When I was a child, Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was one of my favourite bedtime stories.
I was endlessly amused by how gullible the emperor was and wondered why and how a grown man could fall for a simple trick, but mine was a child’s basic understanding of the fable.
There was a deeper issue that Andersen intended the adults who were reading the story to their children to contemplate upon and internalise namely, the danger of what is sometimes called “groupthink”.
Wikipedia defines groupthink as a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.
In Andersen’s fable everybody, from the emperor downwards, knew and could see that the weavers were sewing nothing and that the emperor, when he was wearing the purportedly finished product, was actually naked. But the desire for conformity and harmony compelled all of them to say otherwise.
The devious weavers spun the tale of being able to weave cloth that only the righteous and intelligent could see, knowing that nobody in their right mind would wish to stand up and confess to being a sinner or a fool.
The fable was not just poking fun at the fat, naked and gullible emperor it was holding up a mirror to society itself and challenging each one of us to let go of the obvious falsehoods we desperately cling to for the sake of conformity.
Groupthink continues for so long as the overwhelming majority continue to be locked up in the conceptual cage that has been created. It is replicated and perpetuated when its fundamentals premises become articles of conviction or belief.
As Friedrich Nietzsche said “Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.” Those who think that this is the beginning of a Nietzschean attack on established religion should sit down, relax and read on because I intend to do no such thing – well, at least not today.
Rather I wish to call attention, once again, to the glaring deficiencies of the colonial state in Africa and ask whether anybody is willing to admit that this thing that is marching around with the pompous arrogance it inherited from its creators is actually naked.
Could the native African peoples, who are not in any government’s direct or indirect pay, to whom the colonial state has delivered sustainable greatness, peace, prosperity and happiness please send us a post card? We would really like to hear from you and see what, if anything, we can do to make things work out.
The trouble is that the cunning weavers have made the overwhelming majority of us believe that it is impossible to achieve greatness, peace, prosperity, or happiness without having to make terrible comprises regarding our native identities, liberty, social cohesion, equality and inter-generational wealth demanded by the colonial state.
Stability or non-inclusive economic growth are paraded as the ultimate end irrespective of the political, social, cultural and spiritual cost exacted on the native communities of Africa – born and unborn.
Yet the colonial states have not even shown in any meaningful way that they can sustainably deliver stability or economic growth.
The emperor is naked and we can all see that he is but we dare not admit it to ourselves because to do so would be to admit that we are “backward” or “primitive”. The groupthink surrounding this issue is condemning us to perpetual poverty, underdevelopment and unhappiness.
We have locked our thinking in another man’s box and condemned ourselves to seeing the world from an alien standpoint, in which we are inferior and genetically incapable of coming up with any useful ideas regarding our governance and wellbeing.
It is impossible to make the first step towards true sustainable progress if first we do not free ourselves from the convictions that obscure our vision of the simple truth.