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Time to Fix the Hopelessness in Africa

So, one of these fine days I happened to be wandering about in one of the small towns in the United Kingdom’s East Midlands when I met this black young man who is now a Croatian-European-Ghanaian (well he was born a Ghanaian-African but now he is married to a Croatian lady hence he has since become a Croatian-European). A proud European citizen it would appear. He had a baby on a stroller; a cute biracial (when I was growing up we called them half-casts I think) baby boy that he proudly told me was his son. It is nice meeting a proud dad. I did those ‘untaught’ rituals of greeting a baby, you know. It is a spontaneous ritual that good people do when they meet babies. Unless you are a witch. In my culture, it is witches (wizards inclusive) who do not greet babies. But, folks, trust me is I told you that there is something nice about greeting babies. If you are a good human, you cannot avoid but really admire the reaction of babies when you meet and touch them; those innocent eyes, laughs/smiles. It is ecstatic. Sometimes you want be one again! Fantasies.

And then there is something about biracial kids. My Giriama friend from the Kenyan coast used to refer to them as ‘fully-loaded kids.’ The last time I met her in Malindi she was attempting to get one of those visiting ‘mzungus’ (white folks) to have her pregnant so that she can be a new owner of a brand new ‘full-loaded baby.’ In Kiswahili they say ‘kuishi kwingi, kuona mengi’ (the longer - actually the more - you live the more you see). I guess the more you hear too. So, I have also heard stories about ‘fully-figured women.’ If you haven’t heard this, you certainly need to live a little longer – a little more. Forget ‘fully-loaded babies’ and ‘fully-figured women.’ Back to the East Midlands.

So, after the pleasantries, we got into a little talk, getting to know each other a little bit and what each of us was doing around here and so on. I must have gone first and so I told the young man that I was around for studies and that I have not been here for long etc. When it came to his turn he told me things that shocked me. It was shocking because, he chose not only to speak about himself but also he seemed to enjoy the privilege and entitlement (as my senior of sorts you know) to give me what he taught was some ‘valuable’ advice. Survival tips or something like that. We do have a song in Kenya about ‘habari ya mjini’ (news of the city) in which among others we are taught that ‘kupotea utapotea kwa sababu hujapata habari ya mjni’ (if it is getting lost, you will get lost because you do not know the city news). It is a divine calling to pass knowledge. Indeed, even somewhere in the pages of the good book we (OK those who want to heed the divine message) learn that “my people perish for lack of knowledge.’ If you are reading this and you never knew anything about the divine message, now you know something that was taught by YHWH and is hidden somewhere in the pages written by or attributed to Prophet Hosea. He is one of those Old Testament prophets that the God of Israel (not sure how he later became the god of all) messed up to pass a message. So one of the things that befell Mr. (oh Prophet) Hosea is that he married a prostitute who frequently ran away to sleep with other men yet Hosea had to keep going for her. If I were a Jewish Rabi or a Christian Exegetic Theologian I would teach you that that shows how the sons (no daughters) of Israel would run away from YHWH and in his faithfulness he would always go after them and return them back home even when they had defiled themselves. What an interesting deity (no, merciful and ever loving God) who makes some creatures, allow them to disobey him frequently and keeps following after them, huh! And peddlers of the word of God in my home market of Motonto would say ‘sisi ndio wana wa Israeli – Israeli mpya’ (we are now Israelis, the new Israelites) hence ‘our God,’ not Israel’s God anymore, is speaking to us – to me and you and then they will occasionally call on people to shout Halleluiah to which the people will heed with a resounding chorus, Hallelujah! Never mind this is a word that does not exist in the vocabulary of my language but everybody knows it. That is how much knowledge we have in the village. Forget YHWH and the peddlers of the ‘good news’ in my home market; it is upon you to profess God or perish; the call to Christian life (with it the promise of heaven) is too radical to joke with; not to accept God is equivalent to rejecting him hence eternal murder. I am not scaring you with death but hell may see you if you are a bad mortal. Even the Egyptian mythology has something in the lines of the manner in which your heart will be measured against a feather during the final judgment and ‘ole wako’ (woe unto you) if your heart is heavier than a feather. You either live a holy life in this world or gnash the teeth later!

