A lot has been said about Xenophobia and the attacks on Africans living in South Africa. Some have called it Afro-phobia and questions have been raised on how the conclusion was drawn that it is Xenophobia and not Afro-phobia or if it is a combination of both. Regardless Africa has a huge problem on its hands and we also have an opportunity to learn from it.
I have been thinking – we have a long way to go as Africa before we are able to stand tall. But that does not mean that we are not getting there. What is happening in South Africa, sad as it may be in a way had to happen. And before you pick up stones and begin to throw them at me – hear me out. It is not a good idea to sweep your house and hide the dirt under the carpet – never has been. Because with time, the dirt will come to the surface by way of making you sick or smell or by being discovered. And when that happens — it is never pleasant. And I think that, that is what is happening in South Africa – it is at that point when stuff comes out from under the carpets.
All individuals, people, organisations, companies, countries, establishments wherever they may be have issues- there is no flaw free anything. How we deal with our issues is what sets us apart – go to see a shrink, resort to substance abuse, hire a consultant, find refuge in religion – etc. And I am hoping that South Africa – the people, the nation will work together and find a solution. Because they need to.
And while I understand the narrative that not all South Africans are taking part in the attacks and that it is just a disgruntled minority that is carrying out the attacks- I still think there needs to be more honesty in that conversation. Growing up there was a proverb my father used to recite to me – in a bid to woo me away from boys and unwanted pregnancies as a teenage girl. “Omuhara kwatwara atereza boona oruganda”. Loosely translated, when a girl gets pregnant [outside of marriage] everyone [clan, family,village] carries the burden and shame. Every time I travel, I introduce myself as a Ugandan and I am asked about Idi Amin and now of recent the anti – homosexuality law. Because for some of the 7 billion people on the planet – that is all they know about Uganda. And so time and again I have to tell a story and tactfully as well because I understand that for some I am all the Uganda they will ever see and know. It is okay not to want to want to take responsibility now but society in a way holds you accountable.
That said – I was shocked by the audio clip played on the BBC called the Africa Quiz. About six 17 & 18 year olds were taken through a ‘how much do you know about Africa quiz’. The answers were rather shocking.
Q: Name any country in West Africa apart from Nigeria Ans: Namibia.
Q: How many countries are in Africa ? Ans: 29,000
Now I understand that there were only 6 teenagers in the room and they are by no means a representation of all of South Africa. But they were from a high school in the city and not in a totally rural area. But they are representation of products of the education system. I remember having an atlas in my primary school that had all maps of all countries in the world. By form 4 , I was supposed to know all the districts in Uganda because I had to pass the geography exam. They were about 52 by then. [Today they have doubled by number. Thanks to decentralization] How do we solve this?
I also found it rather odd that one of the students referred to the rest of Africa as ‘Upper Africa’. And all this got me thinking – How much do we know about ourselves? How much do we know about the continent that we are so proud to be a part of and How much do we teach our children about their heritage? It is no wonder that thousands will die trying to cross an ocean, fleeing Africa to a said ‘promised land’. And history is going to judge us – harshly.
I came to Kampala [Capital city of Uganda- just in case] for the first time in early 2000 to do an interview for a high school I wanted to go to. I did not make it. So, I went to an ‘upcountry’ school as they call it. On my second trip to the city – my father had moved here to study and work. We had road trips every so often and he made it a point to always explain to me about the Katonga river and its role in the war. I remember eating canned beef and having powder milk as a young child. When I asked I was told – those were WFP goodies brought to schools during the war and because my parents were teachers they received portions. My father spoke about the past and he still does and because of that I am aware of the times before.
Now I understand why they say that education is key. But I also realise that it is not just education that is key – it is the right kind of education. Our curriculum has got to change. It is okay to study Shakespeare and read all his books but we have Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. We have got to start including Thomas Sankara and Patrice Lumumba in what is taught to the younger generation. It is okay to study about Napoleon and Hitler – but for the African narrative to prevail – we have got to create it.
As a wise person recently said – The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it. Participate in life instead of just watching it pass by.