Africans seem to despise themselves. What else can you call it when they get excited about being compared to Europeans? Or when African commentators think that everything good looks European, not African? That’s the message you get on hearing or reading the many comments by participants in the AU Summit that ended last week, here in Kigali.
The commentators, especially those who were visiting for the first time, seem to be admiring of the spotless cleanliness and faultless organisation of the summit not because they are by Rwandans but rather because they look European. And Rwandans, going by their reactions, seem to cherish that.
Of course we, as Rwandans, are grateful to these commentators for stating things as they see them, even with the small insinuation of African incapability. It’s a welcome repose from the pollution of distortions and falsehoods by foreign reporters and rights activists that are the daily dosage for this country.
My point, however, is that we, as Africans, should not be self-denigrating. Africans are as good as anybody and, at least in Rwanda, our President’s constant reminder should be our permanent wake-up call: “Rwanda may be a small country but Rwandans are not a small people.”
In spite of this, take the case of this advertisement on Rwandan radios and TVs, for example. Mr Dismas Mukeshabatware, in his trade-mark high-pitched voice, wonders where to get a jacket good enough to wear in a European country he is visiting! In short, he can wear rags in Africa but not in Europe!
Indeed, a comic commentary on our view towards our continent.
But there is a vile kind of not only self-denigrators but also self-haters that other Africans should avoid engaging in conversation. The Ugandan media personality Timothy Kalyegira is perhaps the worst example of this self-hating lot who, being educated and extravagant with ‘opinionated opinions’, need to be shut from our societies.
A man who sees nothing wrong with being a diehard Idi Amin Dada apologist cannot be anything but dangerous. For Amin was the Ugandan dictator, as we caring neighbours bleed to remember, who was responsible for the death of thousands of Ugandans.
And true to Mr Kalyegira’s character, he also dismisses Rwanda’s achievements as amounting to nothing beyond functional traffic lights and zebra crossings. To this dear neighbour, what we and outsiders see as sterling effort in poverty reduction, hunger eradication, multiplication of educational institutions, 90+% community health insurance cover and other accomplishments, in under 20 years, count for nought.
No, we in Africa should have a positive view of ourselves because we are equal to the best. We only need to apply ourselves to hard work and to cultivate self-respect and self-worth.
Otherwise, faulty organisation, for instance, can be African as it can be American, Asian or European.
I remember being witness to chaos at its worst, in organisation, in a European country. To be exact, it was in the Spanish city of Barcelona, during the AIDS Conference of 2002. All the attention of the organisers seemed consumed by ex-President Bill Clinton and no one seemed to give a hoot that there were serving Heads of State; European, African or otherwise.
In the stampede of entering or exiting the conference hall, only the still nimble Heads of State made it unscathed, as they were saved by the fire escape steep stairs!
Unfortunately, when it comes to such chaotic organisations on our own continent, some of our people seem to relish pandemonium multiplied umpteen-fold!
It must have been 2000, when the OAU that had intentions to transform into the AU was hosted by this West African country that’s best kept unnamed. The bedlam that reigned in the conference hall was nerve-racking for the Heads of State but what ensued on attempting to access rooms in the 22-storey hotel, acha tu! (as the Waswahili say.)
Of the four lifts originally built for the hotel, only one functioned. That meant that waiting out for an orderly use of the lift would have meant hours upon hours of waiting, an inconvenience the security detail of a Head of State worth their training could not subject their boss to.
The result was a punch-up that could have been the envy of today’s South Sudanese fighting factions. At one time I espied an aging, ‘platformed’ Head of State throwing a ‘vicious’ punch at his hapless bodyguard, in the mistaken belief that the bodyguard had pushed his First Lady down. In truth, the lady had been caught in the mêlée of the bodyguards and fallen down.
As for the other Heads of State, accessing the 22nd floor through the fire escape was not for the weak-kneed. But the alternative wouldn’t have been very appeasing to you either, even in your humble station.
In a word, in trying to miss no detail in organisation, to leave no stone unturned in cleanliness, in pushing for rapid overall socio-economic growth and good political entente with other societies, Rwandans are trying to distance themselves from such mess and any other shame.
And since they are giving a good account of themselves in this regard, why can’t any other African society?
If we can’t realise positive transformation together, at least we can learn from one another.