On Pessimism and Optimism

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On Pessimism and Optimism


[This article caused huge consternation when it was published in the Dutch newspaper, ‘ de Volkskrant, in 1994.]


What then did you expect when you unbound the gag that muted those black mouths? That they would chant your praises? Did you think that when those heads that our fathers had forcibly bowed down to the ground were raised again, you would find adoration in their eyes?” – Jean-Paul Satre


When the boxing great, Mohammed Ali, returned from a visit to the erstwhile Soviet Union, he complained about how glum the people were looking.

Never the one to keep his opinion to himself, Ali declared that “… they all look as though they are going to face a firing squad” – or something to that effect.

I wondered if Ali ever visited Germany! I was recently in Dusseldorf together with a friend. My first impression was the total absence of human-like feelings among the Germans. Everyone was looking so grave, as though the burden of the world rest on his\her shoulder. There is material opulence all around, no doubt, but it was hard to find a single smiling German! The houses are big and well kept; the shops are brimming with goodies. People come and go in their big Mercedes limousines and looking as though attending funerals. There were no smiles; no joy. The atmosphere was business-like, almost dead-pan. It was unbelievable. It confirms, in my mind, the saying that you can buy luxury, but you cannot buy happiness. Happiness is something you got in you. The Germans have all the luxuries, yet they do not strike me as particularly happy people.

Whenever I read accounts of European travelers in Africa, I shake my head by their total lack of understanding of the African psyche. Brought up on the diet of consumption (over-consumption) and material aggrandizement, the European surrounded himself with every description of gadget technology can whip up – dish-washer to cater for eating utensils, washing machines to take care of clothes; automobile to tool around town; lifts and elevators to pull him up and down two-story buildings; remote control to enable him to sit comfortably in a chair and control all these technological marvels, the result is that he has become too dependent on these creations to do anything without them. The European has succeeded in taking the toils out of his life and the joys as well.

The more you have, the more you want to have, another old saying goes. The European has been successfully turned into a consuming junkie, to be preyed upon by the big corporations churning out newer and newer marvels. There is no escape since society has come to accept this as the natural order of things. That is among the reasons I find Dutch parties so boring. About the only thing people discuss is their material possessions – the new house, new toilet seats, new car, etc.

People have to come to define themselves by the amount of materials things they have in their houses. The society at large has also accepted this. Do you ever notice how people are judged solely on appearance? The bigger the car, the more important a person is deemed to be. Bank accounts have become the sole determinant of a man’s worth. A man with a low or non-existent bank balance is deemed worthless and treated as such. It is a crime to be poor in these societies.

Finding no real happiness in the innate objects with which he has surrounded himself, the European has to escape once in a year from all the drudgery of his technology. He buys his tickets and takes a trip to Africa. What does he find? People crawling out of their little huts with a wide smile on their faces. Men toiling in the tropical heat, humming sonorous songs. Women, with children on their backs, toiling and yet chatting happily. Bare-footed kids with a loin for a cloth scampering around in joyful plays.

The European is astounded.

How could people be so happy in such a materially-deprived existence? That is the great African mystery. That is what the Europeans, with all their newly found sciences and technologies, have been unable to unravel.

What makes the Africans tick?

Europeans are incapable of thinking of happiness sans mechanical gadgets; that is their real tragedy.

Picture yourself as the European. You invaded a man’s home, kill his father, rape his mother, enslaved his brothers and sisters and return to colonize his village, how would you react to find such a man smiling?

That is the mystery Europeans have been trying to unravel. Why do Africans smile in the face of great adversities?

My simple answer is that the African is forever an optimist while the European is a pessimist and a tragic fellow.

The European can think only in terms of conquest, domination, and violence. This has been his HIStory:

Greece = Pelasgians
Rome = Etruscans
America = Red Indians
Australia = Aboriginals
New Zealand = Maoris
South Africa = Khoisans, Hottentots

Europeans relish tragedies as you might have noticed in their books and films. Consider the books the Europeans consider great. In almost all of them the hero or heroine all met tragic ends. You will remember the Greek tragedies.

Europeans consider William Shakespeare a great writer, do you remember his Julius Caesar and his Macbeth and the others where the heroes\heroines met violent ends – all tragedies!

