We and Them

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From my archives

(a polemical satire by Femi Akomolafe)


“We don’t know how we and them are going to work this out. But someone would have to pay for the innocent blood that they shed every day.” – Bob Marley.

History recorded Marie Antoinette, wife of France King Louis XIV, as admonishing the poor for not eating cake in the absence of bread. Methink historians were too harsh on the poor woman. With a thousand-man strong cooking department, ever ready to whip up dazzling gastronomic effects for her, we should comprehend Marie Antoinette’s inability to comprehend why Human Beings should riot over mere (for her) bread.

If, as I have written elsewhere, I have difficulties understanding human beings, rich men always flummoxed me.

In the month of June 1996, with all seriousness, top guns from across the globe gathered in Geneva (oh, God!) for a conference on the world’s poor. The irony will not be lost on anyone who knows that Geneva is among the most expensive cities in the world. Doesn’t it bordered on the laughable to be talking about poverty in the midst of the sickening opulence of Geneva!

‘The UN secretary-general’ shook hand with the world’s poor.’ The radios informed us. Big deal. Roll out the drums in celebration.

What do they take us for? That we are poor doesn’t mean that our senses should be so insulted. We may be poor, but we are human beings too. They may know it not, but we are also endowed with human emotions. Why should they expect us to be gratified by the touch of the flesh of the world’s top civil-servant? Would that handshake put bread on our tables or satiate our pang of hunger? Or would it help to improve our roaches-infested, mosquito-plagued, rats and mice-overwhelmed hovels we call home? Rich men are you mocking us!

Are they serious when they dressed in their designer-suits, model-shoes and custom-made watches and dance to the beats of their own drums? We can count too. The last time I check, a ticket to Zurich cost a little under two million cedis. Let’s assume that our delegates are fasting and that they sleep in telephone booths and walk to the conference hall and forgo their estacode. Are we so rich that we could throw away two million cedis to go to Geneva to discuss poverty? Can’t we go to Alajo or to Asylum-down?

Oh, mockingbirds! Do we need rich men to talk about the plight of poor souls? Poverty is relative, isn’t it? WE are poor because THEY are rich, ain’t that so? Their opulence is directly linked with our destitution, let us tell the truth. Their greediness is the cause of our wretchedness. We are poor not because there are not enough resources to go around, but because some people are getting more than their fair share of the national cake. Now, giddy by their newfound wealth, they can mock us and we are too poor and too weak to do anything about it! Would it not assault the senses if poor people should hold a conference to solve the problems of cash-gushers? Would our bottomless-pits not feel affronted should poor mortals have the effrontery to gather to talk about them? Won’t they send their police, army, and navy and air force to disperse us military alacrity for such treasonable, felonious offense?

Oh, deriders, do we need a conference to know that poverty is not good? If it isn’t good for them, it certainly is not good for us? What is there to ponder about? What is there to require the presence of a UN secretary-general?

All these bring us to the conversation I had with Yaw (he’s my best friend, remember?) last Saturday. It took place at our new favorite spot, Burkina Faso. I have managed to swindle another half a bottle of akpeteshi from the owners on the pretext of awaiting some cash pretty real soon. My debt is ballooning and becoming, according to them, gargantuan. I heard that they’ve started referring to me as ‘Brazil,’ – behind my back, of course.

These fellas should understand that these are hard times. There are always plenty of days left at the end of the money. I have no way of earning income until pay-day – yes, I still work for Alhaji. Woe betides the worker that asks Alhaji for salary-advancement.

With half the bottle of akpeteshi in our bellies, we were well lubricated enough to start discussing serious affairs. One discussion led to the other and we finally ended up discussing the relationship between rich and poor men.

On why poor people drink: The well-heeled always seems baffled on why we poor people drink so much. Am I missing something? Does it really require a Nobel-caliber intelligence to know why poor drink an inordinate amount of booze? They may know it not, but we are human too. They may be ignorant of it, but we are shamed by our lowly existence. It may not occur to them, but we are not happy with our miserable lives. It may not occur to them, but we want nothing but to flee our wretched environment, if only for a few moments of drunkenness.

