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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Archive for February 2007

Giving Up on Africa(ns)

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I met many incredible individuals while studying in South Africa. None of whom have had the impact on me like that of Simbarashe Mabasha. Simba studied law at UCT. Belileve me, the man immerses himself in what he does. He is a freedom-fighter. He is an intellectual. I have met few individuals who are able to see on both the micro and macro level, and I have met even fewer who are willing to look at Africa with such scrutiny. Simba and I shared some serious conversations; enlightening ones, challenging ones. That dialogue has continued in periodic e-mails. Simba had left RSA, and returned to Zimbabwe, where he bore the agonizing burden of watching one’s own homeland unravel. He has since returned to RSA.

I asked his permission to post this e-mail he sent me, entitled “My Quandry.” I have left it just as it was given to me. You can find my response following his.

My Quandary

Introduction
It’s been a while since I have sat down and tried to translate my thoughts into words for what I hope is the reading pleasure of my friends. You people who indulge me with your time to read these sometimes intense thoughts about the things around me. I have been struggling to find my voice or rhythm and step since I begun a daily routine of waking up at 6 in the morning and coming home at 6 in the evening. My voice and rhythm have been in hibernation. However, this week has been a bit different. I was sidelined from my daily routine by sickness and this gave me ample time to think. So I recently got back to reading and it’s has been fantastic. I read in two weeks, which is a record for me as I do not read words on paper compiled into a book. My basic source of information is the Internet, magazines, newspapers and the Bible. So for me to venture into book reading is an adventure that happens once every blue moon. This year has been different and I guess the lack of sufficient intellectual conversation led me to seek it in books. The books I read are Buffet: The Making of An American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. These are very different books but they invoked many thoughts. I highly recommend both but the Buffet book is a very business orientated book with some amazing life themes that transcend business.

Friends the reason I am writing this paper is to try and engage in an issue that is close to my heart but has been far away from my mind. I am struggling with you guessed it issues of race and cultural identity. This time its note focused on the system or the oppressive anti-Black establishment, it’s an introspective journey for truth within me and within my community. I am struggling with the question of how do we bring the people (Black people) forward without sacrificing ones emotional attachment to the people? Let me try to put it differently, how do you keep it real about progress without offending the reality of the situation? The reality of the situation is that we have bad leaders, screwed up priorities, a very bad self-image, continual enforcement of negative stereotypes and a strange dependency on our recent past to dictate our present and future. I have been guilty of at least one of these problems. So I have to come to realise that the problems we face, that is Black people face, are within us. This may not be news to some but let us maybe re-examine this issue from a “keeping it real” perspective. The reality is that many Black people are pretty much messed up and nothing is changing. This is a very harsh thing to say but I maybe saying what many of think but do not want to admit for fear of this affecting our realities. It is from this point that I would like to share some of my struggles.

The First Quandary
Black people seem to still be fighting slavery and colonialisation today. And this is no mockery of the realities of the scars that still remain from these devastating acts in our history. What I am struggling with or maybe what I’m against is that we are shackled to our past. Therefore, every time we make a few steps forward the ever present realities of past bring us back more steps backward. For example, the elders those that fought for our liberation from colonial oppression are still stuck fighting the colonisers (who are in their minds) but this time they are the oppressive ones killing their own to keep power. This is a recurring theme in Africa’s modern history but what I am focusing on is the facts that we the young generation seem to be content with the little freedoms we have and rather let our elders continue to oppress us. It’s not easy to fight an oppressive system but are we actually engaging with the issues? Are we aware of the issues or are we just oblivious to them? My struggle is that we, the younger generation, maybe better off just letting it go and being oblivious. We maybe better off attaining worldly accolades of success and forgetting about our people. We maybe better off letting the struggle go (that is for those who are in the struggle) and handling your own business. Maybe it’s better to embrace the selfish parts of our beings and just take care of our selves.

You see for me there seems to be either a lack of awareness about the problems we face or people just really don’t care or maybe it’s dawning on me that I should not care. Those that know me a little better know that I kinda speak the truth; well I am the guy who mentions the reality when people don’t want to say it. I am the guy that will say things people may be thinking out loud. So for some I am a social liability for those that like keeping up appearances. I have lost friends for my so called lack of tact or my so-called political incorrectness. So it may come as a surprise that I am now struggling with the fact that those that have avoided me maybe right. They maybe right in that no one really cares about anyone except close family and friends. The concept of community is one of individual islands of communities, which interact through islands of unemotional gestures of goodwill. At the end of the day we all have a social contract to treat each other with the little respect that prevents conflict. Conflict leads to people realising the realities of their situations. Conflict has too much truth in it and we rather not see the truth.

