We had been attending a business leaders forum, and during the lunch break we came across newspapers that were awash with stories and images of overloaded ships smuggling Africans across the Mediterranean Sea to southern Europe.
A debate ensued and one guy wondered what Africa was coming to. Referring to the slave-trade era (which he argues should be recognised and classified among the crime against humanity by the creators of what constitutes such crimes), he reminded us of the images in history textbooks: Arab slave-traders raiding villages, burning homes, shooting people and capturing others.
The living memory in Bagamoyo (actual name ‘bwagamoyo’, loosely translated as rend-your-heart), the infamous Goré Island in Senegal, all testify to how low humanity can sink, especially when pushed by individual and collective greed and the animal instinct to dominate.
What then explains this new reversal of roles and attractions? Slave-raiders of yesterday are today mounting border patrols to prevent the slaver fugitives of yesterday from entering the lands they were taken to crying and kicking in chains. What explains the humiliating experiences of Africans seeking visas to the West, or their treatment while in Western capitals? Mzee Sage says this is a monotonous repetitive debate and diatribe, but we must not hide our heads in the sand.
Taking up the debate as the energiser for the afternoon session, our facilitator had thousands of barbs against Africans and our attitude, particularly in matters of development.
He gave a simple scenario: imagine a situation of geographical switch, where all Africans are allowed to move to America and Americans come to Africa. Two decades down the road, America would be what Africa is today and Africa would be what America is today.
And conditions for coming back to Africa for ‘Africans’ in America, would be even more stringent than they are today for Africans to go to America.
His analogy and arguments echoed those of a ‘spoiled’ son of a Ugandan diplomat we travelled with once on a bus from Kampala to Mbarara. Fortified by apparent Dutch courage, the lad wondered what was wrong with us, strong men who feed on heavy natural food (millet bread, potatoes, sorghum, cassava), to appear meek before fellows who feed on soft food. His parting shot: “let’s build and develop our own countries, so that these guys should also beg for visas to come here, to enjoy our natural food and beautiful weather, they way we beg and die to go to their countries”.
Rightly or wrongly, America and the West in general, promise a sugar-candy mountain life. Fine. But this did not drop from heaven, à la manna to Moses and his kindred. Whatever is in America is a creation of human ingenuity, arguments of who actually created it notwithstanding.
One of my favourite class readers in lower secondary school was a novel set in the period the French were settling in Canada, titled “Les Pioniers des Grands Lacs” (“Pioneers of the Great Lakes”). Struggling against man – the indigenous owners of the land, the Red Indians– and a pristine natural environment, these people literally built from nothing what has become the dream of each one of us seeking a decent life.
We can create our America and Europe here. Moreover, technology has so advanced that we do not need to start from the horse-cart and water-wheel as we read in stories among the pioneers of America. We can tap it at its latest, and use it to create the African Dream here, which, in the words of our lad, would make these guys beg us for visas to come here. It simply takes an attitude change. Let’s begin with those meant to think for this bountiful land called Africa.
The writer is a partner at Peers Consult Kampala and CET Consulting, Kigali.