The origin of this article was penned by Field Ruwe. He is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is also a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.
They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.
“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”
Brawny, fully bald-headed, with intense, steely eyes, he was as cold as they come. When I first discovered I was going to spend my New Year’s Eve next to him on a non-stop JetBlue flight from Los Angeles to Boston I was angst-ridden. I associate marble-shaven Caucasians with iconoclastic skin-heads, most of who are racist.
“My name is Walter,” he extended his hand as soon as I settled in my seat.
I told him mine with a precautious smile.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Zambia!” he exclaimed, “Kaunda’s country.”
“Yes,” I said, “Now Sata’s.”
“But of course,” he responded. “You just elected King Cobra as your president.”
My face lit up at the mention of Sata’s moniker. Walter smiled, and in those cold eyes I saw an amenable fellow, one of those American highbrows who shuttle between Africa and the U.S.
“I spent three years in Zambia in the 1980s,” he continued. “I wined and dined with Luke Mwananshiku, Willa Mungomba, Dr. Siteke Mwale, and many other highly intelligent Zambians.” He lowered his voice. “I was part of the IMF group that came to rip you guys off.” He smirked. “Your government put me in a million dollar mansion overlooking a shanty called Kalingalinga. From my patio I saw it all—the rich and the poor, the ailing, the dead, and the healthy.”
“Are you still with the IMF?” I asked.
“I have since moved to yet another group with similar intentions. In the next few months my colleagues and I will be in Lusaka to hypnotize the cobra. I work for the broker that has acquired a chunk of your debt. Your government owes not the World Bank, but us millions of dollars. We’ll be in Lusaka to offer your president a couple of millions and fly back with a check twenty times greater.”
“No, you won’t,” I said. “King Cobra is incorruptible. He is …”
He was laughing. “Says who? Give me an African president, just one, who has not fallen for the carrot and stick.”
Quett Masire’s name popped up.
“Oh, him, well, we never got to him because he turned down the IMF and the World Bank. It was perhaps the smartest thing for him to do.”
At midnight we were airborne. The captain wished us a happy 2012 and urged us to watch the fireworks across Los Angeles.
“Isn’t that beautiful,” Walter said looking down.
From my middle seat, I took a glance and nodded admirably.
“That’s white man’s country,” he said. “We came here on Mayflower and turned Indian land into a paradise and now the most powerful nation on earth. We discovered the bulb, and built this aircraft to fly us to pleasure resorts like Lake Zambia.”
I grinned. “There is no Lake Zambia.”
He curled his lips into a smug smile. “That’s what we call your country. You guys are as stagnant as the water in the lake. We come in with our large boats and fish your minerals and your wildlife and leave morsels—crumbs. That’s your staple food, crumbs. That corn-meal you eat, that’s crumbs, the small Tilapia fish you call Kapenta is crumbs. We the Bwanas (whites) take the cat fish. I am the Bwana and you are the Muntu. I get what I want and you get what you deserve, crumbs. That’s what lazy people get—Zambians, Africans, the entire Third World.”
The smile vanished from my face.
“I see you are getting pissed off,” Walter said and lowered his voice. “You are thinking this Bwana is a racist. That’s how most Zambians respond when I tell them the truth. They go ballistic. Okay. Let’s for a moment put our skin pigmentations, this black and white crap, aside. Tell me, my friend, what is the difference between you and me?”
“There’s no difference.”
“Absolutely none,” he exclaimed. “Scientists in the Human Genome Project have proved that. It took them thirteen years to determine the complete sequence of the three billion DNA subunits. After they
were all done it was clear that 99.9% nucleotide bases were exactly the same in you and me. We are the same people. All white, Asian, Latino, and black people on this aircraft are the same.”
I gladly nodded.
“And yet I feel superior,” he smiled fatalistically. “Every white person on this plane feels superior to a black person. The white guy who picks up garbage, the homeless white trash on drugs, feels superior to you no matter his status or education. I can pick up a nincompoop from the New York streets, clean him up, and take him to Lusaka and you all be crowding around him chanting muzungu, muzungu and yet he’s a riffraff. Tell me why my angry friend.”
For a moment I was wordless.
