David Ogula's Shedding Black Africa's Burden says many things I wish I could write in my upcoming book about my tour through all 54 African nations. Because I'm white, the politically correct police would crucify me if I repeated his statements, even though they are true and fair.
Ogula shows how Africans bear much of the responsibility for the state of their continent.
He offers solutions.They often raise more questions. The devil is in the details. He should have spent less time pointing out Africa's flaws and more time explaining how exactly Africa can shed its burden.
Still, it's a good start.
I have some minor quibbles. For example, he writes, “The communalist spirit of African social groups, which relied on oral tradition to transmit their cultural heritage were also systematically dismantled.”
I disagree. Oral tradition lives on (unfortunately) and so does its “communalist spirit.”
What's wrong with the oral tradition?
It's an ineffective way for a society to compete in the modern age. There's nothing inherently wrong with retaining social knowledge via oral tradition. Just don't expect your society to compete against Japan, Korea, China, Europe and North America.
As Ogula himself writes, Sub-Saharans represent 12 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of world’s illiterates. Among the 14 countries where the majority of the population is illiterate, only one (Afghanistan) is not in the Sub-Sahara.
I would rarely see an African read (except the Bible or the Koran). Writing to Africans is usually a waste of time. You ask three questions and they'll answer one. That's why phone conversations are the main way to communicate.
What helped catapult humanity above apes is when we started to write and read. Ignoring that advantage puts a society at a disadvantage.
Also, Africans are more communal than the communists. They're natural communists. They look after each other. Everyone tries to soak the rich. In Africa, sharing is a must, not an option.
Therefore, no, nobody "dismantled" the oral tradition and the communalist spirit, which is a pity. It would help Africa if they got rid of those things.
Overall, I love the book. It eschews the religion of victimization. It's an excellent, take-responsibility, no-bullshit book. Below are some of my favorite excerpts.
Here are my favorite quotations from the book. I cite their location on my Kindle.
Africa in the 21st century must shed the image of impoverishment and decline evidence in black communities in develop and developing countries. They must create thriving cultures that foster innovation, creativity, economic prosperity, and growth. Africa must shed its appetite for the passive consumption of finished products from the rest of the world. Only then can black Africans raise their chins high and say they have come of age and are contributed to human progress. (Loc 109)
“Africa is a place where the thread of ancient civilization remains deeply woven into the fabric of modern daily life. This enduring bond to the distant past can be seen as Africa’s unique strength, but it is also one of its most dangerous weaknesses.” (Loc 185)
“If black Africans are to lift themselves out of poverty and disadvantage, and rise to join the global community, they must examine those aspects of their cultural heritage that are incompatible with 21st century life, and adapt to the contemporary socio-political environment, so that they can embrace the opportunities for development offered in collaboration with intercontinental partners. To win the rest of the global community, black Africa must prove itself capable of advancing its own development plans. Shedding outmoded superstitious beliefs and tribal loyalties would go a long way in lifting black Africa’s burden.” (Loc 212)
“Collectively, Africans both educated and uneducated—have failed to utilize their accumulated knowledge for their advancement. They have . . . demonstrated an inability to grasp the unremitting winds of change.” (Loc 240)
“Another burden that hinders progressive advancement among black people is misplaced alliances. . . . It is often disguised as group unity.” The general population supports “resistance to progressive change and such social norms engender a culture that perpetuates mediocrity.” (Loc 316)
“It seems as if black Africans learned all the negative behaviors of their colonizers, without absorbing or adopting the positive elements of Western culture and technology.” (Loc 344)
“Across Africa, a wide variety of superstitious beliefs have bound Africans to a world of fear and suspicion. The sight of an owl during the day is considered an evil omen; stumbling on the left foot portends bad luck, as does hitting a duck in with a car; an itching left palm is believed to portend a loss of money, while an itching right palm heralds financial gain or a gift of cash.” (Loc 405).
