25th April, 2013
Africa and Africans!
Each time I contemplate our promise and our predicament, I weep in frustration.
A few weeks ago, I was summoned to the television to watch a program about Ghana. One of America’s biggest networks was discussing Ghanaians and the importance we attach to funerals. They had gone to cover a funeral in New York, complete with traditional dancers and people dressed in impressive traditional finery. During the accompanying interviews, one of the speakers waxed eloquently about how important the dead are to us. As I watched, I recalled the story of the patient who was admitted to the Psychiatric hospital in Accra and recovered. When the family was informed of the good news and invited to come for the recovered patient, weeks passed without anyone in the family showing up. After a while, the hospital sent the same family a message that the patient had died. Within days, the family showed up with a large entourage—with a coffin—ready to collect the body and to give their departed relative a fitting burial. Contrast this with the case of my elderly patient in Cape Coast who could not show up for appointments and could not take care of herself basically because of age and infirmity. As my nurse remarked, “Doc, when she dies, you would be amazed at the family members who would show up to give her a fitting funeral.” While our reverence for the dead is commendable, I am sure that many will appreciate a little bit of the attention and goodwill given in death, before death.
This distortion of priorities is in abundance across Africa. We are obsessed with exporting oil while our citizens are queuing for it. We make plans to export food even while our citizens are starving. We build presidential palaces while the masses lack basic housing and we buy Presidential jets and luxury vehicles for dignitaries even while we lack public transport systems.
Recently in Ghana, it came to light that the government has paid at least 39 million Ghana cedis to MP’s of the fifth Parliament as ex-gratia even while University lecturers and Doctors are on strike because of outstanding allowances. Surprisingly, there have been many defenders of this incomprehensible policy of paying lawmakers money for goodwill while public servants wait for the payment of allowances which they have earned.
In Kenya’s March 6th election, Uhuru Kenyatta was behind in the polls and under UN indictment, together with his running mate for their role in the death of over 1,200 Kenyans when the West got involved. When US and British diplomats decided to intervene, Kenyans did something that would be incomprehensible anywhere outside Africa—they rallied to Kenyatta’s banner. To Kenyans, thumbing their noses at the British and the Americans mattered more than justice for their countrymen who died after the 2007 elections. Never mind that despite our sensitivity to our independence, many African countries happily and proudly take “budgetary support” from the West.
In Nigeria’s 2013 budget, there is a whopping 4 billion Naira appropriation for the “First Lady’s Mission House.”! Indeed, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has described this as a “mind-boggling misappropriation.” This is happening in the country where the poor have little hope, there is massive unemployment and according to former US President Clinton, Boko Haram’s rise may be linked to the unusually high poverty rate in the north.
Unfortunately, even the media, which elsewhere is the voice of the people and of accountability, have often here in Africa, been part of the trivialization. Too many of our news and analysis programs are filled with irrelevancies and vitriol that retards our development. The examples are endless but the dark role played by radio in the Rwandan massacre should stand as an eternal reminder of the evil that media can do to us.
Despite the popular fallacy that this is Africa’s century, we are still in the grip of an attitudinal approach that seems to emphasize what is trivial at the expense of what is important.
In too many places, simple problems that affect the many are ignored while the grievances of the powerful engage the rulers.
Would it not make more sense in Ghana to deal with the problems of our University teachers and doctors before those of our legislators? After all, we are all affected by hospitals which are not functioning at full capacity, regardless of our politics. Why would America pay for the care of our HIV/AIDS patients while our governments are pre-occupied with the privileges of the powerful?
Would it not be more principled for the Kenyans to show their independence by dealing with those responsible for the 2007 killings instead of being upset with the International Criminal Court and the West? Why would non-Kenyans like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the ICC’s Fatou Bensouda care more about justice for the victims of the 2007 election violence than Kenyans?
In Nigeria’s case, would it not make more sense to spend the money for the first lady’s Mission House on education or health for the poor? If Nigeria’s leaders were responsive to the voice of Nigerians, why would there be such indifference to the opinions of Nigerians?
Those who have called on Ghanaian leaders to address the increasing agitations on the labour front due to its potential to cause social problems have been attacked by the punditocracy. While we all hope for the best, we must take counsel from history. Societies that are persistently unjust cannot be continually peaceful. The rise of Cromwell in Britain was the unleashing of violence against the ruling elite. The 1973 coup in Chile occurred despite the fact that Chile had gone for a century without a coup. All it took was two years of bad governance.
There are those who define democracy, maybe in jest, as “the madness of the many for the enjoyment of the few.” Let us prove that here in Africa, that definition is wrong.
Our leaders and citizens must be guided, consistently by the public interest and the needs of the greatest number in all their dealings.
Let us move forward—together.