Back to my friend in the East Midlands. So, he announced to me that he had moved to Europe few years back. I may have not been keen enough to query how he did it. He went on to break the ‘good news’ to me about how he met and married a Croatian lady and that now he is a Croatian-European citizen and that they recently moved to the UK where they intend to settle because the wife got a better job in this land of ‘abundance.’ I would want to think they are not part of a section of Europeans worried about the outcomes of #Brexit. Honestly, it would be sad for #Brexiteers to deem, otherwise bright futures of so many people from around the world, particularly European immigrants or expats (depending on your school of thought) like this young Croatian couple, living and working in this beautiful land of the Queen. After all, so many people from so many places of the world build and/or saved this Kingdom through their blood and sweat. Souls of the current generation deserve to reap the fruits of the blood and sweat of their fathers and mothers. Stories for other people, other days.

So, having heard about the ‘good news,’ I queried about what the young man was doing for a living to which he replied that he cannot work since he needs to be home and take care of the baby now that his wife works full time. I remembered that in my country, there was a time when women proudly announced that they were housewives. I must have thought it was a career. It sounded prestigious. Classy. Housewife. I do not remember if I hear it anymore. I know of few old folk in my home who blames this on Beijing; which they believe ‘destroyed women’ and what supposedly was ‘good life,’ a life when a privileged elderly African man’s word was law. But, I do not recall ever having heard about ‘househusbands.’ We may have been brought up in a system that taught something like a man must work and provide while a woman stays home, looks after the children and cooks. Unfortunately, this happened until recently. It could be happening in some places, I know of. Sometimes, I wonder why gender activists and women rights champions spend so much money and time speaking about these things in Geneva and in Nairobi and not in Chesikaki or Atiaki where a lot of women are still their husbands’ properties. But then again, I know there are logical frameworks. So those women in those interior places can continue a little longer – most likely their lifetime – living in such precarity until the logical frameworks go a full cycle and open up opportunities for scale-ups etc. They are part of the statics. People celebrate that the number of those suffering has reduced not that the suffering has ended. Clever people speak about pilot and scale-ups, you know.

Forget scale-ups for a moment and let us return to my friend in the East Midlands. Listening to him, I thought (or maybe I realized) that something was terribly wrong. I was brought up in a certain manner and with it a philosophy that “mtu ni kazi” (a human being is work or to be human is to work). From such a background I struggle with understanding how an able-bodied human being can appear content with the fact that someone else should work and provide for them. But then again, I thought, well, taking care of a kid is equally work no? So, if this modern European couple had an agreement that the Croatian-wife will work while the Ghanaian-husband took care of their young baby and if they were happy about their arrangement then, mmh it is fine. After all, it is their life. They have the liberty to choose their way of life. While I love kids, the thought of spending my life doing nothing but raising a baby sends chills down my spine. But, this was not me; this is someone else. So as we are taught ‘pilipili usiyoila yakuwashia nini’ (why feel hotness of the pepper you are not eating)? By this time, I was ready to part with the young man, after all, I had, at least, met someone and shared a word or two. Since I had discerned that we did not appear to have convergence of future plans, I did not need to request that we exchange contacts or something.

However, before I could excuse myself, my friend had announced that he had some advice for me. I was attentive for indeed, in the school of life I have been taught and heeded the message that only fools have no time for advice. And so, he said to me: “listen bro, now that you are already here, take this opportunity and find a white/European lady and get married to her.” And went on to announce to me how then I would easily become a citizen of a European country and by so doing have the opportunity to remain in Europe and escape the seemingly tragic idea of having to return to Africa upon completion of my studies.

I must have felt a wave of anger mixed with pity and then a feeling of hopelessness. Some cocktail of feelings. I blankly stared at him. I may have not heard many other things he said in between since my mind switched to an overdrive attempting to process a topic so complex yet so intimate to me. Behind such a talk was hidden the whole narrative of the unfortunate binary between a Europe (by extension the West/North) with the promise of better life to be sought and accessed, sometimes through the most daring of ways, on the one hand, and a poor, sick and dangerous Africa to be avoided and/or escaped at every possible opportunity, on the other. Behind what this young man was saying with such easiness lay the very reason hundreds of thousands of Africans, most of them young people, have perished in the waters of the Mediterranean as they made that suicidal journey across the sea in pursuit of that promise of ‘a better life’ in Europe. I felt so sorry and then very sad listening to him. It was more dismaying that these kinds of words were coming from a young energetic African man, probably in his mid-20s. It is a typical representation of a wasted African generation, a generation of millions of our young people wandering in pursuit of an elusive promise of a better life that can only be found outside of Africa. It is a tale of a hopeless generation that, arguably, is both lacking in the knowledge to recognize and uphold the sanctity and value of hardwork and deprived of the ability to imagine and envision transformation of their society. This is a ‘wasted generation’ whose thinking only stretches to how best and fast they can escape the ‘African problem’ and not how they can be part of the slow and painful process of searching for the African solution.