The world today is struggling with the unearthing of the truth through conflict. Europe, for example, has become very right wing and anti-immigration. Therefore, the Neo-Nazi movement is growing. This truth was avoided when Europe opened its borders for immigrants to work in their low income industries until too many immigrants came. Maybe they just didn’t like immigrants but they wanted them work in industries they did not want to work in. Maybe the immigrants forced out of their home countries by the realities of colonial oppression we never liked, they just provided colonial type services in Europe. The point I am trying to make is that the selfish quest of comfort led to a fake utopia between Europeans and immigrants until some members of the European communities decided that they wanted to return to the days when Europe was theirs and no-one else’s. These renegades, who maybe in the majority do not want to share their benefits with the immigrants. Conflicts around the world are conflicts for the truth, the truth being that we may want someone’s oil and not want to pay for it, we may want our religion to be the biggest, we may want our beliefs to be the most dominant. The reason for most conflict is the truth of mankind’s selfishness.

The maybe something I have avoided and this may have been to my detriment. Caring does not pay the bills, helping others is for the Churches (and even then it may have a selfish motive), telling the truth maybe bad for one’s social standing. It maybe better to put you first and then when its benefits you first then you can help someone. I am struggling to come to grips with the facts that we are selfish beings and we are just good liars or are delusional about this part of our being. The most dominant economic theory, Capitalism, is based on selfishness and the capitalists fought a 40-year long Cold War in the name of selfishness. The emergence of China as the next world super power is fuelled in part by the Chinese leadership admitting that they would like to be as wealthy as Europe, Japan and the USA. There are many untold stories of Chinese subsistence farmers losing land in the name of the free market.

It seems to me that most socialist and communist governments maybe designed to exploit the masses desire to have a voice in their governance while their leaders secure political power, which leads to economic benefits. Many of the liberation movements that secured independence from colonial rule were capitalist wolfs cloaked in socialist sheep skins. Throughout history the quest to protect one’s self has led fake systems of co-operation. It then leads me to ask the question why be selfless? The world is built on selfishness and the unfortunately in a capitalist system someone has to lose. In the case of the world, Africa is the largest loser; Africa is like a big ghetto continent barring the exceptions of penthouse like places like Cape Town, which are dominated by non-Africans.
In light of this reality it seems very difficult to be an African both in Africa and in the Diaspora. The only way to survive this harsh reality is to handle your own business, be selfish, get you own etc. Caring about your roots or place of origin maybe too expensive to your overall survival in the world. Black Africans are last in the world and that they way it is. Should it be like that? I am not sure anymore. Every African that has spoken the truth is dead, the ones that were allowed to live has perpetuated the system left by the colonials. Biko/Hani for Mandela/Mbeki or Lumumba for Mabutu. It seems a bit scripted that the leaders that survive to sing to the tune of the former oppressors. The land never changes hands; townships never become suburbs, money remains in colonial hands etc. In the Americas opportunities for Black remain in slave like industries where physical abilities are better than mental abilities. Black American role modals are mostly found in sports and entertainment. It is rare for a young Black American to know that the head of Time-Warner is Black; the head of Merrell Lynch is Black. And maybe those Black do not want the other Blacks to know that they made it, maybe there would be too much competition for the limited professional Black positions in mainstream America.
In politics, the party that represents the majority of Black America, The Democrat Party will sooner nominate a white woman before a Black man let alone a Black woman for the presidential race. This is the current issue that will make the Democrat presidential nomination race very interesting. Hillary vs. Barak is an example that race still dominates the American social psyche. It’s not going to be who will the better candidate to compete against the Republican candidate. It will be about selfish motives like the first female president vs. the first Black president. How you rule a country has nothing to do with your physical attributes, it’s about your ability to think, motivate, honest and lead. Unfortunately it’s never about that. Hillary wants to be president and she will do whatever it takes to get into power. So if the fact that she is a woman will get her into power, she will do that. Barak will do the same. Their policies may not be different; their level of competence may not be different. However, what matters is how they look to the voter. Barak may win the presidency and not make much needed social changes to the system that seems oppressive to the Black minority. He may just maintain his position; maintain the position that benefits him. Hillary maybe as bad as Bush Jnr. (which will be a difficult job for anyone), she may not leave Iraq, she may continue on the Iran war path, she may not honour financial commitments made to Africa in the name of AIDS relief funds.
The point I am making is that selfishness overrides any communal or social agendas. In essence you cannot trust those that purport to have your best interests at heart unless those interests are their interests. Unless those interests benefit them first. So it only makes sense for African leaders to be against majority economic empowerment as their colonial masters will lose their grip on the money and they in turn will not share in the money. Many African leaders have made politics into a well paying business. They are highly paid government CEOs. The people they fought for are the reason they are in power and nothing else, they do not care if they not eat, get good education, have good housing etc. They would sooner build farms for their colonial masters, who are their economic masters than give their own people the means to help them eat. Basically it’s a case of not biting the hands that feeds you. The people only feed their leaders withvotes that get them into power but the colonial and economic masters feed their bank accounts.

