By Faithfulness Okom (University of Calabar Debate Club)
The beauty of the African continent transcends, the mosaic esque myriad of ethnicities, sumptuous cuisine, sublime and unrivalled wildlife, and the panache embodied in our regalia. The beauty of this great continent is depicted in our commonality, oneness and the values we hold dearly, irrespective of our ethnicities or nationalities in the broad sense. The values of respect for elders, of chivalry, of out rightness and veracity, these tenets and a host of others form the crux of our morality and represent the bulwark and power house of our existence.
Aversion to western value systems is understandable, even though largely laughable, ( Many African conservatives don’t support the legalization of homosexuality, because they view homosexuality as a contagious disease that will spread to their kids). The reality however is we can learn a thing or two from westerners .
I am well aware, a large chunk of this work has focused on the veneration of the African continent and the values we have, but this article is going from zero to hundred real quick. As African’s, we very crucially need to have a paradigm shift. We need to go back to the drawing board and rearrange our priorities in terms of what the bedrock of our moral framework is. It is worth pointing out first, that the archetypal African aboriginal places too much value on abstractions and symbolism, and this is the key dichotomy between our societies and western societies. I don’t want to run the risk of validating colonization, or legitimizing the notion that African values are brutish and need western saviors to infantilize us and reform them. That notion is in itself crass and barbaric. What this article seeks to do, is to scrutinize our value systems and point out our loopholes.
The problem with symbolism and abstraction, is it ignores the real, cogent issues. In the context of African tradition, symbolism and abstraction would refer to the attachment of undue value to trivial and irrelevant things often merely symbolic. For instance, the obsession with the gesture of using your right hand to present something to an adult as a younger person. Up till today, if you use your left hand to give or receive something from an elder you will be vilified, and chided. About a month ago, a friend of mine at the Lagos Murtala Mohammed Airport immigration desk used his left hand to drop his passport on the desk of a young female officer and was embarrassed and left unattended to for several minutes, because he ‘disrespected’ the lady by presenting his passport with his left hand. This trend is sickening. Not greeting an elder, or not greeting appropriately (in some cultures this would be not prostrating to greet) is almost a crime. Juxtapose this with western societies where there is a great deal of informality in terms of interaction. We lampoon whites when we see kids confidently argy bargy with their parents, in western societies, this moral laxity and ‘disrespect’ for elders is probably not also ideal, and the reality is that this is the worst and most extreme example, in majority cases parents don’t demand for god-like treatment or absolute respect, a child does not need to help his father with his luggage, or help him do the dishes to assert, or delineate his undying loyalty and regard.
Crucially, both systems of formality and excessive demand for respect on one side and informality on the other side aren’t intrinsically bad. Societies differ, and this is the beauty of the world. The decisive problem however, is that while one society attaches significance to symbolic practices, and ignores more dire dimensions of morality, like rectitude and integrity. The other society attaches no value to tangential formalities, but is focused on more momentous facets of morality like erectness. This is not to suggest western societies are perfect or even near perfect at this, but they are marginally better comparatively. A downright example is the fact that in Africa, when political leaders and government officials are caught defaulting or in scandals of corruption, they almost feel no shame whatsoever, and often these leaders receive backing from their electorate. This is due to the heterogeneity of Africa to be clear, the fact that theft from the national treasury is viewed by the members of the defaulting leader’s ethnic group as a victory to them, or their representative taking ‘his share of the national cake’. Most people often in a bid to exculpate their ‘brother or sister’ (leader from their ethnicity) will ask if he/she was the first to steal. This is why ostensibly corrupt leaders like Buloko Saraki (The senate majority leader in Nigeria), are still in office, along with a host of others who are facing corruption trials. Jacob Zuma is also another prime example of a leader without shame, even with rape allegations against him and massive misdemeanors and corrupt practices he has refused to resign or step-down, notice how just merely because brexit was successful, David Cameron resigned, notice how Andre-Strauss-Kahn former IMF president, after allegations that he sexually assaulted a maid resigned. Also notice how the former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David resigned after his involvement in the panama papers scandal, or Henry McLeish’s resignation as the first minister of Scotland, over allegations of financial dealing and most recently the reignation of the leader of the Democratic party in America on the first day of the Democratic National Convention because of an email scandal. The actuality is once, anyone is involved in a corruption scandal in the West, their respect grossly diminishes. Hillary Clinton’s email scandal played a prominent role in making sure she didnt move into the White house.
In Africa even when leaders have clearly defaulted they still have no iota of shame. A government official would refuse to attend to a person because he presented his passport with his left hand, but won’t hesitate in taking a bribe. Police men, openly receive bribes or sometimes forcefully extort cab men, but would say you are disrespectful and without home training, if you don’t bow to greet them. This is the African problem, the real immoral and nefarious people are our heroes and are sinless in our eyes, but the teenager who doesn’t help an older adult with their luggage, is reprobate, depraved and vicious.