“During colonialism, struggles were fought, exhaustingly, on so many fronts — for equality, for justice, for freedom — by politicians, intellectuals and common folk alike. At the end of the day, when liberty was won, we found that we had not sufficiently reckoned with one incredibly important fact: 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. This is how I see the chaos in Africa today and the absence of logic in what we’re doing. Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves, forgotten their traditional way of thinking, embracing and engaging the world without sufficient preparation. We have also had difficulty running the systems foisted upon us at the dawn of independence by our colonial masters. 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. “
~ Chinua Achebe.
I chanced upon this quote I happened to put up on facebook a long while ago! It came up on my newsfeed because someone liked it and I thought to myself, wow…how long ago was this?!?! Thing is, I paste it here because I see how much my disposition has changed towards the sentiments expressed in this quote. Looking at my pretty “ancient” facebook status, I see that I put a hashtag by the quote which says “#WORD”, (lol!) meaning I fully and beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt agreed. However, now peering back at the quote, I cannot shake off the optimism and belief I have in the ingenuity of a people I have grown to better understand – the complexities, nuances and simplicities of Africa’s ‘systems’ cannot be problematized based on colonialism anymore. Although I am an ardent Achebe fan, today I stand to differ with the sentiments in this quote to some extent. I use my words cautiously because I am aware too much optimism about Africa and its prospects can sometimes break your heart but I am also wary of the cynicism to the immense effort people are putting into making it work. I beg to differ and say we are no 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.” Nope. I think we are more like the proverbial African child who “after he learns to wash his hands, will sit and eat with Kings”.
For those of you who do not get my analogies, let the mere fact that the proverbs confuse you, be testament to the complexities of African wisdom and ingenuity. 🙂
Poco à poco, we will get there!
(And here I give a shout-out to my all-time favorite Ghanaian highlife band Osibisa, with their hit song “Woyaya”, meaning “We are going”. 🙂 )