Collective Effort in Africa: A Paradox?

It is interesting to note that this post has been inspired by a random google search(at this ungodly hour…clock’s marching towards 2 a.m. as I write this) on the “difference between oxymorons and paradoxes”. Not to put too fine a point to it, an oxymoron is a paradox reduced to two words.

I took it further and found some interesting illustrations on paradoxes. Humorous,too, they are.

Picture: 11973825

Picture: 11973856

That ought to adequately paint the picture.

I am one for rhetorics, and I posed this one a while back: Is there a place for Collective Effort in Africa?” (This at the time when the all famous Kenyans 4 Kenya campaign rolled out.)

2002. We witnessed what was dubbed the dawn of a new era, when Kenyan politicians came together in an act of unity to break through the iron gates of tyranny that had cost us way too much. I remember how my heart swelled with joy and hope as we watched Kenya’s key political players come together under the National Rainbow Coalition.  As is the nature of rainbows;no sooner do you spot them,soak in their beauty, than they disappear. I need not take us down memory lane on the disintegration of said coalition.

2008. A coalition government was formed, to put an end to the dark period that Kenya had succumbed to. Fruits of said coalition? (Feel free to generate a list if there have been fruits we can pride ourselves in for a good moment before some saddening news headline on an accident here or drought there pops up!…)

It is that time again. Kenya’s gearing up for an election year; politicians sprucing up on their ‘seductive lingo’…twingo(=twitter lingo) even,before hitting the campaign trail. Without an official opposition leader, or opposition party, this is bound to be an interesting ride. (Maybe there will be some collective effort,and a permanent one at that, to oust Sonko, Waititu and Kabogo…as someone on my twitter timeline called them; the unholy trinity of stupidity!)

Meanwhile, a considerable portion of a disgruntled and very dissatisfied electorate is rallying itself behind one of many initiatives out to ‘make a change’.  I,too, have found myself at the precipice of setting up an initiative to ‘make a change, or a difference’. The common enemy here? The incumbent politicians. It’s no secret, they have done a fantastic job of pissing us all off!! Clever fools they are! (that would be an example of an oxymoron, FYI…)

Said initiatives are in no small number, and it’s been interesting to watch their proliferation. So  I paused on my ambitious tracks to ask myself this all too important question: that which I’m setting out to do, is there someone else doing it already? So I took to my timeline, did a quick search of Kenyan initiatives on change and wow! Like I said,there’s no shortage of ideas and initiatives! It’s been whirlwind ride,trying to keep tabs of who’s doing what on this front!

I’ve spent the last couple of months studying this phenomenon, and it continues to confound me. I’ve spoken with and listened to the initiators/supporters of all these initiatives and one thing is clear: we all want things to be different come next year. But this question begs, where is the collective effort that would prove old sayings true? All those who were subjected to the 8-4-4 education system remember that ‘umoja ni nguvu, utengano ni udhaifu.’

On the matter that is 8-4-4, our country’s education system, did it instill the notion of collective effort, or did it encourage individualism? (Think about your experience, if you have any… When the mathematics teacher would come to class and jot down a ‘conc’ sum to be solved, did you attempt at  it with the rest or at least some of your classmates, or did you struggle with it on your own till you either solved it or gave up altogether?). In my experience, 8-4-4 has been a subtle instigator of  the ‘me, myself and I‘ school of thought, and unfortunately,a way of life that too many of us subscribe to, and while it’s not a bad thing to look out for oneself, it is a dangerous thing to be all that one ever thinks about/acts upon.

There have been instances where collective effort has manifested, but as for sustainability of said effort, well, I am looking for a success story.

Taking it to the rest of the continent, how are the economic and trade blocs and other alliances helping us fight the maladies that have plagued Africa for generations? Through their existence, is Africa a better place? Is Africa more united?

Collective effort in Africa: a paradox?


Author: Nanjira

Perched at the intersection of tech & governance, media, culture.

  • I have been grappling with the same question, for quite a long time, just never got around to blogging about it, though a paper was written at some point.

    Problem is that we are a nation still in evolution, we have a weird amalgam of community thinking and individualistic thinking.

    Let me explain. Traditional African culture, the individual was expendable, the community supreme. “New Age” African culture. Embraced individualism, but at the same time keeping the premise that the community owes them a living.

    One hundred years ago, if your neighbor was attacked by cattle rustlers, the community came to his aid, built him a new home, gave you three odd head of cattle to get you going again. If, however, you chose not to participate in that, should you be attacked by cattle rustlers etc, the community would not come to your aid. You would be cleaved from the community. Because times were harsh, one had to tow the line. If one stole from their neighbor, the punishment was cruel and unusual.

    Twenty first century Kenyan. Will not give to the community but feels that the community owes them a living. Think about the person who holds a harambee to do his/her Masters in the US, but proceeds to come and spite the very people who contributed to his/her success. Think about how community is called upon for leadership purposes. Or community is called upon for purposes of individual advancement. The checks and balances to ensure that those who take from the community give back are gone, so you have a situation where those who have not learnt to be fully individualistic get trampled upon. We still burn the thief when he/she steals from us but insisting that due process be followed when we are accused of crime.

    Just now to comment on your point, the biggest problem with Kenya has little to do with the education system and has everything to do with poverty. One of the fundamental requirements for a fully democratized society is a large middle class. Most people in Kenya don’t have the luxury of thinking about what will happen in five years time, many of them will not be alive etc, why should they care about what you promise them? The rich don’t form democracies, they form oligarchies. Hence, it’s the middle class who are charged with proper democracy. In Kenya, we simply don’t have enough people. And it’s a quandary, because without proper governance we will continue to wallow in this miasma of desperation. And the people who can make the change are kept desperate. I insist you read ‘The State of Africa’ by Martin Meredith. It will answer many of the questions you have on why Africa is as it is…

    • Wow,thanks Kaboro. And might I add, get to writing that post. I also have a problem with the fact that a proper understanding of Africa and how it works comes from without,outsiders looking in. The problem I have is not with them,but with us. If one can’t see that they’re ailing,there is no convincing them to seek a cure!

      Good insight you got there, will seek you out for further discussion.
      Sent from my BlackBerry®

  • Interesting post, I totally Agree with Kaboro’s sentiments up until he mentions the “need” for a significant middleclass. Yes 10 years, maybe even 5 years ago that would have been the case-but not anymore. The advancements made in base societal evolution -Technology, Communication and access to resources create a greater good for all yet a miasma for the ever splintering community.

    We are now not just regions acting in the interest of the commons like SADC and ECOWAS, the breakdown of the Doha talks over and over again show that. Every country is its own pot of gold- Whatever resouces,minerals Tanzania, Angola or any other country has within its borders, is kept close to its national chest. By responding, acting and reacting to what we have as a community, as people as self we are now “Situiduals” Individuals moved to act OR NOT by how it affects our own situation.

    There is that Kikuyu saying “Every Man has his own cross” and so it is here-the price of basic commodities rising for instance may not garner the same response from 2 men with the same income even if they were twins-they have their “own” situation.
    This is how is also how a voting decision will be weighed upon- which candidate, makes your situation better (Tribe, experience etc not withstanding)
    So the dream, Pan Africanism, National Unity remains a Paradox and an Oxymoron at the same time.. the way Capitalism is a better welfare provider than a socialist state due to its “invisible hand”