Wed., september 24 2008
When, last year, an American molecular biologist, James Dewey Watson, tried to connect race with development (or underdevelopment), the reaction of Blacks was predictable.
Instead of reflecting soberly and pondering over what could have made them the poorest everywhere they found themselves on the globe, they cast racial invectives at the Nobel laureate.
Who said Blacks are inferior to Whites? many queried, and came to the conclusion that Professor Watson’s observation that Blacks, genetically, had a problem which had inhibited development and advancement was laden with racial undertones and should, therefore, not only be condemned but dismissed.
We have still not been able to explain why Blacks everywhere, from Africa, the mother continent, to the US, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Brazil, name them, have not exhibited the same development acumen as others, even though in some cunning way nature’s resources are available to them in abundance.
Blacks have never failed to remind the rest of the world that the evil effects of colonialism, slavery, racial discrimination and unfair trade practices have collectively conspired to impede their progress.
While blaming these external forces, which are real in a way, we have never been able to look at ourselves to determine how far our actions and inaction have contributed to the perpetuation of our underdevelopment and impoverishment. We did not want to find out why a country like Zimbabwe (until it gained Black majority rule), with a small minority White population could have a vibrant economy in the midst of other poor neighbours.
In the same way, we did not bother to find out why South Africa, with its minority White population, could command an economy comparable to those in the so-called First World countries when the rest of the countries in southern Africa could hardly feed their populations. No one should tell me there is gold in South Africa. Our own Obuasi, one of the richest gold mines in the world, is here and there is nothing to show for it.
The problem can, therefore, not be just about slavery, colonialism, unfair trade practices and lack of natural resources. It goes deeper than these things. And that is the cruel reality. I listened to Mr Joris Watenberg, the guest on the Kwaku-One-On-One programme on TV3 on Sunday, September 14, 2008 and what he said set me thinking.
He said Blacks had KNOWLEDGE, while Whites had INTELLIGENCE. He equated Knowledge to Energy which is static and Intelligence to Light which is in motion. So while the former is static, the latter is always on the move. He gave an example. Ask a Black person to move from Accra to Tema and he will give you a thousand and one excuses why that assignment cannot be executed — the road is rough, the weather is unfriendly or the task is just impossible. On the other hand, tell a White man to travel to Tamale and he will do everything to get to Tamale and even go beyond, without offering excuses for failure.
You cannot call this racial prejudice because Watenberg is a Black man and a Ghanaian, so you cannot say he wants to spite Blacks. May be he is just trying to tell us the truth, the naked truth. To us, everything is IMPOSSIBLE. To others, it may be difficult but it could be done. The result is there for all to see. While others have overcome the deficiencies of their miserable past to become great nations, we still continue to blame the past for today’s problems.
Japan has emerged from the devastation of two atomic bomb attacks in 1945 to become the second most powerful economy in the world. China accepted the challenge when the West described it as backward and primitive to become the miracle nation of the 21st century. During the Cultural Revolution, when China closed its doors to the outside world, Chairman Mao Zedung urged his people to prove either of two things: Either to prove the West right that they (the Chinese) are good-for-nothing or prove them wrong. With their national pride at stake, and their very existence on this earth as human beings under question, the Chinese accepted the challenge and went into action.
Today, every Western company worth its sort is struggling to have a foothold on Chinese territory and capture a piece of that huge market. With Hong Kong and Macao back to Chinese control and Taiwan likely to follow soon, China is the next world superpower in the making.
What the US and its allies did not know at the time was that most of the so-called dissidents who sought refuge in the West were brilliant Chinese students who were deliberately sent out to study science and technology in American and European universities. The US and its allies welcomed those so-called dissidents and gave them access to all their training facilities, while indoctrinating them on the virtues of capitalism in the hope that they would return to China to change the system.
The so-called dissidents actually returned home in a way the Americans thought was clandestine. What they did not know was that those Chinese returned home with special skills. Today, when they look back, the Americans have realised rather too late that all their secrets in science and technology, all their business and trade tricks, all their military and intelligence gathering secrets have been acquired by the Chinese.
