Christian missionary in Africa, bringing ‘enlightenment’ (photo source: Wikimedia)
“When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land.
They said,” Let us pray.”
We closed our eyes.
When we opened them, we held the Bible and they held the land.”
– Bishop Desmond Tutu, Cape Town, South Africa, 2003
Afri was a Latin term that the ancient Romans once used, to refer to the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars of the 2rd and 3rd centuries BC. The Carthaginians were a fierce, warlike tribe of men based in today’s Tunisia in North Africa and they were fighting the mighty Romans for supremacy of the region.
The term was actually a derogatory reference, meant to denote ‘inferior humans’ or ‘cave dwellers’. The Carthaginians were no match in terms of technology and sophisticated weaponry of the times. Even the ancient Greek didn’t think very highly of them, using the term, Aphrike to describe the Africans, which meant ‘searing hot, from hell’.
Throughout the ages, no one seems to have had a good word for this vast 11 billion sq. mile land mass, enclosed by great seas on all sides, where 1.1 billion souls today barely manage to survive. Yet, judging by fossils of the first upright man, the homo erectus, found in Koobi Fora, Kenya, dating back to 1.8 million years, it is a widely accepted fact that Africa is where we, as smart, scheming, winning, conquering, joking beings, came from. The Lord Almighty does like to have His ironies.
Africa was the very cradle. But that was then, things are way different now. Africa is in the throes of a century-long upheaval that I am lucky not to be a part of. Looking at the chaos there it gives one the feeling that things may not have changed much since the hunter-gatherer hominids roamed the savannahs, killing each other over a fruit or a bone.
Having ebony skins and blunt ape-like features makes the impressions of the stereotype seem even worse. If you are an African, it is a given in the eyes of the world that you haven’t seen the implementation of the term ‘rule of law’ and that you are used to being trodden upon, either by outsiders or by members of your own kind, who rule you. When an African nation holds an election, it is by default deemed to have been conducted in a crooked and unfair manner, unless there have been western observers monitoring the process.
Everybody looks down upon a black African and it is not only the whites. In fact, the prejudices against black Africans are probably more intense in the Middle-East and Asia than in the west. Remember the four Ugandan women who were groped and beaten by holier-than-thou AAP politicians in New Delhi this January while onlookers cheered them on? That would probably not have happened had they not been African.
And then there’s Africa’s ‘richest’ nation. (The ‘richest’ is inside quotes and we all know why). For a country that has the world’s 10th largest oil reserves and Africa’s second largest economy and a President who is an abstract noun, Goodluck Jonathan, one would have imagined Nigerians were one lucky bunch of folk. The reality couldn’t be further than that. Few Nigerians have benefited from all the mineral wealth.
I guess this practice of naming Christian Nigerian babies with abstract attributes was initiated by those 19th century Christian missionaries in their khaki shorts, safari hats and hottentots. Goodluck Jonathan’s wife is another abstract noun – Patience. Patience Jonathan.
Well known for her active participation in her husband’s political campaigns and more for her flowery speeches and gaffes (she once addressed little children in an orphanage as ‘my dear widows’), Patience Jonathan has her name tied to many charities in Nigeria that work with women and children. She has even managed to win some degree of international recognition for it.
Of course lending their names to charities and making token appearances and organizing photo ops is something that all First Ladies do to keep busy and to make their husbands look good in the eyes of the world.
Despite her fairy godmother-like reputation for philanthropy, Patience Jonathan has been indicted multiple times by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of Nigeria (EFCC), suspected with the laundering of millions of dollars, while her husband made his way up the corridors of power. No prizes for guesses on what happened right after her hubby came to power. The chief of the EFCC was unceremoniously replaced (the Chief is lucky to be alive).
As to ordinary Nigerians, they don’t live in an abstract noun. The noun that accurately defines the quality of their lives is shit-creek and it is a very real shit creek. They have been in it without a paddle ever since Nigeria gained independence from the British in 1960. The northern half of their nation has fallen in the hands of a bunch of loony-bin Islamists, who are far more fanatical than the Gulf Arabs, while the southern half is Christian-controlled.
