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Literature Discussion -


Africa’s Zero Label Image

By Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo


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The African continent has a particular image, a brand or logo, if one will, that does not seem to budge. People like Bono, Clooney or Bob Geldof who mean to be do-gooders only succeed in reinforcing the negative image of Africa while placing themselves at the helm as having good intentions and being humanitarian. Professional degradation is far from being humanitarian. While what Bono and Geldof do seems to count and elevate them as do-gooders, those for and to whom they do it – Africa and the Africans – only fall deeper into the negative zero label, to the “bad branding” or “hopeless logo” continent. Bad branding cobbled onto hopeless logo becomes a volatile mix, like saltpetre and water.

For economies to cooperate, there has to be a common law or regulation, détente and treaties between them. These do not exist between the monikers developed and developing countries. The developed countries develop development and the developing countries develop underdevelopment. The robbers blame the robbed for being stupid enough not to realise that the four walls of their home do not protect them; they are four entryways to break into the home and rob. Even murder, when that is called for to facilitate the robbery and the safety of the robbers.

Aid is a double-edged sword that elevates the giver side while suppressing the receiver end. It metes out respect and contempt in equal measures, depending on why and how it is meted out. Assistance in digging wells or building schools and health clinics is a different matter to throwing down foreign food packages from the air to a scrambling mass of human beings. Assistance must not degrade another’s human dignity. An African proverb says: The hand that gives is always above the hand that receives. Worse, it is hypocritical when one hand gives and two hands take away. Moreover, when this process becomes interminable, a condition arises where on the one hand the will to better oneself turns into “an angry sense of entitlement” (Simon Anholt), and on the other hand the loathsome contempt and disregard.

Africa is the continent with true humanitarianism in the form of connectivity and sharing, of intact family units, of the direct congregation and dialogue between people instead of the technological and impersonal “networking”. Having anonymous “friends” in networking sites is the best signal of a civilisation on its way to a collapse. A culture’s foundation and progress depends on knowledge carried forward from the past, with each generation soaking in the knowledge from the past generation be it in art, literary learning or a hands-on communication void of superficiality.

Africans and their do-gooders – self-appointed or not – should invest in sustainable aspects of human affairs such as education. Already this valuable aspect is flying out the window in the West because these nations gather a trillion unconnected trivialities, call it knowledge or art and technologically market it with more trivialities or plain old lunacy. To disassemble and disenfranchise the negative image of Africa, the people and governments of the continent must engage enlightened policies, investment in true knowledge, health and innovation. These are steps that assert themselves without being marketed. Africa has to rebuild on her patrimony. Here lies the best competitive edge against the West.

“The decline of the West,” says Simon Anholt, the 2009 award winner of the Nobel’s Colloquia Prize for Economics, “is the decline of our ability to build on the past, our relentless superficiality, our shallow facility for grasping a million unconnected trivia, calling it knowledge and making markets out of it. Real wisdom requires significantly more application, and there are no shortcuts to it.”

Old habits die hard, so what non-Africans have cultivated over decades and centuries as the image of Africa and Africans will take a few years of unrelenting work to undo by producing the evidence that will finally uproot preconceptions and make room for reconfiguration. But Africa and Africans have to start now, big or small, to apply their mental and physical muscles. Africa can afford to do without the largesse if it comes coated with disrespect and suppression.