It is so exhilarating when you meet young people with a heart for social justice, ‘human rights’, development, education, aid. It reaches a new level of excitement when those ideas aren’t confined to the rhetoric of socio-political speech but are transformed into action. What is annoying, is when underneath all of that, lies a veneer of condescension, superiority and deep ignorance.
Speaking to someone this morning they had it all. The speech, the action and i assume the ignorance as well. They had travelled the world building wells, teaching English, doing community projects, fighting the instigation of anti-homosexual laws in ‘Africa,’ and yet they still responded to that continent as a country. Where would you like to focus your humanitarian aid or interests? Well, i’ve done Africa. Oh really. Which countries have you ‘done’. Oh, well i’ve been to Uganda and Kenya.
I’m sorry. So because you’ve spent six weeks in Ugandan and a few in Kenya, you have suddenly covered, had an interest and invested in that whole continent, all 50+ of its countries? You have not only understood the vast multitudes of people, literary-musical cultures, histories, religions, politics of the whole of Uganda and Kenya, but also of West Africa, Southern Africa, and not forgetting the Arabic Northern Africa. My, what a guy you must be.
Q: If you had one area that you could focus on what would it be?
A: Education, because without it nothing else works. Then agriculture, medicine, human rights, there’s just so much to do!
Now, I’m all for education.Personally i believe illiteracy in the world we live in is a form of child abuse. But education, as I have recently learnt, is a two way thing. The teacher both teaches and is taught by the pupil. What kind of education are we in the West hoping to give these ‘poor third-world countries,’ enslaved to the barbarism of ‘tribes and tribal conflict,’ with obscure female subjugatory cultures? Is it the colonised education that saw the destruction of these cultures that are only now trying to restore their fragmented identity? The education that propagates Western ideals instead of aligning them with their own cultural and national concerns? An education that thrives on enshrining our ‘democratic, tolerant and pro-human rights’ culture as the way to live, simultaneously disregarding the rich cultural and socio-political history of these ‘foreign’ lands, which funnily enough, in the case of the Yoruba people of West Africa and predominantly Western Nigeria, had a democratic system before the Greeks. Or the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria whose political system depends on the support of the ‘Adahs’, the first born daughters of the village. Before any political decision is made, the men must give the proposal to the first daughters. If they refuse, it’s like a bill being sent back to the House of Commons to be re-drafted. Before any father is buried, their daughter has the say on when, where. In Igbo land, Beyonce will proudly get the answer that in their own vital way, girls run the world. That seems pretty pro-women’s rights?
I’m not going to say ‘Africa’ and her 56 countries has it all sorted. Far from it. But the condescending attitude that people place upon it alongside Asia, the Middle East, everything bar Europe and Northern America irritates me. It’s as if these ‘post-colonial, tribal, war-mongering, poor, culturally fragmented’ people are one huge writhing mass of flesh. They all fit the same description, the same needs and most importantly have the same history. They have an homogenous identity, proclaiming ‘We are one’ as Simba proudly states in Lion King 2.
No. No ‘we’ are not. Just as people don’t say – I’ve seen Europe- when they come to London, or travel to Paris. In fact, they tend to be even more specific – I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but i wish i could have gone to the South of France. Or, i’ve been to Central London, but I wish i could’ve gone to the Lake District. Geography seems to count for ‘us’ in the West.
It is no wonder that ‘Africa, Asia and the terrible Middle East,’ have yet to find a solution to their problems when no one seems to know about their problems. If I stated: China has the highest abortion rate in the world, and someone responded – Oh my word, the Chinese are so cruel – I think a Chinese person would be extremely unimpressed and look at said person as being an ignorant twit. Not to mention, people from other countries and cultures wouldn’t feel particularly enlightened and therefore know how to respond.
If, however, I stated – China is a country that lacks the natural resources needed to maintain its population. After the cultural revolution there was a big push to build up the Chinese people to become a national force to be reckoned with. However, the sky-high birth rates put a vast strain on their resources economically and agriculturally. China is also a country, like most nations and cultures in the world which is patriarchal and where having a son, especially historically, was a favoured option because men made up the workforce whilst women – just like in most nations and cultures across the world – ran the household. China made the decision for a one-child policy in order to prevent a nationwide famine and starvation. Their histo-cultural concept on gender has meant that when women fall pregnant they are encouraged to keep the baby if it is a boy, but abort it if it is a girl. This has led to the largest female infanticide in modern history, and also meant that many women are now being smuggled out of North Korea to fill the gap.’
My. Suddenly not only are you more informed of the situation, but ‘CHINA’ has not been demonised. One can understand that there were a range of other factors apart from some ‘genetically inherent Chinese cruelty’ that led to the methods put in place, which has now had drastic and unforeseen knock on effects not only in terms of the type of abortion that is happening, but the quality of life of the Chinese and these North Korean women that are being smuggled into the country. One could go on and on looking at the particulars of the problems that have arisen, but most importantly they can acutely and intelligently look at how to alleviate the situation alongside the work that the Chinese government is doing.
My point is this, China is not perfect, the ‘third-world’ is not perfect, funnily enough, neither is this Utopian ‘first world.’ As humans we move in a cycle of prosperity and destitution. In order to change that circle into a flat line leading to global equilibrium, one must understand that whilst Europeans were still going unbathed, with the majority still illiterate, the Songhai Empire dominated Western Africa. Astronomers and mathematicians of the Mali Empire that went before the Songhai were putting into motion the bane of most Western Teenagers lives – Algebra exams. Whatever economical empire America or China or the EU are trying to create, Genghis Khan got their first.
If we understand that these people who are in dire straits at the moment, and who do to some degree need a helping hand, need serious input in their failing economies, their corrupt politics and their social disruption did not just crawl out of the desert, half formed, incapable, an immediate and selfish drain on the IMF and World Bank, but have gone through this cycle, then maybe we’ll know how to help. We will realise, instead of ignoring a lot of the cultural taboos and issues, the historical problems that have fuelled their present states. And with that knowledge in hand we will learn how to help, and how not to help.
You cannot ‘do Africa.’ Moreover, there are plenty of children in the UK who can’t string one grammatically correct sentence together in their own ‘superior’ language that is English, before we start trying to educate children who are often multilingual, and want to learn. Why don’t we focus on firstly ‘doing’ our own countries, and then ‘understanding’ other peoples. It’s just a thought.