Those who know me know that I am not racist, love my country dearly, and try hard not to be ‘political’.
Recently, I was, by inference, branded as a racist for suggesting that we all stop blaming the past for the present, and noticed a veritable outpouring of hatred, in all forms of media, for fellow beings simply because of skin colour. This shouldn’t happen. We live in a country with potential, with natural beauty, with awesome people and could be truly great.
Africa’s problems are not as intractable, as deep-seated as some would like us to believe.
Sure, in South Africa, apartheid was a horror, and elsewhere in Africa colonialism did its fair share of damage.
Sure, centuries of under-development have left large chunks of Africa in a terrible cycle of poverty, crime and desperation.
The solutions? Believe me, they are all around us. There are the people to make them work. Africa’s talent is overwhelming.
In my travels around southern Africa, I have come across many many individuals who want to make a difference and are willing to work towards the goal of making Africa great.
So why are we all crawling along at a snail’s pace, with massive unemployment, staggeringly large numbers of HIV patients, thousands of matriculants who can’t read or write and a myriad other problems we all seem happy to accept.
And why does South Africa, in particular, have a terrible reputation on the international front for blaming the past as a reason for moving so slowly?
The problem is culture. Culture of respect. Culture of entitlement. Culture of hero worship. Culture of employment rather than entrepreneurship. Culture of selfishness. Culture of ideology. Culture of blaming whites. Culture of blaming blacks. Culture of ignoring the good in others. Culture of deifying the past.
Culture has trapped Africa in its cocoon and made it feel all warm and fuzzy. It is, after all, what makes everyone feel most comfortable. In its turn, it’s keeping Africa in the starting blocks. While others are shooting for the stars, we in Africa are calcifying.
If we don’t break this negative cycle, and soon, we will all wake up one morning and wonder what the hell happened.
Take economics as an example. Why does Africa continue to flirt with communist models and language while no-one mentions that in the 1960’s Singapore was poorer than Uganda, Nigeria and many other African countries? Singapore has no mineral resources. Africa has plenty.
Today, while the people of Nigeria and many other well-endowed African countries battle with hunger, Singaporeans enjoy a life-style better than many New Yorkers.
The culture of deifying the likes of Julius Nyerere, Robert Mugabe and communist idols like Stalin and Lenin is preventing Africa from taking on the great ideas that made Lee Kuan Yew turn Singapore into an economic powerhouse.
So what was the key to Singapore’s success? Uppermost – the willingness to learn from others. Early on, the country found good models of state intervention in Israel and the Netherlands to accelerate development. Just as an aside, Israel, and economic success story in its own right is smaller than the Kruger National Park!
Juxtapose this with the fact that in South Africa, delegations are sent to Zimbabwe to learn about land reform. We have fallen into a culture where we deify a “struggle hero” despite the fact that he is a modern-day despot.
In 2012, South Africa’s president stated that the matric mathematics pass-rate was only marginally better than it was in 1995. Anywhere else in the world there would be shocked outrage. But Africa is held back by the culture of not decrying incompetence. Surely the top officials in the ministry of education should be fired?
Let’s put it differently. When last did anyone hear of or meet someone who was fired for incompetence? The truth is that incompetence is tolerated across the board. This, in turn, leads to a culture of entitlement.
In South Africa, Home Affairs officials feel entitled to their jobs and therefore passport and other applications move at a snail’s pace. Police see the top cop in the land consorting with a known criminal warlord and feel entitled to bribes. If the top cop can do it, why not the lowly guy who can ‘lose’ a docket.
In our African countries, we have developed to a fine art the culture of calling people racists when they disagree with the official line on anything. And so the culture of intolerance rises, subjugation of openness deepens.
There is a solution. That solution is to change Africa’s culture, lock, stock and barrel.
First, let us get out of bed every morning as new men and women. Let us aim to create jobs, not beg for them. Let us put the past aside and see each other, regardless of colour or creed, as partners. Let us forget fruitless debates – they have been enjoined a million times before. Instead, let us take the examples of the very best in the world and implement them here in Africa.
Education needs to be the number one priority. We should be doing everything possible to ensure there is a skilled workforce.
Finally, though, let us set the bar very high. We have it within us to change our various backward cultures and embrace a new culture. A culture of efficiency. A culture of entrepreneurship. A culture of education at all costs. A culture of choosing practical, good examples. A culture of accountability. A culture of excellence in all that we do.
That is how you fix our beloved land – set the bar high, every hour, every day.