A few days ago I had a brief conversation over lunch with a friend from East Africa. It was one of those talks resulting from perceived tardy reasoning when we hoped that our leaders in Africa would have been what we keep dreaming about. But what struck me more was the sudden time travel I was thrown into when thinking about the daunting task of changing the outlook of a continent besieged by many troubles and laden with much burden. I wondered how I would feel on the day that I am to die. Would I be bubbling with excitement that my exit is deserved and my legacy is undoubted? Or would I be crowded by the feeling of wasted opportunities? My feelings were mixed because I have trained myself to believe I will not die an ordinary man, especially being influenced heavily by motivational messages that fill your gut and warrants self confidence from a newly defined self-concept. It was mixed because I saw great chances to make things better and without much cost to me or to my surroundings. But the pot pourri of feelings was not without the the thoughts of ‘what if nothing you do makes any sense and changes anything?’ The rest of that day was filled with random emotions spurned out of the ‘what is’ and the ‘what ought to be’.
Back in school, after sitting under inspiring lectures, particularly those that spin African history into an emotional overtone and overdose, making you feel a spark or a tinge of activism, I entered into endless debates on what role we young men will play in shaping the future we so desire. I met so many like minded folks who confessed exhausted faith in the drama we called nation building. We pressured ourselves into believing we were the gifts of God to our continent, and that we held the ace that will call home the game in our favour. Yet with the fervour, we met peeps who could extinguish your fire with a kind of infectious apathy and unconscionable inanition towards the issue of a progressive society. I will never forget the day, after a hot conversation on disabling executive corruption, that a few guys around simply sneered at all we said and stated clearly why they will grab every opportunity to monetize their virtues. What was more worrisome was their display of cognitive dissonance (the kind I usually ascribe to the Obama era Republican party) in acknowledging the need for honest men and good governance, and yet advising me “Reggie, stop deceiving yourself. You can’t change anything. Eat your own and go your way.” Well, some things were clear at the least, I certainly knew who not to vote for if that time comes…lol
Moving into the reality of society didn’t help matter most times. There is deep discontent with the statusquo and there is a clear hunger for change everywhere one turns to. But there remains a sort of dumfounding societal dissonance that belies the obvious craving for a better condition; people doing the opposite of what they profess they want. They want law and order, yet they disregard even the smallest statute put in place to ensure order. They claim they want better services, yet they bastardize the little sliver of hope at getting one. Everyone has become a law breaker. And this is done with such delightful impunity that everything around seems to be in free fall, yet we walk on as though unperturbed by this mystery (or is it?). I didn’t realize how close home this was until I visited Lagos and hit the usual traffic in a car with a non functioning air conditioning system. A sudden hastiness came over me and I became rash in my motor-verse, swinging between traffic lanes like George the jungle boy. I simply wanted to wriggle my way out of the frenzy of commuters going who-knows-where and creating a huge mess on the road, that I simply did not recognize that my actions were a unit of measuring the overall clutter on the roads. What! You mean I am not immune? Who then is?
So then I have begun to wonder with all the personal failures we have as a people and as individuals, where our change will come from? Our condition isn’t so strange that nothing like it has ever been seen in history. So lessons can be learnt, and examples can be cited, although solutions must be adapted. However, are we competent enough to bring about that which we deserve as a people? This is because we have looked to our culture, and it let us down; we looked to our religions and it divided us; and we looked to our government and they enslaved us. Now we look to ourselves and yet we find very little to be desired, because even the questionable personal values which we all seem to brandish are yet to be mobilized for the national assignment. This I find very frustrating and wonder if my role will change anything. I know I may be shortsighted to judge our condition by what I observe alone, for there may yet be thousands of men who have not bowed to the corrupting idols of our time. But cut this brother some slack! I am dying to see the proof of good men in our time, to hear of them when I turn on the radio or the television, to feel their exploits in leadership, and to weave a narrative of value and virtue from their contributions. Until then, I fear that I am becoming the norm and that I will feel this way 65 years from now, when I bow out of this terrestrial adventure.
My fear is that what Africa offers is what can swallow up its own and leave nothing but despair, and that 50 years from now we would be experiencing a splat after a long drag. My fear is that we will breed a new generation absolutely oblivious of the pain we have gone through, but welcoming their condition as a living standard and learning to accept fate as a predetermination of their portion in life. My fear is that we will watch the highways of life expand rapidly and act as co-builders, but never co-users. For as we move along the paths of human progress, our only known contributions remain that which was predominant 200 years ago, and we have failed to carry our own baggage and walk the green mile for our future’ sake. My fear is that one day, while we sit under the new moon and tell the stories of our ancestors, eating the fresh produce during our celebrated festivals, we will realize that we are naked and cold but never knew it. And still my fear is that years to come, our young men and women would have wasted a generational energy on useless ventures and never be able to give an account of how each tear and sweat drops increased our value and potential as a people. Oh! My real fear is that when our children are closing their eyes in eternal sleep, they would discover that what they have is what our forefathers had and hoped they would not have.
My greatest fear is that on the day I am called to exit this plane of existence, I will look over my shoulders and see that we did not to make things better; that we spoke more that we acted, and that we dreamt more than we constructed. I am terrified by the thought that I will meet my maker and appear empty handed, with no record of souls I turned to honesty and diligence, with no diary of testimonies on loyalty, love, and respect. How would I face my fathers who had gone on before me and tell them that we were a hardhearted people, mules that could not be led, and savages that could not be tamed? What excuses would I give for despite all the blessings we have as a people, we still could not translate a portion to lay an unshakable foundation of a just community; a society where life is held at the peak of ideals? How will I escape the truth on that day, the truth that I was not given the power to change everything, but that by changing one, I may be entrusted with the grace to change one more and perhaps much more? Herein lies my greatest fear, because I am inexcusable in all things. For if we fail, it is my fault, and if we succeed it is mine also. So as I wallow in my state of entropy I am moved by these thoughts and hoping that some fresh fire will kindle in my heart, one that will consume me in knowledgeable passion, and a clear conviction of what I must do to escape the delusions of exclusivity and unfounded patiotism which so characterize Africa now.
EXTRA THOUGHTS A FEW DAYS AFTER WRITING THE ABOVE:
I am now resolved not to be moved by my fears and just hope this not another deceptive feeling of self-worth?