Africa will continue to feel the effects of Western colonization until the world is united by one global culture. Expecting any different would be wishful thinking for time travel to undo the past. No one can say for certain how the world would have turned out without colonization. Sure we can imagine Africa organized into tribe nations, but can we really put this in perspective with modern civilization? The problem with African civilization is the challenge of disposing of our differences to be able to work with unity. It is this same problem that allowed for the concept of divide and conquer, the subject of how united we were in the first place is subject for another book. Borrowing a story from the bible I would like to illustrate with the Tower of Babel. One could argue that a people without technology to build even an elevator couldn’t possibly build anything close to the skies. And with the airplane and even space exploration, it is common knowledge that no God lives in the sky as we know it. All this taken into account, let us examine the essence of that story and what we can learn from it. The story goes that the people of Babel were made to speak different languages because God saw that if humans worked together, there was nothing we could not accomplish. I have heard someone accuse God for being a bringer of division over this passage but this isn’t about man or God’s role in the story nor is it about the logical plausibility of such an event. It is about the recognition of the human capacity to progress when working in cooperation with each other with understanding and communication.
Today Nigeria remains in a constant battle with tribalism and regional politics. The diverse nature of our tribal heritage has created an illusion of difference so strong that even after 54 years of independence we still cannot see past it. To add salt to injury, there is also the difference in religious ideology and how it has affected the Northern part of country to further extend the lines of division. It is the belief of some Nigerians (and other Africans) that the colonial masters deliberately formed culturally diverse countries to undermine chances of development in Africa. This is to say the colonial masters could predict that by nature or socialization we would react towards each other with hostility because we would fail to understand or resolve our cultural differences for the sake of socio-economic progress. I refuse to believe that this is a fate that cannot be changed. And until we all come to the realization of this issue, progress would remain a pipedream rekindled by empty prayers and well wishes.
As much as I hate to admit it, it appears the European prediction was right to a good degree. When conversation on the matter of colonization comes on I have met too many over-enthusiastic nationalists that say the white man is the cause of all our demise. In fact I, have been called an Uncle Tom for taking the stance that no one but Africans can fix Africa’s problem. To this I say that the cause of a problem and a source of solution are hardly the same factor. If we expect foreign corporations that do business in Nigeria to put ethics before profit, or foreign countries to put our interests before their domestic needs, then we are yet to understand the nature of global politics on a world stage.
As long as our security forces allow for the bunkering of our oil, our natural resources cannot be safe. As long as our politicians are allowed to loot with impunity European banks and real estate agents will continue to part-take in money laundering. As long as we continue to prioritize regional and religious sentiments over competence, we would continue to abuse the function of democracy. Foreign influence has affected Nigerian culture in so many ways. In fact, the entity that is Nigeria is as a result of foreign influence. Today all around the world it is easy to see the strong grip of Western influence. The suit and tie look is regarded as the default cooperate attire in many cultures. Not everyone speaks English but chances are high if you were stuck in almost any foreign country you can find someone that speaks English. Japanese kids that can barely make out a sentence in English will rap ever word to Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, and let’s not even go into how influential the likes of Kim Kardashian and the Hollywood pack can be. Eurocentrism is here to stay, so instead of fighting a war that literally cannot be won, how about we focus on trying to develop our brand as a people to compete in the global culture market? I remember sitting on a train in England watching two white girls go crazy over D’banj’s Oliver Twist. Normally I am a bit of a grandpa when it comes to teenagers playing loud music on public transport but this time what used to be noise was pure music to my ears. Instead of complaining that the West is shaping our thoughts with their media, why can’t we develop our own media houses like Qatar did with Aljeezera? In the new globalized world culture is a commodity with no real ownership. If you stepped into the high streets of London in 2013 you would have sworn you were in Africa with how much African print clothes were on sale. Do you think the British regard that as Afrocentrism, which is negative and must be eliminated? On the contrary they welcome these ideas and even synchronize it with what they already have. This is the kind of perception shift we need in how we think about culture.
I have come across a lot of Facebook groups that sound like something Malcom X would have written before he went to Mecca and renounced his prejudice ways. One that particularly sticks out calls for the abandonment of Christianity and Islam so we can revert to traditional African belief systems. If one sees religion as superstition then what is the point jumping from one superstition to another? Can’t we just redesign a new religious system updated with our new knowledge of the human condition and how it relates to spirituality? These kind of suggestions though well-meant often miss the mark when it comes to reality. It is almost impossible to revert a society back to an idea they have long dispelled as superstition and thanks to the colonial masters, evil. Any mass shift in Nigerian religious ideology would be moving it towards New Age concepts of existing religions, deism, agnostism, or atheism, but at the rate we are moving, it appears we are regressing towards fundamentalism if anything.
The major change that needs to be made to our current mentality in relation to colonization is a rebuke of the notion that West is best. No philosophy or culture is superior to the other. As pointed out earlier, they are only expressions of the human potential and hence can be mix and matched. At the risk of alienating some readers I will say that Nigerians above 50 years of age happen to be trapped the worse in what Fela called colomentality. It almost amuses me when Nigerian parents send their children to school aboard and then warn them not to adopt Western ideas. Firstly, if our ideas were working out so well for us, there would be no advantage in getting educated abroad. Secondly, how is the child supposed to adapt to his new habitat if he or she refuses to acclimatize with the society? It is almost as if older Nigerians have a fear of anything that is different and a need to always favour conformity in place of individualism.
As the world continues to culturally converge and children get exposed to new possibilities the instinct to be one’s own authentic self (as authentic as our options allow) will continue to rise. Men wearing earrings used to be so antagonized and even branded a sign of homosexuality but today there is hardly any male artist in the entertainment industry without their ears pierced. Tattoos have gone from taboo to being the in-thing for all the cool kids. Of course ear rings and tattoos still attract prejudice from older Nigerians but as time pass the young Nigerians of today will replace the older generation and one can only imagine the state of what we call Nigerian culture would be then.
In summary, it is of utmost importance that we are re-educated on our history and heritage with an orientation that enables the Nigerian or African take pride in vast contributions Africa has made to civilization as it exists today. It is after this pride is established that we can be get over the notion that West is best. With this new appreciation we can then better think of how to integrate foreign ideas without prejudice to our own historical culture. The re-education of Nigerians will not be easy and would require government influence at the school level and the creation of easily accessible cultural sites but it is not impossible. The Nigerian media also has a role to play here along with artists and other influencers of culture and society. The task of establishing cultural pride is every Nigerian’s responsibility and is vital for the development of a healthy African identity on a continent where years of history has been all but literally washed away. Rather than thinking of this as a call for a sense of false pride, consider it an affirmation of a right we all have to be aware of and happy with who we are.
Instead of constantly pointing fingers at outsiders it is about time we focus on what we can do internally to shut down the gateways that continue to allow for our exploitation. While we do this it is also important to realize that one race cannot be the enemy of a people. Humans exist as individuals. There are good white people and bad white people, good black people and bad black people, etc. I will end this chapter with a lyric from Lupe Fiasco ‘Don’t think you’re safe because you’re not black. Greed is colour blind. They will come for yours as soon as they are done with mine.’