“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”
― Chinua Achebe.
When I take time out to reflect and observe what exactly is capturing the hearts and minds of Africans and Africans in the Diaspora, particularly within the digital terrain of social media: facebook, twitter and blogosphere being the most obvious culprits; I have to say there is a great deal of African therapeutic narcissism, and little else concerning the ‘life of the mind’. I have been thinking about this a great deal recently, and include the caveat here, that this is my own very biased and subjective personal standpoint – though I could back it up with a few sufficient sources, lamenting similar issues, but that’s another blog.
One such source, that prompted me to explore this further, included a recent piece in the online magazine Africa is a Country.’The piece starts with the simple question: if we were to compile a list of Africa’s most influential thinkers who would they be? Of course, the usual suspects spring to mind for me, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Chinua Achebe, Samir Amin and so on, but what is distinctly lacking is “fresh blood” as we like to say in the hallowed halls of academia. I am tired of the cacophony of anti-intellectual blockheads who deplore the revered space of the public square, and lack understanding of the function of the public intellectual, and the life of mind. Is it any wonder that the hotly anticipated African renaissance, has not yet produced a Hannah Arendt, an Edward Said, a Frantz Fanon or a Walter Rodney for our times?
For the mainstream ‘eurocentric’ media, we can reel off a Owen Jones, a Will Hutton or a Polly Toynbee, but where or who are Africa’s equivalents I was recently horrified to see the online colonization of African intellectual historiography, in my facebook feed, compiled and [re]presented by a mere charlatan, preaching race hatred, in the guise of pseudo Afrocentrism; and unfortunately, we are complicit in such tainted renderings of African existentialist, and ontological being. Where are our serious thinkers? I demand to know this now.
This question was put to poll by Africa is a Country in pursuit of a response to this question, and this is the the sort of lazy minded response, we continue to think is acceptable (and sadly, this is not even satire):
“We confess this list is subjective and that is why we have a second round where your suggestions will make up the choices. Others wanted to know why we’re not including people on twitter: Our response is that we are not sure 140 characters make you “an intellectual.” A lot of stuff on twitter, including our own tweets, is half-baked and amounts to what Americans call “carnival barking” (in the service of traffic or attracting followers), so it is better to leave that alone.
Where have all the intellectuals gone? Who are the next Chinua Achebe’s?
So, I have also been thinking about what impact celebrity factor might have on the dearth of African intellectuals?
The white celebrity savior industrial complex is not about justice. It is about bolstering the egos of celebrities, often used as vessels for the industrial white aid complex engaged in service of elite capture of African self-determination. Central to this process of elite capture is the infantilisation of Africans on all levels: its government, its leaders (absolutely corrupt and beyond redemption); its children ( orphans bereft of the capacity for ‘care of the self’); its women ( unfit to mother the children, they so wantonly bring into this living hell); and its youth (a lost generation, devoid of vision, and bedeviled by the post-traumatic disorder – redolent in fragile/post-conflict fragile zones). This is the movie set the ‘white’ savior descends upon to re-enact their small acts of ‘compassion’.
The celebrity [do-gooder], embraces their mission on the continent with such self-righteous philanthropic zeal – rather like an obscurantist religious sect known as the bleeding Pharisees. In this guise, celebrity piety covers its eyes in the presence of African success stories, so as not to even look at those who succeed against all odds (much less acknowledge their existence) and ends up banging into walls. Their resulting blood and bruises become “red badges of courage” which they proudly display as proof of their piety. Is it any wonder why we have the mysterious cultic phenomenon of the ubiquitous kabbalistic celebrity red wrist bracelet, championed by Kabbala’s high priestess Madonna? Hmm …
Against this background, enter the Manchild project - KONY 2012. Here you have a bunch of high-tech multi-media, celebrity- philanthropist wannabes. They strike gold with their viral video – GET KONY, a resplendent, but equally pesky little African romp.
I ask myself: “Why do these young upstarts behave like they have just dropped a whole bunch of ecstasy tabs, and insist on treating the African Continent, as if it were one massive bacchanalian revel?”
Surely, it is time for a paradigm shift – enter the black celebrity vessel. Woe! and if I had a hammer!
If you raise a generation of youth on a narcissistic diet of dumb idols, such as Jay-Z, Beyonce,Lady Gaga, P Diddy, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Kanye West and such like: reality tv junk - Pop Idols, American Idols, X-Factor, Sunday Best, Big Brother, and I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here ; send them to church on Sunday to engage in the same lust for fame and attention, peddled by present day ‘Pulpit Pimps‘, is it any wonder, we reproduce a vacuous army of KONY 2012 clones?
We need more Ngugi wa Thiongo’s - deep thinkers and challengers of the status quo
If these celebrities (as has been widely reported), callously continued to party like it was 2099 earlier this year at the pre-Grammy function, whilst Whitney Houston’s dead body lay in a room above them, do we really think P Diddy, Rihanna et al give a hoot about the plight of “30,000″ dead Ugandan children?” As the proverbial saying goes, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” Let’s face it, Kony 2012 should have been titled, “When Will I [Jason Russell] be Famous” – you have until December 31, 2012, to bring me said blood sacrifice! Madness begets more madness.