As in his books, so are in his films and theaters. The European relishes tragedies, he consumes it and is sometimes consumed by it. It is little wonder that he’s sometimes overwhelmed by his tragedies.

He even carries this onto his religion. Of all the things with which the greatest icon of his religion could be represented, the European chose a Jesus nailed to a cross.

According to the Biblical account, Jesus lived up to thirty-three years before he was executed. In his lifetime, he was purported to have performed about thirty miracles. That must have been some interesting life. Why did the European chose to represent him as man, nailed to the cross, in obvious agony? He could have been represented as an image preaching to a multitude. An image of his meditating on the mountaintop could also have been made. They could have depicted him turning water into wine.

That would, however, not conform to the European’s ideals. His sense of tragedy must make sure that the man must suffer and be seen to be doing so.

We do not need to travel back into antiquity to see the European mind at work. Let’s consider what he calls ‘mass-media.’ Pick up any ‘news’-paper in any country in Euro-America, what do you have except murder, rape, tragedies, calamities, wars, destructions, havoc, pestilence, and famines. There is hardly any cheering news about people partying, having fun, and enjoying life.

No, that’s not ‘news-worthy.’ Only calamities are news-worthy to Europeans.

Sample ‘news’ from the ‘The Western World’:

Special Report from our correspondent in Bombingham: “Two-hundred and forty people were killed yesterday when a car bomb, planted by the Terror Brigade, exploded during rush hour. More than six hundred people were injured, many very seriously.”

From our reporter in Nuclearistan: “Towns and Villages within a radius of three hundred kilometers were evacuated yesterday when the Ego-Trip Nuclear Reactor exploded spewing deadly radioactive materials. Experts believed that yesterday’s disaster easily dwarfed the Chernobyl’s, Ukraine, disaster of a decade ago.”

Our Stringer from Murdertown reports: “Police believed that a serial murderer, who has been terrorizing the sleepy town of Murdertown, claimed his forty-sixth victim yesterday, with the discovery of the badly-mauled body of a twenty-four-year-old construction worker, at the depth of a ravine.”

News Agency’s Reports: “The Mayor of Killerville broke down and wept as he joined mourners in the burial of thirty-eight citizens of Killerville massacred by a deranged local on Friday. ”

Our Special Correspondent in Rapedorp reports: “Police have issued a composite picture of a man they would like to interrogate in connection with the rape of an eighty-eight-year-old woman at her council flat early yesterday.”

Special reports from Nazidom: “Seventy-two Africans were burnt to death and two-hundred others were injured, when arsonists believe to be pro-Nazis, pre- Nazis, ante-Nazis, proto-Nazis, post-Nazis, and right-wing nationalists fire-bombed a hostel for asylum-seekers in this industrial German city. The youth numbering about fifteen were believed to be protesting the high unemployment rate that they blame on the recent wave of refugees from Africa. The police, whose spokesperson said that they are handicapped by the non-cooperative attitude of the local citizens, have made no arrest.

One of the injured, a twenty-one-year-old Ghanaian has appealed to his government to send him a ticket to enable him to return home vowing: ‘ Better to die of poverty at home than be turned into human barbecue. I no wan die in Germany, make my government help me, oh!'”

Some Africans have complained that Europeans appear jaundiced in their reporting on Africa. There is hardly a cause for complaint when we see that in his own country, the European hears, reads, and writes nothing except misfortunes.

As in his papers, so it is also in his electronic media. The television is always full of blood and anguish, of death and destruction. So are the movies. Sylvester Stallone pumped up muscle, packed the heaviest gun to wage imaginary wars on make-believe enemies. He became a Western Hero. Before him was a James Bond, a man ‘licensed to kill,’ who treats his women with the utmost contempt. Before that, we had John Wayne, a fast-gun whose destiny was to make the world safe for white people, after they stole other people’s land. That guy killed Indians on the screen as though they were flies. He was also a white hero.

And we have a big television station in ‘God’s own country,’ that has as a staple, a programme called ‘DISASTER CHRONICLES!’

