Black Survivors

by Ernest Armah

How can you sitting there
Telling me that you care…that you care?
When every time I look around
The people suffer in the suffering
In every way, in everywhere

Robert Nesta Marley, born in 1945 in Rhoden Hall, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica could never have imagined the extent to which his stirring lyrics would come to resonate with Africans. The horrendous experiences in the past especially slavery left depressed the generation that witnessed it, rendered embarrassed and helpless those that came after and ultimately created a continent that begged to be babysitted and spoon-fed.

The educated elite, taking cognizance of this false consciousness pledged to drop manna from the skies, strike water from rocks and bridge the wide schism between the rich and the poor. Clad in Marxian robes straddling on a righteous anger for change, they were received by the people amidst shouts of hosanna. After some time, they were charged with lies, deception and personal aggrandisement and they were crucified – mostly through coup d’états.

The continent was still searching for a hero, a saviour as a matter of fact. Our hands were lifted up and our eyes looking up for that messiah who would make our misery, history. Finally, our messiah came from Europe dressed in suit and tie. He came with fine, intellectually-appealing principles and structures that would finally bring quiet to our rowdy rants for leadership. We had our introductions.

People of Africa, my name is Democracy. I am the only way to good governance. Through me, government would be of, for and by you. Through me, your government would never take you for granted because guess what, I come with checks and balances. Through me, your voice shall be heard and, your collective needs shall be government priority. So would you like to be my guest?

We nodded in the affirmative. Thereafter, we showed socialism, communism and the other “isms” the exit.

We became guests to Democracy by plagiarizing parts of and synergizing the constitution of Western countries to create our own. We started investing more in things that would paint us as good students instead of great stewards. Democracy was expensive we were later told. We nodded in agreement as we were helplessly in love at the time.

But when we heard the stories – of the mega corruption eating up funds meant for development and the opacity of government business which perpetrate fraud and theft, we started questioning the integrity of Democracy as a faithful Lord.

To our surprise Democracy defended itself quite well in the witness box. No amount of cross-examination nor evidence-backed accusations could dent its virtue of freedom and equality of all before the law. The gravity of our circumstances called out more empowering thoughts and questions.

Democracy thrives on participation. Is this truly the case in Africa? How many Africans believe that they can shake their governments to properly sit up without necessarily taking up machetes and AK 47s? How many Africans believe that they matter when it comes to the issue of governance?

Democracy thrives on maturity. A child has to acquire fine sensory and motor skills, physical strength and most importantly, an intellectual capability to understand his or her world and make his or her independent judgements before he or she would be granted the right to be free. In the light of this analogy, independence would not have been given us had we not felt and believed that we are capable of managing our own affairs. In this vein, in my respectful yet candid opinion, I think Democracy came to some parts of Africa too early. We were not economically and intellectually matured for it.

What the heck is Right to Information Bill to the man on the street who struggle getting a meal a day talk less of decent accommodation. If the economy is not set right, democracy would never be right. To euphemize this circumstance, most politicians inspire false hope on which basis they get elected into public service.

Democracy in Africa has produced many disrespectful children, our elders say. In a continent where conventions such as “the elders are always right”, “you don’t speak back to your elders” are upheld with reward mechanisms for unquestioning conformity, Democracy was a bad nut. This culture is infused in our democratic practice. That is why our leaders cannot tolerate dissent (even constructive criticisms and alternative ideas). Overall, this underscores the intellectual unreadiness that met democracy.

The greatest disservice to Africa cannot be more than the silence of those with fruitful ideas burning in their chests; those who care and are still sitting in their “somewheres” pretending to be unconcerned.

Our problems have less to do with our leaders and more to do with us – our apathy and irresponsibility.

If slavery made us dependent without any sense of direction and purpose, we need Africans, the black survivors who have broken the status quo to stop swallowing their saliva down their oesophagus and speak up by taking the stage. We need to hear your voices. We need hope.

So my brothers and sisters
The preaching and talking is done
We got to live up now