I’ve blogged previously on some of the moronic theories surrounding Afrocentric thinking; this image, liberated from Facebook, illustrates one of my favourites.
Like many nonsensical ideas, this is based on a grain of truth: some European artists did paint Jesus as white, and often blond with blue eyes. There are two main reasons for this, the first being simple ignorance; the second being that the Vatican, on a relentless mission to persecute Jews, tried to hide the awkward fact that their Messiah (if he had indeed existed) was a Middle Eastern Jew.
From the Afrocentric perspective, the inaccurate depiction of Jesus as a northern European could only mean one thing: yet another white conspiracy to steal the true history of the black man.
14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
So the designers of this image have decided that “hair white like wool” means Jesus sported an afro (they’ve obviously never seen a lamb) and “feet like bronze glowing in a furnace” means he had dark skin (they’ve obviously never seen molten bronze either).
This leaves the map, which is deliberately misleading. The continent of Africa is shown, with an inset showing the Middle East (which isn’t in Africa, although it is adjacent to Egypt).
This is about as nonsensical as conspiracy theories come, and incredibly easy to pick apart. So why do people believe it? This theory results from the collision of two strong and conflicting memes. The African diaspora has experienced incredibly brutal treatment from white society, but also received Christianity from whites. The impulse to separate the two is natural. Perhaps it would be more intellectually honest to reject Christianity altogether; many have of course done so. Some have adopted Islam (though this comes with the problem that it, like Christianity, originates outside Africa). Others have tried to adopt African animist beliefs, but this is fraught with difficulty. Animist belief varies widely from place to place in Africa, and has only been documented in recent centuries. Of course, adoption of Atheism may resolve much of this conflict, but is a step too far for Afrocentrics raised in strongly Christian homes.
Unfortunately, the teaching of myth as history is strong in the Afrocentric tradition, and it perpetuates rather than resolves the problems faced by the black diaspora in Europe and America. Teaching black children to adopt evidence-free dogma, rather than scientific reasoning, relegates them to the educational second ranks in Western society. Teaching a child to question, to look for evidence, and to keep an open mind, is essential to success in a modern, rational society.
The saddest thing of all is that, rather than celebrate the true strengths of African civilisation, which are unique, the Afrocentrics try to impose Western measures of success on Africa, and end up looking foolish in the process. The painting of Jesus (essentially a Roman invention) as a black man is a great example of this.
It’s Black History Month in the US (Britain’s being in October) – a time set aside for furthering the understanding of African and diaspora history among the black population and, hopefully among non-blacks too. The history of the African diaspora being such a bizarre and brutal one, Black History Month was created to create strength and stability in a rootless, subjugated population. It’s a time to learn about the heroes of the diaspora, those whose actions created hope in people whose position was apparently hopeless. From Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of Haiti’s successful slave rebellion against the French, through the Jamaican Marcus Garvey who fostered the idea of a black return to Africa, to the civil rights heroes Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and beyond, diaspora history is the story of people overcoming enormous odds.
The era running roughly from the 1950s to the 1970s was a time of global black advancement, with African and black Caribbean states throwing off colonial rule while black Americans took huge steps forward. This movement created its own stories, which were used to raise black pride as a necessary part of putting right gross injustices. These Afrocentric ideas included much mythology, and many mistaken views of history, but played an essential political role nonetheless.
Prior to the rise of Afrocentric thinking, sub-Saharan African history had almost entirely been been written by non-blacks. With the exception of Ethiopia, literacy is a relatively new import to the region, first arriving in northern parts with the Arab Empire around a thousand years ago, and becoming more widespread as Europeans arrived in the past 500 years. The first written documentary of black Africa was done largely by white people viewing very strange and different cultures, and could never have been an accurate or balanced portrayal of African culture.
But Afrocentrism didn’t change that; it was a wishful view of Africa written largely by people who had never set foot on the continent. Its goal wasn’t accuracy, but to provide a counter-balance to white views of Africa and black people. The American descendants of slaves, existing as a minority in one of the world’s most brutally racist societies, understandably saw the world in a racial way; American politics have always been racial, and so the history of slavery and the slave trade was therefore rewritten in the same way, to suit black American sentiment: white people kidnapped Africans from their homeland and transported them to the Americas.
The slave trade however, was triangular: manufactured goods were taken to Africa; slaves were taken to the Americas; cotton and sugar were brought back to Europe. People became rich at all three points; the English cities of Bristol and Liverpool were build on slave trade money; equally, an African elite became wealthy by selling Africans. Many of today’s wealthy Africans descend from this same elite.
It’s estimated that when Europeans first arrived in West Africa, between one-third to two-thirds of the population were slaves. Even earlier, Arabic explorers who ventured south of the Sahara documented rich individuals owning hundreds of slaves. The first European involvement in the African slave trade was by the Portuguese, who bought slaves on the Slave Coast (Nigeria/Benin) and sold them to the Asante of the Gold Coast (Ghana) in exchange for gold.
When the British outlawed the slave trade, they didn’t just hurt European traders – even more, they damaged the West African economy, which was in large part based on slave exports. With demand diminished, prices fell and slave ownership rocketed within Africa. The 10 million or so slaves that were exported across the Atlantic represented a small percentage of the total number of Africans in slavery. The Afrocentric view either ignores this majority, or creates new myths: Afrocentric thinkers will often claim that slavery in Africa was a more civilised matter than what took place in the Americas; eye-witness reports of slaves being sacrificed, their blood spread in the fields, to appease gods, suggest otherwise. Afrocentric viewpoints write the majority of slaves out of history; to suit the political needs of black America, the stories of countless millions of Africans have been ignored.
