Africans: We Are a Good People!
By Barbara Gwanmesia
If you are an African like me and many other Africans, you have heard and perhaps participated in decrying the 'badness' of Africans... how evil we are to each other, how bitterly we treat each other, how much we grovel to Westerners, Easterners... everyone but each other, how much we spew vileness on one another. Most of us look at the Rwanda of the early 1990s, at Idi Amin's reign, at the power drunks and often mentally-challenged leaders we (in the majority of our native countries) have, and we say... that's us! Mental caricatures, innately stupid, slave-mentality, beggers, selfish paupers, narcissists and so on and so forth. Oh, and when it comes to talking down the African in Europe or in the Diaspora, we go bananas. We just let loose on how evil, cold, gossipy, judgmental, and emotionally & mentally violent we are. Thing is, when we go talking ourselves down like this, we feel justified and better... less ashamed of or embarrassed by our individual mistakes, or the mistakes of our brothers and sisters (of course we forget that the natural man, living in a fallen world, is won't to mistakes and is often unwillingly ill).
There are people now reading this piece who are saying, 'but that is the truth, that is how we are, we are innately bad'. Some are saying the problem has to do with colonialism - that the foreign colonist's antics had constructed and fed selfishness and a self-serving survivalist instinct in us. Some say the blame lies on slavery - whose enduring effects are still playing havoc in our psyches today, grinding and grating into our very marrows the sense of worthlessness and barbaric survival instincts it must have cultivated in us.
How wrong! how wrong!! how wrong!!! Do you know how I got to discover just how wrong we are in any of such sentiments? No... if you are thinking that it is because I came to figure out that man's ill to man is a human rather than an African trait, or that Rwanda '94 was no different from what Europeans and people from other areas of the world have occasionally historically done to each other, or that Idi Amin was only a babe compared to Hitler or those who set him "dada" up in his political throne... if you are thinking any of this, you are wrong. And by the way, I did not come to discover this because it eventually occurred to me that many of the dictators imposed on Africa were the product of the scum of Africa... scum by virtue of their spiritual famine. Neither did I come to this understanding as a result of observing that we Africans cannot lay claim to masterly knowledge of the ways of others outside our cultural radar and as such have no notion of the dynamics within other cultures or the way people in those cultures act towards each other. Neither did I come to see how wrong this way of thinking was as a result of acknowledging that Africans in the Diaspora are often struggling to survive within socio-economic and socio-cultural constraints informed by host country nationals' prejudices and xenophobia. Rather, I came to realise this by chance. Chance in the sense that I was not thinking of it when I saw it... or better still, I was looking for something else when I saw how wrong we Africans have been, and remain to be in judging ourselves with so much revulsion.
Sweet reader, have you ever gone from one African church in the Netherlands to the other? I mean churches lead by (and often populated by) Africans. I have. Though not in many of these churches, but in enough to discover what I discovered. My intention in making these visits was not to receive the gospel per se... but to do an investigation on the work of these churches. Now this is what I found by chance...
While we Africans love to beat on ourselves about how bad we are to each other, how much we drag each other down, there are hundreds of Africans leading (and operating in ) African churches (in Europe) who are sacrificing almost everything (time, money, skills, even home life) to clothe, accommodate, counsel and protect other Africans (including non-Africans).
While we decry nepotism, tribalism, narcissism and all the bad isms in the dictionary that we swear have contaminated the African psyche, there are Africans going out of their way to help Africans originating from countries, regions, villages and places other than their own find jobs, places to stay, feed their families both in Africa and abroad, and find hope.
Ah, Africans Africans... how remarkable we are... how conscientious we are... how thoughtful and empathetic we are... yet we know it not. By seeing how African churches behave... seeing how people go out of their way (with no possibility of ever being paid back by those they assist and protect) I have come to realise that we really know little about ourselves and about our people.
We are not half as bad as we think. We are a good people, a very good people, and I would like to thank African churches for opening my eyes to this. In the mean time, I have discovered more and more reasons to be ashamed of myself for ever harshly judging myself and all Africans.
From now on, I will start looking for the hidden treasures that our own prejudices about who we are have buried. I will relentlessly look for that gleaming glory that has been entombed in the recesses of the world's ignorance about Africans. I beseech other Africans to go on this same search... to discover the many reasons for us to acknowledge the beauty and glory of our divine essence... the many reasons to celebrate the potential in our future.
*Barbara Gwanmesia is author, publisher and musical artist based in the Netherlands