Decolonising the African mind
The most thoughtfully challenging encounter I’ve had in recent times was attending a talk by Dr. Olivia Rutazibwa on decolonising the African mind. In her talk, she touched on a very wide-ranging subject. As Africans, we sought independence and gained it nominally, but we never decolonised our minds. Decolonisation is a touchy subject because Africans cannot see the deep-lying effects of it in our daily lives. Our opinions are not our own, our ideas are not our own, our ideologies are not our own. That said, not everything the Europeans brought was bad, this causes consternation but it embodies the duality of colonisation. Europeans brought disease but also brought medicines, they brought crops that changed Africa and made our population explode. The comedian Chris Rock said about America and slavery “America is like that uncle that helped raise you, paid your tuition but also molested you.” How does one separate what is good from bad? How do we surgically remove or even know what is bad from good? The question is the answer “Does it benefit us?” that is the question we should ask.
One must understand the mythology built by the West leading up to colonisation. I asked Olivia what Africa would look like without colonialism. “You can’t say what Africa would look like because Europe was also changed by colonialism, you wouldn’t have had the industrial revolution” she said. So one must understand that colonisation changed Europe as much as Africa, it accelerated development in the economy which produced a surplus to satisfy everyone in society. When the first Europeans reached Africa, disease formed a natural barrier to the tropical zone, they stayed on their ships and sent locals to do the dirty work. Human labour was used to carry goods to the sea; tusks, horns, hides, gold, rare wood, and other bulky goods were carried to the sea, then the human transporters sold. These slaves were sold for guns, which changed the balance of power among the tribes fuelled the slave trade for 350 years.
The White man was a myth, only at the coast, never seen in the hinterlands, but word of his arrival spread. So for 350 years, we spoke of a myth, a white demon that was coming to destroy all before him. Our spiritual beliefs made us see everything and everyone spiritually, these white demons were angry spirits, maybe even ancestors. In our beliefs, spirits must be appeased, they cannot be defeated unless by other spirits. Incidentally, the word – Muzungu means Evil Spirit, that meaning is forgotten and now means white skin. In Rwanda, the person of lighter complexion will always be called Kazungu. Anything nice is called Inzungu, the fear turned to admiration and assimilation. The discovery of quinine in treating malaria opened up Africa to the Europeans, the Heart of Darkness and the body of endless resources. The myth was confirmed, by the 1870’s White men were entering the core. They brought with them disease on a massive scale, this was virgin soil for disease, Rwanda suffered a 40% death in the population from 1895-1900. Imagine 100 Ebolas; measles, rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria, smallpox, even the flu. All hit us as the same time as white men came claiming to be gods, and we believe them.
Then came their education system which conditioned our minds further, we never had religions, just belief systems to explain our surroundings and never really challenged that. The gap in values is best illustrated in an encounter between the King of Rwanda and a German Governor Von Goezten, the colonialist wanted nice tall trees which were straight and long, he happened upon a forest that was sacred. These trees were a meter wide and 60 meters tall, the Rwandans believed these trees held up the sky and belonged to our God Gihanga. King Musinga stood between the axe and a tree and was ready to die for that. Our beliefs were that nature is a delicate balance, any small disturbance of it caused chaos in the spiritual realm which manifests in diseases and curses. Our resources were communal and not owned personally, even land was held communally and locals were only guardians. This limited us economically, most of our assets were protected by angry spirits, the colonisers needed to change this through re-education. Our pagan ways were a major obstacle to exploitation because we viewed nature as sacred, we viewed the world as an interface of the nature and the supernatural. Nature was a provider so there was no need to accumulate wealth as Eden provided the daily bread. The underlying motive for the white supremacy myth was exploitation, not superiority for the sake of the ego.
The result of this mythology was the silencing of African voices, we were the first to accept that this would not be unequal. It was technology transfer and one way, we were viewed as having nothing to offer. So we can’t get to the microphone, we raise our voices but it makes no difference because we don’t have the platform. We must view ourselves as the audience, Africa is one billion, if you add the African Diaspora in the Americas we are a billion black Africans, we are the audience and also the messenger. We need our own platform, our own microphone. African media is growing, even the BBC is losing its monopoly and local channels are growing. This digital revolution has proved that Africans prefer African news with an African filter; local languages have seen the biggest growth. This linguistic fragmentation has really limited the effect of our digital revolution, but Africans are engaging for the first time on their own terms. Eventually, we will have consolidation and merging, the smaller languages will die off or become dialects again. 80% of the 5,000 dialects spoken on the continent will die out in the next 100 years.
