By JULIUS MBALUTO
The word darkness is pretty much what it is, just a mere word! However, this word has power when it comes to perception or interpretation and context of where and how it is used. The most obvious meaning, darkness is the opposite of light, that we know.
When it comes to the connotative meaning, the word darkness gets hideous, demeaning and negative. What do I mean? In religion, Satan is represented as the evil dark force behind all human misery. Clairvoyants tell those whom they are about to con that a ‘dark cloud’ is hanging above their lives and it has to be removed for them to make progress in life.
Let’s now get into deeper imperialist social construction. During the colonial era, Christianity was sold as the best alternative to any other religious practice by the Africans. African traditions were described by the colonialists as a dark rudimentary practise that should be replaced by Christianity. Jesus and angels were white and portrayed as the best while Satan, Witchdoctors and evil angels were black with Satan drawn as a black man with two horns, a creature part animal and part man at the same time, pretty hideous!
The ‘blackness’ in the definition and derogatory use continues. Mainstream business is defined as trade but when corruption kicks in while doing the same, the meaning changes. Now we talk about ‘markets’ but corruption is involved while doing the same it becomes ‘black market’, the connotation of darkness, blackness hiding the negative meaning therein. When an accident takes place in one place on the same road, it’s called a ‘blackspot’. Why not a red spot, white spot, yellow spot or any other spot?
It was Europeans who branded Africa, a dark continent in 19th Century. The excuse given for this narrative was that the Europeans never knew much about the African continent. So, did they have to call Africa a dark continent because they knew nothing about it or should they have gone ahead and found out what they needed to know that time? The usage of this word at this time was derogatory where the coloniser felt superior to the colonised and the slave master felt superior to the slaves.
Without a doubt, it wasn’t about Africa being a dark continent. It had something to do with the African culture and sub-cultures, the African people as seen by the imperialists. It has been argued that the myth of a ‘dark continent’ referred to the savagery that Europeans said was endemic to Africa. What is the truth? Talk about savagery and as history has it, colonialism and slavery showcased savagery from those pointing a figure towards Africa. Europeans proved once and for all that they had that quality by the way they treated Africans.
Now that we all agree Africa is not a dark continent, what do people think about Africa? Those who have been to Africa without any preconceived ideas of harvesting the wealth of Africa and insulting the people at the time have different tales.
Earnest Hemingway once said:
“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.“
Explaining his feeling towards Africa, Will Smith said:
“It’s really beautiful. It feels like God visits everywhere else, but lives in Africa”
Henry Loius Gates thought Africa was intriguing:
“For as long as I can remember, I have been passionately intrigued by ‘Africa’, by the word itself, by its flora and fauna, its topographical diversity and grandeur; but above all else, by the sheer variety of the colours of its people, from tan and sepia to jet and ebony”.
With 54 countries and over 1 billion people, Africa offers a market a ready market for many multi-national corporates. Africa is rich with resources from Oil, Minerals, Agriculture, Wildlife and Great scenic places and more.
The biggest waterfall in the world is in Africa. Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the original name) meaning the smoke that thunders offer memorable experiences. The great Rift Valley in Kenya and the wild beast migration is an amazing wonder of nature. There is a lot more to offer, these pages are not enough to tell it all.
Unfortunately, the West has exploited Africa since time immemorial. First, it was colonialism, then the creation of an international system which still looks down on Africa. United Nations has only 5 permanent members with veto powers to decide what happens in the rest of the world. None of those countries are from Africa. Former President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe died still urging for reforms within the United Nations. Representation means a lot when important decisions are being made but is anybody listening?
So, from colonialism to neo-colonialism which now is seen more as economic colonisation. Most independent nations in Africa still with pride in their sovereignty had to content with donor community and funders who always dictated to them on what to do. Early 90s, many economies in Africa were messed up by SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) fronted by the Bretton Woods Institutions (IMF and The World Bank).
It came a time when these institutions wielded so much power. Their loans came with preconditions asking African governments to embrace multi-party democracy, do other things without thinking, they were only giving loans which had to be paid back in full. African leaders detested this state- of- affairs but unfortunately did nothing to change the status-quo. Many Presidential candidates over the years came into power having donor community in mind instead of thinking of how to free their countries from this economic colonisation.
Now then, the African leaders discovered China. Unlike the investors and funders from the Western Hemisphere, the Chinese don’t care about African politics, they don’t give preconditions, they make money available without many questions but behind the scenes they know, they will benefit more than even what their loans are worth. They give the loans, they take the contracts which the loans were supposed to do, they even ask to run those investments or projects when completed. China’s success to do projects in Africa now attracts the attention of the West and another scramble for Africa has just started. I’m aware that many countries from Africa benefit from genuine trade and genuine help. Africa is a large continent and cannot exist in isolation. However, Africans need to check again and again what any trade or loans mean to the economies of their countries.
What will be the role of the Africans in this new dispensation? Are we awake enough to see this current trend? Are we able to see what is already happening on the ground? It has come a time when the African people must know that Africa has value and a lot to offer. It has come a time, for African leaders to stand firm, inspire their countrymen to be productive, embrace the narrative of self-reliance, focus on what citizens can offer rather than what loans can offer.
Africa has value which the rest of the world wants. How much are our leaders willing to sell that value? Indeed, the western hemisphere nations, US, China and other nations have realized they need to invest in Africa. China is currently outdoing all other players in this game as Africa remains on focus. Africa is now the continent for the future. However, Africa needs to watch out not to be exploited in the name of investment. Chinks have started showing that it is not all trade or investments that are good for the African people.