Most certainly, the absence of visionary leadership has contributed its share to the challenges that Africa faces. However, we also know that leaders are drawn from the population they lead. Since some leaders on the continent have continued to embody intolerable and intractable characters it’s about time to sociologically and philosophically take a look at the pool of population from which African leaders are drawn. There could be some strong evidence of the top (leaders) mirroring the bottom (population) and well as the bottom mirroring the top—in short, a bi-directional symbiosis.
Minus our leaders, can we as present day Africans generally refer to ourselves, for the most part, as a people of high moral standards and impeccable character? Are majority of Africans only victims subjected to the whims of a minor character deficient few who have over and over again hijacked power? Have we really been puzzled by the deficit of character and lack of strong values within the ruling class? Or do we in our innermost hearts suspect that the ruling class is only a microcosm of the wider society. And does that suspicion terrify us, reduce us to hopelessness and consign us to a perpetual state of pessimism about the possibilities of transformation across the region?
In many pre-colonial African societies, character was valued, therefore dignity was conferred by society only to a person of value. A person of integrity, someone whose words and judgments could be depended upon was placed over and above the person of wealth. In the Rwandan parlance, for instance, this would be a combination of inyangamugayo and agaciro philosophies of life. Colonialism, however, “introduced systemic corruption on a grand scale across much of sub-Saharan Africa. The repudiation of indigenous values and standards, as well as the superimposition of Western institutions and administrative practices destabilized the well-run bureaucratic machinery previously in existence in many pre-colonial African nations.”
Through, for instance: the monetization of the economy, the forceful extraction of monetary taxations from citizens often using their community leaders, the introduction of western products such as cars, zinc roof, expensive clothing and the making these items the exclusive preserve of colonial masters and their African conduits. What could the remaining Africans, especially the younger generation, do but aspire to be like their colonial oppressors and their African cohorts. Across Africa, colonialism heralded an era of a mindset shift of massive proportions, from a dignity, integrity and community based value driven thinking to an ultra-capitalist, accumulation driven mindset.
Most values are formed in individuals during childhood. Family first, then teachers, mentors and peers provide basic models for what forms the guiding principles and important beliefs that most people carry well into adulthood. As adulthood is attained, however, several opportunities are presented in the form of relationships, education, information and associations through which childhood imbibed values could be re-assessed and for the resetting mindsets. Indeed, what Africans need in this dispensation is a mindset shift towards placing value again on what dignifies a human person, and that is character, values and principles.
When individuals decide and seek to re-negotiate childhood imbibed values, it is generally acknowledged by psychologists to be somewhat of a difficult, but hugely rewarding exercise. Take for instance, a child raised to dislike and look down on all who do not belong to his or her own ethnic nationality. Imagine such a child growing into an adult and graduating from the university from where he goes to live and work in another part of the country dominated by a different ethnic nationality. If such an individual is well accepted and treated with kindness within that ethnic nationality, it is an opportunity for him or her to take a decision to transform the negative values of closed mindedness, suspicion and distrust which were inculcated in him as a child. However, that individual can also decide to remain closed minded, distrustful and suspicious, choosing instead to interpret all acts of kindness as pretense. In essence, the onus to decide on which values to uphold and which to disregard, at the end of the day, lies in the hand of every adult.
A person of integrity and societies that value integrity are equipped with the necessary framework to ensure stability and unhindered upward mobility. Conversely, corruption leads to instability for the human mind and the society as a whole. Corruption questions the fundamental meaning of existence for the human being within a particular society. If one has to pay to receive services due to her as a functional member of society, can a social contract said to be place? If an innocent citizen is used to paying his way out of molestation or harassment, what value does the society attach to the dignity of its population? When citizens are given to the falsification of vouchers, receiving payment for unexecuted projects, demanding kickbacks for awarding contracts, paying money in exchange for high exam scores, or demeaning themselves in other ways, that society is only headed for implosion, sooner than later . Indeed, for a human being to exist with dignity and self respect within a community, he must share similar positive values of integrity with other members of that community.
You may follow Dr. Chika Esiobu on twitter @chikaforafrica
To be continued.