“Can you believe that guy just did that?” I said to myself in utter disbelief. My mouth hung ajar, my anger was rising, yet a sense of helplessness came over me. Yesterday on my walk back home from the market, I saw one of the most disturbing things I had ever witnessed in my 24 years of life. A grown man who seemed to have no relationship with a street child I saw attempting to cross the road, grabbed the young boy of no more than 10 or 11, taunted him, and then threw him to the ground with no more thought than one would give a piece of litter. And, I might mention that this was all done during rush hour on one of Kigali’s busiest streets and in the presence of one of the man’s accompanying friends at that.
Why I asked myself? What had this little boy ever done to this grown man? Could they possibly have history that I knew nothing of? And if so, does that merit a grown man throwing a young boy to the ground? No, I defiantly told myself yet my steps, riddled with guilt, dictated otherwise as I walked in the opposing direction. I longed to reach out to the little boy who with the same ease as he was thrown to the ground, got up and proceeded on his quest to cross this busy Kigali street, probably not even realizing why what had happened to him was not only wrong, but unacceptable. And, that is where the discomfort of yesterday continues to emanate from.
The young man, too, saw himself as being worthless yet worthy of such treatment because he was a street child. He didn’t have fine clothes, his day to day survival came from panhandling and lending himself to the mercy of unknown powers on a day-to-day basis. And for him, the future was unsure. Sound familiar?
I cannot help but find myself thinking of the continent’s economic development, as I reflect on the horror I saw yesterday. Like a street child, we have been ingrained with a notion of being less than and seemed to have more than willingly accepted it. Instead of us starting our own humanitarian missions to our respective countries, we eagerly send in our CVs to works with foreign organizations who then get to call the shots as to how our respective countries develop. For those of us who can afford it, we head west further solidifying the belief that our countries are hopeless. And like a street child, our efforts focus too much on immediate gain instead of laying down framework to design for long term impact.
This is not to dismiss those of us who are working towards change in foreign owned non-profits or who went to school abroad, but to cause each and every single one of us to ask ourselves why. Why is it that few African men and women are starting projects to change the state of their countries? Why is it that to make it, we must head abroad to receive a good education although there are schools in our own countries? Why have we accepted, for so long, that the continent wasn’t enough although all the attributes of success are already present in our communities?
It is time for the continent to be present in its development. Being present means consulting first with fellow compatriots for ideas, working with international actors but in a way that is collaborative, a partnership and not just Westerners dictating to African men and women as to how their countries should develop.
I understand that what I am proposing is easier said than done. Currently, there are many African countries plagued by security issues (Nigeria, Kenya, etc). Endemic corruption makes it impossible for not only foreign aid but the taxes paid by hard working African men and women in their respective countries to even be reinvested back in their local economies, just to end up in the pocket of an avaricious politician or big man. But still, there has been no better time than now to take ownership over the future of the continent.
If we continue to state the above problems, which are very real and require multilateral efforts to combat, we will be singing the same tune for decades to come, making marginal gains in the development of our respective countries. The answer to some of Africa’s most pressing dilemmas lies in the capacity of her people. Period. There are too many brilliant African medical professionals, lawyers, teachers, artists, and entrepreneurs adding to the development of Western countries who economically speaking, are already quite far ahead of most African countries.
Some of the most prominent and influential members of governing global bodies in Western countries are African men and women. Clearly that is an obvious indication that the talent, commitment, and passion the continent needs to truly shake off the cobwebs of colonialism and to destroy its everlasting structures lies in the people, however, when will we as Africans start to see that ourselves?
When will we start to ask ourselves, why not me? Why can’t I think of a solutions to HIV/AIDS? Solutions to the lack of infrastructure present in the education system of many African countries? Why can’t I aspire to be a president neutral of the influence of the West? When we start asking ourselves those hard questions and working collaboratively with all interested parties, then might we make progress and then might the continent become what she was destined to be: great.
I want to imagine an Africa where years from now, we speak of her progress and innovation the way we do the West and Asia. I want to imagine an Africa where when speaking of models of democracy (that is respective of African cultural norms) we cite an African country as an example. And, I want to imagine an Africa where its collective human capital genuinely believes that their countries have more to offer and that greatness is a part of their national destiny.
Until then, I find myself very much troubled as to what I saw yesterday and by the continent’s lack of progress. But even with the feelings of unsettlement, I still have hope for a continent that will one day realise that she was destined for greatness just as I have hope for the street child who in the present might appear to be nothing to many people, entrenched in endemic poverty due to structural instability, and someone who people can help when guilt consumes them, when they have an extra dollar to spare, or when it is in their interest to give to, but an individual nonetheless who has the potential to be at his best for in all of us lies greatness that manifests itself at different times, but is present nonetheless.