My Two Cents’ Worth on Migrating to Explore the World
By Alexander Makau Mukiti
I bet you two cents that the first white man to discover Africa was armed with nothing but faith, in a poorly made canoe. He must have literally bumped into Africa, and if the monsoon winds had stirred him just a little bit to the right he would have ended up in Australia or Antarctica. I will go out on a limb here and assume that he was a man – yes, I dare you to accuse me of misogyny.
Sometimes I bury my head in my sheets and imagine him seated miserably in his backyard filled with regret, anger and disappointment that his life had not panned out how he had pictured it. C’est la vie – such is life; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I know that’s how I would have brushed it off, but, no, his head is spinning and his heart is thirsty for an adventure, something to jump-start his adrenaline. So curiosity, boredom, and a mid-life crisis lead him to set a journey. With no direction in particular but great desire to stimulate himself, he sails south. Somehow he survives the terrors of the sea, and, by grace and mercy, his voyage lands him on this beautiful continent. And this arrival turns the wheel of time for some historic events to happen in and to Africa.
The white man is met with open arms, and with astonished, yet smiley faces and warm hearts. He’s mesmerized by these amazingly textured human beings with thick hair and dressed in animal skins. He is dazzled by the languages, and he is amazed to see the kind of religion we had going on here, but he still considers our way of life “primitive”. He gets deeper into the continent – well, actually, the “big country,” according to him, and he stumbles upon these breathtaking landscapes, all green and unpolluted, and he suddenly gets ideas. He looks around him and sees a backward, retrogressive country, a country sitting on a lot of potential. He is filled with greed to turn this sanctuary into his own, and his feelings of being a failure suddenly disappear. He is overcome by a sense of superiority, as well as by so much ambition that he can literally taste it on the tongue. All the things he has so far not felt in a long time come rushing back to him like a moth to a flame.
The white man travels back to his country and exalts himself before his family, friends and his government. He beats his chest, reassuring himself that he all by himself has discovered something more valuable than any man who has so far walked upon the planet. The geniuses of his time, he tells himself, have had nothing to offer to beat what he has achieved, and he dangles this carrot that is Africa before their eyes and says: “It is huge, greener than most places, fertile, full of resources: gold, lead, diamonds – you name it – and the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, is that it is all free and comes with free labour.” They are all hooked. So, in the years that follow that coincidental trip, Africa will be visited by explorers seeking a sight for sore eyes. In will come missionaries, who will kick off the ground running, and like a pressed child who has found a hidden bush to ease himself they will make it pour. Traders also will find their way to this ocean of resources. Everyone with a little bit of curiosity will be headed this way – including even people with inferiority complex disorder – because this will be the place whereby they feel like royalty despite their backgrounds.
News of this rare gem called Africa will travel fast, even at a time when there will be no social media and when different parts of the world will be invested with unknown diseases, for there will be no impediment to Europe’s interest in them. And, as fate would have it, Europe’s greed will be too much for it to contain, that it will rush to Africa. Different superpowers will camp in various places on the Africa, and I assure you they will not consult us first. The era of colonization will be upon our people, and it will be an altogether difficult time for us. I don’t know what sins our ancestors have committed then, or what they will have committed in their preceding lives, but the wages will be due.
If you read your history well you will most definitely come across the invasion of Africa and how different communities reacted to that hostile takeover. The white man literally migrated to Africa, took over our lands, and wanted to be treated like a god? But as sure as hell it wasn’t going to be that easy, for some communities resisted his rule.
The Nandi of Kenya, the Hehe of Tanganyika and the Ashanti of Ghana, among many other tribes, were not ready to play ball, and the price was too much to pay. Tribes like the Maasai of Kenya, the Baganda of Uganda, the Lemba of Zimbabwe, and many others collaborated with the colonizer, but their maximum cooperation with him did not go without bloodshed either. The Europeans relegated us to a sub-class of human existence to such an extent that it still stirs up bitter emotions among the older generations of our people whenever they go down memory lane and recall the cruel acts done unto them, their parents, and their siblings.
That single trip out of curiosity and adventure somehow left us, the black people, killed, homeless and governed by the white man. In our corner of the woods, we had the British, while across the river we had the French, and beyond the hills we had the Germans, and so on. Greed is an insatiable desire, and more often than not it blinded the white man so much so that that he tripped and fell on his brothers’ backyards. Yet on those days when they didn’t see eye to eye, when brother wanted brother’s piece of the pie, somehow it was our blood, we the Africans, that soaked the earth, because they enlisted our young men to fight their battles. This was settled by the treaty to partition Africa when the indigenous territories were enclosed in boundaries with restrictions of movement from one country to another, so that, even today, it is still a hustle to get a visa from one African country to another. When trouble stirred at home the white man also shipped us off to fight those battles for him as well. We fought alongside him in World War I and World War II, when diplomacy was off the table and each country wanted to show off their toys. The bill was ironically invoiced to us in a war that was clearly not ours.
In favour of logic and reason, it was beyond reasonable that the man had to go. A few educated men and women came together, strategized, incited, and took a swing at the Europeans. This revolution was historical, although not without its ups and downs and a lot of bloodshed – because the white man did not leave without a fight. We finally got our lands back, our culture and our people in different prisons. Ghana got her independence in 1957, Tanzania in 1961, Uganda 1962, Nigeria 1960, and Kenya in 1963 – and so did many other African countries.
To say my imagination of how these events transpired is wild would be an understatement. Each country, each community has their own story to tell of the harm done to it those many years ago, and these stories need to be heard because the pain inherited from those events these many generations has not yet dissipated. Most certainly one thing remains true: the relationship between Africa and the outside world is complicated. Those hundreds of years ago, when the white man wanted to break his monotony and stumbled onto the continent, he was welcomed with open arms until he proved himself otherwise, as I have just narrated.
What is ironical, or, rather, paradoxical, is that, for us, the experience is the opposite whenever we decide to explore and see the world beyond our borders. First, it’s a hustle to get a visa, even though some of those whose countries we may want to visit may not require one in order for them to visit us. And secondly, more often than not when we finally fly into those counties we are met with hostility at the airports, death stares on the streets, closed arms at the malls, and cold hearts at the restaurants. Today black people in the United States of America are still considered lesser human beings than European Americans, and whenever they walk on the streets it is as if they have targets pinned on their backs. Even with our artefacts still on display in their museums – and I dare I say an apology long overdue – many in those countries still do not accept us as fellow humans and certainly do not consider us worthy of their hospitality. I would not go so far as to condemn all Europeans and Americans on those grounds. As everyone knows only too well, every society has its good and bad apples. However, one cannot help but wonder why this problem persists in certain parts of the world despite the passage of so much time.
The first person that wanted to explore, see the world and all that, sent Africa down the colonization and slavery route, and with the kind of debt we have accumulated we might just as well end up in cages again, but that is beside the point. The question is: why doesn’t everybody settle in their own places and put a hold to this travelling and seeing the world that is, for the most part, misguided curiosity? Yes, it might cost us money, but our pride, dignity, and safety will not be compromised if we made that conclusion and remained stuck with it. We have everything we need here, and, as the saying goes, a flower must bloom wherever it was planted and trust it was not planted there by mistake.