We Africans are a special lot. Or at least we must think we are, going by the way we behave. There is a certain natural progression to things that seems to be universally recognized by all other people except us: sow rice seeds, reap rice; leave a loaded gun in a boy’s room, expect him to either shoot himself, someone else, or scare the bejesus out of you by firing “accidentally” into something; put an unscrupulous person in charge of others’ valuable property, and something is bound to go amiss. Call it the Law of Nature. I call it “a natural progression to things.”
But it is as if we Africans are an exception to the rule. We are “surprise” by results that should be expected from the Get Go. We remain one of the few people who like to put square pegs in round holes, and end up wondering why the harmony we seek is illusive. Let me begin with a true story from my childhood.
I was ten years old and beginning Primary Four when we had several new female teachers among the teaching staff in my school that new School Year (a mid-70s September). One of the new teachers, a young Fulani woman, fresh out of a coed boarding High School, stood out above the rest in terms of her physical beauty. She was many a man’s dream woman. But I wish I could say the same about her mental abilities, and you shall see why soon enough.
Ms. Jallow (her real family name,) was reputed to be very timid by nature: afraid of this, afraid of that. You get the picture. Like most Fulani females, she had a very sheltered life. In fact, except for the boarding school she went to, she never lived, or did anything on her own. One of the things Ms. Jallow quickly became known for is that she is mortified by darkness – which to a West African, is akin to someone living in the State of Kansas in American Midwest, and being allergic to wheat! Being accustomed to darkness is part of the genetic makeup of all West Africans since we are yet to find leaders who can give us the sort of electricity that other people have been taking for granted for over one hundred years.
Anyhow, our wonderful gorgeous teacher Ms. Jallow had a genius solution to her darkness fright: rooming with the teenage son of the Fulani couple she rented a place from! The boy was around sixteen at the time and attending a local Secondary School. Like in most small-town African settings, there was, and I assume, there still is, very little secret in my local community. We Africans are a nosy people. So when this news filtered out, as it did sooner than Ms. Jallow might have liked, I remember going to school, and for days listening in on my teachers arguing about the potential pitfall of what Ms. Jallow was doing. One -my class teacher Mr. Bobo, was absolutely certain the pretty young woman was toying with people’s brains. His very vocal argument ran something like: “... If this Ms. Jallow wants to waste IT away on that little boy, that’s her business. But let her not insult our intelligence. How can a woman like her sleep in the same dark room with a matured boy she is not siblings with, and tell us nothing is happening?”
For saying this, Mr. Bobo drew the ire of one female teacher in particular who accused him of “maligning the good name of Ms. Jallow because you cannot get her.” The two had such heated fallout one day that the school Principal had to intervene. But beware of time, because it could be a cruel arbiter.
Long story shortened, when school resumed the following January after the Christmas break, the one teacher who didn’t return was Ms. Jallow. Needless to say, as Mr. Bobo had been bravely pointing out openly, someone had forgotten that what happens in the dark does not always remain in the dark. Or at least the consequences don’t. Nature took its cause, and in making Ms. Jallow a mother, made Mr. Bobo our school’s teaching Staff valedictorian.
When I close my eyes, I can still see him walking with a dapper in his step asking his colleagues rhetorically “What did I tell you?” To the rest of the staff who were “shocked” or “surprise” that Ms. Jallow was knocked up by a teenager, Mr. Bobo wisely chose that valuable incident, and his “shocked” and “surprise” colleagues as a Teachable Moment to us about what not to do when we grow up.
One does not have to pull back far to see Mr. Bobo’s point. That is because regardless of nation or culture, the one thing that has never changed in all of human history is the fact that it is the dream, hope, or fantasy of every single normal male child to have an older female “teacher” school him on certain vital lessons of life. Yet, many were “surprise” that a teenage boy seized an opportunity that is every male child’s dream, which was thrown on his lap.
The relevance of this story is, it’s a symbol of how we behave as a generality. Like Ms. Jallow and those foolish enough to believe her, we do logic or commonsense defying things, and then proclaim our “shock” or “surprise” at the predictable consequences. This is pervasive behavior among us Africans:
We have countless “presidents” who would not even qualify for a County Commissioner’s job in a neutral setting because of their lack of the requisite skills-set. But as is our wont, we’re “surprise” they mess up our countries, and fall back on ethnicity or religion to bully their critics into silence.
We arm mostly school dropouts, and otherwise unemployable youth as our armies. These are people whose lack of an education, or low intelligence saddle them with the twin handicap of lack of depth and an inferior complex; people with a reason to be jealous of their former classmates who are driving fine cars with fine life-mates by their side. Without a gun or army paraphernalia, most African soldiers are generally introverted. But with a gun, they immediately morph into different people. (Ask around about any African soldier that has made a name for himself as a brutal killer, or torturer in the last sixty years and you’ll be shocked at how similar their profiles are!) On double-take, it’s easy to see why they quickly morph into “different” people: they can see fear in our eyes when they whip out their guns. This gives them ideas about how to short-cut their way to the fine life and playmates that their brainier civilian schoolmates have. Who is going to stop them when the ones they’re supposed to be answerable to show them they’re afraid of them? But we’re surprise that they turn their guns on their civilian bosses whose lives they envy.
We set up National Security Agencies manned mostly by people who cannot even spell “intelligent.” But we are really surprise that the only way they know how to get valuable information out of their subjects is to threaten them with electrocution by tying electric wires to their genitals among other torture routines. And in many of our countries, not only do they do that to the husband, they force the wife to have sex with them before allowing her to see her spouse. In most of our countries, national security is a fancy name for “ensuring the happiness of the powers that be.” This is the mindset that is often behind the irrational aggression against pen-pushers whose only crime is to raise questions that inconvenience the Big Kahunas.
Consequently, the Big Man and his team see no distinction between a studious and genteel professor who forces citizens to exercise their mind, and an ambitious young army major, who might actually send tanks rolling on the streets given the opportunity. With the exception of a couple of countries, solving crimes –including the wanton murder of large numbers of citizens, is not a priority anywhere in Africa. But we’re surprise our criminals of various hues go unpunished.
We want to be like Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, New York, and London, but we entrust our commonweal to people who are more interested in buying properties and spending as much time as they can in these places without bothering to replicate what the leaders in those places have done to make their domain so enviable. We never hear of Mayors or Governors from Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, New York, or London vacationing in any African city, but it is the rare African city Mayor or State Governor who stays put in his or her dominion for even a week’s vacation in order to concentrate on the catch-up work that is needed to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the human race. We watch last week as a president helped an indicted thief to get back a job he has been treating like his Lottery Winnings. Both the thief and his president friend swear, he is the best man for the job. But we expect great things to happen!
We know for a fact that meaningful mass employment is the sure way to lift a population out of poverty. Yet, we sell our primary commodities to others for pennies enabling them to create mass employment for their people through the industries they set up base on what we give them cheaply. When they are done “refining,” “adding-value” or “processing” OUR commodities, they turn around and sell them to us for over a hundred times more than we sold them. But, we are surprise that they don’t show us any respect or appreciation.
Of all the many self-inflicted stabbing we subject ourselves to as Africans, these are some that keep us enquiring minds sleepless. How long are we going to keep doing the counter-intuitive and getting “surprise” by what should be expected?