Dr. Femi Kolapo of Guelph, Canada, offers a long rejoinder to the Bombshell (No. 250), and ends with an aside on No. 254.
Ordinarily, there is something unfair in critiquing only one chapter of a book without having read the other chapters that can give one the benefit of considering the total position of the author. However, since the author chose to post the chapter, I assume that he feels it can stand alone as an autonomous piece in the general discussion about democracy and development in Africa. Hopefully, some of the questions I have about the chapter have been answered in earlier or later chapters in the book, in which case, I hope the author will pardon me.
This posting is very germane to the discussion on democracy that has been ongoing in this forum – although the particular chapter does not make that link directly or any clearly. What is clear is that much of the frustrating and agonizing evidence of the “black race’s” “economic slavery,” to paraphrase the author, are the reasons for the lively and creative discussion that have been continuing on this forum. They are why people have been debating and analyzing aspects of the history of African societies over time in their local and international contexts in order to correctly appreciate what went wrong, where, and how .. so that one could begin to have a handle on how solutions might be devised.
However, the current posting is a lot different in its effect and perhaps in its intent. It makes a depressing reading; it's the kind of material one encounters often when Africans, especially, those in the diasporas, gathered together during occasions, begin to express their frustrations and hopelessness about conditions back at home. One often encounters this view of the maladies that afflict Africa among some of the rural populace of Nigeria, and believe it or not, some of the older people unabashedly wished the Europeans (colonizers) were still around managing things (and of course managing them too). They would end their summation of the essence of Nigeria's problem with the statement that the black man is evil, selfish, and obviously not “wired” to do great things as the white man is. Can one blame the poor overworked and malnourished peasants for this view. They remember that the roads that led to their town were better maintained when the white man was there than when the black man became president or governor. The dispensaries seemed to be working then; there seemed to be less insecurity to life, and even where the white man did not provide all or some of these amenities, it is easy to compare the two white colonialist and black leaders as brothers in the former not been able to show how they are in essence any different than the colonial oppressor, other than in colour. Hence, even if they had been whipped by the agent of the colonial authority, they feel that what they now suffer from the hands of their own leader is worse than whipping. The posting is also a position that underscores the fact that many among African intellectuals consider “race” and more precisely, some innate characteristics in Africans and diasporic black peoples, whatever that is, to be solely responsible for their conditions. It is an angry piece, meant more to voice cynicism and disappointment, in a general a descriptive way, I believe. It is an description that put together local colloquial understanding of the serious problems of Africa.
Most African can relate emotively to the disappointment and frustration that produce these kinds of feeling. But while anger over conditions of poverty and backwardness in Africa in the context of modern 20th -century technological, scientific, and economic achievement in other parts of the world is justified one wonders whether this chapter in the end does not leave the reader feeling even more impotent, hopeless, and resigned to accepting the so called curse of the natural “incapacity of the black” to do any good.
One problem that runs through the chapter is that of perspective. When one then looks back into history, whether recent or ancient, and finds, as the author can without much ado, that members of the "black race" have been innovative within and without the confines of their continent individually or in groups or as communities, an important chunk of the reasoning falls apart. But more importantly, a look into history then sets the inquirer on the path of asking questions about the development problem that afflicts Africa that involve some more systematic details of when, how, under what conditions, how comparable within Africa, and over time.
Every analysis carries, in the least, an incipient prescriptive element –recommendations that flow from the logic of the analysis itself, as opposed, for instance to recommendations that are imposed. One of the obvious logical deductions from this piece is that incapacity and lack of ability are the nature of the “black race.” So what does one do about that? That is something you cannot change, at least, without having every future African fetus genetically engineered by our ingenious “Caucasians” geneticist. You are left to resign yourself to this “reality”, ask for help from the “Caucasian” genius or hope that in the course of some evolutionary process, the right nature will be programmed into the African.
The chapter poses even more problems than these. It is unlikely that the author cares very much about the role of institutions, cultures, groups of social and economic actors, the mix of internal and international and global effects on actions and course of histories of individuals, nations and groups. History is not properly factored into the descriptions, and this is a major minus of the chapter.Reading through the chapter, there are many issues that it becomes obvious are presumed but are not tackled in the piece but which, if the book is going to serve a productive purpose, cannot be separated from the descriptions provided by the author.
I believe that it is useful to be angry for the appropriate reason, at the appropriate time and context, and for Africans, I think that anger at their unenviable economic and political conditions will play an important part in initiating the processes that can amend or reverse the parlous unenviable conditions of the country. But it has to be positively channeled anger: anger that aids in clear analysis of what the problem is; that empowers Africans and others to buckle up to challenge the unwanted status quo rather than dishearten them. It must be anger that challenges the best in Africans – for there is a lot of very good, innovative, productive abilities out there among Africans of all classes and groups waiting to be properly guided, channeled and tapped and made to be creative. I hope the author will not dispute that in every area that he (she?) identifies and relates to development, which Africans must covet, people of “black race” have featured. Thus this bring up the issue of the ability and capability of people of “black race” in other countries, in different contexts, within working and workable institutions and challenging cultures, and as individual or in groups, and there lack thereof in their own country or continent. That is the question to ask.
