Why does South Africa like to needlessly invite the anger of other Africans upon itself?

Listen to this article here.

If you were to allegorize all of the largely self-inflicted scandals in which the South African state has been embroiled in since 1994, into one being, you’d be forgiven for arriving bang on bullseye at a spoiled child brat; one who despite plenty of warmth & affection bestowed upon them, doesn’t fully appreciate the sacrifices others made (and continue to make) on their behalf.

And here I’m not referring to the antics of Msholozi (Nkandla, Guptagate, to name just two), nor the other character failings like that time Jacob Zuma absurdly claimed that having a shower protected him from H.I.V; or that dizzyingly ridiculous episode when Thabo Mbeki, an intellectual among Presidents (not just African Presidents), falsely believed that HIV treatments could be poisonous, so withheld proven, life-saving anti-retrovirals (ARVs) from those in need; a lot of H.I.V stories I know, but stories nevertheless that caused real embarrassment to Africans the world over.

No, I’m not talking about all that. I’m also not referring to the embarrassing disasters, like that time during Mandela’s memorial, when the A.N.C clumsily solicited the services of a fake sign language interpreter who was, “signing rubbish” (according to many deaf people who watched the live broadcast) next to international dignitaries – the likes of Barack Obama.

What I’m referring to instead is the vexatious and totally unreasonable behaviour of some people within South Africa who do or say things that no one sensible can ever put a finger on, but which have far reaching consequences, not least tarnishing everything that’s good about brand Africa.

Like that time when the Zulu King Zwelithini sparked xenophobic violence (some say the correct term is “afrophobic”) against immigrants living and working in South Africa, leading to the death of at least seven people ; Or last year’s attacks that killed at least 12 people, and forced the South African government to issue an apology to Nigeria & Ghana. Cyril Ramaphosa even apologised for the violence at Mugabe’s funeral, a pacifying act that turned boos to cheers…as if the special envoys sent to the countries whose citizens were mostly affected by the xenophobic violence – Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the DRC, to mend relations weren’t a sufficient enough diplomatic gesture. I’m talking about the brawls that keep breaking out in South Africa’s parliament (there was at least one in 2017, and another in 2018) . Then there was that almighty near-miss in 2015, when the whole world watched in horror as Oscar Pistorius nearly … nearly escaped justice.

That’s even before we get to the uncomfortable topics – like the drink-driving and associated high motor vehicle accident rates in the country, the gender violence, in particular the killing of women; violent crackdowns like the Marikana Massacre, the huge societal inequalities… the list is rather long.

And so, when just over a week ago it was revealed that some military officials at Waterkloof Air Force Base had crafted a situation that forced President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi to delay his departure from South Africa for 7 hours, over an outrageous suspicion (involving one ‘Prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri and his wife skipping bail), that shouldn’t have been levelled in the first place, Malawians across the world got really angry.

Here, I must declare an interest. Being a Malawian national, this fiasco was particularly insulting for quite a number of reasons. I must also state that for reasons that will become clearer below, I fully support the statement released by Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, a few days after the fiasco.

Firstly, whatever the transgressions of Shepherd Bushiri and his wife – and yes they must face justice in a fair trial if compelling evidence of wrongdoing exists, it was extremely stupid of whoever decided to delay the plane’s departure, to drag President Lazarus Chakwera into that hoo-hah. That action alone speaks volumes of South African authorities; the foolishness of those who became suspicious and thought that the Malawian President would stoop so low as to help a wanted person / fugitive escape justice knows no bounds. They’re a liability to South Africa, and the proper functioning of South Africa’s institutions.

Secondly, when it is the case that a leader like former Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir, who had an ICC arrest warrant hanging over his head for genocide in Darfur, visited South Africa in 2018, and pranced around the country unchallenged without so much as a cotton thread tweezered off his garment, how dare South Africa’s police go as far as search president Chakwera’s plane…!? How disparaging is such rabid behaviour!?? Incredible… simply astonishing. What happened to diplomacy?

Now, I understand that South Africa’s police is not a perfect institution. I mean, the country recently fired its Deputy Police Commissioner, because of corruption. Yup, the second chap in command of the police was involved in a corruption saga, and was showed the exit door. So I understand that there is a bit of a quality/ standards problem there. But just because you have nincompoops in your crime fighting forces doesn’t mean that you should transpose the apparent lack of integrity that afflicts some of your institutions onto other countries. Let’s be absolutely clear, we’re not all crooks, and assuming so is extremely ignorant.

