I came across a blog that while it was hard hitting and at times uncomfortable, forced me to think about our attitudes to ourselves and the outside world.
The blog was written by Field Ruwe, a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author and recounts, in brutal detail, a conversation he had with a passenger sitting next to him on a transatlantic flight.
His companion, a white man, introduced himself with the rather startling disclosure that he had visited Zambia three years ago as part of an IMF delegation “that came to rip you guys off!”.
He went on to say that he was no longer with the IMF but with another organisation “with similar intentions”. He told Ruwe that the broker he worked for had acquired a chunk of the country’s debt.
He then went on to make himself even more pleasant by asserting that all African leaders, bar one or two, “had fallen for the old carrot-and-stick trick” implying that they had been corrupted by organisations such as his.
If this was not enough, he launched into a stinging attack against Africans. “You guys are as stagnant as the water in the lake. We come in with our large boats and fish your minerals and your wildlife and leave morsels – crumbs. That’s your staple food, crumbs. That cornmeal you eat, that’s crumbs, the small fish you call kapenta is crumbs. We the Bwanas (whites) take the catfish. I am the Bwana and you are the Muntu. I get what I want and you get what you deserve, crumbs.”
Somehow Ruwe restrained himself from responding much more robustly than with mere words against what seemed clearly a racist attack.
This is when his interlocutor seemed to turn turtle. He said he was not a racist but only speaking the truth. He said that apart from skin pigmentation, all scientific research had shown that there was absolutely no difference between black and white people.
“And yet I feel superior,” he said, adding: “Every white person on this plane feels superior to a black person. The white guy who picks up garbage, the homeless white trash on drugs, feels superior to you no matter his status or education. I can pick up a nincompoop from the New York streets, clean him up, and take him to Lusaka and you all be crowding around him chanting muzungu, muzungu (white man) and yet he’s a riffraff. Tell me why, my angry friend.”
At this point, I had to admit that much as I disliked doing so, he had a point. How many times have we confronted embarrassing situations when Africans, usually the higher-ups, make fools of themselves before white people, no matter what their status? We look away and don’t mention it but in our hearts we know it is true.
The white man then went on spell out the causes for this deplorable situation. “You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, which is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.”
He went on to say that the ordinary African was the hardest-working person in the world but was being let down by elite who spent all their time having a jolly time instead of working hard and using their intellect and education to solve the continent’s problems and change the situation. “Get over this white-skin syndrome and begin to feel confident. Become innovative and make your own stuff, for God’s sake.”
It is tough to take but you have to admit he is right. Why are we not producing our own machines and equipment, why are we not solving our own water and sanitation problems, why is it that we have not yet managed a green revolution? Why do we keep waiting for someone from outside to solve our problems?
By coincidence, a Nigerian businessman we feature in this issue, who has come up with an innovative solution to vehicle licensing and registration has been asking the same question – as are the hundreds of thousands of talented young people in our cities.
Isn’t it time we stop looking outside for the causes of our problems and their solutions and instead take our own destinies in our hands and go forth and create the world we want? Others have done it – what are we waiting for?