In spite of the fact that they recognize each other’s messiahs and prophets and generally agree to their perceived image of God, Christians and Muslims have never gotten along, not in Africa or anywhere else for that matter. Nigeria therefore has been a recipe for disaster that has been fizzing hotter than U235 fuel rods inside a fast-breeder reactor.
Muslims in Nigeria constitute 50% of the population, Christians running a close second with 49%. The Muslims live under a strict theocracy that enforces the Islamic ‘chop-off’ Sharia law, to the letter. They are ruled with an iron fist by hate-spewing mullahs and their enforcers are the extremist groups, Boko Haram and Ansaru, both affiliated to the African chapter of the Al Qaida, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
If all this makes you think that the south is any better, forget it. The Christian half might not be as religiously extreme but they make up for it with their monumental corruption and plunder of national resources. Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, may be the president of the whole nation, but he actually rules just the southern half and even there, by name only.
Unlike most names that you and I would give to things, places, people and groups that are even remotely connected to religion, the name Boko Haram says nothing about spirituality, love, forgiveness or sacrifice. Translated, it literally means, ‘Western education is sinful’. Period.
Formally known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to Propagating the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), Boko Haram is an extreme-of-extremes Salafist group that was founded in 2002 by a looney kook cleric named Mohammad Yusef. To give you an idea of just how looney this guy was – he preached that to think that the earth is spherical is un-Islamic. Yusef was arrested and if you want to drop him a line, he now has a zip code in the Atlantic.
The group aspires toward a political system modeled after the one that the Taliban had in the Afghanistan of the 90s. Followers are told to believe that faith in Allah is supreme and supersedes human reasoning, liberalism and even humanism. It rejects all kinds of scientific innovation, invention and discovery. It places violent jihad as the central theme of its existence. The Nigerian government (like the Pakistanis with the Taliban) wants to negotiate with them. How does one negotiate with evil?
Boko Haram is a part of a core group of violent jihadists that form around 0.5% of the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims and these 0.5% have outlived their stay on earth and need to be relocated elsewhere in the solar system. It is time we had a Guantanamo on Io or Ganymede. We could all vote to rename Ganymede as Abdullah if they like. I don’t care, as long as they are gone.
Presently, the group has outdone even its spiritual mentors, the Al Qaida. They are carrying out a threat they made exactly a year ago – that they would go on an abduction spree, kidnapping school girls with the intent of selling them into sex-slavery, as retribution against the Nigerian government forces who did pretty much the same to the Muslims’ in their backyard up north.
The Boko Haram’s accusations may well be true. The Nigerian forces have proven capable of rape and plunder, multiple times in the past. Poorly trained and grossly underpaid, corrupt from the bottom to the very top and fragmented along ethnic and tribal lines, the Nigerian military is a sorry apology for an army, completely incapable of facing up to a disciplined, better armed and indoctrinated force like the Boka Haram. The battle to eliminate terrorism in Nigeria is a no-contest.
For the first ten days following the kidnapping of 276 pre-teen and teenage girls from an elite residential girls’ school in the northeastern town of Chibok, President Jonathan’s ruling party, the PDP, as well as the military did very little, probably believing that the whole thing was a hoax. The gaffe-riddled first lady even made some comments in a televised media briefing which, combined with her body language, appeared to cast doubts about the kidnapping.
Until the bubble burst when the current Boko Haram chief, Abubakar Shekau, proudly claimed in a video posted Monday, that Allah had told him to abduct the girls.
When asked by a group of women who had travelled from the troubled province of Borno to meet her, if the first lady would like to accompany them back there to assess the situation on the ground, ‘Dame’ Patience Jonathan is reported to have grimaced and mumbled something like, “Go there? And get killed? Am I crazy or what?”
