The people of the 2nd largest continent are indeed unique. From Rabat through the sand dunes of the Sahara desert, down to Cape Town, Africa is rife with ethnic diversity, and a rich cultural heritage. No wonder Africans are very proud of their legacy and customs, which despite considerable foreign interference were preserved for ages. The average African has very deep ties with his roots, and this African characteristic is admired and even envied by many from other continents. However, like every trait, this characteristic has its upside and downside, and there lies the “African dilemma”.
In the last 60 years Africa has been defined by ethno-religio-political bigotry that regrettably has exacerbated poverty, disease and all forms of human suffering. Little wonder our Africa has enjoyed the least in terms of social, scientific and technological advancements relative to the rest of the world. Our human resource development indices are the lowest. Very often, I personally ponder why my beloved father-land is what she is today relative to other parts of the world. The same answer keeps surfacing – our culture. As controversial and difficult as it is to accept, it is the unfortunate reality. In a bid “to preserve our identity and heritage”, which in most cases encourage us to look out only for our own, the socio-political structures of 21st century Africa is severely threatened.
Prior to the scrambling, partitioning and unification of various territories in Africa into countries by the colonial masters in the 19th Century, most African countries as we know them today were a collection of various small endogamous ethnic groups with their own leadership system and laws, of which there was little or no interaction with other ethnic groups, especially those not within walking distance of each other. These groups were suddenly brought together by the colonialist. Now united under a common nationality, they struggled for independence. Since Independence, many of these ethnic groups that were coalesced into nations have engaged in endless skirmishes for socio-political and religious supremacy to the point of making national well being secondary. This explains why a significant part of Africa right now either experiences civil unrest on a daily basis or is in an immediate post conflict period. Some have even been declared “failed nations”. One cannot but sympathize with the people of South Sudan, Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, Central Africa Republic, Somalia to mention but a few. The North east of Nigeria has in the past two years become a source of daily worry to all of us due to insurgency.
National integrity is not only what suffers – Africans as a people have a culture of shrouding anything they cannot immediately explain in superstition; blaming the “gods or evil spirits” for almost every misfortune that comes their way, especially sickness, natural disasters and the occasional marvels of nature.
This disposition of ours unfortunately does not create room for empirical approaches to problem solving as challenges are considered insurmountable and often regarded as “an Omen from the gods”. A classic scenario in the very recent past early this year is the “celebrated Nachi mysterious healing Lake.” As a matter of fact the “Nachi Lake” fell into the Geographical concepts of Ground Water and Resurgent Streams in Limestone and Chalk areas.
Similarly and more importantly are matters of health, especially with certain diseases like cancer, hypertension, diabetes and neuropsychiatric problems. Rather than seek an empirical explanation to these natural challenges, some people conclude, for example, when a person suddenly collapses from a stroke that “his village people have done it again on him”. Need I mention the slanderous assumption that because diabetes is a disease of “too much blood sugar, therefore drinking bitter leaf water will cure it!”
The worst hit in traditional African Societies are the persons who carry the crosses of Neuropsychiatric conditions, the Manics and Depressed, Schizophrenics, Down Syndrome persons, Autistics etc. Our society has next to zero empathy for these persons and our proliferation of churches has only made it worse. Misguided modern day church preachers have made a career out of demonizing these disorders and their sufferers. There are countless examples; am sure you know one or two yourselves.
Africa is our home; she is a reflection of us, hence her shortcomings are ours. That the rest of the World is ahead in virtually all aspects of human endeavour does not mean that we should despair; culture is after all dynamic. Instead, we must take this as a challenge to pull ourselves out of backwardness and ADVANCE OUR INDIGENOUS CAPACITY AND CAPABILITY through Science, Technology and Empirical approaches to problem solving. These and many more we ask through Christ our Lord, Amen.