Another Africa

BY WILF MBANGA We need to view Africa in a spirit of positive resolution, building on its considerable strength rather than wringing our hands in despair  Lord Holme The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong - Ecclesiastes Once upon a time there were two friends  Tsuro

(hare) and Kamba (tortoise). They decided to have a race. Tsuro knew that he would win because he had a great advantage over Kamba  who had very short legs and a heavy shell to carry. One sunny day the race began – and all the creatures of the forest gathered to watch. As soon as the whistle blew, Tsuro raced off leaving Kamba in a cloud of dust. After a mile or so Tsuro saw that Kamba was far behind, so he decided to take a rest. He went to a nearby pool and had a nice cool swim and a drink. Just as he had finished, Kamba came up behind him. Tsuro took off again. Kamba plodded onwards. Once he was ahead again, Tsuro decided to stop for a snack and to sunbathe a little. Kamba plodded on. Just as he caught up again, off went Tsuro. This continued all day. Late in the afternoon, Tsuro lay down under a tree to take a nap. The finishing line was nearby and he was confident of victory. Kamba plodded onwards. As the sun was setting he passed Tsuro napping. When Tsuro awoke, the shadows were falling. He leapt up and raced to the finish  just in time to see Kamba plodding across the finishing line. All the animals cheered. Kamba’s perseverance had paid off. He had won the race. The race is not over yet. Africa is the tortoise of our world – creeping slowly toward progress, heavily burdened. While the hare, the developed world and even the developing world, races ahead swiftly on the wings of industrial development and globalisation. Today, perhaps more than ever, most of us think of Africa as a place of suffering, corruption, hatred – where millions die of disease and hunger, where democracy has failed and man’s inhumanity to man reaches appalling extremes. But that is only one facet of the diamond that is Africa. Truly Africa is multi-faceted, full of fascination and mystery, complex and intricate. It is vital that a new approach be taken to the “problems” of Africa. We must begin to change the prevailing attitude of Afro-pessimism, in order to dispel the clouds and get back to a realistic assessment of the real Africa. Lord Holme said it eloquently in his recent address to the West and Southern African business association’s Annual General Meting: “First of all there is a depressing and annoying tendency on the part of the world in general and the international media in particular to lump the whole continent together as one generic entity. This ignores the extraordinary diversity of the vastly differing peoples and their cultures and the very different stages of their political and democratic development.” A western television viewer can be forgiven for concluding that the entire African government is misgoverned, and characterised by massacres, internecine warfare, fear, failure and want. Concerning Africa, there is universal gloom and doom. We hear very little about the good news of growing democracy on the continent, points of economic achievement, of social progress. There is a new culture of tolerance and respect for human rights. The African Union now has a human rights commission. There is a renewed commitment to finding answers to Africa’s long-running crises. I would like to encourage us all to look at Africa with a degree of perspective. Instead of measuring and lamenting how far short it falls of modern ideals, let us take a moment to look back along the very long road it has travelled. I do not want to dwell on the evils of colonialism, because they are now past and we must forge ahead. However, a discussion such as this would not be complete without a brief mention of the colonial legacy and the effect it has had on modern-day African states. Perhaps the most crucial aspect was the arbitrary drawing of boundaries, which cut across age-old tribal borders, forcing people of different ethnic backgrounds – and in same cases of different races such as the Arabs and the Berbers – to became a nation. You will agree that this would have disastrous effects if done in Europe. Just imagine, for example, the complexities and chaos that would result if, suddenly, a new country was created incorporating part of Holland, part of Germany and part of France. The cultural, linguistic and other divisions are enormous – and that’s what it was like in Africa before colonialism. In my own country for example, if I want to speak with a fellow Zimbabwean from Matabeleland, we have to speak in English  otherwise we cannot understand each other. The colonial powers exploited the divisions for their own purposes. And people wonder, today, why Africans always seem to be killing each other. Certainly there are problems. It would be foolish to deny that. There is widespread corruption, crime, bureaucracy, red tape, unfriendly customs and taxation, poor enforcement of contracts and inadequate infrastructure. These are the enemies of income investment and local enterprise alike. All these problems stem from poor governance, and most of the African countries need to keep, as Lord Holme says “taking the medicine of democracy”. And not just in the sense of free and fair elections but also of open institutions, the rule of law and administrative transparency. By and large, the people of Africa are ready for good, democratic government. Like people everywhere they value it when they have it and they know damn well when they haven’t. The people of Africa are incredibly resilient. They will put up with an enormous amount of suffering – but they know what they want and one day they will get it. – Excerpts from an address to the Another Africa conference held recently at Tilburg University, The Netherlands.

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