Thirdly, I very much doubt that the Hawks would have done exactly the same thing had another leader, say Vladimir Putin, or Angela Merkel been the visiting dignitary instead of Chakwera. And that’s a big problem in South Africa’s national psyche. Imagine that the Bushiri-type saga involved a German or Russian fugitive. It’s almost unimaginable that South Africa’s police would have marched the German or Russian entourage out of the plane, back to the airport concourse, passport in hand, for these so called “security checks”. They definitely wouldn’t have searched their plane, gone through their luggage, and dehumanised the officials of another sovereign state. No chance. You know why, because of all the reasons that anyone with half a brain can think of, it is extremely unprofessional to do so. But doing it to Malawi’s president reveals the kind of attitudes those officials hold towards fellow Africans.

Which begs the question: why do some South African officials seem totally incapable of freeing themselves from from a propensity of generating dishonour? From a tendency of ‘crafting’ high drama?

As an outsider, this erratic and at times self-sabotaging behaviour coming out from the rainbow nation is not only perplexing but extremely annoying. More so because South Africa happens to have the word “Africa” in the country’s name, but at times they behave as though they aren’t even African. And if some foreigners look at all the unhinged behaviour, no wonder some of them disrespect the rest of us (“Shithole country” etc). That sort of behaviour gives Africa a bad name.

Mind you, this is the second largest economy in Africa, this is the land that produced greats not only of the stature of Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, but also the likes of Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, Albert Lithuli, Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Trevor Noah…and Elon Musk, internationally recognized personalities the world over who command a lot of respect, for some to the point of a cult following. You really really want to stand back and ask: Where has the excellence gone, what the hell is wrong with these people?

If this all sounds somewhat remote to you, let me try a different angle: If you are an African, do you get pangs of embarrassment or slight discomfort, when someone who is not African, anyone who is not African, during conversation veers into that troublesome topic of … the stereotypical but nevertheless real phenomenon of the Nigerian scammer? That cringey feeling! Like, oh here we go again.

Some apologists say South Africa is a young democracy still in its infancy. That despite the relative economic development, the country is still but a babe learning from it’s mistakes. That with time, things will be ok. As optimistic and soothing to the ear as that may sound, I’m not sure I buy the argument entirely. Unlike countries like South Sudan – which have also had a tumultous and violent history as South Africa has had, but whose national polity arose from a tiny city-state province, South Africans gained their freedom at a point when institutions within their country had already been established and were already arguably strong; with some of the leading Universities in Africa, sprawling cities, a sound legal system and a mature financial system. Thus, the mere addtion of democracy (i.e. majority rule) to that equation ought not to, ordinarily, lead to too much dysfunction. So something else is going on.

Other sympathisers say South Africa is still trying to catch up; that the country is still in transition. The proponents of this argument say that while other African countries have had decades-long headstarts to properly educate their peoples (without discrimination), and many more years to cement their various versions of Pan-Africanism, Black South Africans couldn’t get the kind of quality education necessary for the rebuilding of a stable, functional and fair society for a very long time. And so, the dysfunction and blunders associated with the post-Apartheid South African state are just a natural if not inevitable consequence of that deficiency; what in Chichewa we would call “Chimizi” for lack of a better term. Similarly, the Afrophobia is but a dredge of the hatred that was once thrown at black south Africans by Apartheid. But even this explanation is not entirely convincing.

I think some South Africans just don’t want to learn. I also think too many South Africans don’t know as much of their country’s history and the role other African countries played in securing South Africa’s freedom, as they should; that there is this lazy, ignorant, drunken almost schizophrenic tendency in some people in South Africa to always blame others for their own failures or misfortune.

You see it the way some South Africans hate Zimbabweans” a friend told me recently. “Instead of getting up and actually working as hard as the Zimbabweans who they like to blame, they find it much easier to just hate and blame them”

Another friend said South Africa’s problem is its misplaced sense of superiority:

Too many people in South Africa have this high-mindedness that they are better than other Africans. And that creates a problem especially when the people you’re looking down on happen to be the very same people who helped you gain your freedom

When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren’t Called ‘Hitler’

image from Mad Monarchist http://madmonarchist.blogspot.co.uk
Image from Mad Monarchist

Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is?

Most people haven’t heard of him.

But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in your stomach as when you read about Mussolini or Hitler or see one of their pictures. You see, he killed over 10 million people in the Congo.

