I have travelled an uncommon path as a Mozambican and encountered insights along the way that few fellow Africans are fortunate to confront. The more I contemplate the global twists of my life, the less I vilify Africa’s systemic duplicity and the more I de-glorify the West’s perceived integrity.
Hardship was written on my birth card – I grew up watching kids my age working gruelling hours to have a chance at a meal for the day. I attended public schools with one teacher for 60 students, and I remember so many of them struggling to read a single paragraph.
And then, the corruption! I saw it everywhere; from the many traffic cops asking my mother to fill their covert coffers so they would turn a blind eye, to the $2-billion hidden debt scandal involving the sitting and former president that halved Mozambique’s growth from 7.7% to 3.3% and increased inflation to 17.4%.
No wonder I had so little patriotism at such a young age!
But then I got a full scholarship to the American International School of Mozambique at 15 and returned my birth card in exchange for the one I hold to this day – duality.
From dawn to early afternoon, I received the best education in the country in the company of the progeny of diplomats, ministers and the president of the republic. And from the afternoon to twilight, I returned to the increasingly disappointing reality to which I was born. Same country, different reality.
What that duality card meant, however, was a shot at a full scholarship in the United States. My first stop was at the University of Bridgeport. There, I met political science students who, in a multiple-choice quiz, selected Barack Obama as a former UN Secretary-General despite Kofi Annan being one of the choices.
That was not the worst. I interned at State Senator Marilyn Moore’s mayoral campaign against the sitting mayor, Joe Ganim. Here is Ganim’s story: he served as mayor for five terms, stole more than $500,000 from the city of Bridgeport, was convicted of 16 corruption charges, served seven years in prison, ran for office again in 2015 and won. As Senator Moore battled against him in 2019, his office was being investigated by the FBI. Guess who won that election… yes, Ganim.
Tell this story to any American, European or African without context and names. Then ask them if this public servant is American or African. I am confident that we can predict at least 70% of the answers.
Here is more food for thought. Bridgeport’s high school graduation rate is 63%, whereas the city next to it, Fairfield, with $120,000 as the median income, prides itself in a 94% high school graduation rate. Does that ring a bell? Duality? Same state, different reality!
Here I was, a young man from one of the poorest 10 countries in the world living in the most powerful country on Earth and feeling as though I had been transported to a different version of the same world.
I am drawing these contrasts and parallels because I grew up with a cancer that inflicts most Africans – it’s called Inferiority Complex Syndrome. Our parents, justifiably frustrated with their governments, imposed upon us that everything is better in the West.
And even worse, we condone acts committed by whites that we would easily condemn were they committed by fellow blacks.
It is about time Africans and the rest of the world extended Africa some grace. Independent Mozambique is just about 48 years old. At that age, the United States, a country I deeply love, was facing a constitutional crisis after the “corrupt bargain” – in Andrew Jackson’s words – that resulted in John Quincy Adams being elected over him by the House of Representatives, despite Jackson having won the most electoral votes and slavery still being a contentious issue that would only be resolved later by a Civil War that killed about 750,000 soldiers. Also, most of the country was impoverished with much of the wealth concentrated among landowners and other elites.
Now, this is not a concession for continued incompetence, but a call for elevated African self-confidence.
Africa is better than most of the world gives it credit for. Africa is better than most Africans believe, but it can still be so much better if Africans themselves begin to believe it can. DM