Few weeks ago, I visited my Father, Mr KB Asante, and we talked a lot about the early days. He told me about how he and his colleagues used to work on Sundays. He said one day he realized that President Kwame Nkrumah had been coming to the office on Sundays. He said no one told him to join him. Before long, together with his colleagues, they joined the president to work on Sundays, so that they can build for us a prosperous Ghana. They did not ask for extra pay for the extra work they put in.
I was astounded by the high patriotism and the energies our pioneering leaders devoted to their nation building efforts. I had no choice but to beg for forgiveness from Mr KB Asante on behalf of myself and my generation, for betraying their hard work.
It was the inimitable Frantz Fanon who said that: 'every generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission or betray it.' Without a doubt, my generation betrayed our mission.
A lot of analyses have gone into trying to discern how and why things went wrong with Africa, after the great promise of the 1960s and the 1970s. I have read a lot on the subject, and I must confess that I am still not clear where the answers lay. What is not in doubt is that, we are not where we ought to be. We have not made the progress our Founding Parents expected of us and envisaged for us. In both the Economic and the Political Fronts, we have been found wanting. With our vast mineral wealth, we ought not to be at this level where we still remain the world's beggar, supplicating for handouts.
It is the quest to find some answers to what went wrong with us that led to my quest to read and to do some research. It also led to my writing, and to sharing my own ideas. I have combined the results of my efforts into the two books. Let's begin with the one I am sure will be the most controversial: Africa: Destroyed By The Gods.
Mr. Ben Ephson, the Editor of the Daily Dispatch in his review of the book wrote: 'There is no doubt that Africa: Destroyed By The Gods will stir great controversies, especially in Ghana. But it could be a necessary controversy that could help settle, once and for all, the role religion should play in a modern, secular state.'
Controversy comes from the Latin controversia which means literally "turned against.' Turning against something is not always necessarily bad. I remember a quote from Malcom X, a man I admire greatly: 'It might be necessary to bite the hand that feeds you, if it stops you from feeding yourself.'
Mr Ephson's description is apt; the book turns against every orthodoxies on contemporary religions. As I wrote in the book, there is little doubt that we African are the most spiritual people on earth. What saddens me greatly, as it should sadden every patriotic African, is the extent to which our spirituality has been used to turn us into unthinking Zombies. In the name of religion, many of our people have abandoned all reason. 'Jesus is the answer,' 'Only Jesus can save,' 'God is in charge,' are some of the slogans our people use in the most arduous situations they have found themselves.
In 1984, I went to study in Europe. It was a profound experience for me as I experience what is called a Culture Shock. Europe exposed to me the vast hypocrisy of Europeans. There is hypocrisy everywhere in the world. But what I witnessed in Europe was the total disconnect between what a people do, and what they proclaim; between their theories and their practices; between their rhetoric and their deeds. We were all brought up to worship Western democracy which was happily defined for us as: 'the government of the people, by the people and for the people.' Apartheid was in full swing when I went to Europe and, as we all know, without exception, all Western countries supported the odious system. I found that incongruous.
In discussions, I made many Dutch people very uncomfortable by saying that they cannot have their cake after eating it. Without exception, they always told me how much they were against apartheid. What I used to tell them was: "You cannot claim to be democratic and yet have your government supporting a regime of which you do not approve. Since the government does not elect itself, it is either your government /election is fraudulent, or majority of you are in support of your government's position."
I was brought up a Catholic. The Europe I saw conflicted violently with the Europe I had read about, and the Europe that gave us Christianity - ostensibly a religion of 'love thy neighbour as thyself,' 'peace and brotherhood,' of the 'meek inheriting the earth,' and so on and so forth.
In the book, I raised very fundamental questions about how Europeans used the Christian religion to impose on us ideals to which they never will subscribe. 'Love your enemy,' 'The meek shall inherit the earth,' 'Turn the other cheek,' are not ideals to which Europeans abide. But they are the ideals Europeans used to successfully conquer the world and promote their Eurocentric worldview into a universal praxis.
Some of the questions I raised in the book include the pertinent question of whether we can trust the same people that imposed slavery and colonialism on us, to also come along with a Saviour? Please rescue me if I am wrong, but I do not know of any instance in history where conquerors brought Saviours to the people they conquered.
In the nineteen chapters of the book, I raised important questions that should agitate the minds of honest Africans. I did not set out to impose my narrow views or ideas. I merely present the result of my research, as factually as possible. There is a quotation from Senator Moynihan that I like so much that I quote it often: 'We are all entitled to our opinions, but not to our facts.'
