Africa and the Western World – a fragile relationship… or … Do Africans Hate Westerners?
We live in a world where one can find a lot of hatred and the resulting acts of violence. The Palestinians do not like the Israelis and the Israelis have no love for the Palestinians and we read the results of it on a daily basis…death, violence, and war between two people for the same land. In Northern Ireland there has been so much blood shed over the years that at times it was almost normal. There are tribal, power, and precious resource conflicts in Africa from Sierra Leone to Ethiopia.
The African wars have extinguished the lives of millions while at the same time most of us in the West are barely aware of he turmoil and violence in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo where hundreds of thousands have been killed in recent years, or the war of cultural, political and religious dominance in South Sudan that is never-ending, the continuous violence in Burundi, the clans warring in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the list is endless.
Besides the above, there are things happening in Africa that have to do with the haves and have-nots. An inner conflict that is rooted in deep resentment of missing out in life, missing out on even on the very basics of life itself. It is like one standing outside of a house that is surrounded by a fence, looking in at the festivities, the music, the food, the joy while one’s stomach growls with hunger and hopelessness.
Anti-western resentment is nothing new in Africa. It has been there for many years. It goes back to the colonial rule of France, Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Spain and others stripped Africa of its resources and its people, divided kingdoms, tribal lands into colonial territories regardless of the impact on the people who lived in its borders.
Today, freedom has come to Africa, but for most that freedom is in word only, in reality the average African is still bound, no longer by colonial shackles, but a continuance of the spirit of colonialism. There is still a lack of democracy, for the most part it is simply a slogan, there is the lack of opportunity, a lack of affordable schooling, healthcare, housing, all resulting in a heavy hearted, broken spirited African. The greatest frustration for the African is the loss of dignity since the present condition presents Africa as the beggar with tin cup on hand, while some of the most precious resources in the worlds lie beneath the land.
This lack of power, this lack of economic opportunity, lack of food brings on the feelings of living outside of the seeming paradise of the west, looking in occasionally by watching a show from the west on TV at some wealthy relatives house and seeing the opulence of the west while living without. Such lack, such lack brings poverty of spirit, such feelings of economic impotence, produce anger, hatred and violence as we see in various parts of the world including in Africa. I have encountered people in Africa who during a conversation would spew out their frustration with life and blame it on the West, the World Bank, the IMF, the UN, on Britain, France, and America or in some cases I heard a Ugandan Radio DJ mumble about western ecology do-gooders who want us to continue living in primitive ways, fetching our water from the river, having no electricity. They expect us to live in our huts while they live in apartments with running water, TV, electricity and the like and they wants us not to enjoy the comforts of a modern life…hmmm.
In Kenya there is the mysterious Mungiki sect, which has rejected western ways and western values and foreign religions, western dress and turned back to the African roots, African ways, African Tribal Spirituality.
Like the Mau Mau, which they attempt to emulate, they wear dreadlocks, take oaths of various kinds, sing traditional songs, pray to Ngai (Kikuyu for God) toward holy Mount Kenya. The Mau Mau are respected in Kenya today as the freedom fighters of yesterday (in the west Mau Mau were for the most part considered terrorists and never freedom fighters), the Mungiki however, are simple thugs, who appear as Mau Mau on the surface, but not in spirit. Their communion is snuff, they do not drink alcohol, but some strange concoctions, they claim to be two million in number, their very name means multitude. They come from the slums of Nairobi, from rural areas around Nakuru, they have nothing but time on their hand which allows their frustrations and grievances to brew into lethal poison. They have no jobs, they are angry, feel the loss of power and want to restore the former glory of pre-colonial Africa, while rejecting everything that is western. They even prey on women in western clothing, forcibly performing female circumcision on some of them.
The Mungiki sect members are simply frustrated, angry men who want to gain power over others and impose their ways on Kenya. In recent times the government has arrested many of them as the Mungiki members tried to violently take over the Matatu trade (mini-bus service). Today the leaders are in jail licking their wounds and many of the members of the Mungiki sect have scattered back into the slums where no doubt they might continue dreaming of power, wealth, and ways that they desire.
The Mungiki group simply shows what people in poverty; people without power and representation will do in order to gain a voice. Such groups are usually incited by hatred against those whom they see as responsible for their misery. This may be the government and often includes the West and its past and present actions which in their mind has led to present predicament of Africa as a third rate economic power where those that go without outnumber those who have a reasonable income, where there is no middle class and the African elite ignores the plight of the masses.
The question one may ask, one that I have been asked even in recent weeks - “Do Africans hate Westerners?” Are Africans like the Mungiki group? Is it safe as a westerner to go to East Africa or will my life be in danger?
I was flying from Entebbe, Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda. I had a few minutes to have a bite to eat. As I approached the counter of the restaurant, I overheard a man with a South African accent tell the woman behind the counter about all the evils of the United States. He was a giant of a man, his dread locks draped down his back, his hands were enormous in size, his upper body looked like that of a prize fighter. I love telling westerners about Africa and attempt to paint a picture of the way it really is. I also enjoy telling Africans about America (citizen by choice, not birth) and there I tell them both the good and bad sides of it. I do not like when someone outright misrepresents either. So, in spite of his size, his sort of menacing look, I chimed in with “that is not right.” A sort of argument ensued and he acted as if he wanted to pop me on the head. I did make my point with the woman behind the counter and sort of rescued the reputation of America since I knew her from previous trips through the airport. Others had gathered around, most of them Ugandans who thanked me for standing up for what was right and invariably they had some relative or former neighbor in the USA or Canada and would love a green card themselves.
