Oscar Okwaro Plato
Africa remains the most insulted continent and a subject of countless studies that usually produce distorted “findings” about the largely misunderstood complex society. These findings have continued to fuel several existing myths about the vast continent once referred to as the “dark continent”.
The “experts” on Africa have included missionaries, anthropologists, historians, scholars, journalists and pedestrian analysts, all who have succeeded in packaging half-truths and lies about the continent. These condescending analysts are consistent in their findings, which they repeat over and over such that Africans themselves, including intellectuals, actually begin to believe them.
Since there has been no serious counter-argument against the misrepresentation of Africa compared to the number of negative portrayals of the continent, many Africans have learnt to laud the West as the epitome of civilisation on how to live and behave in a modern, white-dominated society. Among this group of hapless victims, sadly, are African intellectuals who should know better but are also steeped in Eurocentric values since they have spent a lengthy period of time gobbling Western values through studies in Western universities.
As one wag once put it, when you have a PhD, you have got permanent head damage. This clique of “intellectuals” constitutes the hopelessly brainwashed group who pride themselves in being closer to Whites than their “lesser educated” mortals. As early as the 1950’s, Franz Fanon noted in his celebrated book “Peau Noire, Masques Blancs”, which translates into “Black Skin, White Masks”, that the feeling of dependency and inadequacy that black people experience in a White world are culturally devastating. Fanon acutely noted that the inferiority complex usually results in the black subject of colonisation to imitate the cultural code of the coloniser, a behaviour that is more evident in upwardly mobile and educated black people who consider their education as acceptance in the revered white society.
Despite being written in the 50’s, Fanon’s sharp insights of the paralysing effect of Western culture is still relevant today and is evident in many societies where the all-pervasive white culture meets indigenous cultures of once colonised people. Trinidad-born Nobel Prize winner in Literature, the Asian writer V.S. Naipaul, noted in his book “Middle Passage” that blacks and Indians in Trinidad – a former British colony – would do anything to pass as white. Naipaul satirises this “pseudo-whiteness” of blacks and Indians who try hard to adopt a white man’s perspective towards their people and also the other minorities. He observes that these copycats of Western culture usually behave as if they belong to the superior race.
Black intellectuals in black Africa and their counterparts in Europe are guiltier than their less educated brothers and sisters since they have fallen prey to this pseudo-whiteness syndrome.
They might wear dashikis, African tunics or even drop their western names in preference to African ones but the syndrome manifests in other areas, especially in mimicking their masters and quoting western scholars without coming up with home-grown ideas.
Among the high priests of experts on Africa’s problems are famous African writers like Professor Ali Mazrui, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o who, despite condemning the negative portrayal of Africa by Western writers and media, are also guilty of condescendingly writing about the continent consciously or unconsciously using Western paradigms.
Apart from being over-defensive of Africa’s myriad problems and pitifully failing to pinpoint what is wrong with the continent, these men of letters and a cabal of intellectuals have subconsciously become self-appointed patronising experts on what direction we should take.
In short, these intellectuals have replaced the white experts they condemn by wearing the mantles of the all-knowing high priests who know Africa’s problems and solutions. They have taken this revered position by spending too much time in the white man’s institutions and earning “enviable” western titles like “Doctor”, “Professor” or “Men of Letters”. Despite being more divorced from the continent’s problems, like the white analysts who have written countless books on Africa, these intellectuals – some of them teach in European universities – have the audacity to guide lesser mortals with little or no “Mzungu” education.
In his celebrated book “The Trouble with Nigeria”, published in 1983, Achebe, who spent many years abroad, offers the solution of quality leadership as the sole answer to the woes of the populous country that mocks the independence it attained from colonial masters. Achebe’s ambitious book fails to pin-point what is wrong with Nigeria, with the writer addressing symptoms of Nigeria’s disease without diagnosing the ailment of the directionless country.
Achebe is not alone. He is among several African intellectuals who, like the fabled blind men, tried to understand how an elephant looked like, with each drawing a partial picture of the animal. Other intellectuals have attempted to explain the problems of Africa; chief among the usual topics being tribalism, corruption, and bad leadership.
Achebe’s contemporary, wa Thiong’o, an avowed Marxist, is allergic to capitalism and feels the peasants should control Kenya instead of the waBenzis (owners of Mercedes Benzes) – the elite who have replaced white colonial masters. If this waBenzis are victims of the white man’s material trappings, then Wa Thiong’o is also a hapless victim of Western education. The writer has gone through several transitions from changing his colonial name James to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, to writing in his mother tongue Gikuyu instead of English, which he claims is the language of the colonialists.
The late Ali Mazrui, among other African scholars rightly accused wa Thiong’o of tribalism since he ignored the more widely-spoken ki-Swahili in favour of Gikuyu. It is interesting though to note that despite the fact that wa Thiong’o wrote in Gikuyu, the English-allergic writer uses more Western literary forms than African ones in his celebrated works like “Devil On The Cross” and “Wizard of The Crow”.
Africans who have faith in the white man’s education have been disappointed by the so-called African intellectuals who have lamentably failed to come up with solutions to the cocktail of ills haunting Africa. These copycats, who have been Uncle-Tomming the white man by drinking from the fountains of his wisdom, should learn how to come out of the Western cocoon by offering afro-centric solutions that are relevant to Africa. I do not shy away from unmasking this group of charlatans who have enjoyed undeserved fawning and praise instead of fighting culturecide at the hands of Western power under colonialism.^
Okwaro Oscar Plato is an analyst with Gravio Consulting Africa
Oscar Okwaro Plato