His name is King Leopold II of Belgium.

He “owned” the Congo during his reign as the constitutional monarch of Belgium. After several failed colonial attempts in Asia and Africa, he settled on the Congo. He “bought” it and enslaved its people, turning the entire country into his own personal slave plantation. He disguised his business transactions as “philanthropic” and “scientific” efforts under the banner of the International African Society. He used their enslaved labor to extract Congolese resources and services. His reign was enforced through work camps, body mutilations, executions, torture, and his private army.

Most of us – I don’t yet know an approximate percentage but I fear its extremely high – aren’t taught about him in school. We don’t hear about him in the media. He’s not part of the widely repeated narrative of oppression (which includes things like the Holocaust during World War II). He’s part of a long history of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and genocide in Africa that would clash with the social construction of the white supremacist narrative in our schools. It doesn’t fit neatly into a capitalist curriculum. Making overtly racist remarks is (sometimes) frowned upon in polite society, but it’s quite fine not to talk about genocides in Africa perpetrated by European capitalist monarchs.

Mark Twain wrote a satire about Leopold called “King Leopold’s soliloquy; a defense of his Congo rule“, where he mocked the King’s defense of his reign of terror, largely through Leopold’s own words. It’s 49 pages long. Mark Twain is a popular author for American public schools. But like most political authors, we will often read some of their least political writings or read them without learning why the author wrote them (Orwell’s Animal Farm for example serves to re-inforce American anti-Socialist propaganda, but Orwell was an anti-capitalist revolutionary of a different kind – this is never pointed out). We can read about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but King Leopold’s Soliloquy isn’t on the reading list. This isn’t by accident. Reading lists are created by boards of education in order to prepare students to follow orders and endure boredom well. From the point of view of the Education Department, Africans have no history.

When we learn about Africa, we learn about a caricaturized Egypt, about the HIV epidemic (but never its causes), about the surface level effects of the slave trade, and maybe about South African Apartheid (which of course now is long, long over). We also see lots of pictures of starving children on Christian Ministry commercials, we see safaris on animal shows, and we see pictures of deserts in films and movies. But we don’t learn about the Great African War or Leopold’s Reign of Terror during the Congolese Genocide. Nor do we learn about what the United States has done in Iraq and Afghanistan, potentially killing in upwards of 5-7 million people from bombs, sanctions, disease and starvation. Body counts are important. And we don’t count Afghans, Iraqis, or Congolese.

There’s a Wikipedia page called “Genocides in History”. The Congolese Genocide isn’t included. The Congo is mentioned though. What’s now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo is listed in reference to the Second Congo War (also called Africa’s World War and the Great War of Africa), where both sides of the multinational conflict hunted down Bambenga and ate them. Cannibalism and slavery are horrendous evils which must be entered into history and talked about for sure, but I couldn’t help thinking whose interests were served when the only mention of the Congo on the page was in reference to multi-national incidents where a tiny minority of people were  eating each other (completely devoid of the conditions which created the conflict no less). Stories which support the white supremacist narrative about the subhumanness of people in Africa are allowed to be entered into the records of history. The white guy who turned the Congo into his own personal part-plantation, part-concentration camp, part-Christian ministry and killed 10 to 15 million Conglese people in the process doesn’t make the cut.

You see, when you kill ten million Africans, you aren’t called ‘Hitler’. That is, your name doesn’t come to symbolize the living incarnation of evil. Your name and your picture don’t produce fear, hatred, and sorrow. Your victims aren’t talked about and your name isn’t remembered.

Leopold was just one part of thousands of things that helped construct white supremacy as both an ideological narrative and material reality. Of course I don’t want to pretend that in the Congo he was the source of all evil. He had generals, and foot soldiers, and managers who did his bidding and enforced his laws. It was a system. But that doesn’t negate the need to talk about the individuals who are symbolic of the system. But we don’t even get that. And since it isn’t talked about, what capitalism did to Africa, all the privileges that rich white people gained from the Congolese genocide are hidden. The victims of imperialism are made, like they usually are, invisible.

Musevenis anti-gay law and Arizona’s Anti-gay bill

Some things we will never understand while living on planet earth. Or rather, some things – as obvious as they may be to certain people – are hard to understand to we mere mortals. At least that’s what I think…this post is yet another reminder or confirmation why I deeply dislike the paternalistic and somewhat partial tendencies of big media houses and their masters. The hypocrisy stinks.

