Sugar Cane People
Mauritius, to many Africans like me, was just a sugarcane country with beautiful beaches but my recent visit (I was there for African Leadership Network's Africa Awards) has been a good lesson in humility for this proud Ghanaian.
(Sega is the national dance of Mauritius. It has origins in the music of slaves on the island, and is usually sung in creole)
For the first time in my life, I was embarrassed for the country of my birth. This is not to say, I wasn’t aware all along of the many plagues that accost us. Far from that. I was embarrassed because, in the past, anytime the issue of development came up, Ghana got to be compared to our immediate neighbours; and once you do that, we are not faring badly at all.
Sometimes also, there’s the tendency to compare Ghana to the US and the UK and we would immediately point out how old those countries are, compared to our meagre 1957 date of birth. I was a proud Ghanaian with lots of excuses that made me comfortable but Mauritius knocked them all out without a blink; and I felt naked and humiliated. Please, if you don’t know much about Mauritius, I will encourage you to do some reading.
I have finally come to the conclusion that Ghana; and pretty much most of Africa, is where it is because we don’t have enough people who really care enough. I have observed that in my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, we complain about electricity when OUR lights go off, we complain about water when OUR taps don’t flow, we complain of the health care when we or someone we love is sick but as long as we are not immediately affected by the social problems around us, we don’t care. I believe this lack of interest in the bigger picture, the communal, is our country and continent’s biggest handicap.
In fact, one of the nicknames of Ghana’s late president JE Atta-Mills, was “dzi wo fie asem”, which simply means “mind your own business”. That sounds like good advise till you realise that you indirectly smoke what your neighbour smokes, and drunk drivers don’t often die alone, they take a lot of innocent souls who are minding their own business along with them. No culture, or people or person is really an island.
When Africans, especially the empowered, the elected, the educated, start caring enough, this continent will finally break free from the shackles of oppression, poverty, hunger and death that hold us. This continent has been exploited by others long enough. The least we can do for her as her children, is to care, provide and protect her but we are turning out to be worse than the colonialists and imperialists we so often accuse.
I dream of the day when the African will refuse to drive a certain kind of car because their conscience won’t allow them to park a car worth $250,000 or even $50,000 by a rubbish dump or throw a lavish banquet when the children of their employees go to bed hungry.
I dream of the day when our politicians will stop flaunting their Armani suits, Tag Heuer spectacles, rolex watches and fully equipped Toyota Land Cruisers, whilst they convince teachers and doctors that the country is broke so they can’t get a raise.
We must rise above the level where the only thing honourable about the people we call “honourables” is the labels on their backs, the size of their bank account and how beautiful their young wives and lovers are and not the fulfilment of their assignments.
I implore every African leader to visit Mauritius and learn what good leadership can do for a people, even if all they ever had was terrible bouts of slavery, sugarcane and beautiful beaches. We have no more excuses.