The truth is that we drink ourselves silly because we hate our poverty! What else is there for us to do? Of course, we know the harm we’re doing to our bodies – you need not to tell us, professor doctor, thank you. If they don’t care about our body, why are they worried about our livers? Yes, we’re destroying our livers only because our body is already destroyed. Malnourishment has seen to it that I weigh less than a third of a healthy being of my age. Lack of vitamins has ensured that my skin has the texture of that of an octogenarian. My eyes are hollowed like that of a cadaver. I suffer from uncountable ailment but lack the money to treat any of them since SAP ordained that our hospital operate a ‘cash and carry’ policy. Yet, they are worried about my liver

Methinks that our money-bags should really be thankful that we drink so much. It baffles me that they are ignorant (with all their Oxford and Harvard degrees) of the psychological role drink is playing in maintaining the status quo. I wonder why the truth is escaping them that a drunk can’t a revolutionary make. They are getting away with their crimes against us because akpeteshi is proving the great emollient. With plenty of akpeteshi in the stomach, we can forget anything.

The rich, if they know what is really good for them, should really be waxing lyrical about the great drink. At least, in drinking ourselves silly, we are attacking ourselves, and not them. What are they complaining about? If we stop drinking today, the chances are great that we will turn to be what they won’t like us to be. Only a sober mind can harbour dangerous thoughts. Our faculties are too dulled for us to be any threat to them. Yet, they are complaining. Will they ever be satisfied?

If we stop drinking, we will pose a serious threat to the status quo. That is not good for anybody, is it?

On over-population: They don’t know why, in the words of one of them, why we are breeding so fast. They are even referring to us now in zoological terms – Animals breed; human beings give birth. Since we do not figure in their definition of human beings, let’s pardon them. They really don’t know why we’re breeding!

Let’s asked some questions. Cash-oozers, what do you really want us to do? Since your economics experimentations have taken our means of livelihood away, we have been consigned into a hopeless existence. There is no job for us. We are endowed with brains and muscles so we know how much we could contribute to our society. No, the gospel of market forces has ordained that we must not be allowed to work so that the economy can expand. Our children are out of schools so that we can realize our Vision 2020, or is it Hallucination 2020? What’s a healthy man to do waking up every day without anything to occupy his mind and hands and muscles? What can we do but grab our wives and …? You know the rest of the story.

They refused to build any form of recreation for us ghetto-dwellers. There is no library of any kind and no sporting facility of any description in our ghettoes, yet they are complaining. They never fathom us into any of their budgeting or their annual planning. Year in year out, billions are being budgeted to, they say, ameliorate our suffering, yet we remain in our wretched existence!

The answer to me is simple. These Politricians (sic) campaign on the premise that they want to serve their people. If that were so, how do they come to be lording over them? If the leaders are serious, why don’t they make the following amendments in the constitution:

  1. That no Official of any of the branches of government or of their organs thereof shall operate a foreign bank account. I believe that if our leaders are constitutionally obliged to keep their monies (looted or legally earned) in our banks, they will move heaven and earth to shore up our fast sinking currency and do something about our inflation-ridden economy.
  2. That no Official of any of the branches of government or of their organs thereof shall travel outside for the purposes of medical care. Our hospitals have become glorified dispensary because those ruling us know that at the slightest hint of health problem, they can rush to Europe or the U.S.A to get treatment. If our leaders are forced to go to the same hospitals we go, they will be forced to do something about our collapsing (collapsed?) health-care system.
  3. That no Official of any of the branches of government or of their organs thereof shall send his children to a school outside the country. I believe that it is highly immoral that those at the helm of our affairs and saw to the collapse of our educational system should think nothing of abandoning the ship they have run aground.



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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