At the end of the day selflessness seems futile. The system is built on foundations of selfishness. Selfishness is a part of our conscious and subconscious being. In some places (mostly developed countries) the state has managed to allow for social welfare and activism, which has led to somewhat advanced social welfare systems. However, for these systems to work there needs to be an immigrant to work at the bottom of the economy and some cases that immigrant does not qualify for social benefits as he illegal immigrant in that country. The selfish colonial system continues to benefits its architects and continues to oppress less developed countries. This is in a world with a United Nations and its many departments but Darfur continues to burn, Zimbabwe continues to decompose and Somalia is in the Intensive Care Unit. Africa is pretty much on a life support system. HIV/AIDS, class wars, tribal wars, bad leadership compliment hundreds years of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual oppression. It seems only the selfish survive.

Maybe I have completely lost the plot, is what I am saying a lie, a figment on my imagination? You tell me, you are well-educated people in many respects at the top of the social ladder. You all come from very different backgrounds but you are united in the quest for survival be it economic, physical, mental and spiritual survival. What may differentiate you from the masses is that you may have the time to engage with one’s own being. You may have time to think about your environments. Maybe I am being presumptuous but your position on the social ladder does afford the opportunity to think about life. Time to think is part of the perks and luxuries of being educated. You are trained at some of the best places for education in the world therefore you maybe at the cutting edge of experiencing the struggle to protect one’s self vs. the masses.

The Second Quandary
Black Intellectual excellence seems to be a myth in my world. Where are the contributions by the Black intellectual bourgeoisie to the granary of thoughts around science, arts, literature, mathematics, physics, motion picture etc.? There seems to be a lack of revolutionary intellectual thoughts coming from the Black intellectual elite. I am struggling to find theses and revolutionary thought contributions from my own people. Maybe its different in the USA and Europe please fill me those of you from the US and Europe or have studied in the developed world. This thought or realisation stems from my reading of The Tipping Point. This book, in a nutshell, is about how small things make a huge difference whether good or bad. What amazed was the in depth research the author did to prove his point. This sparked a thought about why is there not enough diverse research and publications about Africa? Not the work on African history, wars and faminee but science, technology, the arts, mathematics, economics etc. Where is the intellectual contribution to African thought by Africans? Over the years a significant number of Africans (although not the majority) have attended tertiary education institutions. So where is the work? Is there any work?
It seems to me Black Africans that have experienced tertiary education have used it to help them get good jobs. This maybe the case for everyone irrespective of race but in some cultures there seems to be quest for knowledge that helps the culture develop. In the developed world there seems to be a quest for academic excellence, thought is encouraged so as to keep developing the community. Albert Einstein made revolutionary theses that changed his community. He was part of the intellectual elite, blessed with extraordinary intellectual ability that helped communal development. I am of the view that intellectual ability has no race or gender. So why then has there been to my knowledge intellectual revolutions lead by Africans? My particular concern is for Africa. In literature, the intellectual revolutionaries wrote during colonisation and decolonisation. The likes of Ngugi and Achebe come to mind. But they are contributing to the American Intellectual landscape as they teach in American universities. I have not heard of many African authors of revolutionary intellectual thought on economics in Africa or science in Africa. I am sure some Europeans and Americans have written on these issues from their perspective. However, where is the work from those born and breed in Africa? Those whose beings where sculptured in Africa. Are Africans not intellectually ambitious? Are our intellectual elite fine with reinventing and regurgitating the knowledge of others?
That seems to be the case for me. I do not think we are not intellectually gifted enough to make revolutionary intellectual contributions. However, there maybe a quandary for the African Intellectual elite, which lies in the fact that who would appreciate their work? The governments are more concerned with protecting their position, so intellectual work that may educate and benefit the masses may arrest the power of the ignorance of the masses from them. Maybe African intellectuals will be better at educating Europeans and Americans about Africa than educating their own people. Maybe there are not enough African publishers to publish African intellectual work. Maybe there is not enough funding for African orientated economic, scientific or technological research.

