Africans must solve own problems
by Salim Mansur
There is one subject that invariably arouses intense emotions whenever it gets raised, as I found in my recent travels through a portion of North Africa.
The subject is colonialism. Invariably it gets raised in just about any discussion, even if it is only remotely connected to politics and history.
Everyone has an opinion about colonialism, of how not merely North Africa but the entire continent was raped and exploited by Europe's colonial powers.
There is no room for dissent, since everyone agrees as a matter of dignity that colonialism is responsible for Africa's woes past and present. But I gamely persist in these exchanges and I point in the direction of India and East Asia to illustrate how a sufficient number of people there have turned the page on colonialism to progress in making their own future.
My observation is unsettling. If I were not a person of colour – someone whose history has been shaped by colonial power as similar to that of the people sitting with me in the cafe outside the Casbah in Algiers – I might have experienced something more physical than the conversation swirling around me.
There is no escape in such encounters from history lessons freely given.
Europe's appalling treatment of Africa is repeatedly recited and when I get a break as a fresh round of coffee is offered, I ask about the appalling treatment of Africans by Africans after the Europeans left.
This is of course impolite. I am told the conflicts in Africa are the open wounds of Europe's dividing, or partitioning, the continent.
How is it that Europe, I ask, is responsible for the division of Africa when the continent prior to colonialism was divided among several thousand tribal entities? On the contrary, Europe's partitioning of the continent was paradoxically the forceful unification of Africa into some four dozen or more states.
I point to the situation on the Indian sub-continent, in size a tenth of Africa.
If it were not for colonial rule modern India, with a population larger than all of Africa, likely could have been a patchwork of states possibly locked in interminable conflicts, instead of being the world's largest functioning democracy.
These digressions are unconvincing. I respectfully concede the obvious, that Africa is too vast and complex for generalization.
But what the folks around me in Algiers, or most Africans, will not concede is also somewhat obvious. Africa needs to be left alone, to be itself and normal, or natural, once again.
The natural state of most things is illustrated when water finds its own level. Africa needs to stop mimicking Europe and the West, to cease berating Africa to be something other than herself.
It needs a lot of energy and machinery requiring constant repair, to push water uphill. Africa has been pushing water uphill – as Albert Camus's Sisyphus rolled the boulder uphill – to no purpose.
This is Africa's grief.
Africa's genuine liberation might come when she renounces efforts to be what she is not, a poor and broken copy of Europe, and find her comfort in being and doing things in the natural rhythm gifted to her by the sun, the wind and the water of her habitat.