Seyi and I, go way back. As far back as 1986 when we both became undergraduate students at the University of Lagos. So, a call from Seyi is one that would always generate some excitements about our common past. Today, it wasn’t a call but a chat. He was asking whether I have read Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. Well, as it happened, it was the book that has recently caught my attention, my bedside book of a sort. I mussed, thinking how great minds think alike!
Somehow, I knew that I did not buy the book by chance, something must have urged me to buy it. I was at the departing lounge of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport when I bought the book in 2003, that was almost 2 decades ago. Within that period, I can recollect that I had tried reading it twice or more and had to put it down. It was a tough read, same conclusion I had with Wole Soyinka’s “The Man Died”. First, it was devoid of pictures to attract some interests. Second, it was replete with names, events and times that I was not fully familiar with. Of course, and probably the most important reason was that it wasn’t going to put food on my table as time was a precious commodity to me. Then, I was focused on making a living and my productive hours could not accommodate any divergence to the pleasure of reading such a book that was not contributing to my professional development.
Fast forward to now, the year 2020. This time, was different. I had matured a lot within the space of two decades that all the challenges that I previously had were of no concerns in my picking the book up to read. It was the chat from Seyi that finally provided the innate reason on why I most likely had purchased the book. As Seyi was to remind me, it was a recommended text by our Political Science Lecturer, Derin Ologbenla. How could I have forgotten that, his lectures were those that I enjoyed most and always looked forward to as an undergraduate. Finance being a challenge, I couldn’t afford the books. So, any recommended text that was not freely available on the shelves of the University Library went unread. This, obviously must have been one of them, so it was no wonder that I didn’t get to read it then. It must have then been retained in my sub-conscious to be read. The human mind is a wonderful creation.
Seyi had just finished listening to the audio version of the entire book, I was probably mid-way into the printed version and we had a conversation on our different take from the book. I had talked about how impressed I was by the enormity of accomplishments that Walter garnered in his 38 years of existence on this planet, before he was assassinated by one of those left by the colonialists to rule Guyana. I had also mentioned to Seyi what a great opportunity Walter’s students must have had in listening to his lectures. For us, we are also very lucky that he refused to die with the enormous knowledge he was able to put together on the motherland – Africa. Imagine if Walter had not written this book, Seyi & I, Ologbenla and thousands of others would have been denied the opportunity to see Africa in a different light, one that is completely opposite to what the Western World has kept drumming into our sub-conscious about Africa. Through the media and historical and education texts written by Western scholars, we have been left with an under-appreciation of the development in Africa before the rude supplantation of colonization over the continent. We have been left to blame ourselves for the post-colonial development challenges of the continent with arguments that suggests that Africans are devoid of the capacity to lead themselves, arguments that fail to take account of the roughly seventy years of the cankerworm of colonization and how this has destroyed the very nature of the development trajectory of most African states.
To understand the evil unleashed upon Africans by the Europeans (and I am not talking about slavery yet, the worst of them all), permit me to use an allegory. In your mind, think of Africa as a wooden mainframe and the Europeans as ants. The pre-colonial, colonial and neo-colonial actions of the Europeans should be considered as the period of ant infestation and attack on the mainframe. Now, with the appropriate treatment, the ants have been chased away from the mainframe but that doesn’t mean that all will now be well with the mainframe. Blaming the mainframe entirely for its current weakness (indeed some are justified, as one can argue it should have resisted the ants) will be injustice.
The challenge with leadership in today’s Africa, and for years to come, will always be how to restore the lost strength to the mainframe. There are a couple of brilliant ideas available in the public space on how to achieve this. However, we should continually challenge three things:
- Any discussion of Africa’s development that fails to acknowledge the retrogressive impact of Europeans arrival on our shores;
- Thoughts and expressions that argue that the Europeans have left and Africa is now in the hands of Africans and they have not achieved development for Africans. Have they really left?
- Complacency – Dropping our guard and allowing the physical, cyber and other means of colonization from other fronts. The Chinese are currently making in-roads into Africa, this will leave us worse-off than the Europeans did.
Now, to Professor Ologbenla, the little acorn you sowed in 1986 has now become a full blown Oak. You should be satisfied in ticking off on your notes that I have now fully read your recommended text and am fully persuaded that colonization was evil. So are its aftermath.
Seyi, just like you I do not agree with Walter on all his conclusions but many of them are difficult to refute and argue against. As Larry Davids (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), will say they are “pretty, pretty, pretty good”. I hope in the coming few articles to address this. By the way, thank you for your friendship over the years, I don’t get to say this often!