Many years ago, someone wrote a book by that title. The White Man's Burden. The premise of the book was that the task of bringing the world up to speed on civilization was on the shoulders of the white man. For primitive people like the Africans to see the light, the white man had to act. Then there was the book Out Of Africa, by Ms. Blixen, which went on to become a blockbuster in Hollywood when it was adapted into a movie. All you have to do is read the condescending narrative of that story to get a glimpse into the mindset of the whites in Kenya back in the years. If I say they thought we were savages, no better than the animals that roamed the vast savannah, I'm being generous.
Now, before I plod into my thesis, let me warn that this is not a piece written to bash whites. No, a nice guy like me wouldn't do that. The whites have done a lot to help us make sense of this world, and in many cases have saved us from ourselves. The least we can do is be grateful. That said, I bring this matter up because this question needs to be answered: How Long will We remain The White Man's Burden? It's understandable that some of the difficulties Africans have had to endure have stemmed from forces outside their control, like the dreadful experiments of the Structural Adjustment programs in the eighties and early nineties...and the weather-related acts of God. But on matters of self-governance, who do we have to blame?
Take a walk with me across the continent today. Let's start in South Africa. Out there, one of the world's most inspiring figures just celebrated his ninetieth birthday. Nelson Mandela is a symbol of African resilience and latent genius. Yet you go down a notch from him and you meet Thabo Mbeki. This is the man who battled the global medical community about the physics of AIDS. He's presided over an administration that has failed to spread the vast wealth in South Africa...make it trickle down to the lowly people of that nation. Is it any wonder that anti-immigrant sentiment in that country is palpable these days? One can only hope that South Africa is not about to go down the path other African nations have. But before we walk away from this magnificent nation, we must call it, as of right now, one of the brightest spots on the continent.
From South Africa, let's climb up to the Southern African region. Most nations are doing relatively well here. But then there's Zimbabwe. The latest embarrassment in Africa. This nation is emblematic of African failure. The economy has collapsed. No social life to talk about. People now worship God, but wonder about His power to save them. And in politics Robert Mugabe has found a way to pull a Kibaki. What you may not realize is that the solution President Mbeki took to Zimbabwe was crafted in capitals out of Africa. Thabo was the Kofi Annan of Zimbabwe. That's why I ask, how long will we remain the white man's burden?
Let's not dwell on Zimbabwe, though. CNN and the BBC told the story in detail. So we come to the eastern Africa region. Tanzania is moving forward at a decent pace. Uganda is a stable, strong-man democracy. Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia are nations ravaged by hunger and wars. Because of their strategic insignificance, though, nobody seems to care what goes on there. Which leaves Kenya. The elections there were a sham. They left in place a deeply unpopular president and the worse tribal relations Kenya has ever seen. When the world bulked at the possibility of one of Africa's most strategic nations disintegrating, Dr. Annan was sent in with ready-made solutions from washington, London, Paris and Berlin. Even the IMF and the World Bank weighed in. And this is the twenty first century? Just how long will it take for us to get our act together? When do we stop being the white man's burden?
Let's drive up to Central Africa. Chad, a mess. Sudan, under sanctions, a president that's more murderous than the Nazis, a nation split between the North and South. In the end, the United Nation's, under the thumb of the United States, has had to act to save the southern blacks. And the International Court has followed the UN lead by indicting El Bashir...that monster. The question is, why can't this region's leaders feed and lead its people well? Why do they have to wait for the white man to tell them what to do?
I'll leave the Western and Northern African regions for another day. What you've witnessed as we've walked across South Africa and the wider sub-Saharan Africa is a continent that's either in decline, as if we'd ever made any significant strides, or just running in place. The tragedy of what's going on is that Africa is blessed with enormous natural resources and an abundance of human resources. But more than anything, the good Lord has seen to it that Africa's sons and daughters are now well educated and capable of excellent leadership. So how do we explain the incessant decay in Africa? Why do we keep goofing around, looking to capitals outside Africa whenever we need solutions to our problems? If the African Union can't move Africa forward, why have it? Why not replace it with a more responsive body?
The time for Africa to rise up is now. We may not successfully organize into a superstate like the emerging European Union, or the big kid on the block, the United States, which has been around for years, but we can start by strengthening the regional economic blocs, integrating the financial institutions, expanding the existing markets, having a military unit answerable to a single command, and moving steadily toward the eventual emergence of the African superstate. Am I a dreamer? Well, how did man get to the moon without dreaming? How did one man in a research facility somewhere give birth to the atomic bomb without dreaming? And how did our freedom fighters kick the colonialists' butt out of Africa without dreaming of freedom?
We must dream.
The biggest dream of all must be that Africa has come to the point where continued reliance on the white man's brain must end. We are capable of taking care of ourselves. So let's thank the good people of Europe and America and Asian for the good they've done, but while at it, we must be firm that from now on, we'll take care of our own problems. All we have to do is...the right thing!
How hard can that be?
God bless Africa.
Guest post by Sam O. Okello