Lifting a hand to help ourselves

Posted by By at 23 July, at 12 : 00 PM Print

Lifting a hand to help ourselves


In my epic essay, ‘The Blackman’s dilemma,’ I wrote:

“If the truth be told, ours have become a lethargic race.

I have done my fair share of traveling around the world, and I daresay that I have never met any other group of people with absolutely no interest in improving their physical environment and material well-being like we Africans.

Many of our neighbourhoods are unfit for cattle pens in some societies.

For us, it is just normal when bare-footed, half-starved children with Kwashiorkor bellies parade our dirty streets.

We continue to build our shacks in mosquitoes-infested, rats overwhelmed swamps and it is in those hovels that we prepare and eat our foods; marry and love our women and born and raise our children.

It continues to baffle me why we Africans continue to look on with childlike helplessness while the rest of the world is speeding ahead, breaking new grounds in science and technology.

Why are we in Africa not interested in joining the scientific age?

About five decades ago, men landed on the moon. Today but for ethical considerations a human being could be cloned. It has already happened, if Mr. David Rorvik, the author of ‘In His Image,’ is to be believed. And yet we Africans continue to wallow in self-induced poverty. Our lives continue to be ruled by ignorance and superstition.

Although it might be argued that in themselves, science and technology are not the answers to what ails mankind, but we simply cannot run away from the fact that science and technology, at the very least, guarantee better qualities of life.

It saddens me to see our people still eking out of life primitive lifestyles other races have left behind eons ago. Potable water, regular electricity and decent shelter are still beyond the reach of most of our people. Our farmers continue to use implements invented by our ancestors thousands of years ago. And whilst our leaders continue to speechify; our telecommunication systems cannot compete with what obtained in some countries a century ago.

Our preachermen continue to tell the profane lies that our problems are caused by devils and demons, and that that they could only be solved by more prayers and supplications to phantoms and goblins of the sky.

This is an ungodly lie and many of the charlatans that call themselves pastors knew it. They have traveled to and lived in societies where men decently feed, clothe and house themselves without entreaties or adjurations to heavenly fathers. These cassocked thieves daily use products of science and technology, yet continue their ignoble lies that we need the gods to solve our problems.

Many of us have lived in societies where one has easy access to high quality health service and where an ambulance would come within five minutes of being summoned. And yet, we have so-called men of god profaning us with ungodly lies that Jesus is the answer.

Man had long proved that we need not pray to heavenly fathers or gyrate and dance ourselves silly to get cure for diseases that are easily curable. We know now, even if we do not know much else that malaria is caused by mosquito, and have absolutely nothing to do with witch-craft. We know that cholera is caused by unhygienic conditions and has nothing to do with demons or sorcery.

In many societies only those for whom thinking is an encumbrance still believe in the supernatural and the goblins of the sky. Why do we continue to ask for supernatural intervention to stave of flood?

What manner of people are we Africans really? We drown in flood during raining season (as witnessed in Mozambique, Ghana, Burkina Faso etc) and millions of us are killed by drought (a la Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Kenya).

Since my return from a sojourn in Europe I have seen things that made me wonder if we Africans are indeed capable of self-redemption. Instead of taking simple measures to help ourselves, we would rather troop to churches and mosques to plead with the gods to come and help us. We continue to look for miracles rather than exert small efforts to help ourselves.

I simply cannot believe that in this age people are still building houses without such basics like toilets and bathrooms? I am daily confronted by the sight of entire family trooping to bushes to answer the call of nature. There are deadly snakes suck like Cobras, but that is insufficient to deter our people.

Do we really need anybody to tell us that a toilet is an essential facility in a residence?

When I was growing up in my village some fifty something years ago, there were public toilet facilities. There were also Health Inspectors who went around town to ensure that the toilets were well maintained.

Five decades later, our folks still have to brave snakes, scorpions and other deadly creatures in order to relieve themselves.

No, we can no longer run away from the sad fact that we have become lethargic!

With an amazing, if childlike helplessness, we sit and wait for the government, NGOs, foreign ‘donors’ to come and solve basic problems for us. This is one of our peculiar habits that continue to baffle me.

No, it is not lack MONEY, although that is always our battle cry. We simply cannot get it into our heads to generate simple ideas to solve basic problems.

