By Stanley Ochuko Omadogho
Stanley O. Omadogho argues that sub-Saharan Africa can be great if they choose to
Frustrated by the colossal failure in his continent, a young father once asked rhetorically, “Is black a curse?” Never shrink back from a controversial, and probably stupid, inquiry, I said to myself. So let us try the remix of that question.
Is the lightning speed of Usain Bolt and all other 100m champions before him, a curse? Or is the phenomenal strength of Iron Mike a desecration of nature? Or is the beauty of Meagan Good a sad consequence of genetic mutation? Can black be nature’s mistake?
Black is divine, the bullying muscles of their ripped men, the voluptuous curves of their endowed women, beautifully conceived and sculptured in the mind of the most intelligent being in the universe.
But this is not really a question of who is strongest, fastest, or most beautiful, but who has the capacity to build an advanced world by themselves, and for themselves? The curse question then becomes relevant when you take a snapshot of the entire sub-Saharan African region, the world headquarters of poverty, diseases, and underdevelopment.
The question becomes even more pertinent knowing that this region possesses the most abundant natural resources, and a human resource base with the most tremendous entrepreneurial energy needed for success. Sub-Saharan Africa could so easily have become the most strategically important geopolitical region on the planet, leading the way both intellectually and economically, smashing and holding every world record in the Olympic Games that require power play. (Remember Jesse Owens).
Except they are mostly held back by one crucial factor, not religion or ethnicity, not a low IQ, not their leaders per se, and definitely not a curse, but a certain attitude mostly characteristic of the sub-Saharan African region.
Name any of the world’s great who is black, who have reached the pinnacle of their careers, whether in the field of technology, medicine or entertainment, and they would have plied their trade in the West, an environment more conducive to nurturing talent, to harnessing new and imaginative ideas generated by all, irrespective of race. Back home in Africa, their successes would most likely have been limited by this characteristic attitude.
So here is the attitude holding Africa back. You can see it in the most common of places, the highways, when driving in Africa.
At intersections or narrow streets, nine out of 10 motorists who find themselves in a gridlock with other motorists would never back up. They would rather create a major traffic jam than yield when ‘challenged’ in a traffic confrontation. A nose-to-tail traffic can easily become a tug of war as everyone defends his right of way. Interestingly, cutting a line, or getting in front of other motorists, is as easy as begging for permission, in effect, massaging someone’s ego, rather than trying to be the victor in a power tussle. And for the benevolent motorist, it is a case of, “You didn’t win. I let you through.”
The prevailing attitude governing every facet of life in Africa can be summarised with these stereotypes: To get ahead of me, I will have to let you pass, or you will never get through. Your success either comes from me, or through me, or you will have no success at all. We are either at par, or everyone else must simply play catch-up. You simply cannot be better than me. This mental disposition is powered by the “I pass my neighbour” syndrome.
It is difficult to find the words to describe this attitude. This is neither hatred nor wickedness. Is it a display of alpha male superiority and dominance (ladies are not left out), or just being plain inconsiderate and uncompassionate? Interestingly, this attitude is not displayed towards obvious foreigners, for example Europeans, who are highly respected. Every confrontation, every situation, every hiccup, every obstacle, becomes a challenge that must be won, if only for personal ego. The little things are hardly allowed to slide for the greater good of society.
Now picture this attitude in political establishments, in corporate organisations, in academic institutions. For example, students fail to come up with a first-class under the watch of university lecturers who failed to achieve that academic feat. Embezzlements are not just in response to poverty but to ensure parity is never achieved in society. Wages in local-based companies are ridiculously kept low for the same reason.
A destructively competitive and jealous spirit becomes apparent, one that creates very little cohesion and minimal cooperation. Many individuals will rather let a societal project burn if the accolades will go to someone else. This guarantees only one reality, that societies are littered with unkempt lawns on the sidewalks, untarred roads, dilapidated structures, unfunded public institutions, and an unsatisfied, malnourished, disgruntled, and eviscerated populace.
Whether Africa succeeds or not depends on their ability to restore a noble value system in their people. Some believe their society lost its way somewhere in the distant and forgotten past. Still, it is never too late to adopt the values of equity, selflessness and respect for others, honouring the dignity, rights and privileges of everyone to enjoy a fulfilling existence, knowing that they all share a common ancestry that makes them family.
So here is a simple formula that could propel Africa into a century of progress: live and let live. Whatever the nature of the challenge, always let go of ego and back-up for the greater good. Let others through. Let others have it if they deserve it. Sub-Saharan Africans can be great, even greatest, if they choose to be, definitely with input from the West as South Africa has proven. In the end, it is a matter of choice – their choice.