This is an ongoing thing so I’ll let it play itself out as we all sit at this macabre ringside and watch hapless young girls being bought and sold in the name of Allah.
The story of Nigeria is the story of contemporary Africa, the same type of events playing out across the continent in other nations over the centuries and reaching the same frothing-over, their pattern so similar as to look as if it was some kind of a best-selling playbook….
AD 1500-1800 : Africans forcibly shipped to the New World as slaves.
AD 1800s : Stories of vast deposits of mineral wealth fly around Europe’s capitals, spread by stray explorers. Determined not to make the same mistakes that the Spanish conquistadores made, tying themselves down in decades of bloody conflict with the Central and South American natives, the British send in missionaries, to ‘bring enlightenment’ or in other words, soften up the niggers.
The others, the Germans, the Belgians, the Dutch and the French are just too bloody-minded to bother with the missionary bullshit. In South Africa, gold nuggets the size of golf balls, are found on the banks of streams and rivers. Congo is lit up like a Christmas tree, glittering with diamonds. It seems almost criminal to leave all the loot to a bunch of dumb niggers who look like nothing more than those chimps that they share space with down there. European ‘trading posts’ are installed and permanent settlements follow, with military and naval support. The plunder begins.
AD 1880s : Sometimes, the colonists fight among themselves like a pack of hyenas over a carcass. The British fight the Dutch settlers of South Africa, in the Boer Wars. Understandable. The stakes are just too high. If you live on a land where you might trip over a diamond every time you go for a walk in the woods, what do you expect?
AD 1920s : Germany gets booted out of its African colonies at the end of the First World War, as large-scale retribution organized by the self-serving bunch of wolves who call themselves the ‘League of Nations’. The British roll in and just continue the degradation of the natives and rape of the resources left behind by the Germans.
AD 1950s : The Second World War ends and thanks to Hitler’s deeds, there is an awakening, a new catch phrase – human rights. The western world suddenly finds itself forced to change tack. The Europeans understand that they can no longer continue ruling Africa by force and denying the natives even a sense of dignity.
They leave Africa, but only after installing Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard-educated and groomed natives who can hold the right knife and fork and are willing to continue to rule as Western proxies just as ruthlessly and continue to aid and abet the plunder.
These new tin-pot dictators with their Gucci-clad wives are now hooked. When they go on state visits, they are given 21-gun salutes on the outside and jeered behind their backs. The time is ripe for the Exxon-Mobils, the Chevrons, the Halliburtons and the Royal Dutch Shells of the world to step in and clean up.
AD 1960s : The African nations are now free but the quality-of-life index needle remains firmly stuck in the 19th century. There is discontent in the air. Insurgencies sprout all over and the bloody struggles begin. Millions of innocents are slaughtered. Thousands upon thousands of women are raped and killed every day, this time not by the white colonials but by their own kind.
AD 1960s-1980s : The stakes get higher, it is now time for the big boys. The Europeans are swept aside. It is the cold war now, with two super-power T-Rexes fighting over control of the carcass called Africa, flaunting their fake ideologies. The two begin a proxy war, through their own set of pet rebel groups whom they proceed to arm and supply. The Patrice Lumumbas of Africa are vilified by one side and then mowed down in a hail of bullets while the other side names universities after them. Both profess a mandate to bring in ‘freedom’ for the damned millions. Both install bloodthirsty dictatorships in every two-bit nation on the continent.
AD 2000s : The dictatorships have reached a tipping point. The cold war is history. Evil decides it is time to step into the vacuum. Evil, in the form of violent Islamic militancy. Evil promises order and stability in exchange for strict theocracies and organized hate.
AD 2014 : All that the ordinary Africans are left with is a dream that only Nelson Mandela could have put so eloquently –
“I dream of the realization of a united Africa,
where its leaders join in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent.
I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses.
I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”
I hate to bust Mr. Mandela’s bubble of optimism. In order to dream one has to first stop tossing and turning, from one nightmare to the next.
For now, Africa remains the continent of the damned.