Reference to a number of sentences and phrases below highlight some more questions that the book throws up for me as well as the questions that I think the chapter could have asked to put the descriptions and explanations in proper perspective. The author claimed that "There is no group of people in this world who have abandoned any ambition of being economically independent from the grip of others as the Black race." A lot in the histories of the “black race” belies this emotive assertion. These include the histories of the African Americans, from slavery up to the civil rights movement; of the struggling African – peasants and farmers, and the increasing volume of their contribution to world production of cash crops; pool of human resources; of the entrepreneurial spirits and economic ambitions of many groups in my country Nigeria, including especially the Igbo, who by the implication of the authors name, he should be familiar with; and Africans’ refusal to sit docile forever in abject thralldom of local and foreign economic and political unfreedoms.
In claiming “There is nothing in Africa that is owned by the people. We are owned stock and barrel by people of European-origin, Japanese, Chinese, the Indians and anyother people that has decided to become economically viable”, I think there is an important point that then needs to be brought out: that this has not always been so! The next question then is when did things change, how did this happen, what processes in different places in Africa led to this same result. If this condition was produced by human agency, it could certainly be challenged and over turned by human agency. That is the challenge, including how African countries can produce accountable, responsible, and responsive leadership able to challenge these negative conditions intelligently, effectively, efficiently, & mobilize the people behind them in doing so.
A problematic statement in the chapter claims that “we as Africans don't have an iota of knowledge of the process of finding the oil and bringing it to use. To discover the oil, a Caucasian has to bring in his equipment to survey our land or shores…..” I must admit that there is something touching in the simplistic way this issue of industrial (scientific and technological) development has been rendered here. I also believe that what problem in Africa is conceived to be too complex will always produce helpless dependency and lack of originality at best, or procrastinations and inaction at worst. These are the least qualities needed to turn around the African condition right now. However, the context of technological innovation and industrial development has gone beyond the purview of the single inventor who carries the day. There have been and there are many inventors – not to talk about science and technological wizards among Africans – at least I have read about a few that derive from my country Nigeria and many among the black diaspora. In deed all aspects of industrial requirement for the discovery , extraction and refinement of oil discussed by the authors to be the mystery known only to the “Caucasian,” is not without very significant contribution of experts who are member of the black race. But most importantly, again some of the challenging questions to ask is what organizational (economic, institutional, political, international ) context makes the African productive only when he/she is outside of Africa or employed by an American, British, Japanese or French firm.
I am sure that the author know that his Caucasian does not operate as a single person. The reference to the individual “Caucasian” and African or person of black race through out this chapter oversimplifies what has been a major issue in discussion – not least in the current forum.
If Nigeria has produced thousands of engineers, as noted by the author, and yet has to import experts to service its oil refinery, I imagine that the right questions to ask will be why not use the engineers, or why couldnt the engineers, if engineers they are, service the refineries. He could go on further to note that even after foreign experts have serviced the refineries, some of these refineries soon got burnt down over and over again. What is the reason behind all this. Innate lack of knowledge as the author puts it rings too hollow or perhaps shallow for an explanation.
Refering to the economic dexterity of the “Caucasian”, the piece indirectly highlights what it considers the African capitalist incapable of doing : “He pays less than $12 per barrel for the crude oil. He refines the crude into several different products, which are then sent back to us at more than $65 per barrel.” I don’t see anybody at any time, even during the time when cowries and cloth pieces were African currencies, who would accuse Africans of not been homo-economicus. Not even the author’s "Caucasians" would say this with a straight mouth. There are still some tricks in making profit that the African women can teach us. At least they know how to do this as much as the best capitalist anywhere in the world. But the best capitalist in the world has a world of advantage over the petty African trader woman—in modern institutions, functioning governments, abundant access to capital, the right ethos and culture, industrial capacity, and protection, etc. The crucial question again is how to get our local economic contexts to ramify into high national incomes for individual African countries within the context of the international political economy given the “gate keeper” nature of African governments and the lack of industrial development.
The following passage in the chapter contains excellent observations that constitute important challenges to African governments:
As we enter the 21st century, Africans don't have the capacity to discover oil; they don't have the capacity to drill for the oil; they don't have the capability to refine the oil; they don't have the capacity to transport the oil to the destination where it would be refined; they don't have the vessel to transport the oil back to us for consumption. At a time when Indians and the Pakistanis have both detonated the atom bomb, when China is providing the technology for quick acceleration of launching satellites into orbit, Africans still don't have the capacity even to refine the oil for themselves.”
They are observations, however, that must move us all not just to anger, but to analysis, and hopefully productive action.