Who are the experts? Olivia described it as “Imagine if all the experts on Belgium and the relations between the Flemish and Walloon were from Korea?” African experts are still mostly White, still mostly male, even from a certain economic class. The opinions are still the same, it is an echo-chamber of stereotypes, re-mythologizing the old myth. The experts reinforce the inequality, they redefine the colonial doctrine. The Lugard Doctrine of the “Dual Mandate” still exists, that it is the European’s duty to bring civilization and to exploit the resources of the continent. That is the trade-off, manners for minerals. In Lugard’s time, civilization meant Christianity and modernity, today, it means human rights and democracy as the Church has lost power in the West. Africans are often disqualified from being experts on their own countries because they are “too close to the situation”. No, it requires the cold, neutral, discerning eye of a white man (often it is a man) to see the BIG PICTURE. Firstly, we must remove the halo from the Expert’s head, it is only our own worship of these so-called experts that gives them power. We need our own courses, that are based on local knowledge and in our own context.
To what end? There have been many attempts to decolonize and Re-Africanize our countries. Mobutu in the 70’s in Zaire, banned all forms of western dress, banned western names, music, and all form of western decadency, while sipping copious amounts of pink champagne in his Louis XIV Italianate marble palace in Gbadolite. Nyerere with Ujama was eschewing western decadency for a more authentic African experience, while also being dependent on foreign aid and debt. Both failed, and for different reasons; Mobutu was angry the West turned on him by funding Katanga rebels so he turned to Authentification and anti-western views while being a puppet of the West. Nyerere failed to understand market forces cannot be commanded like civil servants. To decolonize is not an Anti-western project, it should be neutral because any nation, any race, can come using the same tactics. The Chinese have best seen as a nice refuge from Western nanny-states, yet their goal is the same; extraction of minerals. To decolonize from the West and just put on shackles from another region would be pointless. We have to develop an immune system that will remove undesirable foreign influence, be it Western, Eastern, even within ourselves.
Build it and they shall come
I often ask myself “What are we in Rwanda developing for?” We’re building nice tall buildings on credit, we look modern, but is it real? In other countries those tall skyscrapers are built by profits from industry, not from debt. Would we be better off investing in industry that will generate profits to build buildings and not borrow money to look rich? There is a “fake it till you make it attitude” if you believe then others will. I get frustrated seeing these shiny empty buildings, rent overcharged, impractical to our needs, yet they symbolize progress while hiding a mountain of debt. Who are we trying to impress? Then they damn us with faint praise. If Africa is retarded, then Rwanda is only half-retarded but make no mistake, they think we’re retarded as a race. We should be proud, we should be clean, but we shouldn’t be clean to impress a white man. Rwanda is an antidote to African pessimism, even if it were an illusion, it is an illusion we need. We need a win, Africa has been held down for so long, we just need a win then we can get morale up.
A day of reckoning
There must come a day when we realise our own power, a day when “enough is enough” and we cast off our yokes and chains. The Arabs were in the same situation before 1973, Israel took over the Suez Canal and held Egypt over a barrel, in solidarity, the Arab nations cut their oil production to zero in 74. It was a major tectonic shift in global power dynamics. The Arab world was never treated the same again, even if the respect was false, the west had to at least pretend to respect the Arab world. Africans have suffered way more humiliation far exceeding what the Arabs went through, yet we tolerate even more humiliation. Unlike the Arabs, we don’t view ourselves as one group or race, we don’t have centralised power like the Sheikhs, we don’t have a single commodity that is so indispensable to human living and we’re not united by a religion or creed. This global economy is a sham, it is rigged against us, the rules will never allow us to equal the West. If we started to trade our goods based on local prices and not those set by the West then we can start to develop. If the Arabs were still getting 10c for 1$ of oil, there would be no Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Mecca looking like a space-station for God to dock. Our economies are still beverage economies; tea, coffee, cocoa, and such incidental but not crucial foods.
We have to be ready to walk away – the question is to walk away from the table or accept the terms, you lose more being out than in. If the only leverage we have is walking away then they will call our bluff, we must have more leverage than a walk-out. After leverage, we need an alternative, we need collective bargaining. The EU replaced old bilateral trade deals with Africa with new deals, Africans were not allowed to collectively bargain, each nation would stand alone. Imagine a nation of 10m and $2bn negotiating with a trade bloc of $14tn? The only way is to negotiate collective, withhold our goods if necessary to get a better deal. It will be like childbirth but we will come out on the other side in a better place. Is this likely? With most elites in Africa plugged into the global economy, they would be the first to suffer. The average villager would go back to tilling their fields, but the urban elites would suffer. Would turkeys vote for Christmas hence their own demise? I doubt it. The west does everything it can to destroy African unity, nations decide on something but the Francophone nations are not free and have to consult Paris.
I will leave you with a story from my favourite novel of all time “The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy’ An alien species lands on earth, they decide to determine which is the most intelligent animal on earth. It came down to the Human and the Dolphin, but the aliens said human are stupid. Humans work all day to get money to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t even like. The dolphin is far more intelligent, they just swim and play in the water all day, they never stress because their food is abundant. Humans are stupid ” Africans are trying to be like Europeans, living in skyscrapers consuming cancer-causing factory food. Europeans are trying to move back to the village, to eat organic food, and have fresh air. Maybe we should stay how we are but with modern advantages like health and just basic literacy but peace and love.
Good to be back