First, let me say this. I am not a pessimist, a fatalist or a racist. I am just an honest guy. I care about Africa as I do the rest of the world. Being a Christian, I cannot reconcile these things with the Christian faith. I raise this issue to provoke us Africans (particularly African Christians) and the rest of the world to think about some of the deep underlying issues which might help explain why Africa hasn’t developed – and why it really doesn’t seem to be developing at a rate proportional to all the aid and investment that has been made in Africa since the end of colonialism.
It’s painful and shameful to hear stories of Peace Corps volunteers who were in Malawi in the early 70’s and you sit there scratching your head thinking, “Not much has changed!” In fact, in some instances, it seems that pockets of Malawi were much better off than they are now. Why? That’s really the question at the heart of this post. I am asking myself and I want to ask you, “What will it take for Africa to truly develop?”
I know there are many Pan-Africans who want to lay all the blame on the West and its colonial powers. Well, while there might be true in that, I simply don’t buy that argument. In many parts of Africa, colonialism has been over since the 60’s. But what has changed? People still sleep in mud huts, without clean water (forget running water), without electricity, no education, no healthcare, still living a subsistence life (from hand to mouth), and so on and so forth! “Why?” That’s the question I am asking.
I want to suggest three reasons among many (think about these with me and see if you agree):
1. Corruption – This is and has always been the big elephant in the room as far as Africa’s development or lack thereof is concerned. But as I am getting older and interacting with lots of people at various levels, I am really shocked to see how corrupt the African continent. The root of corruption runs deep in Africa. I know that there is corruption everywhere, even in the United States of America (I have lived there), but corruption in Africa is a whole different animal. At least in the US and other similar countries, they seem to have been successful (for the most part), in setting a system of checks and balances that works – and there is a greater respect for the rule of law – no one is above the law. Those who violate the laws of the land are brought to book and held accountable for their crimes. On the contrary, way too many people get away with lots of crimes to the extent that things like corruption have now become common if not standard practice both in the high and low places; in the secular and religious institutions; in government and non-governmental institutions to our own detriment. That’s sad and heart-breaking especially when weighed against the amounted of aid that has been poured into Africa for so many years and the masses of people who are still breaking their backs and are being weighed down because of poverty caused by such this malpractice. What will it take to change the situation?
2. Poor Work Ethic – This is another disease that seems to have infected the entire fabric of the African continent. To use an example from my home country, Malawi, it boggles my mind to see how many teachers and other government employs are content to just sit there and do nothing when they should be working – totally wasting their own time and governments’ money.
Yet at the end of the day, they expect to be paid for work that they did not do. As if that wasn’t bad enough, nobody seems to call at all! I remember a few years ago driving through one of the rural areas in Malawi during the morning hours and seeing teachers basking in the sun talking, reading newspapers or playing games instead of being busy teaching in their classrooms. I saw this from one village to the next and it seemed that this was how business was conducted. The kids basically went to school to play with their school friends and not really to learn. The teachers went there simply because if they didn’t, they would get a paycheck at the end of the month. How tragic! At a meeting that I was able to organize with some colleagues at Joy to the World Ministries trying to address this situation, a teacher blatantly said to me when I questioned the reasons behind this practice, “We have too many unaddressed problems of our own and its hard for us to come here and concentrate on teaching.” I don’t want to dismiss or dismiss the problems this particular teacher was facing. But is that really a good excuse for being lazy? Don’t we all have problems? If we were to apply that logic to every situation, pretty soon, no one will be able to do anything – so perhaps we should all just throw away our tools and sit down to read newspapers, play games and chatter ourselves away to the grave! What kind of nonsense is that? I am always impressed by the work of many people that I have come across in the West – much of which is owing to the influence of Christianity in these countries even though most of these countries have abandoned Christianity. But whether Westerners are willing to accept this or not, Christianity has largely contributed to the growth and development in these countries. Perhaps, the church in Africa should pay attention to her own teaching and practice in this regard. That was a side point but one that is worth thinking about.
3. Apathy – Now, this really gets me. I think apathy is the worst of these three if not the cause of it. My African friends, why, why, why all we letting this kill us softly? Did our fore-fathers fight for independence for this? Did they die in vain? Given our history and our current situation how can we make friends with apathy? It’s like, we have all so quickly forgotten who we are, where we have come from and where we are meant to be going. For some reason, we have allowed ourselves to become comfortable with poverty, corruption, various injustices, lack of prosper and essential services like healthcare, education, etc. We have accommodated ourselves to what the world has called us all these years – “poor” – instead of fighting tooth and nail to rise above that and prove them wrong. Africa is a land littered rich resources but a poor people. Why, why, why? Can’t we rise up and fight against the odds like China and South Korea and several other countries have done in the past? Apathy is killing us softly my African brothers and sisters. Let’s do something about this instead of handing over our destiny into the hands of the colonial masters. Let’s stop blaming them or depending on them! Let’s stop living on their hand-outs! We are initially and primarily responsible for creating our problems and we are equally (in the same way), responsible for finding solutions to them. So, let’s get working and see if we can’t make something of this great and yet broken continent of ours! I think we can do it if we all commit ourselves to working together towards this goal – each doing his/her little part. Why don’t you start now? You can do it! We can do it! We will do it no matter how long it takes. But we must begin now because tomorrow might be too late! God bless you and God bless our beautiful continent, Africa! Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica!