**NB: As soon as you finish the post please read the comments where I go into further detail that will avoid a lot of misunderstanding**
Today I was having a discussion with a couple of senior African ladies and their point was a little something like this:
“Barrack Obama is great for Africa, especially Kenyans! He will show black people all over the world that whatever we set our minds to we can achieve: Hell we can even be the president of the United States if we want to be.”
I am sure that a lot of people share these sentiments. They think of Barrack Obama as a powerful symbol of what is possible and what we can achieve as Africans.
In my opinion this is highly flawed thinking for a number of reasons.
We Have Nothing Left to Prove
Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Kwame Nkrumah, the Mau Mau, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Oprah Winfrey, Richard D Parsons and many others are among the high profile people who have shown that Africans and people with super-melanin-skin can easily dominate and excel, even in areas where they previously didn’t or even when there are seemingly insurmountable odds. This is not to mention the millions upon millions of black people who have come before us and had all sorts of achievements in sports, arts, science, medicine, philosophy…..Name it, and there is an African who did it and did it exceptionally well. And even with it’s very high AIDS rate, Botswana is one of the more prosperous nations on Earth and so we even have countries that run pretty well.
In short, ladies and gentlemen we have nothing left to prove. If you need another Ellen John Sirleaf, another Oprah Winfrey or another Barrack Obama at this stage of your African life, then the problem isn’t with the lack of role models. The problem is with you and your unwillingness to dig deep and find them.
We are Not In Control of the Symbol
At the core though, the deepest problem is that we have absolutely no control or say, as African people,over Barrack Obama and his life. We did not fund his campaign: white corporate America did that. We are not the ones who are in control of the propaganda and the image of Barrack Obama that is presented to the world: the American corporate-political power base is in charge of that. Most importantly, we are not in control of his actions. A lot of American corporations and banks are investing in Obama right now and should he sit on the seat in the White House, they’ll expect their investment to pay dividends.
Is this really the type of man that we should put on a pedestal to display to all the young people of Africa? A man over whom we have no control, no say and has never and will probably never act in our interests or those of our children.
Stop Being a Grouch, Let Barrack Be the Symbol that Africans Need
I know there are a few of you who are probably thinking, “You know what, I don’t care. I will support Barrack and what he stands for. As African people we are beaten down every day of our existence and we need someone like Barrack to lift our spirits. After all, in Africa we don’t have heroes.”
Oh really? Is it that we don’t have heroes or that we simply do not value them or cherish them the same way the West does. Could it be that the difference between a JohnF Kennedy and a Tom Mboya isn’t their significance to society but rather the way they are presented to their respective societies.
If there is one thing that I absolutely love and adore and respect about the West, it’s how they celebrate their past and the icons that shaped their past. Here in Australia, there are museums and centres that have been built all over the place to celebrate the ongoing history of a nation that is less than a few hundred years old. They have tourist centers where you get tours of the areas where the Aussies first landed. There are movies,books, short films and papers written about great Australians such as Ned Kelly. This constant over the top celebration is something I have observed in almost all Western countries.
Where the heck is our Mau Mau museum? Where is the government funded movie about the life and times of Robert Ouko and even Desmond Tutu for Pete’s sake? (Exclude the ones made by non-Africans, though they are fabulous).
We Have Had, We Have and We Will Continue to Have Heroes
The fact of the matter is this: We have had, we do have and we will forever have heroes. Whenever there is a challenge or an obstacle and someone acts against it in spite of their fear, that’s a hero. Wangari Maathai is a hero: that woman has gotten more taunting and abuse than even I could ever hope to handle. The people in the Kenyan countryside who are taking people into their homes and communities with no regard for tribe are heroes.
The only question is, as the situation in Kenya dies down, will we take a moment to celebrate and cherish these heroes? Will we write books about their courage? Will we create museums in their honour? Will we tell our children stories about their heroism? Or will we just go back to business as usual complaining about the lack of leadership and role models in Kenya.
If we are not willing to learn from Africans who do the right things well, then what gives us the right to absorb an icon who isn’t even ours. I think if I could sum up my point in one sentence it would be:
If you want to earn the right to prop up Barrack Obama on a pedestal, then first celebrate, cherish and elevate the icons and heroes in your own backyard.”
If we don’t do this, we will fall for anyone who gives us as Africans any form of hope or uplift, no matter who they are and how empty their effects will be on our lives. Got something to say about this Post? Leave a comment below!
Be blessed and bless others,
Update on 29th March 2008: Another great person that may have died quite a while ago but definitely should have a movie or a book made about him is David Munyakei. Learn more about him in the Thinker’s Room blog.