A Rwandan friend recently sent me a 9-minute speech via Whatsapp, thinking I might have already heard it. About a week later, I finally listened to it for the first time. I’m glad I did. Attributed to Kenya’s Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba – current Kenya School of Laws Director and a former director of Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Commission – the speech which seems to be fairly recent (2014/15) brings up a question that crops up whenever an African nation is celebrating its “independence”: How “free” are we really? Are these the throes of neo-colonization or the remnants of colonization? Is Pan-Africanism dead? More importantly, are we actually thinking or simply living and acting in oblivion?
In his proactive speech he is said and quote
“When I look at Africa, many questions come to mind. Many times I ask myself, what would happen if Mwalimu were to rise up and see what is happening. Many times I will ask myself what will happen if Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba were to rise up and see what is happening. Because what they would be confronted with is an Africa where the Democratic Republic of Congo is unsettled.
“There is a war going on there but it is not on the front pages of our newspapers, because we don’t even control our newspapers and the media. “
As I speak to you the Central African Republic is at war. But we talk of it only mutedly. As I speak to you now, in South Sudan, the youngest nation in Africa, the Nuwera have risen against the Dinka. As I speak to you now, Eritrea is unsettled. As I speak to you now there is unease in Egypt, as there is unease in Libya. In Niger it is no better, in Senegal in the Cassamance, it is no better. In Somalia it is no better. Africa is at war with ourself.
This is what they would be confronted with. They would be confronted with an Africa which statistician and romantic economists say is growing, but which in truth is stagnated. That is the Africa that they would be confronted with. They would be confronted with an Africa which, as Professor Mlama intimated in our presentation here, is an Africa which is suffering from schizophrenia – it does not know herself.
“They would be confronted with an Africa whose young men and women have no interest and no love for their continent.”
They would be confronted with an Africa where young men and young women are constantly humiliated at embassies of European countries and the United States as they seek the almighty green card. They would be confronted with an Africa where young men and women from Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania drown in the Mediterranean as they seek to be enslaved in Europe. This time around, Africans are not wailing and kicking as they are being taken away to be enslaved, they are seen wailing and kicking as they seek to be enslaved in Europe and America. This is the tragedy of Africa.
They would be confronted with an Africa where people have lost their self-pride. An Africa where Africans are not proud of their things. An Africa where in the hotels of Dar es Salaam or Nairobi, even food has foreign names. When we fry potatoes we call them French fries even when they are fried in Dar es Salaam.
“They would be confronted with another Africa, an Africa which does not tell her story. An Africa whose story is told by Europe and America – the CNN, Radio Deutsche-Welle, Radia France.”
That is the Africa they would be confronted with. They would be confronted with young men and women who have no pride in Africa. When they want to enjoy themselves they sing the praises of football teams from Europe and America. It is Manchester United, it is Arsenal, it is Real Madrid and Barcelona. Not Yanga, not Mufulira Wanderers, not Gor Mahia, not FC Leopards. No, that is the Africa that they would be confronted with. They would be confronted with an Africa which does not enjoy its theatre and drama. That Africa celebrates Leonardo di Caprio, it celebrates Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The Africa does not celebrate Genevive Nnaji of Nigeria or Rita Dominic or Olu Jacobs of Nigeria. It does not celebrate Bongohood or Nollywood or Riverwood. It celebrates Hollywood. That is the Africa which with they would be confronted. They would be confronted with African women whose greatest source of joy is cheap Grade B Mexican soap opera: la patrona, la muher de me vida.
Why must we remind ourselves of these realities? Because throughout the ages, the battle has always been the battle of the mind. If your mind is conquered, then you are going nowhere. And that is why in the age of enlightenment in Europe, the great René Descartes said “Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am.
“And therefore if Africans are to begin to make a contribution in their affairs, Africans must begin to think. But the question is, are we thinking?”
We have universities in their numbers. Tanzania has universities including Dar es Salaam. Nairobi has universities as indeed Kampala, as indeed South Africa, Johannesburg. We have all these universities. We have engineers, but our roads are not being made by Tanzanian civil engineers, it is the Chinese who are present in this assembly who are making our roads. So we have engineers who cannot even make roads. We have doctors whom we have trained, but when we are sick – particularly if we are of the political class – depending on who colonized you, if you are colonized by the United Kingdom, you rush to London. If you colonized by the French, you rush to Paris. If you are colonized by the Portuguese, you rush to Lisbon, and if you are colonized by the Spaniards, you rush to Madrid, Spain.
And recently, because the Asians are beginning to get their act together, we run to India. And very lately, because the Arabs are also beginning to get their act together, we run to Dubai. Notwithstanding that we have the Kenyatta hospitals of this country, the Muhimbilis of Tanzania, the Chris Hani Baragwanaths of South Africa and the Mama Yemos of Kinshasa in Zaire or the DRC. But we have no faith in our doctors.
In the area of education we also don’t have faith. Our political class introduced something that they call free education, that is free indeed. Free of knowledge. Because they are so suspicious of those institutions, that the typical African politician will not dare take their children to those schools. Their children will be educated in the British system, in the American system, so that when they graduate they go to the United Kingdom, to the United States.
“Not that there is anything wrong with those institutions, but the agenda is wrong because our leaders long lost the script and ought to be described for who they are – our misleaders.”
But we are co-authors of our own misfortune. Whenever we are given an opportunity to elect our leaders, we are given a blank check. And if you permit me a little latitude, and if you give me a blank check and you allow me to analogize and you say that I am given the blank check to buy a Mercedes Benz, what we do is when we are called upon – having been so empowered – we buy what we call a tuk-tuk from India and we expect it to behave ike a Mercedes Benz. How does that happen?
“Because what we do is to elect thieves. We elect hyenas to take care of goats and when the goats are consumed, we wonder why.”
Agree or disagree with the Professor? Got ideas of your own? We’d love to hear your perspective!