As I walked toward the plane across the tarmac, to my surprise the South African Rasta man and about 12 of his buddies joined me. Their manner toward me was not at all friendly. They made a few remarks about “damn Yankee.”
Air Rwanda was a 16-passenger contraption, which meant that I was in tight quarters with a group that did not like me. Their manager was a Caucasian with a German accent, and we began to converse in my mother tongue. As the flight began, the tension ebbed as the South African Rasta Band (I personally love Lucky Dube’s music who is from South Africa) lit their communion elements and began to space out. By the time we landed in Kigali, we were all laughing and smiling. I quickly passed through customs, while the band was held up as the soldiers in custom examined plastic sacks with green matter in them. Even hostile people can be turned around as you get to know them, sometimes as in my case with some herbal help. Though this group
Africans may dislike Western policy, they will grumble about the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, there will be comments about the American non-policy in Africa, continued colonialism by France and Britain, but Africans love meeting people who respect and accept them as they are. One thing that they deeply resent is the Bwana manner in which many Westerners come to Africa.
Sunday afternoons in Kampala were always a treat for me. I gathered up a bunch of newspapers, “New Vision, Monitor, Daily Nation and a few others” and usually had a bite to eat at the City Bar Restaurant. A quiet place just off of Kampala Avenue, surrounded by a nice hedge, decorated with trees; there was always a shady spot while I had a steak sandwich made with a fresh baguette, a real treat in Kampala.
My peaceful interlude was interrupted by shouting coming from a man with an American accent, telling the waitress that she was stupid and should go back to her village in the bush instead of being a waitress.
The East Indian manager rushed out and tried to calm the situation down to no avail. Some of the African guests shook their heads and mumbled something about stupid mzungu…Of course I could not resist, I got up and walked over to his table and introduced myself as a fellow American. His countenance however remained on code red, anger surfacing. I leaned over and simply told him, “You and I are guests here, and our actions here shape how Ugandans will feel about us.” Why don’t you be a real man and apologize to this waitress.” He told me to go the nether regions of the universe and stomped off.
On another occasion I visited a slum in Nairobi with a nurse and on the way up a steep hill during the long rains our car became stuck in churning red mud. It was the very place where some of the Mungiki sect members hung out. A few young men approached us and it looked not too promising by the scowl on their faces. I took the initiative and got out of the car…”Imagine, a mzungu stuck here of all places, I am so glad you came to help without me even asking.” A big smile on my face, using humor and acceptance as a weapon that disarms hostility and anger…. It worked and a few shillings, handshakes and smiles later we were on our way.
In most instances, it takes graceful acceptance, a smile, a dash of humor and communication that is non-hostile. People think they may dislike and hate someone who is a Westerner, an American, Canadian, German, but then they meet you face to face and get to know you and the prejudice, the hatred is evaporated in graceful ways. People may think that they are angry, it is what happens after one meets them, spends some time one on one and fiery anger becomes doused by meaningful communication…jon
Below you will find a most humorous excerpt taking from BBC's Focus on Africa - April 2003 issue. It is written by an imaginary African President and shows the spirit in which one has to move with the West in order to get more AID. It made me roar with laughter, I hope it does the same to you.
Letter From The President
What a great year it’s been so far, for traveling, meeting presidents and shopping!
First stop: Paris and a chance to climb the Awful Tower and shake the hand of the great Jacques Giraffe. What a charmer: beautiful manners, elegant arm movements, tall, and no dandruff on his suits!
And in return for saying “bonjour” and telling the great Giraffe how right he is to stand up to the dreadful Blair and Bush, we eat well, drink well and get our wallets well stuffed with Euros.
And then there’s the shopping. Not a bad place, Paris, particularly for my great friend and hero Robert (give me my land back) Mugabe who hasn’t had too many shopping opportunities recently, confined as he’s been to downtown Harare because of sanctions and a ban on presidential globe trotting.
This was a real opportunity for Uncle Bob to walk the Champs Elysees, buy a few spades to dig all that land he’s seized, and choose some suitable strong boots for his dear wife Grace so that she can stand in comfort in those bread queues back in Zimbabwe.
Next stop: London and a chance to stand close to God by standing close to Tony Blair. And in return for telling him how right he is for standing up to Saddam and the greasy Giraffe in Paris, I get my bulging wallet stuffed with great British pounds and my bulging stomach stuffed with (not so great) British food.
Next it’s off to Washington and a photo opportunity on the White House lawn with the no-brained baby Bush. And in return for telling him how brainy his is, and how absolutely right he is about everything from Iraq to the superiority of American culture over French culture, I have my suitcase stuffed with American dollars and my stomach stuffed with pretzels.
The Bushman is so easy to deal with, PP. You just talk to him about shared enemies:
“Mr. President, Saddam is pointing his weapon at me. Mr. President, Bin Laden was seen yesterday making mustard gas on my border. Mr. President, Islamic fundamentalists are praying for my overthrow.”
Immediately, he summons the Congo-Lizard Rice (who watches her weight and never eats rice) and the very rum, Rumsfeld. He orders them to send me tanks, planes, machines guns, water pistols, land grenades, hand grenades, and everything I need to deal with the opposition. We share a little prayer and another pretzel. Neither of us chokes.
On the way home I drop in to see the Colonel in Tripoli. He greets me in his desert tent - girl bodyguards, guarding his body.
I tell him of my meeting with Europe and America’s top brass.
“They’re hypocrites,” I tell him. “They’re Christian fundamentalists intent on destroying Islam. They have eyes on you and your oil. They will not rest until the great Gadaffi and the great Jamahiriya are no more. Africa’s future and the Arab world’s future are in your hands. Only you can save us.”
I leave Tripoli with eight camels and enough oil to last me a year. Great man, Gadaffi.