Damning judgement of fellow Africans
Has The Capitalist Nigger hit a sensitive nerve or two?
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.