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Now That We Are All At Attention:

A few days ago I posted a blog entitled You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum! The text sent to me via email and was written by Field Ruwe, who is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History. After reading it, I had to post it on by blog for two reasons. 1) It was masterfully written and 2) it hit a raw and painful nerve – a nerve that I myself have been guilty of concealing under the cloak of the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’ for the last decade. To my shame, I gave up my pursuit of the ‘African Dream’ long ago.

As of this morning the article has been read 18,694 times, and has been read 44,704 times since it has been posted. There are 293 comments and growing. Let those numbers sink in for a moment, and what the power of that could mean: 45,000 people, all of like/similar mind and focused on one agenda – the development of Africa.

Thankfully, the majority of the comments have been in support of the swift rebuke that ‘Walter’ meted out to us as people. The message is nothing new, but the delivery certainly is. While some people are (sadly) stuck on the fact that Field listed his credentials at the end of the blog, that in itself is nothing new either. Writers often list their credentials in any publication (Time Magazine, anyone?) and if the writer is an African, other Africans are often quick to pull out their PhD’s – Pull Him Down – in response. One of those trends has got to end today. I believe Mr. Ruwe’s exposing his many degrees was his way of self-rebuke. I believe he was having an inner dialogue with himself and saying “I’ve got all this book knowledge, now what of it?” and we were meant to decipher/perceive that.

Instinctively, every reader of this Article already knows what to do. After we’re done ‘weeping for Africa’ and calling for her to ‘rise up’, we know that the fate of the continent is in our hands. We’re the ones who hold the reins to her future…not our politicians, and certainly not the Western world. Imagine if all 45,000 people who read this article – many of whom are trained in physics, healthcare, and a myriad of subjects I can’t even conceive of – came back and focused their energy on developing one area in Africa, what would happen next? I’d much rather leave that to your imagination, rather than tell you. Perhaps that imagination would serve as a greater spark for the change we need than my merely informing you.

Has that not been part of the problem all along? Say what you will about Westerners, but they are a very imaginative people. Perhaps not intelligent in the book sense of the word, but certainly very creative. And that has been our downfall as a people; we are not creative enough. If I were to pit the average Ghanaian 3rd grader against a Georgian 3rd grader and give them a standardized math test, I have no doubt that the Ghanaian child’s grade would decimate the American child’s. However if I were to ask both children to take what that mathematical knowledge and apply it to a real world scenario, the Ghanaian child is at a disadvantage. Creativity is not part of our curriculum. Many of us have gone through primary and secondary school and done well by utilizing the CPPF method: Chew Pour Pass Forget.

The point that I really want to get to is our instinct as a people. Are we lazy? Of course we aren’t. It takes as much tenacity for a student to pursue a Master’s degree as it does for a village woman to sell a barrel of boiled corn. Both are equally motivated to succeed in their very different, but equally important goals. Instinctively, we know what to do to succeed in Africa; the question is if one is prepared to fight to succeed for the long haul. How much do you really want it? Are you willing to spill blood, sweat and tears to get Africa where she needs to be, or do you quit when the road gets a little too hard?

I’ll be the first to admit that I tucked tail and ran when I tried to move back to Ghana in 2010. I never made it past the first 2 months before I packed all my children up and came back to America. It was entirely too frustrating…for me. But while I was there, I saw many people, many intellectual people, doing their bit to make Ghana better. They were quietly engaging in private commerce, providing improvements in access to water in areas outside Accra’s metropolis, setting trends in fashion and music, and organizing events to bridge the gap between technology and education in Ghana. They were so driven…and I envied their drive.

Walter had many things right in his rebuke to Field, but there was one thing he was terribly mistaken about. The bulk of Africa’s intellectuals are not lazy; they are indifferent.

When the typical returnee gets to the airport of their native land, they are laden with old habits and carry around old expectations. Most of us who left the continent did so at 18/19 years old, in search of a university degree or a job (any job) in the West. When you get back home, what is the first thing you want to do? You want to go back to your old haunts and see your old friends. And I of all people get that. There is comfort in the familiar. The problem is, familiarity often breeds contempt and if you’ve come back home armed with your life savings, a blueprint for a new business and lofty dreams, it is often those most familiar to you who dash those hopes before they’ve even had a chance to get off the ground. Who among you reading this has not been told ‘go and come’ by someone you trusted – maybe even a relative – when you needed their input to get a project started? How many of you are still owed money by someone familiar to you for whom you provided a service or a product? Who among you has been discouraged from undertaking a project because you’re a small girl/boy and “that won’t work in Ghana”? Familiarity is the problem and it almost always leads to indifference in the end.

