Is it fate, genetic or just sloth?

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BY PETER WANYONYI

Why is the African so helpless, so hapless, useless, pointlessly indolent in the face of grievous conditions that require decisive action?

The past six or so years have treated Kenyans to a despicable opera of corruption and bad governance, one that would have led to revolutions among any other people. It turns out that the Kenyan government is in fact one massive graft party: government officials are looting everything everywhere. The sleaze is so extensive that the National Youth Service has been turned into a free-for-all gravy train. And what’s the reaction of the wider Kenyan citizenry as their hard-earned and highly-taxed money is looted with abandon by a tiny elite who make up not even 0.0001% of the population? The general “what can I do, they’re powerful people” variety.

At the heart of this collective shoulder-shrugging is cowardice, for Kenyans are inherently a cowardly people. They fear anything and everything, and lack the genetic curiosity that drives initiative and creates greatness. But it’s not just a Kenyan problem, it is an African problem. All over the continent, one sees small, corrupt elite ruining lives of millions of people. One very rarely sees any serious insurrection, though – it’s as if the African has a mindset that precludes the thought of ever trying to better his life.

This indolence, laziness, this inability to refuse to be mistreated and to instead strive for better living – and to demand it of a ruler if one is a subject – is at the root and heart of the miserable condition of the African today. Is it fate? Is it genetic? Is it just sloth? What is it? The African and his direct descendants – be they in Nigeria or Haiti, in Congo or Papua New Guinea, in Kenya or in the inner cities of America’s cities – is at the bottom of every socio-economic indicator ever devised, and is happy to remain there. There lies, in the mind of the African, a massive centre of self-doubt, a puzzling absence of ambition that has consigned the continent and its sons to a life of servitude.

When the Europeans arrived to colonise Africa, what they faced – going by the accounts they left for posterity – was shocking. Africans were running around naked, half-beast half-human creatures caught up in superstition and ancestor-worship. The African was blessed with a fertile land and resources beyond measure, that no other continent possessed. But he did nothing with them. Nature gave him a powerful horse in several varieties, he never bothered to tame it – to this day, zebras run wild on the African plains. European settlers were able to tame zebras in South Africa and Kenya in mere days, turning them into useful beasts even as the age of the horse ebbed away. The African had lived with the beasts for thousands of years. The African’s favourite animal is, of course, the cow. But even here, we are mere beneficiaries, for our beloved but useless Zebu cattle were in fact domesticated in India and passed on through the Middle East to Africa. Nature gave Africa many species of large bovines that should long ago have been domesticated: the powerful Cape Buffalo and its forest cousin, the Giant Eland and its Common cousin, the many different species of antelope that to-date roam the plains of Africa, feeding hyenas and leopards while Africans starve to death mere metres away.

Where the Indian mahout captured elephant calves and tamed them, turning them into veritable tractors and beasts of war for conquest and growth, the African didn’t bother to even try taming the African Elephant, the largest beast on land. It was left to European hoteliers in Zambia and Zimbabwe to recruit Indians in the 70s to make this happen – today, tourists travel to those two countries to enjoy rides on the massive pachyderms. Why are we so useless even at helping ourselves? Why can’t we do such basic things as creating liveable societies? Why do we have this crabs-in-a-barrel mentality? Why do we defend whatever status quo we find ourselves in so vehemently?

This year, millions of Kenyans will starve if the West doesn’t send in food aid. The same applies to Somalia, Ethiopia and so on. And yet, wherever you look in these countries, you see lots of land, huge lakes of fresh water, teeming populations of idle, unemployed Africans – all the ingredients of successful agriculture. But we just cannot hack it. It’s therefore left to the do-gooders of Europe to send us food just so we don’t starve to death – or, perhaps even worse, jump onto boats and drown trying to sail to Europe.

Kenyans have accepted government corruption. We have accepted that an infinitesimally tiny elite can grab everything they want and do whatever they want, because they have a tiny, useless military of several thousand, armed with a few guns and bullets. No one bothers try to resist this grand larceny because the country is peopled by cowards. And yet, every time an African dictatorship collapses – from Congo to Zimbabwe, Angola to Nigeria – we discover just how precarious they were, perched on the edge of a chasm and only held back by the very people whose resources they were looting.

How hard can it be to sweep away the stupid government and civil service that visit corruption on Kenyans every day? Not very! But can Kenyans accept the challenge? Mountains  of garbage everywhere one looks, rotten officials everywhere, and a terrible, pointless future for their kids because the “big men” will have stolen everything by the time the kids are grown up.

No, we can’t. The entire country is a bunch of cowardly little muppets, so the sleaze and the nonsense will continue – as it does with the African wherever he runs a society.

Useless.