Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Staring into the crystal ball

From Okot p'Bitek's, one of my favorite writers, has an essay titled "Indigenous Ills" (1967; Transitions Magazine), and I was struck by how true this is. Ever since I first read this article, I've been referring to it as the 'African Paradox':


There is a growing tendency in Africa for people to believe that most o their ills are imported, that the real sources of their problems come from outside.


Another, but contradictory phenomenon is the belief that the solutions to our social ills can be imported.


I believe that most of our social ills are indigenous, that the primary sources of our problems are native , rooted in the social setup. The most effective solutions cannot be imported: they must be the result of deliberate reorganization of the resources available for tackling specific issues.

He then bemoans what he calls "Africans colonizing Africans" and laments that anti-revolutionary stance of young people on the continent.

You see this in the anti-gay sentiment: "Homosexuality is Un-African! Then let's use Christianity to combat it!"

Same with growing our economies: "We need to grow our own economies and be self-sufficient! Let's use American and British money to do it!"

I'm more than a little freaked out that, once you take away the mention of trouble with the missionaries and his talk about dictatorships, this essay is still relevant. And this essay was written in 1967. Hell, even if you were to leave all that stuff in it'll still be relevant.

This is just one piece of writing. Wole Soyinka's Jero plays were written in the 1970s, and they were talking about swindler-churches. In 1970. I don't think Flora Nwapa's "Efuru," Ama Ata Aidoo's "No Sweetness Here," Buchi Emecheta's "Joys of Motherhood," or even Mariama Ba's "So Long a Letter" has been rendered anachronistic. I doubt that we can even say Fela's "Suffering and Smiling" belongs to another age. One of the most frustrating things, beyond looking at the open sore that is corruption and poverty, is knowing that we'll be talking about the same things for years to come.

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