The fight for African dignity

FATHER and mother were wallowing in the afterglow of you-know-what when they heard shouts of Hooray! Yippee! God is Great! Praised be Jesus!

“It can’t be for what we just did!” said the mother in shame-faced alarm.

“Of course not, silly,” said the father. “They are celebrating the return of the electricity…It’s their routine. Have you forgotten?”

So, in their nightclothes, they strolled sleepily into the lounge.

All three children, the oldest 10, were huddled before the TV, waiting for it to “return to normal”.

“Did any of you think of switching on the stove, at the very least?” asked he mother crossly. The kids did not respond. The TV had returned to normal and they were showing a comedy, one of the kids’ favourites.

“I thought that was your function, Mother — not ours,” said the oldest, their son.

“This is so undignified,” said the father, patting his wife on the shoulder, consolingly.

Neither parent mentioned the electricity parastatal. Previously, they had called it by every profanity they could think of.

Then they stopped. It didn’t make any difference.

In the early 50s, a fairly erudite nationalist had said it was independence that brought back your dignity.

As a colonial subject, you had little or no dignity to speak of.

In the town, where you lived in an area designated only for people of your colour and status, you hardly thought of your dignity.

At work, they called you “boy”.

Hard-headed Africans said they were slaves fighting to their death to free themselves.

After independence, you did discover freedom, something so spiritually enervating, affecting your very soul.

A voice whispered into your ear, ever so gently: “You are free at last!”

It’s true that people jumped for joy.

In a few countries — we won’t name them — there was internal strife within a few years.

People killed each other. Some blamed it all on the former colonialists.

They were fuelling civil wars for their own selfish motives.

Others blamed the new rulers for wanting to eat all the cake, not to share it with others.

“Crisis of expectation”, the erudite nationalists called it: People expected milk and honey after independence. Nobody scolded them with Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” response. They hadn’t exactly ended up with “zilch”.

But they were thoroughly disillusioned: some said colonialism had looked after them far better — a scandalous charge, some of the erudite nationalists snorted.

They had independence, didn’t they?

Nobody had promised them manna from heaven, or even milk and honey.

But what really pissed them off — pardon the French — seemed to be the yawning gap between the few in power and their cronies in business and the rest of the population — the povo in Portuguese.

Many died trying to “correct the imbalances” with their blood.

In Mozambique, we hear professionals from Portugal are being welcomed to big jobs in their former colonial possession.

The government knows how fortunate for them it is that the country which had colonised them is now in such a deep economic crisis: there are no jobs for most of the young professionals.

They are being encouraged to go to Mozambiqae, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands.

Apparently, they are all being welcomed eagerly.

Mozambique and Angola, particularly, are booming — thanks to their natural resources.

They are short of skilled manpower — which is blamed on long years of civil war and woefully inept administrations.

Soon, perhaps, some Mozambicans who were told they had got rid of the colonial nemesis will start wondering if this is a “recolonisation” of the country.

Of course, it isn’t — in any language.

The country needs the professionals to reach its full economic potential.

What if some of the people aiding them in reaching this goal are from the former colonial power, overthrown only after a bloody war in which hundreds were killed?

In an ironic way, the Mozambicans will be happy to regain their dignity — for the second time.

They will swallow their pride, but there will be more food on their tables.

That too brings dignity.

Soon, many things are bound to be transformed: there may be fewer power cuts, at the very least. Dignity restored.


Bill Saidi is a veteran journalist based in Harare

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