On May 25, we will mark Africa Day. This day memorialises Africa’s struggle for independence from colonial rule. So for many African countries, this year’s commemoration will mark six decades since they gained their independence. This means that many states will be almost as many years independent as the period of colonialism.
Children born at the dawn of independence are now grandparents. By the time a person becomes a grandparent, the decades have taught them many things. They have unlearned bad habits. They have learned to control excessive appetites. They have learned what habits cause them grief and which bring reward. In summary, they have learned the principles of life.
Yet Africa’s post- independence ideological and intellectual expression has remained stagnant. Our ideological thought has remained steadfastly in the era of nationalism.
If you review most of the lectures being planned to commemorate this year’s Africa Day, you will experience a mental time travel back to the early 60s.
The theme of the talks and lectures being planned to mark the day consist of the intellectual staple of pan-Africanism, neocolonialism, colonialism, imperialism, and so on. The icons on the pamphlets and posters advertising events and lectures feature people associated with pan-Africanism like Kwame Nkrumah.
A few years ago, I attended a preparatory meeting for Africa Day in Harare, Zimbabwe. Every speaker lambasted colonialism, excoriated continuing neo-colonialism, lamented the denigration of African traditional culture, and rebuked Africans who no longer practiced some traditional customs as traitors. A few speakers accused African media for unwittingly pushing a western neo-colonial agenda.
International human rights organisations were compared to missionaries who pushed a colonial agenda under the guise of Christianity.
At that time, Robert Mugabe was steadily building a veritable dictatorship under the guise of rabid anti-western rhetoric. Yet not a single talk made any reference to the reality around us.
The hall would erupt in howls and cheering. At the end of the talks, many of the professors flew back to work in European or American universities.
African professors based in Africa went back home, envious of their colleagues going back to Europe, and wondering whether their own job applications to Western universities would succeed.
They were tired of working with ever deteriorating terms and conditions of work, the corruption that made government service ever more scarce and expensive.
And here is the tragic irony of such Africa Day talks; these distressed professors had expended much energy exorcising the ghosts of colonialism when human devils made their lives unbearable.
So I hope that future Africa Day events will shepherd a new ideological expression to articulate the reinvention of Africa.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator