Letters from TZ

Just follow the money

A few days ago I came across a most unusual headline, given what I think I know about history. ‘Blame the Mau Mau, not the colonist,’ it read. The writer promised to take his readers “up close and personal with the white gadfly who believes the Mau Mau were Satanic and that Kenya got independence too early.” The white gadfly – literally, a fly that bites livestock and figuratively, a supremely annoying person – spoke with bitterness as he remembered the colonial legacy. “It has been twisted and maligned so much one would think no good ever came from it.” He cited the introduction of Christianity, a free press and a modern economy as some of the more enduring benefits of the British Empire. While he takes a consistently dark view of the Mau Mau, the man is full of praise for the collaborators – read turncoats – who he says genuinely believed in the colonialist’s civilising mission and the “stability” it brought African societies.

Your first instinct might be to swat this pesky little gadfly and tell him to park his racist views in a pile of livestock dung – but that would completely discredit the colonial “civilising” mission, demolishing any legacy, lasting or otherwise, that can be ascribed to the Empire. But all that would be a waste of your time anyway, because the legacy of colonialism is clear for all to see. The freedom fighters of this great continent felled many a colonial dragon but there was one war they did not wage, one battlefield they did not fight upon, and that was the battlefield of the mind. The colonialists created the ultimate ‘have-and-have-not’ system, where white people ‘had’ and black people ‘had not’ – unless of course they were collaborators. When they left, the collaborators put on the garments of privilege and entitlement with pride, leaving the rest of the ‘free’ population, fighters included, to begin their long walk to poverty.

Here’s the thing though: The ‘white man’ – as colonialists are commonly referred to in elementary history lessons – disenfranchised the black man because of an utter disregard for his humanity, and on account of his race. When the collaborators carried on that legacy, they thought it was all about money – they were wrong. Whether intentionally or not, by taking over from where the colonialists left off, they carried forward that racial hatred, only this time it was against their own kind. The vicious seeds of modern day tribalism and xenophobia were sown when many of Africa’s founding fathers gave in to their greed and began to grab every good thing as if good things were going out of fashion. It was expected after the dehumanising colonial experience. They sought to regain their dignity by acquisition, ignoring or perhaps unaware of the fact that their economy was rooted in hate.

And so we have a situation today where Africans discriminate against Africans and countrymen discriminate against countrymen. If you ask them, they will tell you it’s all about money. They will wax poetic about harsh economic times and how countries need to protect their citizens. Kenyans will tell you that Somalis are taking over real estate industry with ‘pirate’ money. Tanzanians will tell you that Kenyans want to use the Community to gain a free pass into the country to grab Tanzanian land. South Africans will tell you that Zimbabweans are in their country illegally to steal ‘black’ jobs. As a block, East Africans will complain that the Chinese are taking over the economy. And most any African will tell you that shopping in a white area in Cape Town or Johannesburg is like entering a white only store in America’s deep south circa 1950. Just follow the money, they say. We can’t accommodate ‘those people’ because they are threatening our livelihood.

But I think it safe to say that money is the perfect avenue to be politically correct about intolerance. Consider this: One side loses an election and violence breaks out because their tribesman has been cheated out of the Presidency. Had he gotten into state house, he would have taken care of his people. The cycle of poverty and powerlessness in that community would be broken. At least for 5-years, or 10 – perhaps more if their man also managed to maintain (illegally) a grip on power. And yes it is poverty; and it is powerlessness but the historical element also makes it hatred. Hatred that is continually fanned to a flame by envy – envy for every good thing, because good things are what make people human. And that misguided notion unfortunately, is the truest legacy of colonialism.