The chapter invokes a period when Africa or the “black race” was conquered and enslaved; it alludes to the slavery of blacks in the Americas; to colonialism also I suppose, and gives useful if contentious synonyms of the term slave to which he equates the condition of the black race. This is useful history the author is getting into – but, alas, it was a spare historical tidbit not put into effective use in analyzing origins or causes, structures & psychology, relevant local and international relationships, as they affect the people he has been denigrating as abjectly incapable. One does not have to be a historian to see the relevance of the interplay of the past and the present in human life. I have heard people make the statement that African’s problem is not only of leadership but of followership. This at the philosophical level is true, but I do not think it is useful to confound culprit African rulers with the ordinary victim populace (those who have suffered and only react rationally according to their understanding of the character and performance of their governments). Thus references to the black man, African or the black person that lump everybody together without giving any heed to groups, classes, strata, interests, struggles, oppositions, I feel, are not totally justifiable.
Every other people of "color," the Japanese, Chinese, the Indians - assuming
white is not a color - have appropriated all the technology and made them
their own. In fact, they have learned so well that they produce these products
better than the people who originally invented them. That is the mark of
In relation to the above quote, I am tempted to ask the question, how did these people appropriate the technology – individually or as a group; led by governments, nationalistic entrepreneurs, or capitalists, or rather by championed by importer and exporter “merchant princes/s” ; what international contexts and particular historical conjunctures were they able to capitalize on. Why did African countries miss out on such opportunities and how can enabling conditions similar to these be recreated, if ever that is possible, and if not what strategies could be used to circumvent the hurdle to development.?
The author compares the economic performance of Africans and peoples of Asian origin in North America. This is a very good exercise only if the right questions are asked and the appropriate analyses done. There have been individual efforts that I know of in the US and Canada of Africans trying to emulate the Asians – most of which efforts, unfortunately, have ended in failures. But when you go looking into the factors for success or failure, its not for lack of trying, or lack of ambition that these efforts failed. Yes the issue of market constituency comes in. Among other factors, this is a issue that involves identity formation in the diaspora, as well as the nature and solidity of the structures of diasporic identities; and whatever you want to say of India, an Indian identity predated European incursion into that subcontinent – so is the case for many Asian people, especially the Chinese and the Japanese. This is an aspect of peoples cultural history that is able to follow them to places beyond the confines of their nativity and impact how they fare there relative to others. There is no African constituency comparable to the Chinese for African businesses to operate in. Indeed, there is no unified Nigerian constituency in which a middle level Nigerian business person can operate in Toronto, the largest Canadian city which I am most familiar with. This needs to be realized. The history of immigration, the age, the economic background and the educational and technical capabilities of migrants & indeed the solidity of their governments back home are issues that must redound on how well groups of diasporic people perform economically and socially.
I don’t understand the justification for the use of the term “Capitalist “Nigger.” The cynicism for me is too overwhelming, especially because it is cynicism that seems incapable of generating very serious positive active response and engagement So is the racialized term "Caucasians"
author claims, “It would be foolhardy to talk of creating another Microsoft, a General Motors, an AT&T.”
But there are people out there trying to do just that and nothing theoretically says this should be impossible given the right conditions – including by an African for that matter. We can be practical but at the same time optimistic . Major civilizations have arisen in the past only to collapse and for erstwhile “barbarians” to rise into higher prominence. Perhaps the present developed world is not about to collapse, but then nothing says that today's backward Africa cannot rise to industrial and technological prominence. With the right conditions and good planning plus good luck, I can see my country Nigeria attaining development comparable to what obtains in the US within my lifetime (in 50 years) This is a country with all the necessary supply of human and material resources that can innitiate such a process within 5 years. – but if things are left to evolution and the genetic modification of the African person or gradual reform, it might take another century or more.
With reference to Posting #254
While the metaphor of "the hunter" and t"he lions" etc has been used, and appropriately, I think, I am not sure that the very critical, strategic and productive debate going on between Professors Ayittey and Ochonu/Kissi can rightly be characterized as "trying to shoot Ayittey down." If anything, the two camps are good hunters or good lions at the same time, both able to shoot effectively at each other as well as defend themselves. The over riding motivation in the two camps is very obviously patriotic, developmental and directed at the development, growth and peace of Africa. The good thing about North America is that the deadly local rhetoric that views challenges against cases of local success as an indication of envy and ill will at the good fortune of one's relative does not operate. The social and economic basis is simply absent.
Therefore, I am of the opinion that until the debates runs their courses, productive discussion and intervention from any quarter should not be preempted , as long, one hopes, as the language remains as civil as it is, even if strong.
For one, these debates and contributions help clarify major issues that can affect policies that for good or bad can impact Africa and the coming generation of Africans (as Dr. Kissi has emphasised)
Second, for those who are interested in creating or participating with activist organizations or associations, it makes for clear lines of identifying and mobilizing like-minded (but not same-minded) activists for useful political or social action for the benefit of Africa or individual African countries.
Third, it makes for diversity of thoughts, and a larger pool of ideas to work with in the searchh for solutions to our problems.
One has to appreciate the time, effort and dedication of these people - busy as they are, they are able to commit to producing these well researched thought provoking clarifications & expatiation of their views and positions. Bravo to them all.