A new approach to Africa

An encouraging start has been made. One only has to look at countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, which have been military dictatorships for a generation and more, and yet have now clawed their way back to democracy. South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia  the list is growing of those count

ries which can claim to be relatively, and increasingly, democratic.

Contrary to the African stereotype of oppression of women, some countries have made significant advances in the field of gender empowerment. Liberia recently elected Africas first woman president. South Africa has a woman vice president and so does my own country, Zimbabwe. Nigerias female minister of finance is highly respected internationally  not just a pretty face for cosmetic purposes. Many civic society groups are headed by bright, highly educated, women. And we all know damn well that when women get behind an organisation, things move.

Several African countries have signed up to Nepad – the new initiative spearheaded by South Africas President Thabo Mbeki. This entails a voluntary submission to peer review. Nepad is not without its own problems  but it is founded on noble principles and is a step in the right direction.

I think it would be appropriate at this juncture to address the spirit of Africa  I use the word spirit to embrace where we have come from, what has formed us and what motivates us. Once again, it is important to resist the temptation to generalise. I am aware that in this space I can do no more than paint a general picture with broad brush strokes. Having qualified my comments, let me say that we Africans are by and large a sunny-natured people – gregarious, warm-hearted, generous, friendly and kind.

God smiled on Africa  he gave it a warm sun and a warm heart. He also made it incredibly beautiful  with tropical forests, mighty rivers, huge expanses of grassland where countless herds of magnificent beasts roam free, as well as mountains and deserts. From snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro to the shimmering Namib desert, Africa has everything. Golden beaches ring its shores from Cape Town all the way up to Somalia. Above all, God gave Africa treasures below the earth. Gold, silver, tin, iron, nickel, diamonds, uranium, platinum  even oil. Africa has it. Little wonder the colonialists coveted it.

Despite these riches, people are the most important thing for us. The family unit is terribly important in all African cultures. We have not yet abandoned the community and replaced it with the modular family unit as the western world has.

Old people in Africa are highly respected and cared for within the bosom of the community until they die. We dont have old-age homes in Africa where they are shunted off to die alone. Similarly with un-planned babies and orphans  they are absorbed seamlessly into the community, loved and fed by the extended family at large. Not dumped in institutions.

The western world has the internet  a wonderful thing indeed. They also have television  the opium of their children. Western children spend hours every day in front of the television  being entertained. In Africa, most children still make their own toys. Communal entertainment takes the form of storytelling and ballad singing by the tribal elders. The living history of the family is passed on from one generation to another in this way.

Poetry is important too  each family, clan and tribe has its own repertoire of praise songs which constitute our literary heritage. As with the western world, love has always been at the core of our poetry and literature. Music and dance are terribly important to us too. We sing and dance when we are happy. We sing and dance when we are sad. When a child is born, when he gets married and when he dies  we sing and dance. We even sing and dance when we plant our crops and when we reap.

Modern jazz has its roots in African music. Weve been rapping for years. People think it is modern  but my grandfather was a rapper. Nowadays when one thinks of rap music one thinks of Eminem and snoop dog. All these modern stars have done is gone into a recording studio and had a massive corporation behind them selling the music. My grandfathers rap was confined to his village, where he enthralled his 23 wives, 50 children and couple of hundred subjects around the fire.

In conclusion, may I encourage you not to forget the story of Tsuro and Kamba. The race is not finished yet. And when you look at Kamba do not pity him for his heavy load and his slow speed, but look rather at his courage, his endurance and his perseverance. Look beneath the shell to his spirit  and applaud him in your hearts. – Excerpts from an address to the Another Africa conference held recently at Tilburg University, The Netherlands.

Post published in: Arts

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