To my limited understanding the quest for knowledge may come from a difficulty that one faces in his life or surroundings. So you find someone invents something to deal with a problem. Science is many respects was borne out of adversity. The quest for more consistent light led to Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb. The quest to conquer gravity and the long time periods in land and sea travel may have inspired those that invented aeroplanes. Inventors are not exclusive to the west, in the east the Chinese were inventing gun powder to power their fireworks, they were building a massive wall that covered most their vast territory. In Africa the Rozvi people where smelting gold before anyone on earth, many West and North African empires we sending ships to the Americas before Columbus.
There was a time when African intellectual ability was at the cutting edge of world intellectual thought. The Egyptians were cutting rocks and stones with laser like precision. The people of Mali were writing building aqueducts in the desert, which were used by the Romans in the building of Rome. So what happened? Did the colonisers take away our ability to think? This maybe the only reason why Africans are not contributing much to the intellectual granary. Even those that manage to go to tertiary institutions are so dumbed by the past that they cannot think outside the box. Having participated in the current system of tertiary education, it is very hard to bring any new thought to the table. One lecturer failed me and prevented me from graduating because I argued that European legal Jurisprudence may not be applicable in studying the ways in which Africans deal with legal structures. I can’t say it was revolutionary thought but given the space it could have been developed in such a way to understand the thought process in which African communities govern themselves. It could have been developed in such a way to help develop a legal system that takes into account the sociological and economic reasoning of Africans, which is different from that of the Europeans or the Asians because we are different people, socialised in a unique way due to our environment.
Having been punished by the system for thinking outside the box, I can understand why the most talented African intellectuals are deterred from being revolutionary intellectuals. Maybe for the most talented intellectuals think it’s a waste of time, they maybe trying to protect their position and get the best for themselves. Maybe they are content with just being invited to the Ball of World Intellectuals and not concerned with making a speech. Maybe they are just selfish. Therefore, Africa will continue to be last in terms of intellectual development because those blessed with intellectual ability do not want to step up and be revolutionary thinkers and leaders. For whatever reason, some of which are understandable and others are not, we will continue to be a continent of both physical and mental beggars.
The quandary for me maybe in accepting this or just letting it go or challenging those of you who are superior intellectuals to me to try be revolutionary thinkers. Some of you are studying and drinking from the best fountains of knowledge in the world. You have the chance to revolutionize the way Africa deals with itself. The challenge lies in taking the risk, maybe there is selfish gain in that you maybe the first. The first since the likes of Franz Fanon. That selfish gain may help move Africa forward. Give it a try; you may lose some clout in the west but gain respect from your own people.
Conclusion

My thoughts stem from what I have been seeing. Most of the time those in a position of power continue to win at the expense of the masses. I can’t shack off the feeling that it should be better for everyone else not just me or my peers. I can’t understand why individual gain should feel better than communal gain. Maybe I’m constructed different, maybe I care too much, maybe I’m just a fool. The fact that I share these thoughts must be strange to some of you. Some of you must ask why does Simba do this, why does he torture himself with things that are just not that important? Should Simba not be worried about taking care of himself first before delving into communal issues? And to be real these issues are just too big for Simba, so why does he care? He can’t do anything about it, even if he tried, he is just one man. It’s just not worth it!
Maybe you are right but unfortunately my heart, mind, body, spirit; my whole being make some compelling counter arguments. The truth of it I just care, maybe too much. In the past I used to care more about others than myself arguing to myself that I had enough love for me from GOD, so what I had in excess should be for everyone else. Lately, that has been difficult because I feel hurt by those that I care about. Blacks, Africans and others oppressed by their histories have let me down. Individuals within these communities have messed it up for the whole community but the community does not want to do anything about it. The community is full of selfish individuals. Even with this happening I still struggle with me, my whole being still cares. I care about those people who have no one to speak for them, who are too exhausted to talk because every day is a war for survival. Who will talk for those in Darfur and Zimbabwe? Who will cry for those in the ghettos of the USA? Someone has to do it. For me I feel it’s lonely to attain everything for one’s self without no one to share it with. Money, power, education, creativity and love are wasted on one’s self. These are things that should be shared and some have said that is lonely at the top.