On the same day that Yoweri Museveni the president of Uganda was signing an anti-gay bill into law in Uganda, amidst an international flurry of criticism, with the usual suspects out in their legions (see another here), denouncing Museveni, calling him names, dictator, backward,etc (even Tutu compared Uganda’s bill to Hitler’s behaviour in Nazi Germany), conservative Christians in Arizona were celebrating the signing into law of a piece of legislation that allowed religious business owners to refuse service to gay people and “others” on religious grounds. Apparently, the Arizona bill is on the desk of Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, and she is being pressured to veto the bill.

Yet strangely, unlike the personal attacks on Museveni, there were no personal attacks by the big media houses on the 17 state senators who voted in favour of the Arizona Bill. Nothing as strong was said against the Arizona lot, which to me is suspect. Even the Guardian page that carried the story (and I like the Guardian) which I saw looked more like the criticism on Uganda was personal on Museveni, whereas the criticism on Arizona was watered down, and not directed to any particular individual, let alone the architects of the Arizona bill:

guardianBut that’s not all, there also seems to be economic threats. Norway and Denmark have withheld aid funds following the bill in Uganda, and there has been more than a single reference to the $400 million Uganda gets from the US. Remember how Hilary Clinton once said the US would use aid to effectively force African countries to implement laws protecting gay people? Well, this is a little bit like that,both in Uganda and even in Arizona. In particular, Governor Jack Markell of Delaware said: “the N.F.L. may be looking, or maybe should be looking, to move the Super Bowl out of the state.” In other words, if Gov. Brewer does not veto the “anti-gay bill”, then Superbowl, one of the biggest sports shows on the planet, with its huge pots of money, could, should, will relocate elsewhere. It gets worse, Barry Broome, chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, was quoted in the above article to have said the leaders of four companies looking to relocate to Arizona had put his organization on notice, saying they might reconsider [against the decision to relocate to Arizona] if the bill became law. So there you have it, jobs and money to be lost unless the law is vetoed.

But what concerns me more is not the minor bickering. Firstly why criticise another’s country’s dirt, and not that happening in your own backyard? What has Obama said about the Arizona Bill, considering he has spoken against Museveni? Why have CNN or FOX been somewhat silent about it? They’ve not made as much noise in the way that they’ve attacked Museveni…or have they? They’ve certainly not attacked or attempted to tarnish the images of any of the Arizona state senators, in the same way that they have attacked Museveni (see another link here) and made him look like the bad guy.

k-iMost African people I know are already sick of the paternalistic and hypocritical tendencies of politicians of western countries. They hate the media machinery which perpetrates views which portray Africa and Africans in a negative light, but characteristically ignores the scores of ills happening in western countries (or in countries which are considered ‘allies’). In the old days (pre-colonial and colonial) we were preached to about our primitive behaviour, we were preached to about witchcraft and black magic, and were called ‘savages’ and other unsightly terms.We were told to repent of all these ills and find God. These days we are preached to about poverty and corruption, about maternal health and disease, about democracy and education, and critically – about hating gays…

But doesn’t what is effectively a blackout on this Arizona bill just prove the same paternalistic, disparaging, patronising and dictatorial attitudes most of us are sick of, an attitude that sounds like thus: we think it is within our remit to tell you Africans what you should do and should not do. Isn’t this what is being indirectly communicated whether intentionally or not? Or I’m I missing something here?

I’m against any form of discrimination against minorities, whoever the object of that discrimination or marginalisation may be (I’m black and living in Britain so no surprises there). In the past, I have written in support of various minority causes on this blog and beyond. Further, I do in fact agree with some of the views written about the issue in Uganda. I even agree with this critique against Arizona, but only to an extent.

But I think if you are going to criticise Museveni or Ugandan politicians, who clearly have erred on this issue, maybe it would be prudent (and not only for journalistic value, but for the good of mankind) to be balanced in your criticism. Begin your charity at home, to equally criticise (and name, shame) in similarly strong terms, the list of the 17 state senators in Arizona who voted for the bill. Put them on the front page as you have done with Museveni. If that can’t be done, then there must be a good reason…otherwise, if that’s too hard, maybe you should try Saudi Arabia which like Uganda also has horrendous anti-gay laws, except unlike Uganda, homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Now that would speak volumes.

