Check out this story about a man who spent half a life-time, and almost $2m planning to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
You will never see this sort of thing in Africa in my lifetime and here is my two pennies’ worth why this type of adventurism has been, will continue to be alien to the black (African) way of thinking.
We black people are still happily ensconced in the mentality of 300+ years ago; go hunting, kill only what you need for lunch and supper, till the land for subsistence and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. As a friend from another discussion forum said when we discussed this, “it is the way we be.”
When the white man, long forced to plan by extreme weather temperatures and lack of raw materials/resources, brought the idea of planning to Africa, it threw us for a loop because, yes, planning is un-African, un-black. Even in the US or UK, you find that planning is a difficult discipline for black people. You can take the black man out of Africa but you can’ take the African-ness out of the black man.
Of course no white person can say this because it is politically incorrect, might even seem racist. But it is the truth.
In our black minds, we are still living a subsistence existence of 300+ years ago. Our mindset sits uncomfortably in a modern world that demands carefully planned, regimented, time-bound, livelihoods with the results always measurable and comparable to past results. Ours is still a mindset of laissez-faire, ostentation and fly whisk waving ‘big man’ existence and our attempts to intermingle the two is what leads to even educated Africans turning into corrupt, impenetrable, village chiefs in the nature of Robert Mugabe.
So, we drive flashy, expensive, cars through disorganized, dusty, pot-hole-filled capital cities on borrowed or stolen money. We spend millions to build mega-mansions that are white elephants even at the blue-print stage solely because we want to show that we have arrived. We still go around cup in hand to raise money for ridiculously expensive weddings (and now even funerals) – exactly the way we did 300 years ago when weddings were a community affair and we put more stock in impressing the entire village than in being practical.
Planning remains alien to the African mindset which is why we see no problem with Uganda’s Parliament (for instance) repeatedly signing off on supplementary budgets for ‘entertainment’ or ‘medals’ for State House. Rain-induced landslides killed goodness knows how many in Bududa in 2010 and they have again just killed scores in the same place. Floods, too, are washing away bridges willy-nilly because of shoddy construction in all parts of Uganda. But Uganda has a minister of disaster preparedness whose salary and allowances alone can build three bridges in Nebbi District. Landslides will continue to happen in Eastern Uganda and floods will destroy lives and property as surely as night follows day. ‘That’s how we be.’
For how well Africans plan, look to Ethiopia or Somalia. They are still dying of starvation, 18 years after Bob Geldof’s Live Aid appeal that brought a lot of attention to many great musicians but came up with no long-term food solution for the intended recipients. You would think the Ethiopians would have learned then that their food needs depended on organising themselves, not on outsiders. But no, the horn of Africa is still grappling with the same food shortages it did in 1984.
The entire concept of planning is alien to our psyche which is why we have to get on planes, made by white people, to go away and study it. Then when we come back, and talk about it, we are drowned out by the voices that proclaim that all those are foreign concepts. Look at so and so … his business has run for 5 years, he drives a Mercedes, his children speak only English and he lives in a massive house on top of the hill. Yet he has never lived abroad.
We are impressed by 5-year achievements and any kind of tangible wealth even if obviously ill-gotten. We wax lyrical about investing in knowledge but do hardly anything practical about it because education is not showy, doesn’t sit us with smart suits in fancy hotels or cruise us around in gas-guzzling shiny Prados that impress onlookers.
The other element, of course, is that we black people are quite simply not curious in a way that looks beyond the here and now. This is, again, a throwback to our day-to-day existence of 300+ years ago. Back then, we found out how to make fire and did nothing more with it beside making muchomo (barbeque meat) and sitting around it to tell stories. We weren’t interested in anything else fire could do if it didn’t meet our immediate basic needs.
Today, we will shun a water tap brought to our door-step by modern living and continue walking to the well because that is a social event that allows us to catch up on the village gossip. And, of course, our relatives, with acres of land they could cultivate for money, prefer instead to come begging for their children’s school fees – in the name of family solidarity.
Most worrisome for us Africans in Africa, in my view, the cost of modern living has killed our work ethic, replacing it with an “I want it now” mentality that should ultimately make many African countries totally ungovernable in our lifetimes due to the dishonesty and lack of probity that kind of attitude engenders. Television is raising children who immediately want “things” that have taken their parents 25 years to accumulate. After all they have seen 50 Cent ‘getting rich or die trying’ and Justin Bieber become a multi-millionaire, literally off no talent whatsoever.
So, our young people are increasingly not interested in studying or working hard for an honest living – they are looking for short cuts. Yet, there are really no short cuts in life unless you turn into a crook. So, we are raising a generation that thinks they are entitled to everything immediately because they see it streamed on their laptops and their latest smart phone.
Parents are giving in. How could they not when they are too busy trying to accumulate the ‘things’ they now need to keep the peace with their extremely demanding offspring? Our children, with an entitlement gun to their parents’ heads, are growing up to be selfish, egotistic, introverted but extremely tech savvy brats before our very eyes. The ICT age should thus fire the levels of fraud for short-term gain in Africa into galactic realms, again in our lifetimes.
In the meantime, the West continues to fine-tune the iPods, iPads, Galaxy tabs that so mesmerize us because the geeks that design the programs that run them attend schools funded by alumni endowments that were set up 100 years earlier. Those geeks also plough the profits back into the universities and research centers that engender yet more creativity.
White people, for the most part, seem to understand that you are carted out in a small box, however much money you make in life, so they make plans for their fortunes to do good that lasts beyond them and their children’s children. We black Africans simply build large mansions in the middle of nowhere and bask in the adulation of the envious villagers who invite us to their whole-day fetes (in the hope that we will give generously as used to happen 300 years ago) and then let us make rambling 2-hour speeches.
Just look around you and see if you can name the last really seriously rich Ugandan (African) who ever set up a meaningful endowment for his or her alma mater. Yet the ritzy stuff in some of our living rooms could fund a mini-research center or kit out an entire sound recording studio at our former schools.
We are going to die and leave the mansions and all the stuff in them here; idle, obsolete because the next best gadget will arrive on the market from Research in Motion, HTC and Apple before our bodies are lowered into our respective graves.
But the truth is that asking Africans to be organized, or to rise from being rich to being wealthy, is akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole. Any development initiatives thus need to factor in the need to accept that it’s impossible to achieve a Western standard of living while the African mindset is firmly rooted in the 17th Century.
Indeed there might not be anything wrong with accepting that this “is the way we be.”
Perhaps this is what the South Koreans meant when they encouraged tourists to come and see our “primitive energy.” Hm …