The book grew out of a conversation I had with a Pastor who came to my house and said that he wanted to preach about Jesus to me. When he asked that we pray, I told him to hold on as I had some things to say. I told him that were I to be Jesus, I will ask the African Christians two questions: 1. Given all the mineral wealth my father bestowed on you, for what more exactly are you praying? 2. If given all the wealth underneath your soil, you continue to live in these abysmal condition, why do you praise my name?
My belief is that to begin to make a headway in Africa, we need to begin to use our brains to ask ourselves basic questions. Life basics consist of food, water, electricity, clothing and shelter. All of these have been successfully solved by other human beings utilizing nothing but their intellect. The result of their efforts are in the public domain. So we do not need to re-invent any wheel. Growing food does not require any prayer; many countries have had highly successful Green Revolutions. Generating and distributing electricity does not require any angelic intercession. Getting pipe-borne water into homes does not require pouring olive oil on bodies or any speaking in tongues. Why then do we in Africa spend so much time and effort at Holy Ghost Retreats and Prayer Camps, rather than simply use our brains to solve the challenges that we face? Those are some of the questions I raised in Africa: Destroyed By The Gods.
The second book, Africa: It Shall Be Well is also a collection of my writings. In the book, I explore the various challenges that the continent of Africa face and, where possible, I suggested some things we can begin to do to help matters. Some are angry polemics like, for example, Chapter 14 where I attacked NATO's destruction of Libya, and the killing of a sitting African Head of State by Western Powers. Some are witty satires like Chapter 25, Ghana Elections: Good News is no news.
Where possible, I offer some suggestions on what I believe we should do to improve things. For example in Chapter 11 which I titled: 'Africa: Time to abandon all orthodoxies,' I made an impassioned appeal for us to abandon the current systems we use which, to large extent, inhibit our development. I gave the example of the current winner-take-all partisan politics that only cause stress, confusion and mayhem every four years. Our founding president, Kwame Nkrumah, very aptly defined Western-style democracy as: 'the competition between oligarchists.' That should tell us a lot. When we look closely, the same democracy is failing in the West - the number of people voting in elections keeps dwindling as people wise up to the fact that it is all a con game.
Anyone of us who is abreast of world affairs will undoubtedly know about the crises of capitalism. It is only the supremely delusional who still believe that the capitalist system can be saved. These systems are failing in the West, do we not need to ask why they should work in Africa? The greatest calamity colonialism wrought on us is to make us forget that we ran governments, we ran empires long before Europeans woke up from their alpine caves. Today, we have been taught to regard ourselves as a people without history. The more educated we are, the more alienated from our cultural roots we become.
Today, no scientist questions the fact that Africa is the original home of humanity. Everything started here in Africa. Today, we have forgotten our history. We have educated ourselves to think of ourselves only as appendages of Europe.
I once had a discussion with a Christian. He was a product of one of our universities. He wanted to know why I appeared to be so strong against Europe's intrusion into Africa. He asked why I did not acknowledge the role Europe played in civilizing us. He meant well but he was badly mis-informed. Luckily, we had access to the Internet, and I was able to point out to him two historical facts that debunk the nonsense of a Europe on a civilizing mission in Africa: 1. The Great Plague that devastated Europe in the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. Europe lost a third to half of its population. 2. Emperor Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca in the 14th century.
At the time our Emperor was dazzling the world with immense wealth, Europeans were dying of famine and plagues. People confuse the Europe of the 14th, 15th century with Europe of today with its science and technology. Sorry, but 14th century Europe was in no shape or form to civilize anyone. No European came to civilize us. How could a people that rudely intruded into our societies, visited incalculable violence on us, claim to be civilizers? Their very act of intrusion was grossly uncivil.
It is important for us Africans to study and learn from our history. We were once great. We built Empires from Egypt to Ghana and Mali to Songhay. If we did it once, we can do it again. That explains the optimistic title of the book: Africa: It shall be well.
As Mr. Ephson said in his review: 'These are books written not to make anyone comfortable or happy, they are a harsh indictment of the under-development of the African continent, written by a writer who is genuinely concerned. They are not books to put one in a blissful Comfort Zone; they are books that challenge one, especially Africans, to THINK.'
I claim no oracular knowledge about Africa and I do not pretend to have all the answers. My books are the result of honest toil by a sincere and committed African, who cares a lot about the continent and wish it well.
I urge that you kindly read the books with open minds, offer your contributions and suggestions, and together we shall build the Africa of our dreams and desires, and leave for our children a beautiful and proud Africa, in which they and their children's children will be very proud.
May the Ancestors continue to guide and protect us.
By Femi Akomolafe.