“Please don’t blame it on slavery like the African Americans do, or colonialism, or some psychological impact or some kind of stigmatization. And don’t give me the brainwash poppycock. Give me a better answer.”
I was thinking.
He continued. “Excuse what I am about to say. Please do not take offense.”
I felt a slap of blood rush to my head and prepared for the worst.
“You my friend flying with me and all your kind are lazy,” he said. “When you rest your head on the pillow you don’t dream big. You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, who is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say,” I protested.
He was implacable. “Oh yes it is and I will say it again, you are lazy. Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”
I held my breath.
“Do you know where I found your intellectuals? They were in bars quaffing. They were at the Lusaka Golf Club, Lusaka Central Club, Lusaka Playhouse, and Lusaka Flying Club. I saw with my own eyes a bunch of alcoholic graduates. Zambian intellectuals work from eight to five and spend the evening drinking. We don’t. We reserve the evening for brainstorming.”
He looked me in the eye.
“And you flying to Boston and all of you Zambians in the Diaspora are just as lazy and apathetic to your country. You don’t care about your country and yet your very own parents, brothers and sisters are in Mtendere, Chawama, and in villages, all of them living in squalor. Many have died or are dying of neglect by you. They are dying of AIDS because you cannot come up with your own cure. You are here calling yourselves graduates, researchers and scientists and are fast at articulating your credentials once asked—oh, I have a PhD in this and that—PhD my foot!”
I was deflated.
“Wake up you all!” he exclaimed, attracting the attention of nearby passengers. “You should be busy lifting ideas, formulae, recipes, and diagrams from American manufacturing factories and sending them to your own factories. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole our ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.”
He paused. “The Bwana has spoken,” he said and grinned. “As long as you are dependent on my plane, I shall feel superior and you my friend shall remain inferior, how about that? The Chinese, Japanese, Indians, even Latinos are a notch better. You Africans are at the bottom of the totem pole.”
He tempered his voice. “Get over this white skin syndrome and begin to feel confident. Become innovative and make your own stuff for god’s sake.”
At 8 a.m. the plane touched down at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Walter reached for my hand.
“I know I was too strong, but I don’t give it a damn. I have been to Zambia and have seen too much poverty.” He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something. “Here, read this. It was written by a friend.”
He had written only the title: “Lords of Poverty.”
Thunderstruck, I had a sinking feeling. I watched Walter walk through the airport doors to a waiting car. He had left a huge dust devil twirling in my mind, stirring up sad memories of home. I could see Zambia’s literati—the cognoscente, intelligentsia, academics, highbrows, and scholars in the places he had mentioned guzzling and talking irrelevancies. I remembered some who have since passed—how they got the highest grades in mathematics and the sciences and attained the highest education on the planet. They had been to Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), only to leave us with not a single invention or discovery. I knew some by name and drunk with them at the Lusaka Playhouse and Central Sports.
Walter is right. It is true that since independence we have failed to nurture creativity and collective orientations. We as a nation lack a workhorse mentality and behave like 13 million civil servants dependent on a government pay cheque. We believe that development is generated 8-to-5 behind a desk wearing a tie with our degrees hanging on the wall. Such a working environment does not offer the opportunity for fellowship, the excitement of competition, and the spectacle of innovative rituals.
But the intelligentsia is not solely, or even mainly, to blame. The larger failure is due to political circumstances over which they have had little control. The past governments failed to create an environment of possibility that fosters camaraderie, rewards innovative ideas and encourages resilience. KK, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, and Banda embraced orthodox ideas and therefore failed to offer many opportunities for drawing outside the line.
I believe King Cobra’s reset has been cast in the same faculties as those of his predecessors. If today I told him that we can build our own car, he would throw me out.
“Naupena? Fuma apa.” (Are you mad? Get out of here)
Knowing well that King Cobra will not embody innovation at Walter’s level let’s begin to look for a technologically active-positive leader who can succeed him after a term or two. That way we can make our own stone crushers, water filters, water pumps, razor blades, and harvesters. Let’s dream big and make tractors, cars, and planes, or, like Walter said, forever remain inferior.
