The Writer’s role in the fight against neo-colonialism

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The Writer’s role in the fight against neo-colonialism


(A paper delivered at the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) 2016 Independence GAW Sunday, March 6, 2016)


Greetings Mr. President, GAW Executives, Members and invited guests.

My topic is on the role African writers can play in the fight against neo-colonialism.

My own simple, non-academic, definition of neo-colonialism is when a people consciously adopted foreign ideas and culture to the detriment of their own, in the false belief that it is superior to theirs.

Let me begin with an apt quotation from the late president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “If you want to know what neo-colonialism is, look at the food on your plate.”

Today, from whichever angle we choose to examine it, our continent is a pathetic caricature of Europe. From politics to religion to dancing to fashion to football, we ape our colonial masters. Mind you, I did not say former. Despite all the pretensions of independence, we are in a state of undeniable neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism rule every facet of our lives.

Let us look at just three manifestations of neo-colonialism in Africa:

  1. Political System

We currently operate what we are told is a democracy, which Abraham Lincoln defined as the government of the people by the people and for the people.

I am more inclined to agree with Kwame Nkrumah who defined western-styled democracy as the competition between oligarchs.

It requires only a little intelligence to know that Abraham Lincoln’s definition is patently false and Nkrumah’s is true.

The question one needs to ask is: why should we believe that politicians are Father Christmas, who will spend their money to win elections, in order to go and represent our interests in parliament or in government?

We need only to glance through any newspaper published across Africa to know that our people are yet to enjoy any dividends from almost three decades of so-called democracy. We still lack basics like water and electricity which people in other climes take for granted. All we read about are vast sums of state funds disappearing into private pockets in mind-boggling corruption cases.

Rather than look critically at the root causes, we tend to accept western media hype about corrupt African politicians. No, there is nothing inherently corrupt about us; the political system we chose to operate is simply rotten to the core.

Election campaigns are very expensive. Posters, Billboards, advertisements in the newspaper, radio and television don’t come cheap. Why then do we appeared to be surprised when people want to regain what they invested in their political ventures?

The system our parents bequeathed to us did not require vast sums of money, and it is to a very large extent devoid of the acrimony and violence we see today across Africa. Elections in Ghana are still about seven months away, already the country is on tenterhooks. Why should the simple affairs of electing rulers stressed us out so much?

Let us contrast the current system with what our parents practiced before Europeans imposed their system on us.

Unlike the current system which guaranteed that only seriously rich people will ever come to power, traditional African political system ensured that rulers are elected on the basis of well-known criteria which, until recently, people generally respected.

  1. Economic system

We operate an economic system that is not only alien to us but is demonstrably inimical to our well-being. A week or so ago, I kept an appointment at the Trauma and Specialist Hospital at Winneba. For the first time in years, I was moved to tears when I saw my doctor ferrying water with jerry cans. He told me that he had no water in his flat, so had to rely on fetching from the hospital. I helped him.

How did we end up not having common water piped into our homes after almost sixty years of self-governing ourselves? How did we end up selling all those gold, bauxite, timber, cocoa, etc, etc and yet remain heavily indebted, whilst our people are deprived of life’s basic comforts?

Why is a phone call to far away from New Zealand or Australia cheaper than a call to say Togo or Ivory Coast?

The only rational explanation is to be found in the neo-colonial structure of our economies.

A few years ago, I interviewed the former Chairman of the CPP, Comrade Nylander, who told me the interesting tale that the shipment of his Alata Samira soap to Liberia have to pass through Spain. There is only one country between Ghana and Liberia, yet we cannot trade among ourselves without Europeans making a cut.

Let us consider another ludicrous example. Each time Africans trade among themselves, European a make a cut simply because we use their currency. A Ghanaian that wants to but something from Nigeria will have to buy Euro, pounds or dollars. So, without lifting a finger, Europeans benefit from intra-African trade.

We lamented loudly when our president bemoaned our spending US$600m on food imports. Rather than eat what we produce, our palate has been calibrated to process Pizza, Indomie, Thai Rice, Brazilian sugar, Italian Macaroni, British mad cow, expired Dutch cheese and Australian pig feet.

