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When did the rain start ‘beating’ us?

By Dominic Odipo | March 17th 2014

By Dominic Odipo

Kenya: An Igbo proverb tell us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.

The rain that beat Africa began four to five hundred years ago, from the “discovery” of Africa by Europe, through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the Berlin Conference of 1885.

That controversial gathering of the world’s leading European powers precipitated what we now call the Scramble for Africa, which created new boundaries that did violence to Africa’s ancient societies and resulted in tension prone modern states.

It took place without African consultation or representation to say the least. Great Britain was handed the area of West Africa that would later become Nigeria. It was one of the most populous regions on the African continent, with over 250 ethnic groups and distinct languages.

If the Berlin conference sealed her fate, then the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates inextricably complicated Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Muslims and Christians alike were held together by a delicate, some say artificial, lattice.

“Africa’s post-colonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves. A meaningful solution will require the goodwill and concerted efforts on the part of all those who share the weight of Africa’s historical burden.

Most members of my generation who were born before Nigeria’s independence remember a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal — natural resources yes, but even more so, human resources. But the Biafra war changed the course of Nigeria. In my view, it was a cataclysmic experience which changed the history of Africa.”

There was a time

This extract has been taken verbatim from Albert Chinua Achebe’s latest book There was a Country — his personal memoir and part history of the Nigerian Civil War of the early 1960s. Achebe, who died last year, participated in the war on the side of Biafra — his native region as an adviser roving ambassador.

He was also the author of Africa’s best-selling novel, Things Fall Apart. One of Achebe’s greatest strengths was his ability to write about his native Biafra or Nigeria and yet easily reach readers from every African community and beyond.

Glance back at that paragraph from where he begins talking about rain beating people who later dry their bodies elsewhere and you will be forgiven if you mistakenly assume he was writing about Kenya today. Indeed, the rain that started beating Africa when the Europeans discovered our continent actually beat Kenya until it was flooded. And there was indeed a time when Kenya was a land of great promise, hope and progress.

There was a time, not too long ago, when every student finishing Form 6 in this country either had a university place or a job waiting for him or her. There was a time, not too long ago, when Eliot’s premium bread, one of the best in the world at the time, cost only Sh7 and stayed that way the whole year!

There was a time, not too long ago, when a nurse who was reporting for duty at Kenyatta Hospital at 2pm would leave her house in Jericho at exactly 1:30pm sure that she would catch the 1:45pm No 7 bus at the nearest stage. There was a time, not too long ago, when the blue Sh20 note bought you four beers at any bar in Nairobi City Centre including the Nairobi Hilton’s Ivory Bar.

Boom time

There was a time, long after Independence, when you could stroll from anywhere on River Road to the University of Nairobi Halls of Residence way after midnight without being mugged or meeting a single policeman demanding a bribe. There was a time during the Jomo Kenyatta presidency when every Kenyan student who joined the university was actually paid an allowance to encourage him or her to stay at the campus.

And beyond that allowance or boom, as it was known, all the meals were free for both the student and his visitors. And there was no limit to how much food one could take.

There was a time, not too long ago, when you could stroll from the Likoni Ferry in Mombasa after midnight past Mwembe Tayari all the way to Tudor 4 without any fear of being mugged or arrested by a corrupt policeman. So where did the second rain begin beating us? Because, obviously, it did. Did we go the way of Nigeria without knowing? According to Achebe, here is how Nigeria went:

Within six years of independence, Nigeria had become a cesspool of corruption and misrule. Public servants helped themselves freely to the nation’s wealth. Elections were blatantly rigged. The subsequent national census was outrageously stage-managed; judges and magistrates were manipulated by the politicians in power. The politicians themselves were pawns of foreign business interests.

Food for thought?

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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