A fundamental transformation of our country from what is essentially non-innovative to a strategic superior African country requires a bold risk-taking educated leader with a triumphalist attitude and we have one in YOU. Don’t be highly strung and feel insulted by Walter. Take a moment and think about our country. Our journey from 1964 has been marked by tears. It has been an emotionally overwhelming experience. Each one of us has lost a loved one to poverty, hunger, and disease. The number of graves is catching up with the population. It’s time to change our political culture. It’s time for Zambian intellectuals to cultivate an active-positive progressive movement that will change our lives forever. Don’t be afraid or dispirited, rise to the challenge and salvage the remaining few of your beloved ones.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review the above article. I had taken the initiative to circulate the piece among fellow Africans and for your edification, most of my personal critique I hereby present, is in consent with a views maintained by such fellow African comrades.
Let me begin by first, acknowledging that despite the intriguing exchange in the discourse that ensued between Mr. Ruwe and the guy named ‘Walter’, the referenced article is by far the most provoking piece of African sentiment I have ever read. In my humble opinion, to characterize African intellectuals as being “lazy” is nothing but sheer ad-hominem, guided by parochialism. This is because, from the origin of modern homo sapiens in over 200, 000 years ago to the present, Africans (in general) are well-known to be among, if not the most hardworking of all races. This is not only apparent to Africans themselves, but to other races as well, especially in modern era of post-Colonialism when Africans emigrate en-mass to the West and other parts of the world, in quest for higher education and independent profession. In such societies, Africans have often risen to the pinnacle of their class and profession, despite the usual odds of being introduced to a new culture, a new lifestyle, and sometimes inhospitable environments structured with bigotry, stigma, and unfairness. More often than not, Africans in the Diaspora climb up to the summit of best institutions in foreign lands, while leaving native sons and daughters of Western societies behind, due to their inability to compete with Africans. This has become the usual tendency here in the United Sates (U.S.), and I am sure is the case in other parts of the world too. In such societies where intellectualism is revered and innovation encouraged, Africans contribute immensely to scientific discoveries and other aspects of societal progress. Indeed, we have African intellectuals who serve as Professors in some of the World’s best academic institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge, just to name a few. Moreover, African intellectuals have been pioneers in medical research, technological inventions, political reforms, and entrepreneurship in these same Western societies where talent is rewarded and professionalism permitted to pursue its independent course, without harassment or intimidation. Such indications of dexterity and competence are simply inconsistent with lethargy and therefore, sufficient to negate the “torpidity” accusation made by ‘Walter’.
Of course, it is no-brainer that Africa is at the bottom of the totem pole not because its intellectuals are anemic to discoveries, but because its political leadership is spineless and alien to the rule-of-law, dissent, or innovation! To me, ‘Walter’ was very-well on track in most parts of his rampage (the abject poverty, the pandemic diseases, the lack of invention, the apathetic attitude, and the braggadocio with degrees), until he leveled his blame on intellectual laziness. In actuality, most, if not all the above-listed problems are to be blamed on feckless African leadership. Simply put, Africa is basically in scarcity of political leaders! What we have in abundance is a cohort of impostors who lack the basic comprehension that leadership is not to be imitated – that it goes with acquiring the attributes, which are instilled by a detailed disciplinary mental development that must be continuously relied upon to shape relevant policies for meaningful societal progress. A leader retains a genuine sense of integrity; anyone with leadership quality usually imbibes a well-defined character of altruism; and above all, leadership coexists with vision, and vision is not so much of where we stand, but the direction we are heading! Most African heads-of-government lack these features. More importantly, most African heads-of-state fail to appreciate the dictum that artificial intelligence is no match to ‘natural’ stupidity. It is because of these inadequacies that I generally reserve the term ‘leader’, and use the parlance ‘heads-of-state’ instead, when referring to African heads-of-government. Therefore, as much important it is that African heads-of-state have access to this article, it is equally imperative that Western governments who provide them with resources to prolong their tyranny, also realize that a pandemic political autocracy is Africa’s most inimical deterrence to progress! And if they, meaning the West have any iota of genuineness in changing the status-quo, they will need to transform the existing anachronistic system of governance first. It simply necessitates a demand for credible term-limits and consistent transition of governments, as pre-requisites for any potential loans or effective partnership. Reinforce this with draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions for any blatant tyranny or human right abuses, and I guarantee you that the dunderheads will take a heed. Bottom line, institutionalize an auspicious political climate in Africa that eulogizes, instead of vilifies; rewards, instead of reprimands; and encourages, instead of dissuades intellectuals and the whole world will have a rude awakening of the level of creativity African highbrows possess. We had manifested such ingenuity in ancient and medieval history, and can surely display it again – from Alexandria of Ancient Egypt (over 2000 years of civilization), to Kumbi Saleh of Ghana Empire, and Timbuktu of Mali Empire, Africans had been more innovative than any other contemporary society the world had ever seen, including the Roman Empire!
