The Many Ways Africans are Dying

The Nigerian author, Ben Okri in his book, A Way of Being Free, said, “There are many ways to die, and not all of them have to do with extinction. A lot of them have to do with living. Living many lies. Living without asking questions. Living in the cave of your own prejudices. Living the life imposed on you, the dreams and codes of your ancestors.” I quite agree with him. The author did not make specific reference to any nation, race or continent. But any time I read this piece, it seems to me as if he is addressing Africans. Because I think Africans are dying in so many ways, in ways that many of them do not know. And some of them who know, do not care. Or they think that the situation is too bad to make a change.

Africans are dying but have not gone into extinction, and may not in the foreseeable future. So Africans are dying while they are living. Sounds like a contradiction? No, not at all. As Ben Okri said, dying in this case has to do with living. Africans are dying because Africans are living many lies. Africans are living without asking questions. Africans are living in the cave of their own prejudices. Africans are living the life imposed on them by others. I would like to explain this further.

Africans are dying because most people in Africa are living false lives. People are afraid of being themselves, of living their own lives, and of asserting their own uniqueness and originality. Many people are living under illusions and deceptions. The real tragedy is that over the years, these lies and illusions have been institutionalized and normalized to the extent that no one dares change them or challenge them. They have become a way of life. Many people are unwilling to tell the truths, face the truths and live the truths about themselves. Since Independence, most countries in Africa have not made significant progress because Africans have been living in the paradise of lies – lies about why they fought for independence and opposed colonial rule; lies about why they want democracy and self-government. African economies have been in tatters because Africans and their leaders have been living many lies about their ability to manage their resources and about whom to hold responsible – erstwhile colonalists or our homegrown dictators and inept politicians – for the mismanagement and underdevelopment in the region.

Africans are dying because most people have refused to ask questions about themselves, about the policies, programs, institutions, and ideologies that guide and govern their lives. Many people in Africa have refrained from critically examining their cultures, religions and traditions even when there is an obvious need for critical evaluation and revision. Instead, people prefer holding onto already made answers and solutions, even when these answers no longer answer their questions. And these solutions no longer solve their problems. Many Africans are afraid of asking questions because they think when they do so, they will die or they will lose the little privillege they enjoy – not knowing that the real death or loss is in not asking questions, in swallowing everything hook, line and sinker. So Africans are dying because in most communities virtue lies not in critical inquiry or exmained life but in a life of dogma, blind faith and conformism.

Africans are dying because, over the years, the people have transformed the continent into a cave of prejudices and misconceptions. And these include prejudices about themselves and others. Prejudices about what they have and want and what others have and want. Prejudices about anybody or anything new or different, any lifestyle new or different from what they know and what they are used to. Africans continue to judge themsevles using the biases and misjudgement of those who do not see anything good or noble in them, or those who are out to exploit them. Africans are dying because their prejudices cannot allow them to think and to reason clearly. Their biases cannot allow them to know their value and understand the worth of what they have and how to relate what they have and what they want with what others have and want. Prejudices cannot allow Africans to harness their talents and fully realize their potentials and promises. Instead the continent continues to waste most of its talents, and fritter away the little resources they have And these are resources they lay claim to as a result of the value placed on them by those who want the resources, not by those who own them.

Africans are dying because most people are not living their own lives. People are living others’ lives, alien lives and fake lives. Africans are living lives imposed on them by their fathers and forefathers. Many people do not strive to realize their own dreams, but those of their ancestors. Hence Africa is mired in the past. People look back to the ancient days with nostagia and to the future with despair. People oppose any initiative that will mark a radical departure from the past. They denounce any dream that is not in line with the dream of our ancestors. Africans are dying because they are living lives imposed on them by prophets, imams, gurus and marabus, pastors, bishops, sheikhs and sangomas; lives sanctioned and sanctified by outdated holy books particularly the Bible and the Koran.

Africans are dying due to lack of foresight, insight and thoughtfulness.

Leo Igwe is is Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement.

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