Shades of David Bullard. The piece is tongue in cheek, but there's more than a few nuggets of plain truth in there.
Recently on trip to a conference in the USA I was flying somewhere over West Africa reading an article on the oil related corruption in the Nigerian delta down below me.
I found myself wondering - why does Guinea have a GDP equivalent to Spain or Italy and yet it's people starve? Why does Nigeria flare off and burn gas in the delta that could generate enough electricity to power half the country yet people in the delta have no health care, burn candles and experience the equivalent of a couple of Exxon Valdez oil spills every year?
Similar story in Angola and the DRC, massive natural resources and yet the people starve and die of preventable disease, that is if they are not being actively killed off by their neighbours.
In just about every African country the story is similar. The question is unavoidable - why is Africa such a mess, why can Africans not organise and govern themselves, why is Africa so rich in resources and potential wealth and yet unable to use these to better the lives of those who live there? What is wrong in Africa?
I am a scientist and know that most things have logical explanations and also that many things regarding the living world have evolutionary explanations - I let these questions wax and wane as I snoozed somewhere over the mid-Atlantic and slowly the answers to my questions began to reveal themselves.
A different world
You see we all come from Africa - the rest of us all walked out of Africa about 90 000 years ago - not a long time, but enough time to adapt to a very different world. What we found just outside somewhere in the Middle East was a benign climate, no major infectious diseases, few dangerous animals and best of all we found all sorts of edible grains that were easily domesticated and suited to the semi arid climate. An added bonus was a whole host of dumb animals that had never seen humans before like goats and sheep and asses and oxen.
It did not take us long to cash in on this Eden and master the environment - for the first time we were top of the food chain! In no time at all we had more food than ever before and for the first time ever two things happened.
The first thing was that we had the luxury of not having to work all day for food - this gave rise to lots of people who could sit around all day and think instead of work, it did not take these guys long to come up with things like writing, astronomy, mathematics and complicated laws and things.
The second thing that happened is that with all that extra food around the population boomed and before we knew it we were living in more and more densely populated villages and towns. This sounds pretty normal to most of us but what we don't realise is that in order to function in this highly structured and ordered extended society we needed lots and lots of rules and regulations and an extensive moral code of behaviour in order to get along with people far outside our immediate family and tribal circles.
As long as the food held out our societies grew in complexity and size and we all learned how to get along with each other and look after each other for our whole well being.
In Africa this never happened. Africans have literally been on the menu for the last 300 000 years. If it wasn't the crocs (who can blame Africans for not liking swimming) it was the lions and the buffalo and the elephants and the hippos and the snakes and the mosquitoes. These guys never had the luxury of growing extensive crops, food security just did not occur (try keeping African elephants out of your five acre sorghum field).
As a result they had no time to sit around and think and invent things like math. They also never had the opportunity to develop large and complex societies with all the laws and codes that go along with them. As a result they remained much the same as they always had - scattered in small bands and tribes where they could wrestle a livelihood from the environment and each other.
Bottom line is - these guys have been playing survivor for the last 300 000 years whilst the rest of us have been sitting around drinking ale and having a relatively good time, bar the odd megalomaniac like Ghengis Khan and Stalin.
When I thought about this a little I thought about who ends up winning "survivor" - literally speaking. After watching a couple of the TV shows it isn't hard to figure out that the guy who wins is usually pretty two-faced, cruel, cold blooded and ruthless. Nice guys who care for everyone else just don't win this game.
It then dawned on me that here we are, sitting with an entire continent of "survivor" winners and we can't understand why these guys just keep on screwing each other and shafting each other with lies, deception and greed over and over again. What do you expect, these guys are all pros.
As I stepped off the plane, it all made more sense to me. Two days later I found myself in a meeting with a bunch of really nice Americans who wanted to donate money and do all kinds of good charity type things in Africa. They had invited a bunch of African visitors to the conference to chat about how to implement their charities. "Lambs to the slaughter" - I chuckled to myself as I watched and listened to all the sweet talk going down.
by Kaliel September
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