Often, we place too much emphasis on the physicalities of the problems bedevilling Africa. Many in my professional tribe are guilty of this obsession.
We tend to look at decayed infrastructures, dilapidated roads, bold-faced corruption, an idiotocratic approach to governance etc, proceed to first theorise, and then provide “specific/concrete” solutions. These solutions assume that once we address the surface issues, the root problems will find a way of dissolving.
With this logic, we get the Chinese to build the roads and rails, and repair decayed buildings. We outsource the development of our young, future leaders to the US through the Young African Leaders Initiative Network (YALI), get the EU to organise capacity building workshops for national and regional officials, and dedicate each summit of the AU (and other RECs) to thematic issues and then propose “specific/concrete” ways of dealing with them.
In spite of these, our problems remain. In most cases, they even deepen and get worse. Again, we revert to the unworkable format of dealing with the physicalities.
We seriously need to pause for a second to engage properly with the psychological issues afflicting us. It is not that we are oblivious of our psychological afflictions; the problem is that in some cases we assume that theorisation may just spur action. In other cases, we are just too scared to confront the demons.
I have encountered a number of people who go on and on (and even confuse themselves) about decoloniality, but through their actions (and misguided statements) exhibit chronic xenophobia. I often sarcastically ask: “What happens to a xenophobic mind that has just been decolonised?”
Another aspect is the never-ending debate on ensuring free movement across African boundaries. Have we even considered the fact that the obstinate position on rigid visas may lie in the fact that many officials believe that fellow Africans do not have the means to be tourists in their own countries? It could also be a state of deep inferiority complex, one that simply implies that to be a black African is to be poor and needy, to be a huge burden to an already over-stretched (or sometimes non-existent) social service system. Conversely, to be white is to be rich, to be a potential contributor to the local economy. I bet that many of these officials will even argue that every Euro-American possesses the right legal papers, and has no criminal intention, to reside there.
Yet research has shown that millions of Africans have the financial means to travel around the continent solely for tourism. Countries like Mauritius, Cape Verde, Rwanda and Senegal have been able to harness this potential by granting no-visa or visa on arrival to all African citizens.
About four years ago, I was in the queue with fellow Africans at the gate of one of the African embassies. While we were still there, waiting for our turn to be granted the “opportunity” to make a case for why we want to visit their country, a Briton came out of the embassy and saw a friend of his in the queue.
They briefly exchanged pleasantries, and the Briton said to his friend, “Oh, they told me that I shouldn’t have come since Britons need no visa to visit the country.” The symbolism of that exchange tormented me for days.
There are no easy answers or solutions to our many problems. But we could at least be honest with ourselves by coming to terms with our psychological afflictions.
Maybe the next time our leaders and policy-makers gather, they should start with a frank discussion on the toxic self-hatred and endemic levels of inferiority complex that often feed into policy.
This does not require excessive theorisation or the convening of a seminar on African philosophy. All it requires is an unqualified acceptance, and then a fresh look at exclusion and “othering” policies.
Perhaps this would at least make us kick-start the deferred cleansing process. As Ali Mazrui once asserted: “The ancestors of Africa are angry. For those who believe in the power of the ancestors, the proof of their anger is all around us. But what is the proof of the curse of the ancestors? Things are not working in Africa. From Dakar to Dar es Salaam, from Marrakesh to Maputo, institutions are decaying, structures are rusting away. It is as if the ancestors had pronounced the curse of cultural sabotage.”
May the cleansing process begin! DM
Babatunde Fagbayibo is an associate professor of law at the University of South Africa. He blogs at https://afrothoughts.wordpress.com/ @babsfagbayibo