Intellectuals should be relevant to Africa
Published On February 19, 2016 » 1319 Views» By Davies M.M Chanda » Features
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I HAVE serious issues with African intellectuals who are touted by the western media and the western academia as speaking for the continent.
How can post-colonial intellectuals who have lamentably failed to decolonise their thinking speak for a continent whose problems they don’t fully understand?
Worse still, a good number of these intellectuals are based in Europe at the largesse of western benefactors.
I am afraid these intellectuals are part of Africa’s problems since like their counterparts, the western pedestrian ‘experts’ on the continent who include journalists, IMF pundits, historians and scholars only know one type of Africa summarised in clichés of ignorance, poverty and disease.
The much-lauded African intellectuals have to speak to a reality the West knows and risk becoming irrelevant when they divert to  talk about  the other Africa unknown to the western world.
It takes massive re-thinking  and self-evaluation to analyse Africa objectively if you are western educated, since your education itself would be a stumbling block in removing Eurocentric blinkers from your eyes.
I really fail to reconcile the attention African intellectuals get in Europe and  how divorced they are from the continent.
I am talking of intellectuals like Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thion’go, Dambisa Moyo and Nuruddin Farah who are sometimes classified among the lists of global thinkers.
I have now realised that as an African intellectual to be relevant internationally, you have to appeal to the Western audiences.
I say this after noting that most of our celebrated African intellectuals  living or dead have to be chaperoned by the omniscient white  Big Brother.
Look at Africa’s celebrated writers. Are they not being supported by people from the West who have rescued them not only from poverty but from being jailed or killed?
I start with the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who is more a son of a Western world than he is of Africa.
Soyinka, who is not only a famous writer, but also a proponent of good governance  in his  native country Nigeria, has been a fierce critic of successive Nigerian governments.
While there is nothing wrong with this, it is only surprising to note that Big Wole rarely condemns the puppet masters and chooses instead to condemn their stooges.
The late Chinua  Achebe  found refuge in America, a country that kept him alive a little bit longer considering his physical condition as a paralytic after a car accident.
There is also a long list of African writers rescued like abandoned puppies by the West, and our own Dambisa Moyo is one of them.
Even the writing that these writers are known for is determined by Western norms thanks to the robust patronage of the West.
In fiction, we should note that all the prizes of importance like the Booker, Caine or Nobel are Western or funded by the West and every African writer of note knows that they are prestigious prizes that are highly sought-after.
While aware that Africa is not an island since it is part of what is called the global village (whatever that means), we should know that the guidelines set by the West come with a heavy price.
Many writers (both fiction and non-fiction) appear to be writing to the test of the expectations of these prizes.
What Africa desperately needs are indigenous critics to give substance to our stories basing their analysis on Afro-centric paradigms.
In the absence of this, most of the writing  coming from Africa recently is  steeped in mimicry with everything being measured against white Western standards.
Coming to Moyo’s Dead Aid, a book that erroneously condemns aid ignoring abundant evidence of its relevance to most African countries, we can cite the book as a classic example of writing according to the expectation of the masters.
Writing in the Guardian newspapers, Madeleine Bunting author of Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives condemned the book, but noted that despite being poorly argued, Dead Aid boosted Moyo’s profile.
Madeleine argued that already there were many westerners who would want to promote Moyo’s views to cut aid budgets as pressure builds on government spending.

The danger  is that she (Moyo) will end up on the wrong side of the argument since the battle is to press for more effective aid, not cut it altogether.
The critic wrote that Moyo’s proposal to phase out aid in five years was disastrously irresponsible since it would lead to the closure of thousands of schools and clinics across Africa, and an end to the HIV antiretroviral, malaria and TB programmes, along  with emergency food supplies, on which millions of lives depend.
The critic further noted that the danger was that Dead Aid got more attention than it deserved since it had become fashionable to attack aid to Africa; an overdose of celebrity-lobbying and compassion fatigue which have prompted harsh  critiques of what exactly aid has achieved in the past 50 years.
In fiction, writing to the specification of Western critics is now the  norm religiously considered by many African writers, especially those who win the Caine prize, a literary award established in the UK in 2000.
The shortlisted  stories are usually full of a “riot of exhausted clichés,” like “huts, moons, rapes, wars and poverty.”
Unfortunately, it is these fiction and non-fiction writers who the western world eulogises as ‘voices of Africa’ since they help a coterie of ‘experts’ on our poor continent.
It is this ilk that helps to distort the image of Africa that belongs to the most celebrated African intellectuals.
Needless to say whose interest these African intellectuals serve: is it their people in African or the western masters who praise them for regurgitating what the white boys have written or expounded?
Africa’s problems does not need these intellectuals who are quoting Socrates, Locke, Hegel,  Marx, Kant, Bacon or Keynes.
We need a new crop of African intellectuals with solution to the continent’s problems that are steeped in our way of life and are relevant to our lives.

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