Beyond the balance of the stories…
by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
It takes uncommon intelligence to survive Africa. I know. I lived it for over two decades. But then, suffering is overrated and conquering it requires effort and uncommon intelligence. Africans are geniuses. So why are things the way they are? We can’t talk about it because white liberals love to stifle debate. White liberals and their African sidekicks love to hate V.S. Naipaul. They refer to him as what Chinua Achebe would refer to as a thoroughgoing racist. Once pronounced thusly, all debate is smothered and we are all back to being human beings again – until the next racist book about Africa is written. And the wailing and drama resume. Sure Naipaul is a racist. And it seems every book written about Africa today is awash in the red ink of racism, bigotry and prejudice. Even many Africans write about Africa as if they are snooty expatriates from on high. Africa is filth, savagery and broken people pretending to be humans, that is the message they subconsciously communicate.
Liberalism is the arrogant guard of the black wall that rejects debate. No one must go past it. When it comes to matters African, our avuncular white liberals tend to cry louder than the bereaved. We ought to move past cute Third World movies and the despondent poets of the past, dark era that depict us as the other. Why are things the way they are? Our intellectuals understandably seek desperately to legislate relationships. From Chinua Achebe to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the refrain is: “Can’t you see, we are human beings like you?” We are scared and we lash out at those that ask questions about our humanity and our competence. I fully understand how Achebe can accuse Conrad of racism for turning the corner, seeing Africa and Africans and saying, “This is another planet, these are not my people.” But then at what point do we begin to ask hard questions about ourselves and hold our looter-leaders accountable? Yelling racism keeps at bay the answers to our issues. It drives away accountability also.
I have harsh words for our leaders. Western education has created the worst caliber of leaders that has ever ruled much of Black Africa. It has taught them the key tenets of selfishness. They lack compassion and understanding. They are solely responsible for the mess that Africa is in today. The white man’s contribution historically is well documented. Today, he has become a convenient foil for the greed, ineptitude and evil of our leaders. Yelling at the white man has become a money maker. Our intellectual and political elite have found profitable props in the avuncular patronizing condescending attitudes of white liberals. White liberals have been singularly responsible for genetically coding in our leaders a lack of introspection, an allergy to accepting responsibility and a disdain for the word, credibility. As the Nigerian project has shown, their motto is do what I say, not what I do. Certified wife beaters, thugs and thieves are paraded on the world stage as “statesmen.” Plagiarists are forgiven their transgressions and false prophets are handsomely rewarded for lying about their achievements. There is no excuse for what is happening in Nigeria. At its best, we are looking at uncritical mimicry. Democracy has combined with the new Christianity to become a force more deadly than AIDS in oppressing our people.
African intellectuals are at war with the West. They are human beings and they are not going to stop telling white folks that. They write obsessively about the otherness that is African but they are obsessive about not living the life that they describe so hauntingly in their oh so cute books. Kiran Desai’s gorgeous book The Inheritance of Loss is a work of haunting beauty and dark genius, lovely how she mimics our mimicry, our rejection of the state of being conferred on us by a racist, mean God. We do not question why things are the way they are. We describe what is and demand equality and respect. The self-loathing manifests itself in many ways, not only in Naipaul’s books.
It is tempting to romanticize the writer as a dreamy eyed idealist resting only on truth-oars. With respect to African writers, nothing could be further from the truth. Many African writers have written for dictators, and continue to share wine and break bread with thieves mimicking democracy. When it suits their purposes, they ignore, with powerful words, atrocities committed by their friends and relatives. It is an abuse of power: The power of empty words. But mimicry is not going to get us far. We are building monuments that are unsustainable. We insist on going to the moon when our people hanker for the simple pleasures of clean water, good roads and safe communities. We have embraced a religion that is dismissive and contemptuous of our past and present. Their God says we must reject our being in order to be accepted by him. Ours is the only race that has uncritically embraced this new plague called Christianity. Mimicry. It will kill off our race.