It is rather distressing to see how the sight of disasters could thrill normal beings. Again, take sports for instance, what game do we see Europeans enjoy playing? They even managed to turn football into a do-or-die affair. The Latin-Americans, the Africans regard the world-cup as a mere sport to amuse and to entertain, not so the Europeans. They lack finesse, they lack style – it’s all muscle, only aggression.

Win or lose, it is a sheer joy to watch the Brazilians play their ‘Samba’ soccer or the Ghanaian their ‘Multi-System,’ I don’t know of any European team that plays for entertainment!

And consider what the Europeans call music. Watching the MTV is like seeing madmen in action. What do we have but weird-looking brutes, with brain and mind filled with every pharmaceutical known to chemistry, strumming unrhythmically and making weird noises. I do not know of any Lunatic Asylum that could be more clangorous than what they call ‘House Party in Europe.’

And we have supposedly normal people hipping-hopping to such noises.

And before you could yell ‘noise,’ they are doling out ‘Academy’, ‘University,’ and whatelsehaveyou awards.

I do not know of any other people who enjoy causing pain as the Europeans. Either to man or other living things, the European is at his best element when people suffer at his hand.

Wherever he goes, the European is incapable of thinking of EXISTING in COOPERATION and HARMONY.

No, he has to conquer; he must dominate. Everything has to be dominated.

Point to any part of the world where there is conflict, we will find a European directing the affairs either as a ‘Logistics expert,’ or ‘strategic specialists,’ or ‘tactical marvel,’ or ‘financial advisor.’

Of course, they will be running the guns.

After polluting and destroying much of the earth’s resources, the European is thinking of colonizing the heavens!

The so-called ‘primitive people’ kill animal ONLY for their food.

In contrast, the European kill for FUN. We have people in Spain spearing bulls and getting a kick from watching the poor animal’s blood flow. In Britain, fox-hunting is a great game. Year in year out, Britons packed their guns, their dogs leading them in search of foxes. No one eats foxes, yet thousands continue to be slaughter needlessly every year.

We are not talking here about the wretched of the society; these men are the crème de la crème of their communities, and it includes their Crown Prince.

And it is only in Europe that men have become so civilized that they have to go and shoot off laser guns to release aggression!

We have a European (my definition of a European include those bastards Europe sired in South Africa, Australia, Canada, and Amerikka), Buffalo Bill, boasting of having slain ten-thousand buffaloes. Mind you he didn’t kill them because he was hungry (no man could eat that amount of meat in a lifetime), he was just having fun!

At the height of their power, the Roman emperors passed their time watching people mauled by lions.

In ancient Rome, gladiators-professional combatants drawn from the ranks of prisoners of war, criminals, slaves, and volunteer freedmen-competed as public entertainment at festival games. Such combats were held in Rome as early as 264 BC as part of memorial ceremonies. Although some gladiators fought wild animals, the combats generally featured a pair of human contenders. The gladiators fought in various styles, depending on their background and training. Unless the audience or emperor indicated that he should be spared, a defeated gladiator usually lost his life. Increasingly elaborate, the imperial games sometimes exhibited thousands of pairs of gladiators in a series lasting several months; some private individuals sponsored fights with as many as 100 pairs. Despite their condemnation by many observers, the gladiatorial contests persisted until the early 5th century AD.” Michael Grant, ‘Gladiators.’

A few weeks ago, a well-meaning Dutch girl called and asked if I read the travelogue of an American in a Dutch newspaper. She recounted the prognosis the American made after a journey through West Africa. According to our learned professor, the sub-region will in the coming years be devastated by war, pestilence, famine and whatever have you.

I merely replied with a laugh. She was askance.

“How many of the dire predictions made by Euro-American supremacists about Africa in recent years have come to pass?” I asked her.

“See, we Africans laugh when we read those predictions. We laugh not because we do not have problems. But we laugh at your folly. The more you Europeans studied us, the less sense we make to you, right. We laugh because we know that you continue to be baffled by our tenacity and the inner strength that enable us to survive all the assaults you’ve been throwing in our direction over the centuries. We laugh because we know that your rulers and your scholars are expressing their wishes, and camouflaging the same as scholarship. You want us to disappear from the face of the earth, and the only thing you’re doing is collecting useless statistics to support your desire.

