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.