“We’ve got some fantastically corrupt countries attending” said the smiling ex Prime Minister David Cameron as he spoke to the Queen about his anti-corruption conference. And, of course, the African country Nigeria, featured in his list of nations.
There was uproar on social media about the Prime Minister’s statement. But whilst I, as a Nigerian, felt offended that the Prime Minister could talk so confidently about my country in this way, I couldn’t help but to consider- isn’t that what people widely believe anyway? The gap between rich and poor in most nations across Africa is huge. I remember walking into a seminar and seeing a picture of a dirt road and some poor people collecting water, next to a big built up city. My seminar tutor asked us, ‘why is Africa (the dirt road), this way and the West like this (the city)’. I’m pretty sure no one else in my seminar was shocked that of all the natural beauty in Africa- this was the image he chose. Someone raised their hand and said- “corruption”.
Our systems consistently cause Westerners to think smugly that they shouldn’t be giving aid to a continent which looks like it should be helping itself as the ridiculously rich seem to step on the poor in a pursuit of wealth at the expense of the nation’s infrastructure. However, it would also be ignorant to suggest this reputation of greed only characterises the archetype of the ‘rich African’ as the lacking of trust from individual to individual seems to stunt the growth of the continent. From the trade of a market stall man who changes his prices depending on whether one is a foreigner or a local, rich or poor. To the armed robbery culture which manages to survive in various nations across the continent and slip through the policing systems which, in many places, remains accustomed to bribery. All the way up to the rumours of money disappearing in governments. How can Africa move forward when we can’t trust each other?
Multi-national corporations were weary in entering the African market. They had trouble trusting us; the stability of our economy, our political systems and our business culture. However, I believe the biggest issue at hand surrounds the extent to which one African can trust the other. I believe the best way for Africa to help itself is to get rid of this corruption assumption. The African man, woman, or child is not corrupt. Yet as many believe this, we fall victim to the label, only looking out for oneself and family. This must stop being our identity.
There are a number of things one could try to attribute to this way of life for African’s. The ripping apart of tribes and re allocation of boarders by the European’s creates understandable hostility as communities are forced together. Or perhaps, the exploitation of the continent’s natural resources by the West creating a craving to remain on top. The truth is… I don’t know what the answer is. The endless cycle of the corruption assumption will leave Africa stagnant or continue to stunt growth. There have been various efforts such as the African Union which aims to unite the continent. However, I think more can be done on a legislative and individual level.
It would be interesting to explore this idea further.
Why do people see the continent this way? Why do Africans see themselves this way, and how do we fix this problem so we can move forward united?