Dr Helmut Danner’s recently launched book: End of Arrogance: Africa and the West – Understanding their Differences, attempts to spur dialogue aimed at making Africa and the West understand each other. The book generously castigates the West’s condescending attitude towards Africans, a stance that has made Africa bitter, suspicious and distrustful to the West.
While it is true that both the West and Africa carry tenets of arrogance, the scope of this essay shall harp on African arrogance.
The West’s attitude towards Africa is to a greater extent informed by its 1885 Berlin resolve to watch over “the preservation and modernisation of Africans”.
The General Act of Berlin supports the narrative that the West knows best what is good for Africans.
This narrative as seen in IMF and World Bank dictates has largely advanced the West’s socio-political and economic interests. It is therefore not in the best interest of the West to give it up. Doing this would be tantamount to committing suicide.
The West should, however, know that with rapid globalisation, its relationship with Africa is not exclusive.
Other emerging powers such as Brazil, India and China are fast winning over the continent. The West must therefore change its rules of engagement.
Africa on the other hand has helped sustain the West’s arrogance towards the continent. Sample this: In January 2012, Al-Shabaab militants killed at least six Kenyans in Kenya’s North-east region and abducted a government district officer.
In spite of pleas by the abducted officer’s family to have him rescued, this has not happened. Later, four Norwegian Refugee Council (NFC) aid workers were abducted by similar militants in the region. In a flash, the government launched a major manhunt using all machinery at its disposal. The aid workers were rescued.
Sample this too: African employees in Saudi Arabia are tortured, maimed, abused, raped, murdered with impunity and robbed of their travel documents by their employers. The victims report this to their home governments. They even show video clips that highlight their plight. Their governments take no action.
The same scenario plays out among African immigrants and workers in Italy.
In 1999, the Austrian government ordered the deportation of a Nigerian, Mr Marcus Omofuma, on flimsy grounds. Police officers beat him up before bundling him into a plane. They used adhesive tape to tie him to his seat in the plane and to seal his mouth.
Omofuma suffocated and died while in police custody.
His country was not moved.
What does this say about foreign lives vis-à-vis local lives? If we do not value our nationals, how will foreigners value them? If we are arrogant to our own, what will stop the world from being arrogant to us?
Despite the fact that we are prone to acute famine every year and have to beg for food aid, we sell millions of acres of land to feed populations in China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Qatar, among others. Doesn’t it show that something is amiss in our thinking?
Despite the fact that our continent carries 25 percent of the world’s diseases, we ill-equip our hospitals, de-motivate our health workers, import 70 percent of our pharmaceutical needs from abroad and seek medication in expensive hospitals abroad. Doesn’t this show something is amiss? We easily forget that we are Africans and divide ourselves along Anglophone, Lusophone and Francophone lines, and analyse issues using these prisms. Doesn’t this create room for dividing the continent?
We invest in high-rise buildings but seek rescue missions from abroad when the buildings collapse. We are bribed with cigars, whisky and satellite phones to turn guns against ourselves. None of the natural resources our continent is blessed with is under our control.
When will we ever learn? While China has studied Western capitalism and forged an alternative capitalism that has made it a superpower, our interaction with developed and emerging economies has not changed our lot for the better. While China has converted its huge population into a resource, we see ours as a time bomb and seek foreign aid to reduce it.
While India has utilised its Diaspora links to develop the country, Africa’s higher education linkages with foreign universities have not translated to a third of our universities ranking among 100 top global universities.
Our delegates occupy most seats in the UN General Assembly but we have little say on crucial UN decisions.
Our scientists in Nasa help Americans to go to the moon yet back home, we cannot access fellow African countries easily, let alone make essential goods to reach our populations.
What makes us despise our own? What makes us shirk responsibility? What makes us bask in inferiority?
As the late Sudan People’s Liberation Army leader John Garang put it, sometimes it is necessary to go back like sheep in order to gain the momentum to go forward and lock horns. We must urgently retrace where we lost our footing, identify where we are, why we are there, where we want to go and how to get there.
We must nurture long-term strategic thinking and equip ourselves with the right tools to make geopolitical systems work for our good. Failure to plan and prepare will hand us stock and barrel to other peoples’ plans.
The task of reclaiming Africa’s Century squarely lies on African shoulders.