Do-Gooders on Rampage in Africa
May 8, 2007.
Tree-Hugger Smith: As you can see, we’ve had our eye on you for some time now. It seems that you’ve been living two lives. In one life, you’re (Peter) Kamau wa Njogu, program officer in a respectable human rights NGO that is considering getting into the Maasai land thing. You fly to conferences monthly and write frequent proposals to the Swedes. The other life is lived in sullen resentment, where you go by the alias “Range Rover Driving Rasta Revolutionary”, or Boi.
Boi: How dare you, who are you to talk to me this way? I care, I really do…
Tree-Hugger Smith: Be patient, listen. You are exhausted with the futility of it all; the savages just won’t listen. They are so power hungry and corrupt and act in such bad faith, and they are so tribalistic. You have decided that there will be no global revolution, so you instead make grand personal gestures: a kind word to the security guard, and extra dollar or two to the gardener, “keep the change” to the waiter, and yoga on Saturdays.
Does anyone understand how draining it is to make a $70,000 per year while partying in Porto Allegre and reading all that postcolonial theory to spout (impressively) at parties? Both of these lives have a bright future, Boi, they sustain my work here.
Boi: You can’t scare me with this Du Bois double consciousness stuff, by implying you know me or even worse by suggesting in your snide way that I am that part of Fanon’s post-independence bourgeoisie, which “…is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor.” I know what’s up; I know that I am a part of a global progressive movement. Besides, who are you to question me when we are supposed to be in this fight together?
Spoon boy: Do not try and justify aid. That is impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Boi: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no aid.
Boi: There is no aid?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the aid that’s bad, it is only yourself.
Tree-Hugger Smith: Did you know that the aid conferences held every week in a different city are meant to design a perfectly sustainable way to reduce African suffering to acceptable levels? Where none suffers to the point of extinction?
Why don’t Africans get in line with NEPAD, agree to our dream for them? Frankly, it has been a disaster. They do not accept the programs in their entirety. Decades of development have been lost. Perhaps we lack the programming language to describe the world we are building for you: sustainable indigence. But I must admit that as Europeans, and here I include my African schoolmates at Harvard who are colleagues, we define our reality through African suffering.
Cypher: Jesus. What a mind-job. It just sounds to me like you need to unplug, man.
Mzee: Boi, you should be listening to Smith. I’ve seen a white aid worker burst into tears at the sight of a dead elephant and a winner of the Nobel Prize literally hug a tree… I’ve seen plenty that would boggle your African mind if it were free. People working for the aid industry have imbibed entire libraries and yet refuse to recognise the prison they guard.
Men have expended entire intellectual and moral clips at them and hit nothing but hot air, yet their greed and blindness is still based on a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never solve your problems or own your victory.
Boi: For real Mzee, you’re starting to scare me.
Mzee: What is real. How do you define real? Are your little activist campaigns drawn from the African’s political body or are they impositions that even when positive ultimately rob him of his ability to shape his universe? Are you spouting global revolution only to rob the African of his revolutions? There is the world that you know and then there is the one that will one day exist.
You will not birth the real, Boi, the world of tomorrow; you are merely a shadow, unreality, and a farce. Africa is to be delivered to her independence by that crude, tribalist, ignorant, poor, hustling, reactionary person who exists within a multitude of political communities that will burst into a thousand instances of violence and cooperation as they seek primacy and purchase. You will be swept away by this process because the anchor of aid that makes you so powerful today will make you irrelevant tomorrow.
Boi: AI? You mean my role in aid is artificial and doomed to failure?
Mzee: You are part of a consciousness that spawned an entire race of African servants: western liberalism of the right and left kind. We don’t know which of the two are winning. But we know that they are born of the same parent, that they would have Africans at the receiving end of their wisdom and would have us build our world in their image.
At present, the left types, like Smith, are far more dependent on our misery and it is believed that they would be unable to survive the pouting and posturing that Africa’s allows them to adopt as they pretend to continue the revolutionary traditions of socialism. Since the world wars, when their brethren chose nationalism over revolution, they have been content to yoke us with their lifeless dreams - provided they are in charge.
Boi: No. No, Mzee. Don’t.
Mzee: There are conferences, Boi, endless conferences where Africans no longer think. For a long time I wouldn’t believe it, but then I attended a few aid meetings, engaged in cocktail chatter and considered how you came to this juncture.
I listened as dead political categories were brought to life, heard the excitement caused by a post-modern political philosophy that chooses to obfuscate where clarity of thought and expression is required to inspire political action. I realised that they had lost their faith but none of their childish self-indulgence.
Smith is part of a Western generation that is determined to thumb its nose at its parental authority (corporations and old white men: The Man) and uses our misery as its proxy and paycheck. Boi, I must tell you the truth: your attraction to ‘power to the people’ rhetoric, love of Bob Marley, Sartre and your vacations in Senegal are part of a new phenomenon: African flower power.
MMK is a London-based writer and academic. He blogs as African Bullets and Honey.
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