If you take someone who has not really been in charge of himself for 300 years and tell him, “O.K., you are now free,” he will not know where to begin.
We are like the man in the Igbo proverb who does not know where the rain began to beat him and so cannot say where he dried his body.
In his opinion, Europe, which implicated itself by colonising Africa and in the process messing things up, owe it as a duty to help Africans through the current predicaments.
In his conclusion he marshals the usual suspects: godfatherism has to end; the domination of politics by a few half-baked, half-educated leaders has to stop; there has to be a right balance of the power of the executive and the responsibility that comes with that power – in other words there should be a strong form of accountability; people should have more access to official information, and this can be ensured by the passing and signing of a strong freedom of information bill; and of course, we have to have a new patriotic consciousness.
Keith Hart, in the latest in a series of posts he is blogging as he writes a book on Africa, describes Achebe’s piece as an “old school nationalist history of the sort that misled Africans at the time of independence.” He continues:
Achebe’s vision of world history is narrow and backward-looking; the programme advocated, such as it is, takes no account of contemporary world society or of the forces within it that might support African emancipation at whatever level of association; he repeats the mistake of focusing exclusively on politics and law (“seek ye first the political kingdom”); and deals with the economic conditions of democracy only through their negation as excessive ill-begotten wealth. The thinking behind this piece, in other words, has not moved on since the mid-twentieth century.
His own recommendations, among other things [be sure to read the article in full] are:
Some of Africa’s political leaders and activist intellectuals must come to grips with what has been going on in the last century and is going on now. ‘Africa’ a century ago included the New World diaspora created by the slave trade; but it now includes a second diaspora created since 1945 by voluntary migration to Europe, America and increasingly Asia. At a time when India’s hi-tech entrepreneurs are returning home from Silicon Valley in droves, the question of African development must hinge on how this new expatriate population could take part in the continent’s growth. Above all, if Africans are to win some measure of equality for themselves in world society, they must ask how multiple forms of political association at more and less inclusive levels might help them to address the development question. There is little point in waiting for the West’s benevolent intervention.
Regional integration, even Panafricanism, has a better chance in this multi-polar, convergent world than it did half a century ago and that, for me, is where Africa’s hope lies.
I am inclined to agree with Keith Hart. In Achebe’s article, one could almost not find anything about the global power shift that has happened in the past few decades – and that continues to happen. It is almost as if he has a few points that he makes once someone asks him about what is happening in the continent and what can be done. Of course, there is hardly anything to disagree with in the list of things he would like to see happen. However, one leaves the article without feeling as if one has learnt anything new or thought-provoking.
What do you think?