I am African, I am not Poor. Yes, It's Possible!

I am extremely AFRICAN…and yes I am not poor or malnourished and I can speak about three other 'International' languages. No, I wasn’t forced into an early marriage, I married out of love and yes, that college degree is as real as the architecture on Donatella’s face. My vagina is perfectly in place, nobody ever tried to mutilate me thank you very much for asking. I don’t have ‘THE HIV’ hahahaha….’the HIV’…this one always gets to me.

And I think I know just where to place that verb and subject in a sentence without stuttering along the way. Oh yeah, my sister is dating a man with surprisingly lower levels of melanin on his skin than us but it’s not for reasons you might think. Our family doesn’t need rescuing; we actually donate to charities of our own every now and then. Ah, let’s not forget, that President of Africa they told you about in school, he doesn’t exist! Yes, it’s true! THE HORROR!!!!!!

Enough about my grievances.

I really don’t know who to blame for the way some foreign folks think about anyone that comes from Africa. You go an international conference and introduce yourself as coming from African, next thing you see is these folks wearing sorrowful and solemn expressions on their faces, their eyes literally telling you, "we are very sorry."

Could it be just sheer ignorance on their part or did Africans, on their own volition make the foreign folks believe that they are always in deer need of saving be it emotionally, biologically, physically, socially, economically and whatever else you can think of? Most of the times I meet friends or gotten acquainted to someone from ‘another world’, I am amazed by the shock they seem to register on their faces when they get to know me a little better. You can literally see their huge ball of prejudice and ignorance burst into bubbles. It’s horrendous!

After my recent unfortunate encounter, I found myself wondering – who is to blame for all this; the Geographic Channel, the History Channel, the NGO’s, our governments, or ourselves? This is a very big issue and someone needs to take responsibility for it and get on straight to fixing it before someone gets struggled in their own web of ignorance.

I have heard of experiences from many Africans who have travelled to foreign countries and have been subjected to treatment stemming from people’s ignorance. The pitiful looks on their faces, for some the disdain, others the –don’t-get-close-it’s-a-plague kind of treatment. And Ebola really didn’t help things somewhere about last year – an insufferable and nefarious disease this one. Thank God we are all about done with it. Did you know, The USA actually had cases of Ebola and Zambia (an extremely African country) didn’t!?? You say?? Indeed.

But who’s responsible for the misrepresentation of all Africans and who is to correct this heinous error? They say charity begins at home so let me start on a national scale; our own governments! I should state that this is merely my opinion and I am not in any way presenting it as a fact. The tendency by many Africans to elect into government people that lack merit but only out of loyalty is one of the things I am holding responsible for how people elsewhere regard us.

How is it possible that for so many years we have been boasting of natural resources, the copper, the gold, the land yet we do not own any of it? They are mostly in the hands of other people and we rely on them to show us how to run them. Now let’s not get all xenophobic…international relations are imperative especially for developing countries like Zambia. However, I feel that there is need for some major reorganization in terms of managing our own resources.

It could be a fact – to some extent that we lack the capacity to run our own affairs but when are we going to start building the foundation so that in future, we can possess the means to do so on our own? I get totally embarrassed when our states men travel long distances to get medical attention in other countries and the embarrassment levels reach even higher heights when they return their bodies in bags and not in some fancy seat in the first class section of some fancy airline. It’s embarrassing. The questions I keep asking myself are; since when have government representatives been getting sick? How much does it cost to cover all the possible expenses of that patient and his whole entourage?

If we were to put all those expenses together, couldn’t we possibly afford to build our own state of the art hospital where these people can be taken to when they fall sick? I will not even begin to talk about the health of almost everyone we put in positions of power. It is not as if we don’t know the truth. Our problem is that even when we know that we are making a grave mistake, we continue with our plans and then spend the rest of our lives on our knees begging God in prayer expecting a miracle. These days, such miracles come with a price tag and they do not bear the face of God.

It is true that I am not in any position to know or even imagine how a country is run, but unfortunately, I have been put in a seat that requires me to suffer the consequences of how that country in question is being operated – whether good or bad. I have found myself in a position to see first-hand how much is spent on allowances for government officials who are sent out to perform duties that they were initially put in their positions to do yet some of them have refused to perform those duties when they felt the allowances where just too low or the lodge they were booked into was not to standard. Now picture in your head the kind of universities or hospitals we would have if we were to cut off on all those fancy allowances we seem to spent on unnecessarily and yet we proudly raise our heads during meetings and call ourselves ‘developing countries?’ For how long are we going to be a developing country? The shame. The shame.

I am of the belief that sometimes for one to succeed, he or she must suffer a loss or make some kind of sacrifice. I am not looking at the big picture right now, I am simply looking at parts of that picture that are visible from where I am sitting and what COULD be done to change some things. If there are ways we can avoid all that donor funding, the huge debts, and the like…if it meant going hungry as a nation for three days so we could correct these things and set ourselves on the path for stability, couldn’t we do that?

And then we have ourselves as Africans to blame. Here I am talking about two major things; 1: Being lazy every day and expecting our governments to perform miracles. Even little things we can do for ourselves we are like; 'the government should look into it." 2- Those people we see on the streets rushing to tourists or anyone with a ‘white’ colour to their skin begging with impunity. I especially despise those kinds of people. Let me focus on the laziness part first. Here’s an example; you live in a small community and for over twenty years you have had no running tap water whatsoever. However, there are streams and rivers surrounding your area where you draw water from. You keep complaining that the water isn't clean and it's making your children sick so the government should look into it. But what's really making that water dirty? A look to the left a short distance away is a huuuge pile of refuse that's interrupting the natural flow of water. 