I once called a group of youth in my area together in order to get their ideas on why they cannot fix themselves common (sic) communal toilets. Their excuses range from the flimsy to the utterly ridiculous. Most said the government should do it. Many gave the ‘No Money Syndrome,’ excuse.

I then sat them down to work out how much it would cost to build a simple place of convenience.

We all discovered that it was an utterly ridiculous amount. All that is needed is a digger, a spade (both of which can be hired), some planks of wood and nails.

Money is not fighting in my pocket, but just to make them realize the ridiculousness of their excuses, I offered to pay half of the cost if only they could raise the other half and supply the labour. They left vowing to come back. Of course, I haven’t heard anything from them since.

And if that doesn’t sounds odd enough, what about this: Some of my neighbours with in-house toilets prefer to go into the bush because, according to them, it is cheaper than buying water to flush the toilets.

And my neighbours simply lacked the imagination to collect the water from the bathroom to use in flushing their toilets the way I do! They also fail to follow my example to harvest rain water!”

I penned that piece around 1998, fourteen years later, not much has changed. In fact, we have even become more lethargic. We have promoted begging to fine art. It appears we do nothing in Ghana today apart from begging.

We beg the Chinese, the Europeans, we beg the Americans, we beg the Arabs and we are now begging the Brazilians. We beseech everybody to come to our aid instead of doing things for ourselves. And we don’t know why others hold us in such utter contempt.

I don’t have a television in my house but I do visit friends and occasionally watch the news with them.

It looks like I’m the only way who is continually appalled by the endemic begging mentality our people have developed. Our elected officials do nothing except to beg and plea with foreigners for help. Our news contains only information about how x, y, z from Europe, Brazil, America or Arabia has donated this or that to help us.

What happened to self pride and shame!

I once saw the headmaster of a high school somewhere in the north pleading for government assistance because cows have invaded his school.


We had a farm when I was in primary school and it was well fenced. How could a whole secondary school throw up its hand up and watch cows destroy its property? What would it cost this school to expend some energy in cutting the woods and the ropes to build a fence? Why should government in Accra be bothered with these types of patently silly requests as though it hasn’t got enough on its plate?

There was another story about the chief of a town in the Eastern region begging government to come and dig a well for them. He lamented how his people are forced to drink from a dirty stream. Gleefully, the journalists captured him on tape without asking him what type of chief cannot mobilize his own people to dig a common well.

I have to ask myself what exactly is wrong with us that we seem to have forgotten all about community service.

I remember as a young man how people in my home town gather to help neighbours build houses. The owner will provide the food and the whole town chipped in to build.

When the British colonized us they made us build all the infrastructures they thought we needed. They taxed us and use our labour to build the road, the dispensaries and the schools in our community. They bequeathed to us a public work Department to make sure that we had the wherewithal to take care of essential services.

I am not praising colonialism, but the PWD was a darn good initiative.

What happened to all those sense of community? What happened to make us become so helpless? What happened that make us think nothing of belittling ourselves begging all and sundry?

And what are my suggestions?

To begin with, methinks that it is time our leaders become bold enough to tell us some home truth.
Were I a president or a minister on a visit to a village or town and the chief beg for a well or a toilet. My answer would be that a chief that cannot organise his own people to build a common toilet or well does not deserve the stool. The headmaster of secondary who lacked the imagination to get his students to build a common fence deserve to be sacked.

It cost about GHC400 to dig a well deep enough to get fresh water. If people are too lazy to dig, let them contribute and hire people to do it for them. When they have funeral, they always contribute. They also always manage to get enough money to buy their daily dosage of liquor, but when it comes to providing themselves with basic essentials of life, they clamour for help from government or foreign NGOs.


About the Author

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and Correspondent for the New African magazine. Femi lives in both Europe and Africa, and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the CEO of Alaye Dot Biz Limited Dot Biz, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organisation that specialises in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

His highly-acclaimed books (“Africa: Destroyed by the gods,” “Africa: It shall be well,” “18 African Fables & Moonlight Stories” and “Ghana: Basic Facts + More”) are now available for sales at the following bookshops/offices:

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  5. African Kitchen in Amsterdam Bijlmer

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Femi Akomolafe



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