‘Walter’ is right, Mankind are all created equal! As a Neuroscientist, with background training in Neurogenetics, I appreciate his reference of the Human Genome Project (HGP). By the way, I am not an African braggart, as ‘Walter’ had accused. However, as a believer in God too, the egalitarianism of all races became apparent to me well before the dawn of HGP or Darwin’s theory of Speciation. Such revelation is again, not to boast of my religious instincts, but instead to share my concurrence that science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind – Albert Einstein. Indeed, all four of God’s Holy books (Zabur, Torah, Injil, and Quran) have hitherto, established that God categorizes Man into races, sects, and ‘tribes’ for no other reason except to better relate to one-another and to appreciate His Majesty. So, to get back to ‘Walter’’s provoking but valid inquiry as to why Blacks feel inferior to Whites, I honestly do not know the specific answer to that. I can however, state with certainty that a multi-faceted factors do play a role, including African illiteracy which coexists with ignorance about the White race, stigmatization of the Black race, and advanced Western civilization often plastered on the media. It is incontrovertible that most Africans still regard the Whiteman as a ‘supernatural’ being. This concept is masterminded by an inspiring White ingenuity in scientific discoveries, infrastructural development, and well-structured civilization in the West, as oppose to the penury, pandemic outbreaks, and civil ‘cannibalism’ usually associated with Africa. With regards to stigma, slavery is by far, the most detrimental human instigation ever happened to Mankind! Some call it Africa’s Holocaust and I call it the African ‘Armageddon’. Again, by the way, I am aware of ‘Walter’’s admonishment not to use slavery as an excuse. However, it is equally noteworthy that no sincere discussion ever ensues when only one party in the discourse sets rules on what issues to raise or leave out. Not only was slavery barbarous, it also left behind a permanent imprint of Black stigma in the psyche of both the Black race in particular, and other races in general – one that may forever remain inextinguishable. From the Triangular Trade that yielded the Transatlantic Slave Trade (institutionalized by the Portuguese and entrenched by the Brits) to the present, Blacks in general have been regarded and treated by society as ‘sub-humans’ who are not only imperceptive to innovation, but to civilization as well. Instead of remedying this stigma, society continues to romanticize and to some extent, dramatize Black inferiority. Of course, ‘Blackness’ gets often associated with nothing but evil, horror, or grimness in present society. For instance, during a papal conclave, the Roman Catholic Church still effuses ‘black’ smoke when the room is most perplexed and every member of the College of Cardinals is dejected because a Pope is yet to be chosen. On the other hand, a ‘white’ smoke gets diffused only when a Papal finally gets selected and there is overwhelming joy in the room; that it is a norm to all races including Blacks, to utter phrases like “the kettle calling the pot black”, “being the black sheep of the family”, and “being blacked-out” when one’s brain becomes numb and is unable to reason; that the gunman who wants to conduct a massacre has to wear a black gear, in order to carry out his havoc; that a death in a family is best manifested with black gowns; that Blacks of both gender often peel off their superficial dark skins, in order to expose the less-pigmented under-dermis that looks more whitish; and when ‘prisoners’ get executed, Gambians change their Facebook profile pictures to black; as if God is White and Satan (Evil) is Black! We have indeed witnessed the former president of South Africa, P.W. Botha using the analogy of a lizard being different from a crocodile, despite both belonging to the Taxonomic Class of reptiles, in reference to the distinction between Blacks and Whites. An account most refreshing to our memory is Ted Nugent’s recent rancor against President Obama, calling him a “sub-human mongrel”.