When will I be Famous…
If I were to come up with a modern day nemesis for KONY 2012, it would have to be: our unfettered lust for consumerism, at its zenith, during the Global North’s insatiable property boom, which led us into the global economic crisis we currently find ourselves in. Except, this time, it’s African souls that are being merchandised, and the boom continues – speculating over how we might “end poverty in Africa”…
“Few things blind human beings to the actual consequences of what they are doing like a heady feeling of self-righteousness during a crusade to smite the wicked and rescue the downtrodden.“
But I digress.
Recently I came up with the novel idea of Development Factor and rather like the KONY 2012 narrative is simple. Those International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), wishing to tout their projects and proposals to “help the poor” in Africa, in an extremely competitive market, would have to present their ideas to a panel made up of ‘authentic’ African Development Factor Judges. One or two celebrities might be thrown into the mix for good measure. Imagine the educational benefits of visualising the various stages of the the creative process, in setting up an NGO project and making this transparent to a now almost development savvy global audience? After all the bottom line is, every one wants recognition, everyone is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame, why not turn it into something more constructive, that democratises development, and truly engages the public and local/indigenous communities in more meaningful ways?
KONY 2012 has blown open a much-needed debate, which has been dominated by economists and politicians and development professionals for half a century Quite rightly, Invisible Children did not want to alienate it’s targeted audience with the technical vernacular of development experts, and the semantics of economic growth. However, paradoxically, the simplicity of the KONY 2012 narrative, revealed a void in knowledge about human behaviour – that is rooted in beliefs about what constitutes progress and development.
A New Breed of African Intellectuals
“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. ”
― James Baldwin
When all is said and done, one truth remains eternal here: we need a new breed of ‘Africanist’ scholars, who will pursue the task of their scholarly quest, with a pragmatic zeal that is second to none – as organic intellectuals, not ivory tower dim wits. Lest we forget a PhD doesn’t make you smart, or intellectual – there is no end of educated fools!
If you are vain and think the title will go nicely with your Dolce & Gabana tote, and your “in” circle of FB friends – go audition for X-Factor or F-Idols, and may you be forever confined to a wilderness, where you never receive manna from heaven – a shadow of an original thought of creativity – that might give you a clue how to get out. If your goal however, is to demystify – open eyes and ears to the mess this world is in, then may your path be filled with wonder, joy and the discernment, that knowledge puffs up, but LOVE builds up.
It never ceases to amaze me, how the powers that be continue to be the number one cheer leaders, in support of African buffoonery and intellectual inertia. One only need scratch the surface to discover the donors and sponsors, adept in this “Simon Cowell” type selection [read, schmoozing] or ‘we’re on the road to nowhere’ leaders. Of course, some Africans have internalised this longitudinal psychosis, enough to keep this diabolical pantomime of mediocrity on the road for themselves. And like all good pantomimes, let’s not mention colonialism /neo-colonialism, as the popular refrain goes [repeat after me]:
“Where is it?”
“It’s over, there”
I end as I begun: Where have all the African intellectuals gone?
* Main image from PulpBooks.co.za.
(C) 2012, Dr Claudette Carr.
About Dr Carr:
Dr Carr is the founding Director of the Jethro Institute for Good Governance (JIGG), and has over seventeen years experience lecturing in International and Community Development, Youth & Community Work, Social Work, and Social Policy, at Brunel, Birbeck, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences (Switzerland) and the University of Westminster. Alongside Lucerne colleagues, as Principal Lecturer, Claudette co-ordinated the programme for the MA in International Community Development. As the London Course leader, she successfully facilitated the Summer School in International Community Development at Westminster. In Partnership with J!GG, The Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee, and the University of Westminster, Claudette has set up and secured funding for the Sylvia Pankhurst Scholarship for Ethiopian girls, and the Dr John Garang Scholarship for South Sudan starting in September 2012.
She holds a PhD in education and degrees in social science and applied anthropology from Goldsmiths College, and is also JNC qualified in youth and community work. Her research interest include Community politics and new social movements; black and ethnic self-organisation in the UK and Diaspora; the emergence of vernacular histories and indigenous knowledge(s) and their impact on the assertion of ethnic identity. Her PhD thesis looked at ‘How Black History is constructed and represented in different sites of education’.Claudette is currently researching Diaspora Organisations in the Horn of Africa and their role in community Governance (Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia). She is the co-author of an open letter to the Swedish Minister of Culture, that address the recent Swedish Racist Cake controversy, and recently participated in the conversation- ‘Racism is No Joke A Swedish Minister and a Hottentot Venus Cake’, which will be published in a forthcoming anthology, Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe (Routledge, 2012), edited by Michael McEachrane and with a foreword by Professor Paul Gilroy.