Poor and disrespected
Last week, I wrote about the Foreign Policy magazine maliciously labeling Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as one-star states. It got me thinking of the many subtle ways that Africa as a continent is frequently maligned.
That is not to say that some African countries are not facing incredible challenges. For example, African countries still dominate the lower leagues of several social indices. The difference is that in the last few years the trend has been towards development and improvement.
These days, one-star states in Africa are the exception rather than the rule. Some claim the change has come about through better governance, others say it’s the extended periods of stability and the end of most of Africa’s civil wars.
Those less convinced in Africa’s ability to do anything good for itself claim that China’s appetite for this continent’s natural resources is driving growth and somehow make it sound like Western exploitation of the same resources in the past was preferable.
At least the Chinese are upfront about it. Unlike some we do not need to learn new languages, religions and ideologies before we get ripped off.
The description of Africa, and it’s certainly true of Rwanda, is that it and its people are ‘laidback’. The tone frequently used is not to describe a friendly even-tempered people of means tanning at a beach but is rather a euphemism for being lazy, poor and shiftless.
It is meant to invoke a continent where the men do little all day, drink at night and leave all the work to their child bearing wives. This caricature may be true in some cases but I would argue that this is equally true anywhere on this planet.
There is no one who works harder than the small scale farmers who make up the majority of Rwanda’s population [probably a majority in Africa but I’ll have to get back to you on this] for so little reward, at the mercy of the elements, no subsidies and absolutely no respect.
Small scale farmers are ridiculed for their rustic ways, paid little for their labours, often exploited and receive a quality of healthcare and education that would be considered scandalous in many urban centres.
Despite this they feed the country relatively cheaply and do not flood the towns with their unemployed [rural-urban migration has been fairly restrained in Rwanda] thereby keeping national crime levels low.
Given their unacknowledged contribution, the last thing they need is to stand in the sun wasting valuable time to listen to the important visitor from the capital exhorting them ‘to work hard and avoid the dangers of alcohol [or whatever is the pet sin of the day]’.
The impression that these are a laidback people seems to have been transmitted from an old racial viewpoint as seen through colonial lens, re-broadcast over the decades in the ‘mainstream media’ [in more PC terms of course] and eventually infected the thinking of those who may loosely be described as the national elite in these African countries.
None of this is new nor will it change in the short term but it seems to me that this will continue for so long as Africans are poor. Fifty years ago some of the characterizations made of this continent today were being made of places like Turkey, Brazil, India, Korea, China and Japan [to a lesser extent].
Fifty years before them East Europeans and Jews were on the receiving end. It’s not that the world and its media have suddenly become more enlightened over a century [just more polite], it’s that these peoples dragged themselves out of degrading poverty.
We can make a call for Agaciro and get into a huff every time we’re slighted but until poverty is vague memory, we will all suffer the fate of today’s small scale farmers.
Work hard for very little and be constantly disrespected. The recent poverty reduction numbers from the EDPRS are an encouraging start towards a more respectable future.
Contact email: okabatende[at]gmail.com