As all these was going on in my mind, it hit me that right there, in front of me, was a perfect representation of one of the problems that we, African peoples and nations, must deal with. At a certain point X, we must agree, that as a people and as nations, we are not going to allow our sons and daughters to take precarious journeys across seas in search of better life that cannot be found at home; but that they can make safe journeys in pursuit of an alternative, equally better, life anywhere in the world. That no African young man or woman should get married to someone from another race because such a marriage will confer a sense of dignity on them and afford them an assurance of 'good life,' but that they can get married to whoever they choose from whatever race and nation on the basis of friendship and love. This is the conversation that we must have. This made me recall having spoken to a group of young people back in 2015, during one of the forums where discussions centered on the Mediterranean crisis. I did blame (I still do) European nations for inhumanely treating African immigrants. I equally did tell the gathering that “if your children developed a habit of going to eat in the neighbor’s house and news of their mistreatment reached you, then you had two issues to deal with. One is to call out your neighbor for cruelty, the other is to interrogate yourself; either there is not any food in your house or your cooking is wanting.” In other words, the exodus from Africa to Europe and the humanitarian crisis that we witnessed back then (which unfortunately we continue to witness to date) could not and must never be blamed entirely on Europe. It must be said that many European countries are in constant pursuit of some very racist and anti-immigration policies and that sections of the European society exhibit dangerous xenophobic behavior, particularly towards black Africans; tendencies that have no place in the world as we know it today. It is true that some European nations are part of the mess that is Africa but at the same time, Africa and Africans must accept that they have to take a huge blame for the current states of affair. The desperation and hopelessness, on the continent must end and end sooner than later. The task of ending such hopelessness and establishing a society where our people, especially young men and women, will have hope and hence see no need to ‘escape’ and/or be in a constant search for and pursuit of a promise of a ‘better life’ abroad is indeed a responsibility of Africa and Africans. We must fix Africa. We must be able to imagine and create a society in which our young people have opportunities to have a fair shot at life. Equally, we just must find ways to teach our young men and women that they can share in in creating such a vision and that they can dream of a better Africa and work for it. We must teach them that they can and, in fact, they do have the power, to be co-creators and deliverers of such a reality. We must find ways to motivate and inspire them through exemplary, visionary and decisive leadership. We must teach our young people to believe in Africa, to see something better in Africa, to love Africa and to be proud of Africa since by so doing we shall have created defenders of the continent; people who will toil to make Africa better as opposed to dreading the continent. We must teach our children that hardwork pays by creating an environment where merit is truly rewarded and laziness in painful. Surely, we must establish a pathway to eradicating situations where our young people think of moving into Europe to marry and get married to Europeans as a means to ‘escape’ hardship and allow them to marry anyone from anywhere because they have found true companionship and love. This is a value that we must not trample upon.

Unfortunately (may be not), I did not tell this to that young man. I did not want to. It was not necessary. It mattered that I learned something from him. It did not matter that he heard this from me. After all, he is a happily married young European man with a young and hopeful family already in the land of abundance and full of optimism. I thought I did not want to waste energy on where there is hope; I would save my breath for use where there is hopelessness. Africa. So, I had promised myself to tell this story many times in my lifetime. I will tell it in Africa, in an African language to an African audience soon. And then again later and again and again and again. Until someone hears it.

Meanwhile, I wished the young man knew that I may be in Europe but my soul is deeply Kisii and my heart is in Africa. Thinking about it; what about if actually I were to fall (I wonder why people fall not stand or something like that) in love with a European woman, shouldn’t I be in order to propose that she acquires a Kenyan citizenship, effectively becoming a Kenyan-African woman of European descent? Shouldn’t I propose that she relocates to Kenya and that we go down to the countryside, live and work in Gusii land? After all, is that not the only true paradise, so far known to me, where bananas and mushrooms grow by themselves and one of the few places, in the whole wide world, where you still can actually drink milk for free? Is it not true that in Kisii one ought not to be worried of things as distant as how #Brexit may destroy their future?
Time to Fix the Hopelessness in Africa Time to Fix the Hopelessness in Africa Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 27, 2019 Rating: 5

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