Earlier this week, I was advising a good friend and successful member of Africa’s Diaspora about land ownership issues in Uganda. I told him that since he is not a Ugandan, neither he nor any corporate vehicle that he chose to use for investment into Uganda, can own land in perpetuity. He said he was not surprised that this was so because there are similar restrictions in his native West Africa but then he observed that the irony is that the “big people” who set and preserve these restrictions all have or long to have freehold property in London and other Western capitals.
If irony could be mined, smelted and sold then Africa would be a major exporter and, perhaps, the proceeds could have helped us move from Third World to First, several decades ago. The people who are supposed to set and maintain basic health standards in Africa are always the first to opt for treatment abroad when they fall ill. We see it in education too. The custodians and champions of local education do not educate their children in State schools and generally send their children or grandchildren to private schools in Uganda or overseas. The self-proclaimed pan Africanists see nothing wrong with restricting travel within and between African countries. Thus, it is often easier for Europeans or Americans to get visas for African countries than for fellow Africans.
The louder an African leader condemns sectarianism or tribalism, the more closely you should scrutinise his entourage and the people who hold real power in his political structure. The so-called nationalists always have the least diverse political power structures and the sectarian is the person who points out the ethnic imbalance. The people who are supposed to encourage others to work the hardest and smartest, work the least and reap the most from places where they have not sowed.
This is normal in most parts of Africa. The best crafted speeches and policy pronouncements are intended to be just that; speeches and pronouncements. Words that are said because they sound beautiful and appropriate but not because they are meant in the slightest. In fact, in our part of the world two things are likely to cause you an early death from high blood pressure; habitual punctuality for anything other than international flights or believing that politicians actually mean and intended to abide by anything that they say.
Just pause to think about it, because until it is pointed out, you may not realise quite how much of our lives are lived in paradox. It is not just our leaders, by the way. Think about the moral outrage that follows homosexuality and wonder where it goes when it comes to other biblical sins like theft, fornication, adultery or polygamy.
Look at the number of people who profess adherence to the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths but secretly visit the shrines of the gods of our ancestors. It would appear that in this part of the world, the money does not have to be anywhere near where the mouth is. The mouth just has to be loud and repetitive in its pronouncements and that is all that matters.
Unfortunately, all this is just an outward manifestation of a deeper problem. We want to have it all and give nothing away.
We want to eat the cake but still have it on our plate. We want to be in heaven but we do not want to die. The Mahatma Ghandi thought that this belief in entitlement to reward without sacrifice was the root of all violence. In his view, the Seven Deadly Sins were “Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principles.”
What looks like mere irony on the surface is, in fact, the underpinning of rapacious extractive institutions and the source of unending violence and underdevelopment.