I’ve been hearing too many lies about Africa recently. Too many.
- Life in Africa was perfect before the white man came along.
- The white man abducted Africans to make them slaves without the complicity of any Africans.
- Tyranny, war, pestilence and poverty were unknown before colonialism.
- The persistence of poverty in Africa is the result of a deliberate plan by the West ensure Africa never challenges their cultural supremacy.
The problem with this view is that it forgets one simple fact. That Africans are an intelligent and rational people, too. Just like everyone else on the planet. If you take that into account, all those lies collapse.
When you idealise the past in this way, you need to first recast our ancestors as simpleminded buffoons, incapable of the simple logical steps that lead societies to do the things they do—secure property and increase their wealth through wars, for example.
And you have to reduce the African mind to a malleable childlike state to ensure that it stays incapable of guile and to ensure that it stays vulnerable to the manipulation by a few white people so that you can argue that Africans just sat there to be picked off the coast by slave-harvesters.
To believe that pre-colonial Africans never waged wars and lived in perfect communist societies under wise and benevolent kings for all the centuries prior to the arrival of the white man, you have to remove from those Africans the basic intelligence that tells you simple things every child learns very early age: that if you see something you want, and you have the power to take it, you can have it.
We condemn British empire building, yet celebrate Shaka Zulu and even our own Ugandan kingdoms. But how are kingdoms built? Is it not through the same process as empires? By subjugating smaller, weaker political entities under your control? Didn’t we have to kill and steal to build our glorious African kingdoms? Or is it only wrong if a white man does it?
We romanticize the past to the point where even the most heinous violations of basic human dignity are cited as examples of rich nobility. I have heard people speak of, say, the tradition that the king had the right to sleep with any woman in the kingdom as if it is evidence of love and generosity on the part of the kabaka. As if they can’t see anything wrong with living under the reign of a man who won’t even respect your right to your own wife.
I am not embarrassed to say that I have ancestors who were hunter-gatherers somewhere along the line. I am not ashamed to have descended from farmers, even if they did worship a tree. Everyone—even the Europeans— is descended from savage cultures, and there is no shame in tilling the land to feed your family, whether you use a bronze-age hoe or a combine harvester.
The revisionism which cannot sustain itself without insulting all the generations prior to colonialism may be pervasive, but it is not as dangerous as the ostrich-like head-burying of those who carry this philosophy past the 60s and continue to insist that Africans are the dumb victims of the cruel machinations of a Muzungu conspiracy to keep us down.
African economies take blow after blow from epic mismanagement, from the psychotic levels of theft by our governments, from war after war, from tribalism fanned by cynical sectarian demagogues, and during all this time the masses can’t find clean water or a pill to cure their malaria. And when they ask us, the lucky few, what is wrong, we turn away from the true villains: we declare that it is the white man.
As if the white man built a mansion out of Gavi funds.
Anyway. Now that I have got that off my chest, let me work on a blog post…