Familiarity à Discouragement à Despair à Indifference

The best thing any African who wants to make a change on the continent is to be self-reliant. When you got to the West, there was hardly anyone there to help you succeed, was there? And yet you made it, and made something of yourself, didn’t you? Why not do the same and explore the rest of Africa where all you have in common with the people is English or French? Is there a reason that you must be tethered to the land of your birth? Sometimes, that tether is a chain, not a root. A guy that lived a really long time ago once said “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

When Wangari Maathai began her campaign to reforest Kenyan’s landscape, her success was not with the members of her government. It was with her people; local people without much education, but who had a vision bigger than any government official had the mind to conceive. Trickle down policies do not work in Africa, because there is rot at the head. Africa’s only way forward is a grassroots/wildfire movement. With one spark, you can ignite an entire continent. It’s not going to be easy, and change never easy. Sometimes you will have to take a beating – figuratively and literally – to get the change you want to see. Ask any person who has been successful if that success did not come with some measure of pain.

My sincere hope is that this conversation inspires true action from this moment forward. I hope that the readers of this post will find at least one other person with whom they can cooperate, generate a plan, and see it through to execution. Africa may not need 45,000 returnees, but she most certainly needs YOU. A mighty rainstorm always begins with one drop of water.

This article has 26 comments

  1. maina

    thanks Malaka… and thanks for the inspiration not to be indifferent and the eye opener “Trickle down policies do not work in Africa, because there is rot at the head. Africa’s only way forward is a grassroots/wildfire movement.:

  2. NM

    Bravo! I couldn’t have said it better! Thank you for not only seeing beyond ‘Walter’s’ caustic language and posting the initial article, but writing this one to encourage us to think outside the box. The challenges Africa faces seem insurmountable, but am reminded of the late Professor Wangari Maathai’s I Am A Hummingbird allegory; I will do my part, however small. Thank you!

  3. Kobe Subramaniam

    just can’t open my mouth, you got all the inspirations in there.

  4. ali

    Walter’s story is most definitely inspirational, it resonates not only to the African intellectuals in the diaspora but also those of us who are still back home and have thoughts of going to the west. Innovations is going to be the key that will unlock Africa’s potential, we must start thinking a bout solutions to our problems and not how much wealth we can accumulate or how better life is in the developed world.

  5. misstessymaritime

    Thank you for your fantastic insight Malaka. My name is Tessy Maritim, 18 years, Kenyan and a first year Law student at the University of Manchester. I cam here knowing I was going back to serve my country, but its only when I see how comfortable African’s are growing other people’s economy that I feel obligated to be of service to my country. Most Africans leave their country in search of greener pastures and yet they end up in mediocre jobs such as supermarket attendants, bar tenders and even cleaners. It’s ironic how we complain so much about our country and yet we do NOTHING to make it better.
    I wrote about the same gist of ideas in my blog, “The Grass is not always greener on the other side” http://misstessymaritime.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/the-grass-is-not-always-greener-on-the-other-side™/
    Thank you so much for sharing, I admire your approach to this sensitive topic.
    All the best.

  6. Nana Ama

    Thank you Ms M. Great article and useful insight as usual. Proving that it is easier to galvanise people into action with the honey of reasoned argument than the vinegar of indictments from the Walters of this world!

  7. chatman

    thumbs up this masterpiece.and let us remove the selfish & greedy element in ourselves.

  8. gdanny

    I fine you blog post so enriching. It has inspired me to wake up and act. Not to wallow in endless lamentations which do not move my country. Just like most people i find it so hard to operate in a corrupt system where nothing seems to work without bribing someone. I am going to share what you wrote widely so that most people can also get touched like I have done.

