Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shell-Shocked Africans!

It's been quite a while since I did some "blogging", and when a good friend gets on your case about, you know it's finally time to put in some work.

This is my first real blog since I got to China, so in some ways it feels real special. Things are making more sense (out here) these days, and I appreciate that I'll have the chance to grow in a different way. Perhaps I'll find life's missing piece of the puzzle that eluded me both in Kenya and in the US. Every little piece of knowledge counts, and since no culture is perfect, we'd do best to adopt those beneficial portions of other cultures.

One thing that I constantly have to remind people (whenever I find myself in a foreign land for the purpose of study) is that I am not running away from home. Just because I chose to study outside doesn't mean I've abandoned my home-country forthwith; it's just my way of getting my act together before I return home. Anyone who remembers the independent research I did knows the problems I had to deal with in getting "Phytoremediation" accepted as something plausible in Kenya. So, in reality, me being in the US (or China) to better follow that path definitely makes more sense.

But....in as much as I'm not running away from home, there are probably a lot more people that actually ARE RUNNING AWAY! And since I've never been one to back down from a conversation about development, I usually talk to such people to peel away the layers of what is so bad about their home countries (especially the Africans). And it seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same: consistently, people from different countries seem to have the same answers.

"...the government is bad; misuses people's funds."
"...I want to live in this foreign land because they know how to put money to good use. Development like this can't be found in my country, and it won't be coming anytime soon..."
"....better I put my money into this foreign land....at least it'll go towards good use...."

Sadly, the list goes on and on. Now I know a lot of places have been through really bad times (especially in the case of Africa), and yes, even in those countries where things should have progressed at a much faster pace things may be lagging a bit. True, it is sad; but surely, there are definitely great things in our future.

I think that one of the biggest problems with looking outwards for answers to development is that we only see what we want to see: the beautiful exterior. Lord knows how they arrived at that beautiful exterior! No truly beautiful thing is ever achieved without great sacrifice and effort. Most of the development we see today, in some cases, is simply the result of TIME; some people (like the Chinese or the North Americans) have simply been around longer and had more time to get things right. It also counts if there's less in-fighting in the whole situation. Some people just had more mineral resources, and some people just learned to get by with the little they had (Japan, Netherlands). All these have made these people who they are.

But I still insist to people that there's more to it than just the beautiful exterior. Good sacrifices have been made....but some useful cultural norms have been lost at the 'expense of development'; and in some places serious (perhaps irreparable) damage has been done to the environment in which subsequent generations of people will be forced to live in.

I look to the underdevelopment in some parts of Africa right now, and sometimes it seems like a blessing in disguise. Like maybe, just maybe, we were required to wait for just such a time as this when we can develop our industries along 'greener' lines; a time when we can profit from all the research and the previous mistakes of those who have come before us; a time when any serious person should realize that running a country is a lot like running a good business:

"It is better for the whole country as a whole when everyone profits; not just a select few"

All the lessons have been laid down; we have all that we need. But there are a few habits that we (especially Africans) are gonna have to scrape away.

1. Blaming past oppressors for every ill under the sun. We know they did us wrong, but that is spilt milk. We have to make due with what we've been given, lest we end up like those people that Jesus spoke of "..even the little that they have will be taken away."

2. Excessive politicking - It's understandable that we strive for the Great Democracy that is espoused by the Developed countries, but I think that Democracy is truly a misnomer. Real political wisdom consists in knowing that in life there are some things that are not democratic at all. We cannot squeeze in the notion of Democracy into every little thing under the sun (for example, the recent bid to interpret what constitutes MARRIAGE in many western countries is just one such mistake!)

I am not making a plea towards tyranny or communism......but people need to understand that a healthy balance is what is needed in life. Unbridled democracy will be the end of us all. Endless politicking does us more harm than good.

3. Bad Blood - we have no time to be at each other's throats. No real distinctions based on ethnicity (or any other factor) exist in this world. There is usually only one true distinction and that's WEALTH (Those who have, Those who have little, & Those who have nothing). The sooner people realize this, the better.

As I've suggested, especially with regards to Africa, we aren't really that far behind. All that has to happen is that a series of small steps have to be taken; the PROBLEM is that these small steps have to be taken by EVERYONE. Getting a whole bunch of heterogenous people (even within a single country) to do something as ONE is the real task.

We need to be united first, and then after that, we need to make the great sacrifices that will be required of us. I have suggested before to people that Kenya, on its own, requires about "one generation" worth of sacrifice to get to where it needs to be.

I feel dismayed when I look at other African countries and see them boast of the success of China & the Asian Tiger (as if that's going to mean that there'll be more people to loan us money). Can't they see that in fact that might just be an even bigger hurdle that we'll have to contend with in the long run? That perhaps, we are placing too much trust in the perceived 'goodness' of someone else.....a costly mistake that we've already made many times before.

Bottomline, it'll be up to us to fix things! And we're going to need everyone: the hopeful, hopeless, lukewarm, shell-shocked, pragmatists, optimists and pessimists. I just pray that there isn't too large a mess left to fix when we finally have our chance to change things. But if you're with me in this, I can guarantee you that it's a worthwhile venture (devoid of instant reward), but the very stuff that GREATNESS is made of.