Update: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoes ‘anti-gay’ bill

Why Jan Brewer Vetoed Arizona’s ‘Anti-Gay’ Bill

Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

Similar

Africans Need to Stop Listening to the Colonial Voices in their Heads

africa-11115_640“..Under colonialism, Africans were trained in submissiveness through the butt of a gun, and although their colonial masters mostly left by the 1960s, succeeding generations have continued to hear and obey their ghostly commanding voices. Those voices may no longer be overt but covert, and no longer bolstered by physical force but emotional, ideological and economic sway, but they still persist…” – Chika Ezeanya, Africans Need to Stop Listening to the Colonial Voices in their Heads.

In Africa’s parliaments, presidential palaces and boardrooms, Africans continue to obey the commands of other peoples, nations and continents telling them what to do.

The continent seems compelled by the will and wish of others to act out of tune with what is expected of it. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), oftentimes poorly informed about the continent’s realities, draft ill-fitting economic policies, which African governments implement as is. European countries, especially the former colonial powers, maintain a grip over the economic situation of their former colonies. China arrived in Africa with a bang and has so far built a ‘befitting’ headquarters for the African Union in Addis Ababa and several presidential palaces for African presidents in exchange for privileged access to the continent’s natural resources and manufactured goods markets.

More at Africans Need to Stop Listening to the Colonial Voices in their Heads

The Root Causes

tree-59630_640

I wish Oprah Winfrey would read this. I really do. In fact not only Oprah, I wish everyone from Spike Lee and Russell Simmons to Jay-z and … lets just saw the whole Afro – Caribbean ‘fraternity’ ( if such a thing could be said to exist) from African-Americans, to those in Europe, Asia or indeed elsewhere (those of us who are fashionably termed the “diaspora”) would read this. Not because its grand or mind blowingly fancy in any fantastical way, no, instead, considering our common history, it represents a summary of a profound truth regarding some of the major problems Africans and African-Americans routinely encounter. A truth which over the years has been distorted by ‘culture’, ‘theories’ and ‘ism’ of one kind or another to the point few know a practical formula on how to resolve the problems. I believe there has been a massive misunderstanding, which unfortunately leads many people to put a lot of the blame on Africans; African-Americans + Afro-carribbeans (with some people not even realising that they are doing so), without carefully understanding how we even got to these problems.

Thankfully, the premise to this post has been handed to me on a golden platter. In a thousand years of inspiration, I could never have arrived at a factual story so  farcical, entertaining and mind-boggling in almost equal measure:-

Two days ago we watched with disbelief on our TV screens  as Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, was at it again. Probably only slightly less mad compared to Joey Barton, Suarez was caught biting another player’s arm, in the middle of a match; in broad daylight view of the HD cameras patrolling the pitch, in front of thousands of Liverpool and Chelsea supporters…?? It beggars belief.  More surprising (this being besides his racist offence two years ago), is the fact that he’s bitten someone else before. At Ajax. Inevitably, most normal people are asking the same questions, why would a world-class player who is one of the top goal scorers of the Barclays Premier League this season bite another player out of the blue? Is this guy okay? What was going on in his mind? Now, we’ve seen bites in the Premiership before, like the one by Jermain Defoe on Javier Mascherano, but what exactly is going on in these peoples’ minds when they do these things? Is biting the same as headbutting which has also happened several times in football?

While Suarez has since apologised, among the many shocked (even the British Prime Minister has urged the FA to impose a tough penalty on Suarez), surprised, rational, amused (see cartoon here) and ticked-off voices on the matter are some who claim that Suarez needs anger management and counselling. In particular, they say his actions are signals of “unresolved issues” manifesting as “regressive anger” or “regressive emotion” which in simple english means he has some mental ‘issues’ to deal with.

As someone whose Mother is a qualified counsellor, and who has known two other counsellors for well over 7 years, issues relating to counselling are not new to me. I’ve been hearing about them for years! In fact I have proof-read 2 Diploma theses on some counselling topics I cannot presently remember (Mother’s, and another for her friend). I have digitized one of the theses (word for word) including the case studies. I have been in proximity to the books on the subject often, and found myself once or twice browsing through a number of them. I’ve heard the stories too (obviously with anonymity as to the subjects concerned and their location), watched some videos, all of which have inevitably influenced my viewpoints on the subject, things which you don’t hear in the media very often.