I will continue to struggle with these and many issues that are bigger than me. Some I will share with you, some I will keep to myself. What I am trying to do is to encourage thought around these issues. However, I do understand if these are issues you do not care about. I do thank you for indulging me and taking time to read this. It does mean a lot to me and to be honest you are the people I respect enough to share these thoughts with. You have touched my life in profound and everlasting ways and some of you do engage with me on these issues. I must make special mention of Des, Dee, Darlington, Miles Tejal, Taps, Carline and Brandies for engaging me on some of these issues. Some of you are busy and some of you do not agree with me but you don’t want to confront me. Its all goods, thanks any way.
I would love to hear from you, hear your thoughts on some these issues. At the end of the day whatever you are doing affects others, be in a positive or negative way. We are all role modals, be it to a friend, spouse, child, sibling, colleague and even ourselves. Whether we like it or not our actions, be they selfish or selfless, touch people on a daily basis. We are all power beings!

MY RESPONSE TO SIMBA:

Simba,
my brother. it pains me to feel you going through such cynical
reflection. a reflection, i must admit is both accurate and
crippling.
often, more than often, in almost any moment of free time, i am
plotting on my scheme. in a grand sense. i look at is a plot as a
story of one character thrown into a negative scenario. we inherit
this world with all its warts and blemishes, and i should not stretch
as far to say that “your” world and mine are quite different. i hit
the lottery jackpot being born a white, male, american.
but this brings me to what i mean by the grand sense of my plot. why
am i here? what has led me to asia? how can such a tangle of
conflict and interest be ironed out, in a lifetime, a century, or an
existence? two things that must be said, to align our vantage points
somewhat. first, for all of the historic pillagings of africa, the
establishment of a rapist world order, and the current dystopia, we DO
share each burden. this, albeit, in two entirely different ways. i
also must come to terms with myself as slave master. i need to
rationalize to myself so i can selfishly accept my reality. that
being, that i am here in a developing country living (well) off of the
not-so-subtle globalization of american hegemony, via an english
education industry.
your email brought up a lot of points that i have many thoughts on,
but i wanted to repsond to you with a short, gut instinct response
after reading your thoughts.
let me say that self-awareness and knowledge of self are deep, murky
waters when truly confronted. you have religion to answer these
questions for you. whereas, i look at my life in more of a microcosm
of an animalistic society. this allows me to see exactly what you
mean about people and self-interest. most of my friends went to school to study business or finance with aims of nothing more than
finding a high-paying job to provide for their family and their
leisure interests. they dont give two shits about immmigrants
(blacks) in their community, let alone the “country” of Africa, as
most americans think of it. they want someone to clean their toilets
so its looks clean when they shit on the world.
you once said to me that you deep down believed that Zim would not be
saved before it imploded. that the entire system had to be destroyed
to be rebuilt, to be resurrected. i must admit to you, that i too
have shared in this doomsday prophecy, often a defeatist voice
perverting my inner consciousness. i too believe that change must be
attainable– even by one man. if not, i would find little
justification for life. which leads me to question how this world can
change. moreso, is it too late, has the world been fatally wounded?
because certainly, today, if a global system were to collapse, would
the world survive? are we in this period of decline?
no, fuck that. i am with you man, in the sense that i believe i am
destined to impact those around me in a large number in my life. be
it not today, it will come. but i, like you, am forced to interpret
myself in all the horror that is my reality. yes, i hit the lotto.
now, what am i going to do with it? how can i spend my personal
worth?

keep thinking.
god bless.

miles.

Written by Miles

February 2, 2007 at 12:31 pm