What the uproar about her visit to a shrine tells us about the crisis of post-colonial Africa
THE LAST WORD by Andrew Mwenda
Rebecca Kadaga caused uproar when she visited a traditional shrine to thank the spirits of her ancestors for her election as Speaker of Parliament. Every pundit of any heft was in the mass media denouncing her for indulging in “devil worship”. The uproar only reaffirmed the tight hold colonialism has on our minds. Assuming Kadaga had gone to church for a thanksgiving service to honor Jesus Christ for her election, who would have complained?
We have totally internalised the ideology of our conquerers. Colonialists labeled our traditional religions “devil worship” in order to get us to accept Christianity. Our traditional doctors were labeled “witch doctors” thereby throwing away centuries of knowledge in local herbal medicine. True our society had not yet separated medicine from religion. But the stranglehold of the colonialist can be seen in how we deride anyone who visits a traditional shrine for spiritual healing or a traditional doctor for medical care.
The conquest of our minds has been thorough. Today, debate on the development (or lack of it) of Africa is conducted in terms that are akin to religion. Indeed, development itself has become a religion, perhaps the largest religion in the world today. It has a following larger than that of Christianity and Islam combined. And like all religions, it has developed creeds that are accepted on the basis of faith than evidence. Violation of these creeds is a sin that its high priests tell us is punishable by remaining mired in poverty and misery.
Take the example of corruption, one of the sins of development, which it is claimed, is the stumbling block to our rapid economic transformation. As I have argued before – to the ridicule of the development faithful – almost every country that rapidly grew from poverty to riches had high levels of corruption during its intense period of transformation. Today, China is industrialising as if on steroids yet corruption is endemic and getting worse. So why is corruption said to be Africa’s biggest development impediment?
As a caveat, I also think that in many of its manifestations, corruption is unfair. Public funds meant to serve a common good are diverted to private bank accounts to serve purely private appetite. But that is a moral not a development issue – and some can ask: whose morals?
In any case, corruption is a cousin of capitalism. Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism, especially his Labor Theory of Value, suggests a similarity between a capitalist and a corrupt official. Both “steal” from the public. Capitalist ideology may praise one and criminalise the other. But Marx would not have seen moral differences between the two.
Take another creed: that to develop you need democracy and respect for human rights as preconditions. Do we know of any country that had democracy and respected human and women’s rights before it industrialised? Certainly not UK, USA, Canada, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, etc. – the countries that make the biggest noise about democracy and respect for human rights being necessary (sometimes absolute preconditions) for development. African elites (including me of old) argue this creed with religious fanaticism. But it is based on faith, not evidence.