So, the claim that the Liverpool player might need counseling is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, as one of my friends (who I doubt is a Liverpool fan) observed, does the law to which every ordinary human being in the UK is subject to, truly extend to football players (and one  might add ‘celebrities’)? If so, why then haven’t charges been pressed by the police, or indeed the victim? Isn’t it hypocritical that cases of racism are hyped, and a big deal made about them, but when it’s a case of violence, the authorities appear coy about it? In any case, if a member of the public bit another stranger randomly, say on the bus (or on the train), under the ever watchful eyes of the CCTV, wouldn’t the attacker be instantly charged with violent conduct and summoned before a judge? If such is generally the case, isn’t the fact that Suarez has not been formerly charged by the police giving out the wrong signals, especially to young people? That it is infact okay to behave in such a wildly unruly manner in the sport? You may get a small fine and a couple of matches suspension, but your career will be intact, safe and dry. Another friend even drew comparisons with doping in athletics, where he cited Dwain Chambers. “Whats the difference?” he asked “Suarez has cheated at the World cup, bitten someone before  — where apparently one newspaper nicknamed him the Cannibal of Ajax — he has been involved in a racist incident against a Manchester United player, and displayed bad behaviour several times, the sort of thing you would expect from Joey Barton, yet he gets to have his cake and eat it.”…

More importantly, it seems some of the people who require counselling will identify the roots of their problems way back in history, commonly in their childhood.  These causes range from extreme poverty, abuse (commonly by a family member), rejection, bullying, drug or alcohol addictions, to death of a loved one and suchlike. Some people who have had such experiences don’t even know that they need help. Which is where Suarez’s case is relevant to this post because, in my view, there are many Africans and Afro-Carribean out there who have experienced devastating and traumatic events in their lives, which have affected them so gravely, psychologically, so much that it influences their behaviour later on in life, and negatively affects their career prospects and family life. It sounds like a tenuous excuse for wrongdoing, but it’s not.  I’m not a Liverpool FC fan and if you told me that one day I would write this post, 10 years ago, I would have seriously doubted your sanity.

Let me explain  further. Those who read my previous post here, will have noted that I referred to the “needs” of Black and Afro-carribean kids in schools.

According to the Self-enhancement theory, individuals with low self-esteem may seek to enhance their self-concepts through the use of aggression in order to boost their already low self evaluations [Rosenberg et al (1989) postulated that individuals with low self-esteem may engage in aggressive acts to boost their low self-evaluations (e.g. , lack of prosocial avenues for expressing self-esteem) ]. This has been used to explain some of the ‘problems’ black children cause in class rooms. Further, it has been stated that individuals with low self-esteem are more prone to engage in risk-taking behavior out of a need to find an available avenue for expressing their self-worth [“subculture of violence”, Long ,1990].

But, while theories such as these hold much validity in explaining some of the psychological problems young black people face (especially in schools), there’s another simpler way of appreciating the bigger picture. I must state at this point that I have not studied this topic extensively, my opinion is based primarily on observations (in my own family and in the lives of others) and private research studies (over the last 7 -8 years) using sources such as are listed below. I do not claim that my viewpoint is the only likely explanation or that the observations below are the only ‘Root causes’, although I’m willing to risk my credibility by suggesting that by far they are the most common root causes. Further, some of my views are influenced partly by my interaction with young people in a Youth group in Nottingham that is affiliated to a religious organisation ( and at which I volunteered as a Youth coordinator for several years, quite a number of years ago).

So, with this in mind, a summary:

(1) Children are born to black parents who have little or no savings. The parents are preoccupied with trying to earn a living – The child is not properly supervised (the TV is tasked with some of that), and there are few or no role models about towards which the child should aspire.

(2) The anger, frustrations and issues from parent’s work / lives sometimes overflow and pours over onto the children, tainting  their childhood. (The sources of those frustrations numerous in number and possibly deserving a blog post of its own)

(3) Pressure of life can cause addictions in their parents &  many a time marriage breakdowns. There is anger in the home. In the homes of almost all their relatives. And no financial cushion to iron out some of the problems. The child bears all this on their head. And, inevitably,eventually, it can give birth to one or more of anger, confusion, frustration and pain.

(4) For example, in some cases, parents cannot afford to take them out on holiday or buy them certain things as they are growing up, things which most of the white kids (or other black contemporaries) in school have, so the black child grows up in want. Further, comparatively, most of their white friends have a from of luxury, they take holidays, frequent trips to interactive or sight seeing excursions , whereas most of the black kids’ parents can’t afford to take them for a holiday. The feelings / emotions regarding things such as these are largely ‘bottled-up’, repressed, and the child does not get to express themselves. They just observe, confused, thinking it is normal. To an extent this lack of exposure can limit their frame of mind.