  9. |Watchdog KE, Donnely|

    The example of the the average Ghanaian 3rd grader against a Georgian 3rd grader explains it all. Making use of what we were taught is what really matters. Allow me to blame the system of education that we have, It doesnt prepare one to apply the learnings and teachings…We all know that It doesnt end at attaining good certificates, It goes beyond that… Practicality and creativity will solve our problems |Watchdog KE|

  10. Pingback: Now That We Are All At Attention: | Kenyan Patriot

  11. jthelmsdeep

    “Walter had many things right in his rebuke to Field, but there was one thing he was terribly mistaken about. The bulk of Africa’s intellectuals are not lazy; they are indifferent.”

    This is brilliant insight! I understand that while Walter’s brash delivery holds gems of truth, there is no doubt that his perspective is extremely limited and over generalized. There is also something to be said for the fact that Africa is not the USA. It isn’t one country living under a single rule of law, but rather, it’s a continent made up of 52 countries of which the majority have endured plunder and colonialism by foreign settlers.

    Many nations in Africa are amalgamations of multiple people each fighting for their own survival. The blanket statements in Walter’s assessment don’t speak to the heart of the issues that resulted in the Rwandan genocide. The innate bitterness existing between the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s—and might I add fueled by the Belgian colonialists—cannot simply be addressed by an assertion of laziness by the intellectual class.

    The brutal Boko Haram bombings in Nigeria resulting from the deeply rooted Muslim vs. Christian conflicts, or the very real and worrying issues of tribalism and its resultant cultural divide as manifest in the Niger Delta, are issues that go well beyond a “lazy” intellectual community. Candidly, in a nation of roughly 250 languages and 600 dialects, it is somewhat disingenuous to think that the issues that surround our apathy can be covered in one fell swoop by a rather simplistic and blanket assessment of laziness.

    Corruption is rife and endemic in many African cultures and states, and those that are corrupt often appear to be the most successful as well as the ones in leadership—having bought their way into power by corrupt means. How else does one explain a Nigerian legislature paying it’s legislators more than one million US Dollars a year in salary and benefits, when the president of the United States—a significantly larger and more prosperous country—doesn’t even come close to earning that much? What exactly is it that they do or have done that justifies such largesse?

    In light of the systemic corruption and tyranny that is so apparent in many African nations, how do you, in all good conscience attempt to convince the hoi polloi that corruption doesn’t lead to success? In a culture where self-sacrifice is akin to a four letter word, who on earth would be willing to make such sacrifice knowing that it would serve no useful purpose?

    Walter may have been party to plundering the resources of Zambia and other fertile African nations, and indeed may even have made a few useful points in assessing some of the ills that beset our beleaguered continent, but under no circumstances do I consider his opinion the authoritative word on how to right the systemic ills of our various nations and cultures. If anything, we must each do an honest self-appraisal and determine whether we are doing everything within our control to effect positive change in our own spheres of influence.

  12. Maua

    I so agree, Africa needs me. I’ll come from denial and blame and do my part.

  13. mabala

    well thank God for your creativity. I think there is so much creativity in Africa but our uncreative school systems destroy all but the hardiest plans of creativity.

  14. The Real Nigeria

    Hi Malaka,

    I strongly feel that exposure to thought pieces and intellectual articles
    is something that we Africans need more, because I believe that intellectual discourse (not only by so-called “intellects” but by the “masses”) is a key step in really getting people energized to drive change in our societies back home.

    In my attempt to validate this belief, I am establishing what I hope to be
    a new generation media organization (starting with an online magazine) focused on Africa (signup.therealnigeria.com).

    As I embark upon this journey, I am looking to reach out to Africans who
    have a refined view of the world, and who can could potentially be active or passive contributors to my project. Please let me know if you would like to learn more about this project – senisulyman@therealnigeria.com

  15. Geoffrey Ndosi

    Great follow up! Both posts are very inspiring!

  16. Daniel Waweru

    Laughable nonsense. I’m sorry to be direct, but you trolled your own blog with half-baked White-supremacist nonsense whose only merit is novelty, seeing as it was written by a Black guy. I won’t repeat my comments regarding the piece except to say that you’ve proved your point regarding African intellectuals—although not in quite the way you hoped.

