We have all been in those discussions. Africans gathered around having lively, angry but strangely reassuring exchanges about the world. During the conversation an excellent analysis emerges about the problems confronting Africans in the world, and the impossibility of progress because of the different groups of powerful people who conspire in modern “secret societies” to control the world and its resources.
If the group of discussants are African intellectuals the analysis has a surface sophistication, and is given an added historical context and theoretical underpinnings, whether Marxist, anti-imperialist or post-modernist.
If the discussants are barbershop non-intellectuals, the analysis is more esoteric, involving cabals of “illuminati” or Babylonian Masonic lodges based in Western capitals such as Washington, London or Tel Aviv.
Whether Marxist colonial ruling elite or illuminati shape-shifters, these cabals always have ultimate control of our lives. Such total control even becomes reassuring to the discussants, the reassurance lying in the belief that in the face of the complete power and efficacy of whichever conspiracy theory is being discussed, our helplessness and powerless is guaranteed. There is nothing we can do except pray to God for a change in our fortunes. This familiar African trope needs urgent disrupting. A simple way to disrupt it is to remind the discussants that any two or more people gathered together discussing a plan of action, are de facto a conspiracy.
The important question is why few other people, including ourselves, are concerned about the conspiracies that Africans hatch when two or more of us gather together? Is it because others know that rather than gather in our secret societies to discuss implementation of our action plans for cornering the world gold market or ensuring control of oil and other resources we own, all we do is expend our energy, marvelling at and analysing the plans of those who conquered, enslaved and colonised us?
Why this lack of confidence and belief in the agency of even our own conspiracy theorising? Is it ultimately connected to the same lack of belief and confidence that pervades so much of our societies – everything from our spiritual beliefs, to our political, legal and financial systems?
The novelist V.S. Naipaul used to refer to post-colonial societies as “half-baked”. Many of us in the 70s and 80s took umbrage at this characterisation of our societies, but increasingly the point the dour and angry Trinidadian was making is becoming clearer.
A “half-baked” society is one with severe self-esteem, confidence and agency issues. Its realities (dreams and nightmares, even conspiracy theories) lie elsewhere, amongst those oppressors it embraces and simultaneously, angrily lashes out at for their oppression.
It idealises things its does not produce, whether cars or phones. It has little confidence in its economy or currency, its elites frequently outsource the country’s capital to foreign banks where ‘real’ economies exist. And worst of all in such societies is the attitude to the citizenry, where opinions are frequently disregarded, given the way elections are conducted, with violence and rigging; and the laws and legal systems that emerge from such poorly contested elections are treated with equal disdain given corruption’s prevalence.
A conspiracy takes place where two or more are gathered. Families are conspiracies of a kind, as are villages, towns, cities, countries, even businesses. Some conspiracies are more successful than others because the conspirators take themselves seriously, focusing on delivering their action plans.
A business like Google, with a worldwide staff of just under 50,000, has now overtaken Apple as the largest US company, with a market capitalisation in May 2016 of $547bn. The founders of Google would have begun as a small conspiracy. Its current success is linked to it being a well-run business, able to mobilise, socialise and inspire its staff around a set of goals/targets and to deliver on them.
Meanwhile, Nigeria, with a population of 170 million, is Africa’s largest economy with a GDP of $515bn in 2015, smaller than Google’s market cap. This suggests that Nigerians and other Africans need to focus less on Google’s conspiracy, and more on their own action plan, if indeed they have one.