How others still see us

HARARE - Recently, I listened with fascination to an account of how little Rwanda transformed itself, after that horrific 1994 genocide — featuring the slaughter of mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus — into an economically-viable State.

There was unrestrained praise for Paul Kagame — despite his alleged dispatch of assassins to South Africa to get rid of his enemies.

The man is now almost lionised for having prevented his country from facing a fate worse than death — another African State teetering, almost inexorably, on the brink of economic and political catastrophe, caused by the love of power and money. 

The commentator was a European international finance organisation spokesman. They were delighted with Kagame’s handling of the loan. 

I wish such plaudits would be showered on even one of our leaders.

Alas, that is a pipe-dream. I am not entirely in despair, though. Kagame transformed himself from the ogre that the world saw him as, to this warm and humane person.

Nothing can prevent our leaders from such a  transfusion of vibes — if it is the country’s interests motivating them, not the other filthy vibes.

The Europeans and their cousins in the USA have not always held a high regard for our leaders. The colonisers did not invade our countries to civilise us, or to turn us into Bible-thumping Christians. They stole our natural wealth to enrich their own countries.

Yes, the Bible was an incidental instrument of persuasion, but their major weapon was…the gun.

But after we had fought them to a standstill and confronted them with no alternative except to quit our countries — their tails between their legs — not many of our leaders had the wherewithal of how to run the countries viably, without internecine bloodshed.

The Westerners’ low regard was illustrated repeatedly in their literature, in books such as those of Joseph Conrad and Joyce Cary. Ernest Hemingway has been included by others. But I have always found this a great injustice.

Then there was the Italian novelist, Alberto Moravia (1907-1990). His book was called Which Tribe Do You Belong To?  It was published in the USA in 1974.

It was based on the author’s five visits to the continent between 1963 and 1972.

A review by Ossie Onuora Enekwe, says it is not dull. “On the contrary, it is very incisive and full of little farcical encounters. As I have said before, Moravia is an able craftsman, but his sense of humour is usually grotesque and salacious…”   

An example was his preoccupation with sex involving two races. He seemed keen to observe these acts at close range, as many voyeurs do.

The review appeared in the 1976 November-December edition of Okike magazine, edited by the great Chinua Achebe.

But it would appear that things have changed for the better. The Westerners now seem to accept that we Africans can be clever, even with other people’s money.

We are all relieved that most of them now see us as rather sensible, intelligent people. It would not amaze me if most of this change is attached to President Barak Obama, the son of a Luo father from Kenya.

Now in his second term as president, he has displayed statesmanship admired even by the most fastidious world political analysts.

What Africans must confront is poverty, rejecting the notion that it can sit cheek by jowl with obscene wealth.

We will remain Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, unless we reject that notion. 

The unrestricted pursuit of wealth can open the door to perdition.

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