Putting Africa on the world’s map in the 21st CentuRY

Taking the slave-mentality out of the Black African

Tamba D. Aghailas | May 1, 2016

First published on April 4, 2007


Freedom to lead a happy life is the most wonderful thing God created (for believers of freedom like myself) and gave it abundantly to every living organism upon the face of the universe, without regard to geographical, social-political, scientific, or racial classification. Humans are the beacons of that precious creative genius of the Almighty - having the ability to cohabitate with others, to learn, to invent, to love, and to be free. 


During the 19th century, humanity witnessed the abolition of slavery – a practiced that over the years put certain nations of the world (especially in Africa and Latin America) in a position of inferiority and despair. As a result, biases, superstitious beliefs, and wanton unacceptable behavior geared at Black Africans became widespread across much of the developed world. Some people even think that Africans are incapable of managing their lives, an outrageous insensitivity to the dynamics and root causes of underdevelopment in that part of the world.

In recent times, issues such as debt reduction for third world countries, aid to help cure AIDS, and democracy in Africa dominate the continent’s politics. As the media attention is sometimes shifted away from the true causes of epidemics of poverty, I have come to believe that there is only one way that minorities, especially Black Africans (including African Americans) can take the train out of poverty, ignorance, and underdevelopment, destined for a more successful nation of prosperity - Getting the slave out of oneself is the answer. This task may not come without pain or sacrifices, but it will equip the Black African to compete in the global industries.


This issue of African development came up while having lunch with some African students in a New York City fast food restaurant. All college students attending some of the finest schools in New York City, I asked the five bright young men and women, “what they thought of Africa’s lapsing behind the rest of the world in terms of development and technological advancement?” I wanted to start some conversation. All of a sudden, the entire group felt a challenge.


We exchanged different views ranging from education to civil society building to governments policies as ways to eventually develop and elevate Africa to the world stage. But the one thing I couldn’t agree more on with my pals was the issue of the mental slavery that the Black African continues to dwell in. I argued that some African brothers feel an inferiority complex just because they are termed “black” or “descendant of former slaves” – a sensitive topic. One of them said, “Look Tamba,” as I am affectionately called, “Once you’re black, you can’t make it in the white man’s world as compared to a white man.” Dead wrong, I said. He [the friend] could sense the intensity of my reaction. However, I strived to put myself into my pal’s shoes and glance a little bit closer at reality.


Sure indeed, American companies have a far more large numbers of White people in strategic positions – be it government or private enterprises – as compared to minorities. Yet still, I could not agree. Given the mindset of this young man, I thought “he is enslaved in his in own mindset,” despite the fact that he is an excellent student. He sits in the same classroom with many other whites and a host of international students from Europe, Latin American, and Asia, and learning under the same fine professors. Yet still, his way of thinking had the tendency to incite racism. Not quite that; simply put, he has a “slave’s mind” – one that thinks that the black man is inferior. This same mind-set can be attributed to the slow pace levels of development in many third world nations of Africa.


Back to the real problem affecting Africa – given the recent gesture of the world’s richest and most powerful nations to write off the debts of some African countries, the challenge remains the ability of Black Africa to take on a new mind-set and be able to say, “Look, we can make Africa a better place; we can do what others (the Europe and the West) have done.”


The can-do attitude coupled with improved education (advanced training and specialization), awareness raising, and stumping out corruption, are the building blocks upon which Africans can start anew building a better nation – a nation where blacks are as confident and have equal opportunities as any white man.

Competition has never been easy, and it will not be now for Africa. But the slave mentality that has haunted the minds of Black Africans for so long needs to be reinvigorated with a fresher mind-set of positive thinking – that of pride in the African heritage, not greed, and a sense of good corporate citizenship.


Growing up in Africa and living on a minimum expense of about a dollar ($1) a day, I came to understand the underlying force that continues to hold together the chains of tyranny and dictatorships on the African Continent. I reckoned that the idea of handouts has been used as a strategy by some to exploit Black Africans, making the latter dependent on foreign aid, regardless of its form. I wonder at times – is it due to the slave/master relationship of former days or is it mere ignorance on the part of the Blackman not to see reality en face? This practice has denigrated the African pride of sharing and caring for the poor, the elderly, and children. It has engendered the mentality of “survival the fittest” i.e. while a few privileged pillage resources that would have been used for the common good. The result is rampant embezzlement of public goods that would have otherwise been used to improve the nation in general.


The level of greed I have witnessed over the years is directly linked to the mentality of “getting as much as I can.” It is comparable to a prison cell [back in the days], where food was not adequate for inmates. As a result, the warden would throw whatever meal available, and everyone would scramble to fetch for himself/herself. The virtual prisons still exit today in the minds of many corrupt Africans – policemen, military figures, and ministers, elected officials, civil servants, and presidents - who are most likely to be chosen to manage the pubic goods.


For a person like myself (a former refugee), as opposed to most westerners and non-westerners who have lived in quasi-luxury, it was easy to understand these underlying social issues. My enlightenment began upon the outbreak of the civil war in Liberia, a war that consumed more than a quarter million souls, according to international estimates. Over the years, I have struggled not only to NOT develop the slave mind-set, but I have also refused to be forced to do so. Sought out by various warring factions to join the fighting ranks to pillage, to maim, and to kill innocents, I was forced into exile at a young age. I thought I had wasted my youth, not joining ranks with my peers to sow terror on our kin. I refused to fit in because nothing could justify my involvement. I denied them the right to enlist me forcibly – I ran.


After years on the run, I finally landed in Guinea, where I lived and experienced the misery of poverty for another ten years. I lived in life-degrading refugee camps and rural villages for years before making my way into a more decent lifestyle. I noticed firsthand the damage from the wars of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, a direct consequence of the slave mentality. As I traveled the forest region of Guinea, I witnessed the untold human sufferings brought upon Liberians and Sierra Leoneans who had fled civil wars from their respective countries, including their hosts – the Guineans. These so called wars to liberate the people are nothing, but farces by a few influential individuals in pillaging their nations of vast resources (gold, diamonds, ruby, rubber, and timber). These are just a few examples of countries where the slave-mentality has taken over and the havoc it has caused unabated.


Also I noticed that the Guineans, for example, still have a long way to learning the true meaning of civil society empowerment, democracy, and good governance. For these people, “it is ‘Dieu’ who gives power and only He can take it,” they reckon. General Conté reiterated this popular belief many times in his speeches that he will only leave power when God wants him to, taking advantage of the naivety of his people. I may not be a big spiritual fan, but the slave mentality of waiting for “God’s time” has become an excuse for African politicians to abuse power, steal government property, and disregard human rights.


Until Black Africans can learn that “Heaven only helps those who help themselves,” the pillage will continue relentlessly, while the West continues to ignore Africa’s realities, because somehow, somewhere, someone benefits from all this mess.


The African Continent has hope on the horizon. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said in his popular I Have a Dream speech, that many “…have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our [Black people] destiny.” As we move toward globalization, world nations and multinational organizations have a large market niche they could benefit in Africa provided the continent is competitive enough to provide the necessary ingredients of good governance, true democracy, and the respect for the rule of law through concrete actions, not mere promises. And this shall come to pass when the slave mentality has been cast away in the mighty forces of cultural diversity, restoring African pride and unity, and building true partnerships with Western nations based on mutual respect.


It is time we get the slave mentality out of ourselves. As long as we believe in ourselves and have a can-do attitude, we can demand as Dr. King once demanded, “a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice” for all. Isn’t it hard times for the world to hear us?

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