I don’t know if this has ever happened to anyone else. You feel you know what you want to say, it’s at the tip of your tongue, but then … you just can’t find the words.
That’s been my mental state for months, perhaps years regarding why a lot of monetary and intellectual “developmental aid” is wasted on Africa, why the West has precious little to show for the billions of dollars spent in cash and kind over the years, and why, despite our claims to be “developing,” African countries remain bogged down in a quagmire of corrupt, thieving leadership that we, however, continue to embrace repeatedly in election after election.
I would write all sorts of stuff, some of it merely critical and thus not very helpful, a lot of it meandering and so not very helpful either. Time and time again, I would end up asking myself … “but what are you really trying to say?”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
What I have been trying to say finally came to me during a conversation with a friend in London recently. As we chatted away merrily, he casually dropped Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs into the conversation whose subject now eludes me.
Of course! Good old Abraham Maslow from all those years ago in sociology class at university! It was like a light bulb had finally been switched on in my brain.
Taken at its most basic level, Maslow’s pyramid of needs encapsulates why gay marriage in America and Europe is on the march while Africa is still struggling to spell the word ‘sexuality.’
In societies where physiological, safety, belonging and esteem (see image above) needs have been met, there is nothing for it but to seek self-actualization or what one might crudely refer to as self-indulgences; stuff that makes us happy and which we come to eventually look upon as needs or rights but which we can actually do without. Examples that come to mind are: allowing yourself to go on television to sue a relative over $123.76; spending thousands of dollars on changing your appearance in a bid to look like a popular doll; buying a pump that enlarges your penis only long enough for you to take a photograph of it.
No wonder then that the great debates in the West have shifted to feminism, atheism, sportsmen coming out of the closet, gay marriage and adoption, political correctness, pre-emptive medical surgeries etc. Talking about and finding solutions to food security, adequate shelter, water, preventable childhood diseases was done generations ago and the focus has logically turned to self actualization.
Even on the challenge of HIV/Aids which hasn’t been overcome yet, an acceptable safety point has been reached in the West because, for the most part, you can go to a hospital or clinic, pick up anti-retro-viral drugs and pop them daily to keep you alive. HIV/Aids is thus no longer such a “pressing” concern in the Netherlands or New York because of the perception that there is something those who catch the disease can do about it.
Segue backwards to sub-Saharan Africa where food, shelter, clothing, driving a car, even having sex are still considered luxuries by 90% of the population. “Sex?” I hear you asking. Yes, casual sex abounds in Africa of course but there are so many invisible vested interests in the sex lives of any two people in most African countries that the sexual freedom you might find in San Francisco’s Castro District, for instance, or in a gay sauna in London, would blow the minds of citizens in any African capital.
Despite it being 2013, Africans haven’t yet arrived at the stage where a married couple can tell the in-laws to mind their own business should they ask why they are childless two years after getting married. Yet in the West, that is an expression that is served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner by children to their parents, who are in turn expected to apologize if they don’t want to be ‘divorced’ by their offspring.
What has all this got to do with anything?
Whenever you have people who are living or have grown up at the apex of Marslow’s pyramid, to whom self-actualization has become a need, you are likely to have them advocating solutions that reflect what they know. So, because the “rights” being pushed in the West are about lack of prejudice, women’s liberation, being able to divorce your parents if you don’t like them, having a child by any means your money can pay for, gay marriage, it stands to reason that western donors will push for their money to support the same ideals in Africa, without taking into account the realities on ground.
It was that sort of overarching arrogance that prompted an American activist and blogger, Melanie Nathan, to bully a university in Uganda that educated and employed Ugandans, some of them gay, into closing because, in her view, it had to abide by her own Western gay rights ideals rather than those of a “tiny country”. Her superciliousness aside, Melanie Nathan had a point: she was pushing for the only ideals she knows; those that espouse self-actualization as a human right.
Square western pegs trying to fit into round African holes
Yet, it is to miss critical development stages to ask societies where putting food on the table is still a daily challenge to focus on, let alone respect, the feelings of intersexuals, albinos or fourth wives. In Africa just being alive at all is a luxury and you should forget your emotions and get on with it.
So, if you were raped by your uncle or the neighbor’s son, at least you lived to tell the tale. If your husband dies, consider it a privilege if his sibling agrees to inherit you as his third wife. Sticks and stones don’t hurt a marriage, neither does serial philandering. If you lose a loved one due to verifiable medical negligence or neglect, you should thank the doctors for hastening God’s will. If you are a gay man, marry an unsuspecting woman! If you are a lesbian, how about a dose of corrective rape? If your married lover beats you to a pulp for looking at other men, why did you bring it upon yourself?
Those are the African minds human rights groups based in New York and the Hague are trying to lecture about homosexual loving and its logical consequence: gay marriage. Those are the people whose exposure international women’s groups want to broaden with stage showings of the Vagina Monologues. Those are the people Uganda’s parliamentarians were bribed with $2,000 to go and ‘consult’ over the Marriage and Divorce Bill that would have given Uganda’s women more rights over their bodies, marital property and self-esteem.
It is the story of attempting to pull minds still grappling with physiological needs up to self-actualization when they haven’t yet figured out how to achieve safety, love/belonging or self-esteem.
It is like demanding that a baby run before it has learned how to crawl.
And, if yours truly, with his average mind, has finally figured it out … it is impossible that all those foreigners who daily exhort Africa to emulate this and that Western standard don’t already know this.