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As we seek ‘justice’, the world must be forgiven for having a low opinion of us

By - | Jun 1st 2013 | 5 min read

We are sui generis, a truly different breed of humankind, we the people of Africa. Perhaps it is true, as our leaders have said in Addis Ababa, these past few days, that the world should leave us alone. The events in Addis remind you, almost tragically, where it is written in the Good Book, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or a leopard his spots? Then you who are trained to do evil will also be able to do good (Jeremiah 13:23). Some versions of the Bible even say “the colour of his skin.”

Is our skin colour the metaphor for unmitigated greed, evil and wickedness aforethought? Whoever “the Ethiopian” may have been when the Biblical book of Jeremiah was written, between 627 and 586 BC, I do not know. But this I know. Certain mindboggling things can only happen in Africa. We are the only continent that has killed more than two million of our children in armed conflict since 1991. We have permanently disabled over six million people in the same period. We have turned many more millions into refugees and internally displaced persons. We use rape as a weapon of war. The woman’s body, on our continent, is at once a battleground, an absurd entertainment and a relief amenity in war. It is an instrument of military pleasure and humiliation. Africa’s Great Lakes Region is the global rape headquarters. In the DRC, they rape men and women alike, all in the name of “justice.”

These things have happened for so long that they have become normal. In his autobiographical memoirs, a “respected” African leader has given lurid accounts of how he personally killed several people with his hands in his search for power some years ago. The accounts are rendered in easy matter-of-fact style. They send a cold shiver down your spine.

If you tell them, they say you are “race hunting.” Holy grief!  Nobody is saying anything about the two million children we have killed since 1991. No African court is addressing the concerns around these killings, away from skewed efforts in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. These efforts, in themselves, only generate bitterness and foment future violence. This is Africa, the foil of civilisation and the headquarters of negations. 

Alone in the world, our leaders abuse our new Constitutions through the very process of their promulgation. They invite to such events global pariahs, whom they should be arresting, to laugh at the new Constitution, the citizens and the world. Alone in the world, our legislators fix their own salaries and threaten to sack anybody who stands between them and their mad greed. Alone in the world, our leaders cannot open their mouth in Parliament without dressing up someone in rotten language. Alone in the world, Speakers in our legislatures join Members of Parliament in laughing at off colour jokes and foul language, against people who cannot defend themselves in the House.

Alone in the world, we fight and kill at every General Election. Every election is stolen – either in reality or in someone’s imagination. Every election is bought, where it is not stolen. Political parties are shopping baskets. You come up with a new one at every subsequent election. Alone in the world, an African government can disable and shut down a media house, surround it with heavily armed soldiers and maroon the army commander in a foreign city. Alone in the world, our truth shifts like quicksand, depending on what our tribal leader wants to be the truth.

People have said very bad things about us. When they do so, we say it is “race hunting.” But we do not behave in a manner that could inspire anybody with hope and faith in us. President Salva Kir of Sudan is sitting on a crisis. He cannot even raise salaries for public servants. The arrears run into close to six months now. Meanwhile South Sudan is tottering on the brink of yet another war, authored by President Bashir.  When he goes to Addis, President Kir addresses not the unfolding tragedy in his country, but how to save President Bashir from the International Criminal Court.

Some of our heads of state have featured in every major bloodletting story in their countries and across the borders. They have been named in every looting at home and in the neighbourhood. All this is normal, however, because we are sui generis.

We therefore do not want “foreigners” to interfere with us. The only thing we want “foreigners” to do is to teach us how to wash our hands and how to remove jiggers. When the world is reflecting on how to go to mars, therefore, we reflect about how to wash our hands and to remove jiggers. This is what you can expect when 53 out of 54 leaders can say that a country that took itself to the ICC is being “race hunted.”

The Good Book says that the Ethiopian cannot change the colour of his skin, the leopard change its spots. Our proclivities can only invite superior condescension against us. GWF Hegel (1770–1831) once said of us, “The Negro represents natural man in all his wild and untamed nature. If you want to treat and understand him rightly, you must abstract all elements of respect and morality and sensitivity. There is nothing remotely humanised in the Negro’s character.”

The world must be forgiven for holding such images of us. Our conduct at the highest level of leadership does little to discourage such thought. We should therefore be left alone; to grope for direction if ever we could find it. They have said that the African is a permanent child. You cannot grow him beyond a certain age of intelligence. Maybe that is who we are and the world should spare us its civilizing missions. Despite the advantages and responsibilities of adulthood, you cannot transform the baby into an adult, not even when he is an overgrown baby. 

The writer is a publishing editor, special consultant and advisor on public relations and media relations

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