    • A-dub

      What???? I don’t get it? Why are you coming from left field with your lack of cohesive thoughts? You’ve thrown together some words and I bet you are sitting there patting yourself on the back, believing you’ve said something riveting. Obviously you don’t share the same sentiments as everyone else on the blog – that is your HUMAN right not Western right. …..
      I don’t believe you’ve actually read and understood what is being expressed in either of these blogs. Please sit down and actually let it sink in what everyone is saying. You response is the typical “nonsense” that is being discussed here – the “this is how it has always been” mentality… You fail to actually critically examine the piece because you think you already know what is being said.

      Humph, in fact … You are just to be ignored.

      • Malaka

        BAM! Thank you A-Dub. People like Daniel have an uncanny ability to say a whole lot without managing to say anything at all. And while that is a rare talent, it’s a useless one. There are enough people on this blog with the right spirit to accelerate progress. Daniel is just looking for a space to spew his poison, but he’ll find no takers here. He is the very reason colonization was such a resounding success, and if we are not careful, will be the reason neo-colonialism will succeed as well. He is all criticism and no solutions. What better tool for one group to take over another? There should a commemorative coin celebrating 400 years of slavery minted with his face. That way, he will never be able to hide from us! Were I cruel, I would delete his comments altogether, but ignorance must be exposed, and we the people will allow him to wallow in his mediocrity.

        As you said, he is to be ignored. You argue with a fool in…

      • Maua

        Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. U need to wake up and smell the coffee, or should I say open your eyes and ears, listen to the reasons why Kenya is in the state it is in. Maybe then, you and I can do something to make it a better place for our children if not for us.

    • NM

      LOL, I thought it was just me! I read this entry several times trying to decipher what the heck he meant!

  17. chairman okafor


  18. Richard Sekizivu

    Thanks you for your article. Walter’s story is absolutely 100% correct.
    All I know is, every one would like his family to be well off and would do anything to make his home a better place by providing all that needed if possible but when it comes to our countries, its like that’s a different body where we have to go to seek our needs and the rest is up to the nation to look after itself.
    The moment we begin to be patriotic to our countries supported by our leaders first, that’ll be the turning point of our development on the fast track.

  19. Afropolitan

    My only comment is that you’re spot on. All we need is to turn around intellectual indifference and a lot will get better. It would be good though if diaspora Africans returned their skills home. A related solution is proposed here: http://ekangere.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/the-audacity-of-hope/

  20. bantutu

    Intelligence has nothing to do with what you know, but what you do with the much you know.

  21. Aviti

    Oh, interesting. I think many Africans find themselves in a situation faced by this guy Winston (Character in G. Orwel`s book “Nineteen eighty four”). So, the ones with wings to fly and leave Afrika do so whenever they grab the chance. I myself is on the brink of committing the same sin (of running away). I have grown up, studied, worked in Afrika. But, what disappointments I have seen there make me realize that I am cheating myself remaining stuck in Afrika where I can use my knowledge to do very little for the good of anyone. Where as, in these other parts, a small effort and the result is seen, both personal and social. I, for example look at the life of a student in Afrika and these other parts: simple example of an engineering student in japan and one in tanzania. If for example they are both studying electronics. The one in japan will get to build systems, while the one in tanzania will get to read of systems (and never build one). I say this because I did such related fields, and came to find out that my equals in this japan built systems since high school, while I got to read of them in books. Now, the same happens in work place. An electronic engineer in japan will get to build, test and commission cutting edge systems. The one in tanzania will rarely get to install those systems developed by his/her counterpart in japan. So, upward growth is found in this places, while in Afrika there is almost none. In my opinion, in Afrika, the possible growth is in politics and not in such engineering or scientific professions. And this is the reason that will make a lot of Afrikans with such knowledge/ability come and work for these other parts. So, no matter how much I concur with you, but the truth is too bitter to swallow. I will rather become a citizen of the world, rather than become obsolete as a citizen of Afrika.

  22. Ondoga Mamai

    I loved that article and the way it made me feel, the new energies it gave me and the joy it brought me, for various reason.
    I recommend that we all read and appreciate the book – Capitalist Nigger by Chika Onyeani,

    the words in this article and in the book wake you up in a rather rude way but it is a wonderful wake up call; they say what you have always thought hazily of.

    It is our time.

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