As if not enough mayhem was already committed against the Black race by slavery, the Whiteman followed-suit with a subsequent subterfuge termed Colonialism. Colonialism was nothing other than the White race presenting itself to be ‘superior’ to the Black race, to the extent that he (the Whiteman) has to govern him (the Blackman), a fallacy that easily sank in the African psyche, given the degrading experience of slavery that they just went through. With colonialism came all other damaging remnants to society, including political tyranny, pandemic military takeovers, civil wars and of course, massive exodus of African intellectuals, due to constant persecutions levelled against them by spineless heads-of-state, who perceive intellectuals as threats to their egoistic political demagoguery, rather than the most effective tool to national development. The few highbrows who stay in the Continent have no better option than to remain as rubberstamps, in fear of their safety and that of their families. Due to the above-stipulated factors, it is easily conscionable that when ‘Walter’ picks up a riff-raff from the streets of New York City and takes him to Africa, he would not even need to clean him up, in order for the Zambian to chant muzungu, or the Gambian to hail tubab, as long as the vagrant’s skin color is white.
In a nutshell, ‘Walter’’s frustration towards African intellectuals is well-taken. However, the diatribe is more suited for the African heads-of-government, most of whom are unqualified for that responsibility, much less be intellectuals. Secondly, ‘Walter’’s harangue would carry greater weight if it had addressed the apathetic policies of Western governments towards Africa’s established system of dictatorship. Rather than maintaining a fair policy of checks-and-balances across the Globe, America and the West seem to be more inclined on their national interests, instead of humanitarian welfare. Although I generally discount its validity, one could also argue that the West is more inclined towards maintaining the orthodox of African destitution, as prove to Black inferiority. It is often mind-boggling to Africans that the U.S. can rescue Iraqis from the iron-fist oppression of Saddam Hussein for instance, but remains indifferent to the tyrannical nature of African heads-of-state.
Thus, it is crucial to note that intellectualism never coexists with lethargy! It takes a plethora of perseverance, dedication, and personal discipline to attain academic prowess. Moreover, intellectualism is generally enlightening and therefore, cannot be wrong. Education nurtures the brain, develops the persona and as a result, transform a Mayflower feudal society into a ‘paradise’, as Walter alluded. Therefore, the least endeavor we can afford to undertake as Africans is to stop engendering ACCREDITED PhDs! Finally, it is vital to bear in mind that despite its impressiveness, the only indubitable panacea to the advanced Western civilization the world observes today is conducive intellectualism instead of White ‘supernaturalism’, as many Africans are lead to believe. ANY race that becomes more receptive to intellectual prowess becomes more innovative and for that matter, more affluent, irrespective of creed or culture – hence the resurgence of the Chinese, Japanese, and Indians. In contrast, ANY society that antagonizes intellectual competence faces abject poverty, civil unrest, and destitution – hence the regression of Africa! ‘Walter’ would be totally surprised if the American military was to suddenly take over the reign of government and summarily establishes a system of despotism, as absurd as that may sound. The ‘dynasty’ would be deserted, and New York City would then become present-day Gao (in Mauritania), the erstwhile flourished city of Songhai. Newton’s Third Law of Physics dictates to us that for every action, there is an equal but opposite action; Galileo taught us that one cannot build a castle in the air; and well before Newton or Galileo, Nature affirms to us that the universe operates on specific Devine principles. Africa will not develop if it continues to denigrate its intellectuals, and it certainly will not innovate if does not invest efficiently in education. My unvarnished remedy to the African paradoxical quagmire is usually summed-up in two simple synopses: 1) Instill the rightful leadership that safeguards the basic tenets of rule-of-law, and there will be massive repatriation of graduates from not only Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, and Columbia, but Community Colleges as well. 2) Institutionalize universal education, which establishes the bedrock for innovation, demystifies ‘Whiteness’ and in the process, ‘de-stigmatize’ ‘Blackness’ and there will be ingenious discoveries in the Continent. The feasibility of such outcome is more probable in Africa than anywhere else, given the fact that it is the second-most populous and youngest continent in the world. If we could establish the first higher-learning institution, built Alexandria, and modernized Timbuktu, we surely can invent stone crushers, engineer water filters, and reserve lands for skyscrapers, instead of graveyards for our people!