Reports of a Chinese man insulting Kenyans and Africans in Nairobi recently should not even be considered news.
That he allegedly called Kenyans, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, “monkeys” is something that those of us who have lived long enough know is bound to happen from time to time, and has been happening ever since foreign winds blew strangers to our shores.
It is self-deluding and naive to expect that foreigners will look upon us and see worthy human beings deserving of the full respect and consideration due to all human beings according to strictures we have been told should govern our lives and our relations.
We have taught ourselves and each other that all human beings are equal and ought to be treated as such, but we know that these oft-repeated platitudes are just the necessary ornaments of polite society. We do not believe them ourselves.
I have frequently commented in this column on the abuse that our young men playing football in Europe are subjected to, an issue that the world soccer governing body, Fifa, has tried to stamp out with little success.
Despite those efforts, monkeys calls and other degrading gestures are commonplace. Many of those athletes braving those insults would have gone back home save for the money they are making amid all the abuse.
Yes, the money. But also the fact that the abuse they have to endure at the hands of European racists, neo-fascists and skinheads is hardly less bearable than what they have to put up with on their own continent.
Governed by despots
In countries governed by despots who think that only they know what is good for everyone, and all the rest have to march the way they are told to march; in a situation where you dare not even utter a word if you are being treated unfairly, because even the expression of a grievance is treason; in a dispensation that makes impossible even to sing a song of freedom that you have been denied by people who you know were taught as kids to demand freedom, only for you to realise later that it was freedom for them, not for you; in countries where the ruler is allowed to appropriate the national treasury and use it as a personal piggy bank to acquire whimsical luxuries while his people go without basic necessities of life… What is the width of the gulf that separates you from monkeydom?
I understand that the Chinese youth meant to hurt the feelings of Africans, and I agree that something should be done about his impetuousness, including maybe to send him packing to China because he suffers from a mild case of bad manners.
Alternatively, his Kenyan hosts could decide to let him stay a little longer, long enough to learn that they are by no means monkeys. It would not cause any harm to expose him to a dose of international civic education to allow him to unlearn his stupid arrogance.
The Chinese, who have since antiquity referred their country as the Middle Kingdom, may consider themselves the centre of the world, and this alone has left a few of them with a sense of entitlement. But the Chinese authorities are not oblivious to this, and they quite recently mounted a campaign to offer civic lessons to their citizens travelling abroad.
Among the recommendations were: Not to talk too loud and not to spit in public. Nothing about monkeys.
Whatever the Chinese authorities do to admonish this churlish youth, we as Africans have to get our act together and stop acting in ways that suggest to others that maybe we are not fully human.
Primates are at a social organisational level much lower than ours, and their sense of community, though much higher than that of other mammals, is not as developed as ours. Their cognitive powers and ability to do certain things, and even articulate what they think, are similarly limited.
This should make us strive to be better than we are allowing ourselves to be, by treating our fellow members of the human family more humanely with fewer arbitrary arrests, less torture, less extrajudicial killing and more expanded spaces for meaningful and full participation of all our peoples in the governance structures and processes.
With that attained, we can laugh off whatever a drunk little Chinese boy spews when in his cups.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]