(5) Since the parents have to work (often juggling more than one job), or because of single parenthood,  supervision is left to others (Friends, Aunties or parents’ siblings – who themselves have little training or fortitude to ensure that they provide the right upbringing), so bad company creeps in -> leading to bad habits. The child cannot excel academically if the parents are not pushing hard for it  (i.e. Private tuition, careful demarcation of time for study and play, religious instruction…etc) or cannot afford to pay for private tuition.

(6) As was well articulated here, even in the western media (as is the case back on the motherland) the children are bombarded by negative connotations of Africa, of being black, or their skin colour of everything to do with them. Public figures saying the wrong things, and half the time getting away with it. Why has the servant, or guard in the Hollywood movie most of the times have to be black or of Latino ethnicity? Even if such is merely a factual reflection of reality, what other message does it send, potentially, especially to younger audiences? The children see positive role models only in few professions, only in sport, film and music. They see more successful people who look like them  in videos such as this or  this, most often with a message of ‘drugs, guns, bitches and bling’. Which is why if you ask any random group of black 9 -14 year olds to name you their favourite music artists, very few, if not none will cite music of a rock genre. Their minds are not wired to appreciate rock music, even when there exists some very good rock bands that appeal to younger audiences.

And whilst the likes of Einstein and Michael Faraday are referenced to in Physics enough times for even non-physicists in the school to know who they are, Martin Luther King, Shaka Zulu and other ‘African heroes’ are found neither in GCSE Science nor English, not even in the History of the French Revolution or the American War of Independence, which is the kind of history which these kids first encounter (both in schools in Africa and in the West). Their own history is visibly absent. Further, few of them are informed that in the times as those in which Galileo, Einstein and even Henry Ford lived, black people were not really considered human in the western world, not really. So comparatively few got a decent education to provide a foundation for mastery in technical subjects. A situation that can probably be summarised with a cartoon that parodies this issue:

what-we-are-taught

In addition, few parents encourage their children to learn about their past. “It’s too painful” you hear. “Study to get a degree then get a job” is generally the advice that is given. So few will bother with history beyond elementary school, creating ‘critical’ gaps of knowledge regarding their own past – a factor that will have an effect much later in life.  Even their parents don’t know anywhere near enough about African history (or historians) such as these – who have over the years toiled to reconstruct and teach about African history.

While a 13-year-old Jewish boy knows what Yom Kippur is, and will give you an accurate account of the Holocaust including how many people died and other encyclopedic knowledge, why those who died must always be remembered each year, yet the African child of the same age doesn’t even know the estimates of how many black people were displaced or died during slavery, and what the impact of that was.  The answers to such questions will have to be solely and painfully mapped (source BBC) by very few of his kind through judicious study, much much later in life. [- – – – – > Burning Spear – Slavery days]

(7) If you visit the local library or a Museum, few or no Afro-carribbean kids about. How could there be any, their parents are busy or in work trying to earn enough to scrape a living.

The other day I took my 9 year old nephew to the Museum of Science and Industry which is the biggest in Manchester, and has quite a lot to see. But in a space of 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning, by conservative estimates I must have encountered maybe over 300 people, but I only saw one other black person with their child??Is this because of pressures of work or lack of interest? In any case, entry is free 🙂

(8) So by the time they get to highschool they are already troubled. Then comes the difficulty in managing them…the pain, confusion and trauma all the above factors may have caused, over many years, is alien to a teacher, who has not been properly trained in dealing with such deep and multi-faceted traumatic behaviour, and  who must be wondering what is wrong with these black kids?? Add to this spoonfuls of racism.

(9) If they are lucky enough to make it to college or University it doesn’t get any easier. They are constantly broke, they can’t fully participate in the collegiate school’s offerings, let alone socialize because of financial constraints. They have to take up part-time job which can interfere with their studies. Throw in coursework, friends and girlfriends, and the whole picture couldn’t be fuzzier. At Nottingham University, I had a white friend (who identified with Christianity) who innocently and with bewilderment asked me how come I could afford to leave Britain and go to the US in the middle of the University term (my US-based sister was going through a very difficult period at the time) when I didn’t have a job. The insinuation, without a shadow of a doubt, was ‘where did you get the money from…I thought you guys are broke?’. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my undergraduate degree, and it was said in a room where there were 8 – 10 other white christians listening, no doubt everybody wanted to know. 8 years on, I still remember the name of the boy who said it (including the fact that his father was a reverend).

