28 April 2011

Africans And Poor Reading Culture

opinion

At the moment, what rings the bell loudly to the ears of our country men and women is nothing but politics. The atmosphere is charged. There is politics everywhere - federal, state and local government levels. It is worth talking about now since it's the in-thing but I have decided to talk about something else that is not purely politics.

What struck my mind a few weeks ago was an online publication purportedly presented by a Caucasian called Dee Lee. In the write-up, Dee Lee described Blacks as the slaves of the Whites. The write-up portrayed the Africans as ignorant, greedy and selfish.

According to the author of the piece, ignorance is the primary weapon of containment as "the best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book". It said Africans don't read.

It is alleged that since the abolition of slavery, all the resources at the disposal of my fellow Africans have been squandered on mundane things, and that this had resulted into why the continent has remained stagnant and underdeveloped.

**Q**Greed and selfishness, the writer said had debarred Africans from working together for the upliftment of their societies, as everyone wants to do it all alone and be seen as a champion.**Q**

Let us now take a close look at the claims of Lee. Without going far, one can deduce that most of the problems ascribed to African nations are borne by bad governance and leadership. The greed of the Blacks, has continued to be a major factor in their insatiable quest for foreign goods - no matter how bad, provided it is foreign.

Such hard-earned resources are siphoned away to the developed nations at the expense of my countrymen and women. It is rather unfortunate that the Dee Lee's portrayal of the Blacks could be traced to the backlash of our backwardness, as I said, is occasioned by bad leadership.

From Tunisia to Libya, to Cote d'Ivoire and many other African nations, it is the same problem of leadership crises everywhere. The dismal failure of African rulers to provide effective leadership and emancipate their people from material and mental dependence on the West has created the impression that it is only the White man who does things, while the Black man looks on helplessly. Virtually all the sit-tight African leaders are pre-occupied with how to line up their pockets and those of their immediate family members and cronies.

According to the United Nations Human Development Programme's (UNDP) Report, which measures life expectancy, gross domestic product and illiteracy, the sub-Saharan Africa had received an estimated $114 billion, in bilateral and multi-lateral aids, between 1995 and 2002.

Yet, African countries have consistently ended up at the bottom of the UNDP's Report ladder due largely to corruption, bad leadership and governance. Former Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) allegedly stole his country's money to the tune of $5 billion while close to $200 billion had been filtered away by African leaders, since independence.

No wonder, climbing the ladder of development is termed 'academic' in view of the lack or absence of the basic indices of growth, let alone development.

The role of Dee Lee's country men and race in the underdevelopment of the Third World is tremendous. Developed nations' pauperization of the Emergent Countries, using the 'bait' of foreign aid, technical assistance and grants cannot be pushed aside.

On reading, an opinion poll, conducted by the BBC News, titled, "Are Africans Reading Less?", most of the respondents agreed that Africans don't read well enough. The position that catches my attention most, is that of Josephat M. Mua, which states that, "when we are growing up in Africa , there was a complete lack of books in villages and schools we attended. The stock was out of date and it was often difficult to purchase books, Printed materials are part of the mass media. Access to, and controls of these media are sources of power. In a reading society, books demand public involvement and concern. With high levels of unemployment and lack of resources across Africa, people are too busy planning how to survive. In addition, there is a complete lack of reading culture in some areas".

For sure, reading habits and poverty have been proven to be inter-related. What may perhaps, bothers a typical African is his/her daily bread. After all, survival should come first before other things.

It is worthy of mention that a few African governments have made deliberate attempt at encouraging their citizenry to embrace the reading culture. The impact could still be described as very low.

In Nigeria , Mr. President recently launched the Bring Back the Book initiative, to encourage reading. The flag-off ceremony was colourful with the attendance of prominent Nigerians. What has been the impact of the initiative is an issue for another day.

On a positive note, history is consistent about Africa, being the cradle of civilization. From the ancient Egypt to Ethiopia in the northeast, to the ancient empires of Mali, Songhai and Ghana.

Achievements of Africans, as identified by Paul Hamilton, in "African Peoples' Contributions to the World Civilizations: Shattering the Myth", include astronomy, the 365 ¼ - day calendar, the study of anatomy, embalming, chemistry and mathematics (geometry and trigonometry), and the production of high grade steel and large scale architectural works, such as the Pyramids in Egypt and Grand Imperial Court of Timbuktu. On inventions and discoveries, Africans are credited for phonetic writing, paper and ink. World history will be distorted and incomplete, if great names of Africans like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Phillip Emegwali, Miriam Makeba, among others, are mentioned in global development.

Slavery and colonialism are two events that have given Africans negative perceptions by the West. The two experiences effectively stopped the progressive growth of the technological African society, when it began, several hundred years, earlier. The psychological residue of slavery expresses itself in the mindset, that Africans, no matter where they are located in the Diaspora, have a fixed status below that of their Caucasian, like Dee Lee and other descendants.

As observed by G. V. Kromah, in "Africa in the Western Media", even media coverage is greatly distorted in a skewed faction in such a way that the "mindset about Africa is little more that the pictures of Tarzan and Gorillas. It then becomes a matter of a routine display of the symbolism that convinces the Western media audience that indeed what is being viewed, read or written is 'African', except for the parading of malnourished and naked babies in front of television cameras, one gets the impression that Africa has remained in suspense since the days of the dinosaur" and that the continent is synonymous with genocide, disease, corruption, poverty, ignorance, banditry and child soldiers.

The challenges facing the human race are enormous, our take should rather be how to join forces, to forge ahead. A step forward will be to break the chains of neo-colonialism, modern day slavery, balkanization of races, racial prejudice and arrogance. Will Dee Lee's Theory note, please?

Kupoluyi writes from the University of Agriculture, Alabata Road, Abeokuta , P.M.B. 2240, Abeokuta, Ogun State

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