Sunday, September 23, 2007

Open letter to Mr Sarkozy

A Response to the Speech of President Sarkozy of France at University in Dakar Senegal in July.

Dear Monsieur President,

Africa has been a platform for many European pronouncements over the years from your predecessor General DeGaulle, the now celebrated wind of change speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and even the pronouncements of the now disingenuous Tony Blair. History will judge whether your speech was one that set a new standard for sheer audacity. First let me say I am no fan of your politics or even yourself. In my own values anyone who would call other human being, Racaille or use immigration as a wedge issue is beyond the pale. Sir, no offence but it seemed that because you are a short man you over compensate in trying to act like an Alpha male. Maybe the idea is to bolster your credibility as well as your authority but is it working? Which brings us to your speech in Dakar during your recent African visit. Your comments has led to quite a firestorm and a much-celebrated source of polarization even a lightning rod for many racist views in blogosphere. Is that what you intended?

Let me summarise what I understood you as trying to say because most of the emotions generated by what you said comes from how people analysed your intention. On the other hand you appear to be a little clumsy or uncaring in your choice of words. Nevertheless I understand you as saying the following, colonialism as well as colonialist was an arrogant enterprise but mostly driven by good intention which delivered some benefits in infrastructure to the continent with some very painful psychological consequences. Africans you say most take responsibility for where they find themselves and use both traditions to fuel their future rather than analyse the past. Like I said the specific language you used was both exhilarating and stupid. People never remember what you said or even how you meant it but they never forget how what you said made them feel especially if it reduces rather than elevates them.

My take on what you said can wait a little whilst I address the indignation from your perceived patronising attitude. It galls many thinking Africans that even the most ill informed amongst Europeans in particular and the West in general feels qualified to analyse and intervene in African affairs. The only qualification they seem to require is good intention. Whether the designer scruffiness of Bob Geldof or the lost girl psychology of Angelina Jolie people are tired of self-appointed white saviours. The black ones are not doing any better whether Oprah or Will Smith their most egregious act to us include the wheeling in and out of Mr Mandela. In spite of his advance age their demand for photo opportunities has now become trite that it reduces the Mandela brand. We, Africans might be materially poor does that truly mean that we are worth less as human beings? So you have come in a long line of unsolicited advisers whose concerns are at least unsolicited and at best self serving, Most depressing is that no African no matter how well informed dare provide such advice or even commentary on your affairs.

Mr President what you had to say was deeply touching in parts. When you said
“ I have come to tell you that you should not be ashamed of the values of African civilisation, That these values do not drag you down but elevate you, that they are an antidote to the materialism and individualism that enslave the modern man, that they are the most precious of inheritances in the face of the dehumanisation and homogenisation of the world.”
I had tears in my eyes as I read it. It is a message that strikes at the heart of African underperformance and the core of our psychology of low expectations. It makes us reject the wisdom of our context as well that of our ancestors for pre-processed thinking from the west. We exchange them for borrowed ideas and approaches that never work because everything depends on context not just content for success. It seemed a masterstroke worthy of the best child of African. One whose memory of sucking from the milk of her humanity would never sees her in any other way than as the dignified mother of all.

If your speech had finished at that point then the ignorance you exhibited about colonialism would have been forgiven. I suppose as the President of France you could have researched King Leopold’s actions in the Congo. His brutality set standards that were to be followed by the RUF in Sierra Leone. If you bothered you could have found out the Concentration camp experiment on the Herrero people by the Germans and should have read about Samuel Wittboi. This also laid the foundation of what would happen in Auschwitz during Second World War. You maybe do not know that an entire generation of African leaders were exiled, killed or in other ways destroyed to enable the Colonial project. Leaders like Jaja of Opobo, Eshugbayi Eleko, Ashathene and his family, Overamen of Benin amongst many others who stood up for African institution as well as possibility. They would have been bulwarks against the total brainwashing that would follow. You could not have forgotten about the brutality of your own people in Algeria, surely not. Your comments about bridges, rail tracks et al forgets that these were exclusively from sources of commodity and crops directly to the coast. On this analysis you did a poor job, for if you must stand to lecture the youth of Africa you should do your homework.

Then you said,
“The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history. The African peasant, who for centuries has lived according to the seasons, whose ideal is to be in harmony with nature, has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repetition of the same actions and the same words’.”
You gave with one hand and took away with another. Sir do you not count Egypt, Kush, Axum, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Shongay, Mali kingdoms as part of Africa? All at their height puts into shadow some of your best and brightest history. Do you see all these as works of aliens? Did you know in Timbuktu there are manuscripts that depict the universe and the position of the planets centuries before Copernicus or Galileo understood any of these? Where would Europe be if the Moors of Al Andalus or Andalusia did not give you script and sciences? These were African people who translated the thinking of the Greeks that you know depend on for intellectual legitimacy. Granted we are nowhere close to where we were in our estimation or that of the world. Your statement is a gross over simplification and the worst kind of stereotype of the peasant African. The are many egregious things you say afterwards including
“Africa's challenge is to stop forever repeating and going over things, and to free herself from the myth of the eternal renewal; it is to realise that the golden age that she always harks back to will never return for the simple reason that it never existed.”
The shame is most Africans do not bother enough about the past they therefore repeat the pattern not because of an understanding of what has gone before but for the opposite reason.

We, Africans of course are co- creators of the reality we live and sole benefactors of its consequences. We cannot therefore afford to blame others or wallow in self-pity. On the contrary the future you talk about in your final statement is ours to lose. We are now in a period of turbulence and discontinuity an age when the adaptiveness of mind and action is the foundation of success. The times no longer favour the rigidity of thinking, servitude to engineered solution or overdependence of efficiency of hardware. At the same time knowledge and information is freely available.

This Africa that is such a source of pity and disdain might be materially poorer and this might well continue for a while. She will however take her place as the source of solution and ideas in this complex times. I pray that you our ‘self styled’ friend will live to see that day. An Africa confident to dream outside the misshaped ‘reality’ others will use to imprison her mind. An Africa of productivity and dignity based on who we are rather than what we own. An Africa where the majesty of humanity is the celebrated value rather than its ability to replicate consumer opportunities. An Africa where all her children look to shining Equator and the glistening chocolate skin that it has toasted and they say , thank God I am born an African.