A few experiences over the past few months have made me think about how we live as Africans and what we can do as a people to better our macro economies. As you read this be aware that I am not some racist or separatist. We must co-exist with the rest of the world but I believe there must be a balance in the practice of “giving and receiving”, “buying and selling”. The way things are now, the flow of wealth and goods is grossly out of balance we as Africans living in Africa are at the receiving end of loans, the buying end in terms of trade and it keeps getting worse.
In addition, do not consider me some kind of absolute genius because I am writing this. What I am writing today is not new. It is practically common knowledge but like a lot of knowledge we possess, it remains in our heads. We do nothing with the knowledge. Because we are afraid? Uncertain, not confident? I do not know why but it is just the way things are: we fail to create much value with our knowledge. It remains in our heads and in our mouths.
Dr. Myles Monroe of blessed memory wore suits a lot. But he also taught me about Hellenization: the process the Greeks used to convert a large portion of the know world some two thousand five hundred years ago so strongly that even when the Roman Empire took over, Greek was still the dominant language in most parts of the world where natives of different lands had to communicate. The English did the same thing with countries we now call the Commonwealth Countries. (We actually pride ourselves in being identified with the Queen’s “common wealth” which is very distant from us, a matter for another day). Because of this process, we speak English.
Why Do We Wear Suits?
Suits evolved over thousands of years in Europe but the basic concept of a suit, along with boots and hats and coveralls is this: Europe is in the upper hemisphere. It is cold and as much clothing as necessary is not out of place. So why do we wear suits in Sub-Saharan African. We can pardon East Asia for adopting English culture in this manner because they are also in the upper hemisphere. Maybe we can even pardon South Africa. But Nigeria? Ghana? Cameroon? Togo? Why do we wear suits?
There are twenty five or so banks in Nigeria, maybe about thirty in Ghana. A 2009 report stated that about 60,000 members of the work force in Nigeria were bankers. Assuming a person had only one suit and typically changed it every three months, in one year 240,000 suits would have been imported. That is not very significant because we have left out the ties, shirts, air-conditioning, dry-cleaning, refrigerating, etc. What was your reason again for wearing suits? Prestige? Conformity? Custom?
Imagine what would happen if every bank in Sub-Saharan Africa chose two days in a week to “not wear suits”. Radical? Maybe positively radical. New jobs sewing smocks, Adire, Isi-Agu and the like. Less air-conditioning, better productivity etc. Soon, more modern, work-friendly designs of local fabrics will emerge, much like what happened to the original English Suit! Radical, did you say? How about no suits at all? Cringe.
Why Do We Eat Chinese Food?
Apologies to the Chinese but as much as I appreciate Chinese food I must ask: why it is much more expensive? Because it is imported? Possibly. Why do we take pride in and photos of ourselves visiting Chinese restaurants? Something has happened to our sense of identity. When a foreigner tastes Banku or Moi-moi, he or she typically does it because he wants to have a new experience as part of his or her tourist adventure. I can assure you that if you open up an African Restaurant in New York most of your customers would be fellow Africans. If your bring KFC or something from China I cannot read to Accra however, it becomes the in thing for all Africans. The rich and powerful show their power by visiting such places regularly. “I will do KFC today” “I did Chinese last night” sounds very prestigious to us. Amazing. I learnt some time last year that local Poultry farmers are unable to produce the amount of chicken required to sustain a certain eatery in Accra. I am not against any of these, I just think the imbalance is disheartening.
What Does Our Breakfast Look Like?
Cheese, bread, Kellog’s Cornflakes? Baked Beans? Sausages? Let’s think about it: How many tables in Holland have Akara, Corn meal, Moi-moi, Hausa Cocoa on a regular basis? This is not hate speech, I am just considering the issue of balance. What are we offering to the world? What is the world buying from us? Are we really “living large” or just drowning ourselves slowly?
I Challenge You
Let’s do an experiment. Can you choose one month this year in which to eat only Made-in-Africa breakfasts, wear Made-in-Africa clothes from head to toe (if your work allows), and seek out one useful gadget or piece of artwork made in Africa. I think we do have something to offer the world. I am hoping and praying that the generation coming after us will still believe that.