Today, the whole world has come to accept the fact that the Chinese are not backward or primitive and they are still progressing. A piece of what they are capable of doing was showcased at the recent Beijing Olympic Games.
With a population of more than 1.3 billion, the Chinese do not rely on food aid to survive. They grow rice, their main staple, in abundance. So they can afford to do what pleases them without any fear of blackmail from any quarter. They are their own masters now. Do we have any lessons to learn as Blacks?
Can we say the same thing about Blacks? Almost everything that one needs to survive on this planet is in Africa, yet this is the continent where poverty, hunger, disease and misery have made their homes. With all the fertile land, its rivers and lakes, Africa is always on donors’ list for food aid.
When parts of the world started experiencing spiralling food prices, our immediate response here in Ghana was not to galvanise the people into action to till the land but to take the short route of reducing import duty on imported food items. By doing so, we have succeeded in making a few food merchants richer and kept in serious business crop farmers in foreign lands. It is sad the way we relish adverts on imported food items on our television screens and radios and in the newspapers.
Our country is among the few in the world where adverts on foreign goods dominate the local media. It is either American Long Grain rice, Thai perfume rice or a special yellow maize from Argentina, South Africa or Brazil. We import tomato paste which is marketed under local names to fool us and to give us a false sense of adequacy. Do we have any excuse for importing onion, pepper, fresh tomato, lettuce and cabbage from a Sahelian country like Burkina Faso?
To come to think of the fact that the Volta River flows from the northern part of the country and drains wastefully into the sea in the south, without any attempt to harness this large volume of water for agriculture, tends to make some of us to believe that, after all, Watenberg may not be wrong.
Our leaders have lost focus and have come to the conclusion that the only way they can deliver this continent from these afflictions is through begging.
Every day our leaders leave behind their rich resources to attend one aid conference or another. Some countries have built multi-lane expressways and are looking forward to super-highways, while, in our case, we make noise, expecting the world to celebrate with us whenever we succeed in pouring bitumen on a few dusty roads. We are excited about very simple things. Look at Tetteh-Quarshie in this 21st century. We do not aim at the best but look at the rest who belong to our miserable class and applaud ourselves.
At the Paralympics in Beijing, we saw people in wheelchairs with various forms of disability playing basketball. Others have taken part in other events, including swimming, racing, discus throw and many others. Here, even persons with the slightest limp stand by the road side begging for alms because our society has not made any serious provision for such people. Our world is always different from that of others.
Recently, the Minister of Trade, Industry and PSI expressed concern over the proliferation of second-hand items, including used pants, socks, brassieres, towels, handkerchiefs, cutlery, mattresses, among many others, on the local market. The minister appealed to the conscience of the importers to halt the importation of those items or face a legal challenge.
But what can we expect in a country where all we know is to import in the name of trade liberalisation, without any effort to feed the local market with locally-produced goods? What can we expect in a country with such an insatiable appetite for anything foreign, including imported orange, apple, pawpaw and mango? What do we expect from a country whose people have lost all sense of national pride and, therefore, see nothing wrong clothing themselves in dresses thrown away by others or eating in plates that were collected from hospitals overseas?
The bottom line is that most of our people cannot afford anything in its brand new form because of poverty. So we all drive second-hand vehicles, wear second-hand clothes and eat in second-hand plates. If the business people stop bringing these things into the country, they themselves and those who rely on them in the business chain will be jobless; many workers may never sit behind the steering wheel of their own vehicles and a lot of us and our children may walk naked on the streets.
It will, therefore, need a serious national effort, not sermons, to rid this country of second-hand goods. Nothing second-hand is justified, not even if it had been used for just a day, and it will be a mistake to make one look dignifying and the other not. No self-respecting people should patronise what has been discarded by others. It means confronting our national problems headlong and solemnly pledging that we shall not continue to live at the mercy of others, nor shall we remain in their shadows for ever.
By Kofi Akordor