So if someone gets through all this, relatively unscathed, guess how they will view the world? My guess, not exactly optimistically.

For those that don’t make it through, difficulty and struggle is standard, they fail to get credit at banks, some get into drugs, theft, fraud, get imprisoned and such like. They are not necessarily bad people, in my view, much of it (although not always) is circumstantial  and reactionary — similar to the Jewish resistance movements that mounted attacks against Hitler’s Nazis during the second world war. Reactionary. Most of the victims want to be good citizens, are raised up in families that have a Faith, they believe it is in their best interests to do the right things, but they can’t, not always, their circustances push them in the wrong direction. They are no worse, for example, than the barrister son of a judge who was found with cocaine, yet got to keep his job.

Plagued by deep, unresolved and complex psychological issues, these people will continue to suffer as society is not equipped (let alone sufficiently interested) to assist them overcome their troubles.

So, in view of  the ‘surface problems’ (such as lack of finances or not having affluent relatives who are able to lend them considerably large sums of money to start businesses, or to bail them out of life’s tricky situations) which disproportionately affect minority communities more than white communities ; without a quality education – their schooling having been somewhat biased, it follows that gang culture, drugs and other evils have an easier job in taking over many a life,  giving to some of them a sense of belonging, importance and identity they long for — and which mainstream society deprives them; while to a considerable number, taking all these away to the tune of a criminal record and several years behind bars.

(10) And even those who manage to get a degree or two are not spared. I know many people (including some Malawians) in the diaspora, who despite a decent education from western universities, some with postgraduate degrees, cannot get jobs or are  in jobs that pay them significantly less than their white colleagues. In some cases, they are not given suitable jobs for which they are qualified for, and few have the entrepreneurial drive (nor essential experience) to create for themselves a job. But even those who do are not exempt from the ‘onslaught’. Yet in view of this, as if by mockery, there are many relatively less educated westerners operating in Africa, who being armed with sufficient capital, are reaping huge financial windfalls…

So, where do you think they go from here? How do you think they will look at the world?

The majority who can’t make it to university, and who therefore can’t get the good jobs will settle for the odd jobs, some of them are plagued by the criminal records they got when they were younger (and irresponsible). They get deeper into the wrong groups, waste time with alcohol, drugs, women ..and debt piles up, desperation kicks in leading to crime, and as they grow older the cycle repeats itself,  in the lives of their children.

History has got its cruel and finely defined pathways.

Those who go to jail (some doing so for street cred) end up causing more hardships to their families (“Prison and the Poverty Trap”-New York Times ), for the women – unplanned pregnancies, many remain in abject poverty, some Christian young men convert to Islam, among those some end up radicalized. The others will be pushing drugs, credit-card fraud and survive on underground businesses, or via the charity of others. ‘Our Babylon’ some will say.

But how can this situation be rectified (not that it’s necessarily easy or straightforward to do so), assuming we somewhat can see more clearly where the problems lay? What’s the solution? Well, in my view, you can’t change the future when the systems of the past are still deeply rooted in the present. So that’s a big problem, as to borrow the biblical saying, old wineskins cannot carry new wine.

And then comes views from some of those who are enlightened and lucky to have ‘made it’, who will often blame the victims for being lazy, for not working hard, for not ceasing the moment, for living in the past…. etc, when it’s all a much complex maze tied to their past, and is beyond their control a lot of the times. And it’s not only in back communities. Even low-income white families in council estates are thwarted by such vicious circles.

To keep this post short, I have cut out the next section, which will form my next post. In it is a skeleton template for a workable solution that could accelerate the reversal of this terrible African tragedy that has affected all families of African descent in one way or another.

[PART 2 HERE]

Similar + sources:
1. Perspectives on the Educational Experiences of African/Caribbean Boys – Nisheet Gosai.
2. Black Youth Culture Blamed as Pupils Fail
3. “Is it ‘cos I is Black, Sir?” – African/Caribbean Males & British Higher Education
4. Challenging Racism – All London Teachers against Racism & Fascism, Russell Press, 1984.
5. Radicalised Boundaries, Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis, Routledge, 1992.
6. Poverty Has a Creation Story: Let’s Tell It

7. Manchester boy Watson selected by Raiders in NFL Draft