“We Africans do not define ourselves by your terms. We have learned the hard way not to. I was in the same region a year or so ago. I traveled to those countries and chatted with ordinary folks. I did not see people overwhelmed by their suffering. I did not see people consumed by pessimism. I saw vibrant people going about their business, trying their hardest to solve every day human problems. I saw music, colors, dancing and wide smiles everywhere I went.

“It is not that the people did not have problems, but they understand that life devoid of problems will be very boring indeed. Our strength lies in the fact that we are eternal optimists. We see opportunities in every calamity. In contrast, you Europeans see calamity in every opportunity. That is the most profound difference between us.

“A few years ago, your so-called scholars and scientists were predicting that Africa would be wiped out by the AIDS virus. Astronomical figures were conjured up to show how we are going to disappear. We are still here and that’s baffling you. You guys just don’t understand. For us, no pestilence, no blight could be more devastating than the slavery you imposed on our continent. No epidemic could drain us of one-hundred million of our strongest and brightest as you Europeans did. Europeans are the worst scourges ravaging Africa. This is the fact of the matter.

“You have killed more Africans than any virus could ever do. You have despoiled more African land than any horde of locust could ever achieve. You have pillaged, plundered more of our resources than any natural calamity could ever do. That’s why we take not seriously any of your so-called scientific analyses showing how we are going to perish. We are here on earth to stay. If slavery and colonialism did not destroy us, no force on earth can annihilate us. We shall continue to face the morrow with hope and confidence and cheerfulness. You Europeans can continue to be paralyzed by your stupid analyses.”

She was speechless.


About the Author

Femi Akomolafe, a passionate Pan-Africanist, was one of the PCs Pioneers and ran a Computer Consultancy firm in Amsterdam, the Netherlands for several years, where he also set up the first African Bulletin Board System (BBS), the precursor to the Internet. He also established the first Black Newspaper, The African, in the country.

Femi has been very active in the Pan African Movement since the early 1990s.

A columnist for ModernGhana and a Correspondent for the London-based 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 was also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organization that specializes in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

He is currently engaged in vegetable farming.

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 available for sales at the following bookshops/offices:

  1. Freedom Bookshop, near Apollo Theatre, Accra.
  2. WEB Dubois Pan-African Centre, Accra
  3. Ghana Writers Association office, PAWA House, Roman Ridge, Accra.

Where to buy them online:

On Lulu Books:

18 African Fables & Moonlight Stories https://goo.gl/Skohtn

Ghana: Basic Facts + More: https://goo.gl/73ni99

Africa: Destroyed by the gods: https://goo.gl/HHmFfr

Africa: It shall be well: https://goo.gl/KIMcIm


Africa: it shall be well

on Kindle books: https://www.createspace.com/4820404

on Amazon books: http://goo.gl/QeFxbl

on Lulu Books: https://goo.gl/SQeoKD

Africa: Destroyed by the gods

on Kindle books: https://www.createspace.com/4811974


18 African Fables & Short Stories: https://goo.gl/s9tWAf

 on Amazon books: http://goo.gl/1z97ND

on Lulu Books: http://goo.gl/KIMcIm

 My Lulu Books page: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FemiAkomolafe


Get free promotional materials here:

  1. Africa: it shall be well: http://alaye.biz/africa-it-shall-be-well-introduction-in-pdf/

A FREE Chapter of ‘Africa: It shall be well’ can be downloaded here: http://alaye.biz/africa-it-shall-be-well-a-free-chapter/

  1. Africa: Destroyed by the gods (How religiosity destroyed Africa) http://alaye.biz/africa-destroyed-by-the-gods-introduction/

A FREE Chapter of ‘Africa: Destroyed by the gods’ can be downloaded here: http://alaye.biz/africa-destroyed-by-the-gods-free-chapter/

Read a review here


Contact Femi:

Femi’s Blog:
Website: www.alaye.biz
Femi on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/author/femiakomolafe
Femi Akomolafe’s Lulu Books page: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FemiAkomolafe
Twitter: www.twitter.com/ekitiparapo
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/Femi Alaye;
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Email: fakomolafe@gmail.com
Profile on New African magazine: http://newafricanmagazine.com/tag/femi-akomolafe/

Kindly help me share the books’ links with your friends and, grin, please purchase your copies.


Femi Akomolafe





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