“It is a perplexing irony that in African societies that pride themselves on treating elders with reverence and respect, old people are frequently stigmatized as witches and persecuted. Women are particularly susceptible to accusations of witchcraft and may be tortured or murdered on suspicion of having caused harm through their supposed supernatural powers. This is especially true if they somehow fail in their role of child-bearing; in cases of infertility, childhood disease, or accidents causing the death of a child, the mother is often accused of causing the misfortune, and is persecuted by her spouse or social group.” (Loc 416).
“The burden of ignorance that superstition has placed on many Africans must be eliminated if development is to go forward on the continent.” (Loc 542)
“Africa needs a cultural reformation similar to the revolution in thought and belief that transformed Western societies during the 17th and 18th centuries and liberated the minds of Europeans from the shackles of superstitious thought.” (Loc 550).
“If the system devalues education achievement, there is a little sense of moral responsibility or personal pride of accomplishment attached to learning; intellectual development may also erode. Thus a student may pass through secondary school and even college or graduate school without developing critical reasoning, or learning how to apply knowledge effectively under changing circumstances. This is exactly the definition of ‘educated illiteracy.’” (Loc 764)
Black communities sometimes subscribe to “the notion that Western education alienates Africans from their culture and heritage.”
“Though many blame their failures on historical disadvantage, the appalling lack of progress can also be attributed, in large part, to flawed concepts of leadership, abuse of power, and self-defeating attitudes among the citizenry of post-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa.” (Loc 786)
Most African leaders use power “as a tool of oppression. . . . This attitude is deeply embedded in black African political culture, to the extent that if a man is pulled from the depth of the African forest to occupy any position of power . . . chances are he will quickly transform himself into a despot. As soon as the position is secure, the person manages the office as though they have been granted a license to convert public funds for personal use.”
“The desire to hold onto power as long as possible can be found in every type of organization formed by black Africans—even those who have moved abroad in the diaspora. Since they are socialized under systems that lack accountability, transparency, and fairness, their habits and attitudes reflect this approach to social conduct, and they may still adhere to it when engaging with fellow countrymen abroad. The cultural influence of their host country may have little mitigating effect on this behavior, which is internalized and therefore very difficult to shed.” (Loc 841)
“It’s not just the Mugabes or Mobutus of this continent who have shattered Africa’s promised, it is the often nameless, mid-level workers whose corrupt or incompetent actions result in schoolchildren not getting books, for example.”
“Black Africa has nurtured a culture that subverts its own advancement. Existing value systems do not support modern high-volume productivity, and black African nations have not been able to build financial and civic structures that will encourage the required change in focus. The prevailing socioeconomic attitudes and behaviors seem to be locked in a self-destructive dance of mutual inhibition. As an example, let us consider the economic implications of African social attitudes toward time. Africans are generally known to have a fluid conception of time, untrammeled by any emphasis of punctuality or efficiency of effort.”
“Certain perceptions also manifest as dysfunctional attitudes toward work in the modern sense, and the result has been a stereotyped view of African workers as prone to laziness, recklessness, waste, and fraud.”
There’s a “tendency of African businessmen and members of the wealthy elite to gravitate toward personal consumption, with less emphasis on increasing productivity.”
“Illicit financial flows (IFF) were the main driving force behind the net drain of resources from Africa of $1.3 trillion on an inflation-adjusted basis.”
“It remains a deeply fractured continent whose people are filled with fear, envy, and distrust of one another.” (Loc 1369)
“Most Africans . . . have failed to understand that the globalized nature of the 21st century necessitates cooperation among individuals, communities, and nations. The irony is that black Africans used to be proud of their culture and heritage, grounded in cooperation and collective effort, are unwilling to employ those values to advance African causes.” (Loc 1372)
“Students should be encouraged to challenge assumptions that arise from customary practices and long-held beliefs, so they can discover appropriate solutions to problems that their ancestors never encountered.”
“Many Africans still understand their environment in terms of mystical beliefs, rather than immutable laws of science. They rely largely on instinct and intuition, neglecting their powers of empirical observation and rational analysis.” (Loc 1459)
Nigeria has half the population of the USA but generates five percent of the US’s electrical output.
DISCLOSURE: I received an advanced copy from the publisher to do an honest review.