at hand-made leather shoes in the world, exporting to wealthy overseas families through the Internet from our solar-powered laptops in our firms of no more than 10 people made up of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, as they do in Italy?
It is time for a generation of leaders that drives the people to seize the future with a gung-ho explosion that is akin to the enthusiasm that one sees at a Grade 7 young scientists exhibition in a primary school hall.
What is it that John F Kennedy said to the American people? We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.
Spare me the poverty alleviation and empowerment rhetoric and inspire a vision in me with your positive leadership or equity funding for bankable ideas and you will see what Zimbabweans are capable of. When you treat a man as he is, he will remain that person. When you treat him as he ought to be, he will become that bigger and greater person!
Africa must take her place in history by producing knowledge and product. The rest is rhetoric. Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.