Now I'm not saying that there are no people out there who are in desperate need of clean water, there are plenty who genuinely need help sourcing clean water. However, there are instances where certain needs can be met...in this case, people putting their heads together to ensure that their only source of water isn't polluted or contaminated by their own carelessness instead of crying their lungs out on national tele demanding the government 'to do something.'

I think that we lack the self-drive to make things happen for ourselves, always waiting on someone else to do things for us. There are so many ways one could think of to get water to that village only if they put their heads together. Even if it’s gonna be dirty water, just get it so that when next the camera’s come, you can proudly ask the ‘government to compliment your efforts because it’s their responsibility as well as it is yours.

Recently, there has been talk of the government installing surveillance cameras on the streets and much of the response has been, ‘you wait, these are Zambians, they will steal them the very first night they are installed!’ And we all have been saying that without shame. Well, shame on us people. I don’t know if we have a natural inclination towards self-destruction but we have somehow managed to render ourselves poor and incompetent by our own hands. All that vandalism, the dirty streets and dirty towns…we are responsible for all of that. Imagine what would happen if people stopped throwing their garbage anyhow. Then we wouldn’t be crying to the government to come clean up our streets! It’s like what they say about love, you first need to love yourself before anyone else can love you or before you can dare love another. That’s just how things work.

We do not need Barrack Obama to send his people to teach us about what diseases we are likely to suffer if we continue throwing our rubbish anyhow. The truth is that we already know but we are too wrapped up with being rescued by others while we cover our faces crying about poverty and what-not.

On the second part – black folks approaching white people on the streets to beg for money. Forget all people with disabilities and let’s focus on that one man with fully functioning body parts. If there was no white person passing through, he would have approached a fellow black person to beg for money but the minute he sees a white person, there he rushes. Here’s my issue; I am naturally offended and embarrassed by such sheer laziness, and you going ahead to sink in the brain of that tourist that that’s how Africans are only makes my blood boil to a record high.

If anything, I would rather you approached me for assistance and leave that person/tourist alone. I always imagine the stories the tourists take back home concerning the many instances they get ambushed on the streets for a dollar or two. It’s preposterous. It should stop.

And then we have NGO’s, the TV channels and the movies authored by foreigners who have only heard about Africa from third parties or lived only in one African country. The poor research done on Africa by some of the blockbuster movies I have watched with an African setting really makes my stomach churn in dismay. I have seen episodes of the American series Black'ish, a series obviously aimed at presenting the black community in a positive new light make stupid and careless blunders when referencing aspects of Africa which could have been avoided had they done some actual research rather than visiting a few pages on Google. Oooh, how I cringe whenever they do that. 

I am tired of seeing the image of poverty being that face of that malnourished kid from Africa on white people’s TV’s. FYI, we also have very fat poor people in Africa. The issue here is that this is what people outside Africa are constantly seeing whenever someone says the word ‘Africa.’ Oprah Winfrey visited Africa – motion or still images of her feeding or carrying a sad and sick looking kid. Modonna visits Africa – same story. 

When Hollywood celebrities donate, they don’t donate to a country, a foundation, or a cause, they simply donate to Africa. The face of HIV is Africa even when other developed countries have rising HIV figures which are not always revealed to the world because they don't need anyone's help to keep the virus under wraps or offer treatment to those infected. However, over here in Africa, we need the world to see those figures because how else will we come the money coming!?  Some of these many mushrooming NGO’s dressed up in humanitarian uniforms are painting our nations as disease-ridden ones simply because they are greedy. And where do they even get those figures from?? Sadly, this is what kids overseas grow up seeing and hearing and these are the kinds of people I meet and they shyly ask me if my vagina is intact.

It is not nice when we are greeted by all this prejudice just by virtue of being African and it needs to stop. This change should start from home. For all those people seeking donor funding or seeking to borrow, please save us some dignity. Yes there are a lot of poor people in Africa but when presenting those figures and showing those images, try to put some smiling faces and healthy looking people because it’s very possible for one to be hungry and still afford to smile for the cameras. I know that it might be hard for you to get funding if people appear happy in the accompanying images you've saved for your Power Point presentations, however, just because these people are poor does not mean they don't have any dignity. It would also help to find alternative means of empowering poor people instead of feeding them so that eventually they can stop depending on others.

For those people outside Africa who might not know, maybe because they had no chance to or because they were raised to believe otherwise, not all Africans are poor. Yes, most African governments are poor but it’s not all of them. We have water, electricity, judicial systems, cars, cinema’s and very good looking houses and mansions over here but you will not get to see such on tele because ‘it doesn’t sell well.’ Television stations need those ratings and some greedy folks back here at home need the funding to keep coming.

As Africans, we should take a larger chunk of responsibility for how people perceive us out there. We need to change the way our brains function and learn to love ourselves more. Let us not wait on people to pave the way for us. If we want to see change, we should work at it and make sacrifices along the way. I reiterate, “charity begins at home.”

My government might lack money to run the country successfully but on a personal level, I think I have worked hard enough to rise above the ‘poverty’ line. And I think my country will too if everybody resolved to see that most needed change.

Published by Anisha Simutowe


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