I start 2012 contemplating how things in Africa have been and wonder why people keep stating that Africa should be learning from the West. I often wonder about this conflicting statement: Africa must learn from the West. It is usually coming from people who talk to me about independence from the West. Africa and the West's history is compounded with invasion, colonialism, post-colonialism and aid. Each has ultimately changed Africa.
I remind people that the U.S. did not give black Americans the right to vote or equal education in the first 100 years of its existence. So, to expect Africa to reach "grown-up" status in 50 years is naive. It is hard to look at the person who invaded and ruled you and honestly look to learn from them. We are human, after all.
Africa, in its present form, is about fifty years old of its current 54 countries; and each is still dealing with the consequences of the colonial power it was ruled by. Most of these countries were created with new borders and ethnic groups that were mashed together by Europe. The scramble for Africa, from 1880-1900, was a period of rapid colonization of the African continent by European powers. This period changed Africa and it is still dealing with the impact -- positive and negative.
A perfect example is Nigeria, it is 250 ethnic groups put together, with the added dimension of of Christians and Muslims in one country. A key remnant of colonialism can be found by the British occupiers who developed a train system to move goods to the ports for export, and not a train system to transport people from region to region. I call it "the One-Way Train," just like the Alaska train to nowhere. The same could be said about its roads, all heading to the south to transfer goods.
Yes, I hear the statement, Nigeria wasted its 50 years and did not improve itself. There is some truth to that, but there is more truth in the post-colonial corruption of the former master, its friends and the student with the deals that were struck to steal money from its people. Harsh, yes. But the world often blames Nigeria and never acknowledges the West's participation in the process of lending money at outrageous rates and helping keep stolen money in Swiss accounts.
Africa is still a child and needs to grow up. But it's growth has to be on its own terms. It is time for Africa to re-evaluate its 400 years of colonialism and the last 50 years of aid. Each has changed the continent in some many ways. Some of Africa is changing the norm of dependency. I see the difference in my small village where 15 years ago, we waited for the government for everything, and now we work together as a community. Just several years ago, the goal was set to build a new school by a simple formula: Every villager even those overseas like myself would participate and contribute. We were all charged the equivalence of a bag of cement to build the new school. The school is open and running and this coming year, there is a second plan in place to add 6 more classrooms and I will be contributing again.
Looking to the West is not the solution, there are actually lessons to learn from China and Brazil, and they have not been focused on the West but on the simple formula of the building of people. Africa will get the mode -- Rwanda has, though, it took so much human loss. Change is coming and Africans like myself and others are taking note to help and work towards the light of progress. It is our heritage and our parents and ancestors taught us the formula: it takes a village.