Africa needs to stop ‘cut and paste’ Western politics to do better
9 months ago, 7 Mar 11:24
Do some of us Africans feel too gloomy too often about our countries and even ourselves? Are we too prone to dwelling on things that go wrong or that do not work and far less inclined to look on the bright side? Are we so used to seeing our glass as always half empty rather than as half-full, to borrow a familiar cliché? Obviously I do not speak to or interact with more than a handful of fellow Africans on a typical day. And the interactions are usually about mundane things such as work, the weather, and personal issues linked to everyday existence. Occasionally, however, I talk to Africans who think of themselves as intellectuals. Sometimes the encounters happen in the context of seminars, workshops and conferences, which are usually organised to discuss this or that aspect of Africa’s “development.” Sometimes the conversations happen over drinks here and there. For some reason, even over cups of tea or coffee, the conversations tend to be dominated by politics or issues related to “development.” Recently I told a friend, one of the intellectuals I usually have these conversations with, that many times I find them exhausting. For one thing, they are so repetitive when it comes to what is wrong with Africa or with this or that country. And the ideas presented for turning things around are “standard,” with no regard to contextual complexity. And so one hears how this or that country is a police state, how there is no democracy there, how there is no media freedom, how elections are rigged, how corruption is too much, how this and that is not working. Discontent Africans Africans living outside Africa, in places where things work differently can be particularly vocal on these matters. They and the rest of us who live here and who tend to live in a permanent state of discontent often imagine that the conditions we are discontented about can change if we keep shouting and being angry about them. And we have wanted them to change for a long time and yet shouting and being angry have brought us little relief. The one thing that rarely features in all the “intellectual” talk is calm examination of what it is about us, our societies, our attitudes and the way we think about leadership and power and how they should be exercised, that makes the problems we complain about so durable. It is, after all, not as if change in leadership or government necessarily leads to improvement. Recently we heard, for example, that despite being gifted with this year’s Mo Ibrahim prize, Africa’s only elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a nepotist who left Liberia wallowing in the same poverty, corruption, incompetence and general backwardness that her predecessors left behind. That was after 10 years in power. Obviously Liberians did not mind all this, which is why they re-elected her to a second term. It is almost certain that her successor George Weah will do the ...
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