Our youth today spend their time and money on watching and betting on European footballs. They very proudly purchase the paraphernalia of European football clubs.

Close to sixty years of independence we still lack the intelligence to add any value to our products. We import virtually everything for our domestic and industrial use. Those we hail as businessmen are those that scavenge through European Boola and ship every discarded junk to sell on our streets and poison our environment.

We then come out to lament the sorry state of our economy, and the sinking value of our cedi.

  1. Judicial system

It is very sad how we in Africa have been so brainwashed to regard the imposed system we operate as the natural order of thing.

In the sphere of the justice system, we have our well-learned lawyers ready to argue that nothing beats their so-called rule of law, where the law is said to be no respecter of anybody.

We have trained our minds to accept such false postulations uncritically.

Of course, the law is a respecter of rich people. Visit any police cell or jail and you will see poor people packed like sardines for offenses rich people will never be bothered with.

There are men and women who have been sentenced to stiff jail terms for stealing fingers of plantain, yet a few days ago Mr. Woyome was telling the Supreme Court that he needs three years to pay back the money he allegedly falsely took from the state.

As writers, we need to ask critical questions. How many of us who have been to court understand anything that goes on there? And we are the educated ones. Pity our illiterate folks who have been dragged to such totally alien and intimidating environment as we have in our law courts. From the police station through the court proceeding everything is stacked against the citizen, including the dispensing of justice to our people in foreign languages.

Yet, we boast about our civilized judicial system.

About two years ago, I spent a few weeks in Juaben, Ashanti Region. I was privileged to watch the judicial system of the Juaben state at work. Starting early morning, the Chief held court together with his top Chiefs and Elders. They patiently sat through several cases where people are giving all the time they want to air their grievances. In the end, the Chiefs and Elders pass judgment, the object of which was to reconcile the feuding parties.

I cannot but shake my head in admiration at this most effective and humane system of justice.

Not only were the people given all the opportunities they needed to vent their anger, but they also spoke in their own in their own language, and they are judged by rules and customs in which they are well accustomed and comfortable.

We can contrast the Juaben judicial system to the judicial system Ghana adopted from the British, where litigants have to employ the services of high-priced lawyers, who go to court and speak a language only a few initiates understand.

At the end of the day, Judges, in menacing wigs, will pass a judgment that lay heavy emphasis on punishment and none, whatever, on reconciliation.

The question is: How did we in Africa manage to allow ourselves to be convinced that our traditional system of justice that sought reconciliation over retribution is inferior?

What saddens the most about our present situation in Africa is that every evidence we have today point to Africa as the birthplace of man. No scientist today doubt that we are the original human beings, and every other race originated from us. We have a history that goes to the very beginning of time.

The question is thus provoked: How did we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked into accepting that European imposition of the last six centuries is the natural order of things?

What then is our role as writers to help combat creeping neo-colonialism that threatens to engulf us?

In one of my books, “Africa: It shall be well, I opined that it is the sad duty of writers to chronicle the ills of their societies.

To me, it quite simple, if we, as writers don’t speak out about the ills we see in our society, who will?

Do we criticize because know better? I don’t think so.

Do we spend our time wailing about the failings we see around us because we don’t have better employment for our time? From my own experience, I can say that is far from the truth.

Again, drawing from my own experience, I can say that we criticize because we see things differently, and we burn with passion and desire to make a change in the society in which we live.

We do not criticize because we hate Mr. President or Minister A or Z.

Does it mean that we have all the answers? Definitely not.

We criticize because we know how far behind other races we Africans are in terms of human development. We want us to be in a hurry to stop Africa being the world’s laughing stock.

Let me end this piece with a quotation from one of the most celebrated writers of all times, Chinua Achebe: “Writers don’t give prescription. They give headaches.”


About the Author  

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, 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 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.

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.
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  3. Ghana Writers Association office, PAWA House, Roman Ridge, Accra.
  4. Afia Beach Hotel, Accra

Where to buy them online:

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