Damn­ing judge­ment of fel­low Africans

Has The Cap­i­tal­ist Nig­ger hit a sen­si­tive nerve or two?

Finweek English Edition - - Economic trends & analysis - BY DAVE LUBBE lubbed.EKW@ufs.ac.za

IN SOUTH AFRICA, where po­lit­i­cally cor­rect be­hav­iour and lan­guage are high on the agenda and where racism is an ex­tremely sen­si­tive is­sue, you’re struck im­me­di­ately by the word nig­ger in the book The Cap­i­tal­ist Nig­ger.

The book was among the 10 top sell­ing ti­tles for many weeks and was writ­ten by Chika Onyeani, a well-known black Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist who pub­lishes the pa­per African Sun Times. It’s the only weekly “African news­pa­per” in the US and Onyeani is also its ed­i­tor.

He was born in Nige­ria and moved to the US about 30 years ago. As a sought-af­ter in­ter­na­tional speaker he has re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards, such as that of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Coloured Peo­ple, which hon­oured him with the Black Her­itage Hu­man­i­tar­ian Award in 2004. In the Six­ties he was the youngest Nige­rian diplo­mat in the ser­vice of his coun­try and was de­ployed in sev­eral coun­tries.

To dis­cuss a book like The Cap­i­tal­ist Nig­ger in such a lim­ited space is risky for a writer. As a black African, Onyeani can’t be writ­ten off as a racist; as a white African, some peo­ple will cer­tainly brand me a racist. But let’s take the risk and give read­ers a few is­sues to think about.

He ex­presses, to put it mildly, a damn­ing judge­ment of his fel­low Africans. He ac­cuses them of lazi­ness and a lack of cre­ativ­ity; he says that they can’t look af­ter them­selves (pro­duce) and never stop beg­ging for hand­outs from rich coun­tries.

He says they’re still the slaves of their for­mer “masters” (colo­nial­ists). He points out, for ex­am­ple, that Nige­ria is the world’s sev­enth-largest oil pro­ducer but that crude oil is ex­ported and they are largely de­pen­dent on im­ported fuel. “It is a very sad sight to see the cit­i­zens of a coun­try which has so much oil queu­ing in lines for hours and even days to buy gaso­line,” he says.

The core of his ar­gu­ment is that Africans will not ac­cept per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for their cir­cum­stances and al­ways blame oth­ers for their mis­for­tunes, poverty, dis­ad­van­taged cir­cum­stances and hard­ship.

Onyeani com­pares the sit­u­a­tion in Africa – where many coun­tries ob­tained their in­de­pen­dence from their colo­nial pow­ers decades ago – with coun­tries like In­dia and Is­rael, which are just as “in­de­pen­dent” but have achieved a great deal more in eco­nomic and other fields than the African coun­tries.

He could prob­a­bly have added the for­mer East­ern bloc coun­tries, which in many cases were freed from the Com­mu­nist yoke long af­ter the African states but had to learn in a short time how to sur­vive in a dif­fi­cult, freemar­ket en­vi­ron­ment. He even goes as far as say­ing that Africa is worse off to­day than when it ob­tained in­de­pen­dence.

How­ever, his crit­i­cism doesn’t stop at the blacks in Africa. He says that many of the black res­i­den­tial ar­eas in a coun­try like the US are “a mir­ror im­age of African coun­tries: a de­pen­dency on oth­ers to pro­vide it with all they ever need…” He points out that shops that are run by blacks in such ar­eas be­come bank­rupt and that other groups, like the Chi­nese, move in and make a huge suc­cess of sim­i­lar busi­nesses.

Onyeani at­tributes many of Africa’s prob­lems to poor lead­er­ship and refers to, among oth­ers, Idi Amin as a “buf­foon”, Paul Kagame as “an­other mil­i­tary id­iot” and Doe, Bokassa, Abacha and Sese Seko as “mil­i­tary men of ques­tion­able char­ac­ter – im­moral and il­lit­er­ates”.

There’s no doubt that Onyeani has made many en­e­mies among his fel­low Africans. How­ever, it’s strik­ing that on the In­ter­net chat rooms many black Africans have con­grat­u­lated him on his hon­esty and praise him for hav­ing the courage of his con­vic­tions to name Africa’s sins.

Is this harsh and ex­tremely deroga­tory book by Onyeani the prod­uct of a bit­ter man who has turned his back on Africa and is spread­ing his venom? I don’t know, but he starts the third-last para­graph by say­ing he’s proud “to be an African… to have been born an African…” Then he of­fers his ad­vice to Africa in the form of 16 points.

Here and there you hear “good sounds” com­ing out of Africa – and that’s en­cour­ag­ing. How­ever, the ques­tion re­mains: how long will Africa re­main the cor­rupt beg­gars’ con­ti­nent and joke of the world? When will Africa re­alise that ev­ery­one who loves this won­der­ful con­ti­nent can make a con­tri­bu­tion and must co-op­er­ate to cre­ate a fu­ture for the gen­er­a­tions to come?

When will the spir­i­tual yoke of colo­nial­ism and apartheid be shaken off? When will we stop liv­ing in the (some­times tragic) past? How can we pre­vent Africa from merely sink­ing fur­ther into the morass of poverty, hard­ship, cor­rup­tion, ne­po­tism, poor lead­er­ship, cru­elty and bar­baric wars?

Per­haps much of Onyeani’s crit­i­cism is re­lated to poor cor­po­rate gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship. Let’s also in­volve SA in the dis­cus­sion. The King re­port (the “bi­ble” of cor­po­rate gov­er­nance in SA) is ac­knowl­edged world­wide as one of the best doc­u­ments on the topic. Sev­eral other African coun­tries, es­pe­cially in south­ern Africa, say that they use the King re­port as the ba­sis for ef­fec­tive gov­ern­ment man­age­ment. It’s a wide-rang­ing doc­u­ment that deals with cor­po­rate gov­er­nance un­der the fol­low­ing seven guide­lines: • Dis­ci­pline • Trans­parency • In­de­pen­dence • Ac­count­abil­ity • Re­spon­si­bil­ity • Fair­ness • So­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity

If those guide­lines were ap­plied con­sis­tently, con­tin­u­ously and fear­lessly it would make a great con­tri­bu­tion to en­sur­ing good cor­po­rate gov­er­nance. Isn’t that what Africa needs? Isn’t it time Africa stopped hold­ing end­less meet­ings/sym­po­siums/con­gresses/ con­fer­ences where some or other wide-rang­ing “poli­cies, pro­ce­dure doc­u­ments, char­ters, plan of ac­tion” are drawn up and which al­most never have any tan­gi­ble re­sults?

Isn’t it time to ac­cept full re­spon­si­bil­ity for Africa? Isn’t it time to look be­yond the crit­i­cism that’s been lev­elled against The Cap­i­tal­ist Nig­ger and ad­mit that Chika Onyeani has hit a sen­si­tive nerve or two that de­mand to be faced openly and hon­estly as never be­fore?

Pro­fes­sor Dave Lubbe is as­so­ci­ated with the Univer­sity of the Free State’s Cen­tre for Ac­count­ing, where he spe­cialises in cor­po­rate gov­er­nance and busi­ness ethics for both the pub­lic and private sec­tors.

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