Perfidy Shrouded in Respectability

Until the Lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter – Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

In his analysis of Africans, Lord Lugard wrote the following in page 70 of The Dual Mandate by F. D. Lugard, 1926.

In character and temperament, the typical African of this race-type is a happy, thriftless, excitable person. Lacking in self-control, discipline, and foresight. Naturally courageous, and naturally courteous and polite, full of personal vanity, with little sense of veracity, fond of music and loving weapons as an oriental loves jewellery. His thoughts are concentrated on the events and feelings of the moment, and he suffers little from the apprehension for the future, or grief for the past.

His mind is far nearer to the animal world than that of the European or Asiatic and exhibits something of the animals placidity and want of desire to rise beyond the State he has reached. Through the ages, the African appears to have evolved no organised religious creed, and though some tribes appear to believe in a deity, the religious sense seldom rises above pantheistic animalism and seems more often to take the form of a vague dread of the supernatural.

He lacks the power of organisation, and is conspicuously deficient in the management and control alike of men or business. He loves the display of power but fails to realise its responsibility. He will work hard with a less incentive than most races. He has the courage of the fighting animal – an instinct rather than a moral virtue. In brief, the virtues and defects of this race-type are those of attractive children, whose confidence when it is won is given ungrudgingly as to an older and wiser superior and without envy. Perhaps the two traits which have impressed me as those most characteristic of the African native are his lack of apprehension and his ability to visualise the future”. 

Lugard died on 11 April 1945, aged 87. He was cremated at Woking Crematorium. Since he was childless the barony became extinct.

Insofar as Lugard’s analysis is beyond reproach, some comfort could be taken from Plato who said ignorance is the root and stem of all evil. Is it likely that Lugard may not have heard, or read about Timbuktu in Mali, West Africa, which in the medieval period was a centre for wealth, culture, art and higher learning? Situated where “the camel met the canoe” (at the point where the Niger River flows northward into the desert), Timbuktu was a meeting point of Africans and the Arabs. Hence, could Lugard be pardoned over his ignorance of these important historical facts?

By nature, the black man is a calm and gentle soul, inventor, innovator, designer, artist, physician and architect of magnificent structures. Imhotep – the father of Medicine – is reported to have performed surgery, practiced some dentistry, treated tuberculosis, gallstones, appendicitis, gout, and arthritis. He lived more than a millennium before Hippocrates (about 2980 BC). Once Kings and Princes, today he is a mere shadow of himself only to be despised and loathed. He is not safe within or beyond his native lands and as such, besides elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lions, and cheetahs, etc., he should be classified as an endangered species.

To gain insights and stay abreast of the current levels of contemporary knowledge in various sectors, occasionally I look at the websites of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), aid and donor agencies. Now, let us examine closely the perfidy shrouded in respectability. Claiming to be transparent, some organisations publish their brochures, or annual reports online. Thus images as reflected in figures 1 and 2 are not uncommon.

As you observe the images bear in mind that an opinion is like a nose –every person has one. Often embellished with captions such as their ‘good work’ in Africa, at first glance the images seem harmless, but upon closer scrutiny, their insidious nature begins to emerge. These images have an uncanny way of appealing to human emotion; can give rise to warped perceptions, and implicit bias. Moreover, they also serve as conduits for soliciting financial support from unsuspecting patrons or readers. The sad reality is executives within organisations that rely on this sordid approach to development actually believe they are making a positive difference.

Donating 1, 2, 3, or even a dozen goats to stave off food insecurity, and images of happy African children gathered around a borehole tap are tantamount to taking the piss. What happened to developing, supporting and implementing policies that ensure resource allocations reflect national development priorities that respond to societal demands? I have always maintained that development wished by ‘others’ is inferior and comes at a snail’s pace if it comes at all. If development is to prove sustainable it must begin with, be strategically driven and led by those who know most about their own socio-economic coping strategies.

On 11 March 2003, in his address to the Botswana National Assembly in Gaborone, erstwhile South African President, Thabo Mbeki said: ‘Africa is faced with the challenge of creating efficient and viable institutions to ensure peace, human rights, prosperity, and social cohesion. Our continent and peoples have in many instances been portrayed as half developed humans whose empty heads must be filled with the good ideas from elsewhere. Africa should not allow its image to be distorted. As part of our renewal, we need to own the institutions of critical thought so that none other than ourselves can represent who and what we are, and that we ourselves should determine what we have to do to create a better world for our peoples’.

Sustainable development has many definitions. Some of these definitions even convey a strong sense of social justice; one classic example is ‘economic progress that is ecologically sustainable and satisfies the essential needs of the underclass.’ Whilst access to water has become a mantra associated with satisfying the needs of the underclass, the adverse effects of water provision through sustained borehole drilling is a lesser concern.

In coastal areas, saltwater intrusion can lead to contamination of drinking water sources and other consequences. Primarily, groundwater depletion is caused by prolonged groundwater pumping. Other adverse effects include a lowered water table, reduced surface water supplies, and land subsidence. The consequences can be far-reaching; water shortages can hit food supplies, cause prices to soar and fuel social unrest.

Unequivocally, access to energy is crucial to human well-being, economic development, and poverty alleviation. Ensuring everyone has sufficient access is an ongoing endeavour involving many actors. In figure 3 the contrast is stark. At night the European continent is lit up, Africa is almost in total darkness. Wonder if all the homes in Europe have solar panels on their rooftops, or their electricity needs are being met through sound energy policies? Undoubtedly Africa’s energy deficit calls for an energy mix. Whilst solar electric systems do not proffer an answer to every scenario, they can be part of the solution where small pockets of energy can make a tremendous difference.

Ita is an Environment Consultant and Independent Journalist.

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