Afrocentrism attacks other people’s stories too. Afrocentric thinkers find it convenient to claim that ancient Egypt, Africa’s first great civilisation, was a black one. This ignores the inconvenient reality that today’s Egyptians (and north Africans in general) aren’t black; to which the Afrocentric response is that the original Egyptians were somehow wiped out and replaced by Arabs, Turks or Greeks. As to when this enormous genocide supposedly took place, I’ve yet to hear a straight answer. It may seem harmless to allow people to maintain this mythology; yet it is an essentially racist one, denying the right of anyone who isn’t black to be an African. The black race is just one of several racial groups indigenous to Africa; Afrocentrics would write the others out of history, and deny modern Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians their African identity.
Afrocentric moronic myths date back decades, and have been debunked many times, yet every black history month sees them resurrected. Black History Month was supposed to be about black history. Africa isn’t served by the repetition of made-up tales; neither are black children benefited by being taught stories in place of history. Black Americans still have a mountain to climb to find equality in their own country, but angry, racist groups like the NoI or the New Black Panthers seem to serve little useful role any more. But things are changing: an economically resurgent Africa is finding its own voice, as African universities produce graduates in ever greater numbers. The diaspora itself is increasingly dominated by African migrants – Nigerians for example are among the most successful immigrant groups, both in the US and in Britain. Africa can now speak for itself, and as America’s global cultural impact is fading, so is black America’s.
In the US, despite the election of Obama, black people are still the victims of institutionalised racism. Since the civil rights movement made all races equal in law, new methods of “legal lynching” have been invented; the corrupt War on Drugs has been used to target black people, and the black prison population has rocketed in the past 20 years. A million black people are currently in US prisons. It’s understandable that Afrocentric myths find a fertile breeding ground in the US, but they do nothing to help understand Africa or its history. Afrocentric thinking has served its purpose – it’s time to consign it to the trash can of black history.
It’s time once again to look back at the highlights and lowlights of the past year. The widespread economic and social problems have meant that, for millions, 2011 has been a difficult, challenging time. But not for MoronWatch! 2011 has one of the most moronic years in modern history. And it’s time to give thanks to all the morons who helped make it happen.
So here’s my attempt to remember just a few of this year’s moronic events, and the morons behind them. I couldn’t possibly cover every piece of moronitude, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some key events and people – feel free to add your favourites below.
Those who entertained us by promising to deliver, before completely failing to do so.
Winner: Harold Camping, who predicted the second coming would take place on 21st May, followed by the end of the world on October 21st. He worked it out using numbers. Sadly (at least for morons awaiting Judgement Day), his calculations turned out to be wrong. Jesus failed to show in May, but Harry stuck to his guns and said the world would still end in October (it didn’t, FYI). Honourable mention: the people who believed him.
Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), a right-wing British blogger who tried (with help from the moron press) to show, via an online petition, that the UK public were clamouring for a return of the death penalty. They weren’t.
Donald Trump, who reignited the birther controversy, demanding Barack Obama produce his long-form birth certificate. With beautiful timing, Obama duly did so, destroying Trump’s presidential campaign (though to be fair, Trump had already destroyed it himself by being Donald Trump).
Christopher Monckton, a man who has profited hugely from selling climate change denial to morons, despite having been repeatedly discredited, opened a Twitter account. After skirmishes with myself and other “fans”, he quickly closed it down again.
The far-right English Defence League (EDL) have continued to keep us entertained with their moronic (and badly-spelled) antics, both online and offline. This year, they discovered that posting online threats to attack the Occupy protesters in London would lead to them being arrested when they arrived in town for Remembrance Day.
Rick Perry, presidential hopeful, had a moronic plan to close entire government departments, but when asked during a TV debate, he couldn’t remember which ones. Oops!
Michele Bachmann, after showing early promise to be the flag-bearer for American moronism in next year’s presidential election, vanished without a trace (as did several of her moronic competitors).
Who has been doing their best to destabilise world society, and (whether deliberately or accidentally) drive us towards war?
Winner: The Tea Party caucus in Congress for refusing to raise the US debt ceiling until the 13th hour, resulting in a downgrade for the USA’s credit rating. While some “moderate” Republican morons used the debt ceiling increase as a negotiating tool to try to force cuts in spending, the Tea Party, led by MoronWatch favourite Michele Bachmann, were genuinely prepared to force a US debt default, taking the global economy to the brink of panic.
European leaders for repeatedly failing throughout the year to take the actions necessary to stabilise the EU economy. Special mention to Silvio Berlusconi, for clinging to power despite having mismanaged the Italian economy for years, so he wouldn’t face prosecution for – well, pretty much everything. Very special mention to Dave Camoron and his nationalistic, Eurosceptic Tory right, who tried (perhaps successfully) to single-handedly derail a deal that would stop the European economy from collapsing.
Ongoing: The US for its moronic “war on terror” which grinds on, killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pushing those countries steadily towards social collapse and so putting power in the hands of the Taliban and other extremists, who are (in theory) supposed to be the enemy.
Binyamin Netanyahu, who has stopped even pretending to care about peace in the region, and endlessly accelerates Israeli aggression and land theft. Special mention: the moronic pro-Israel lobby in the US who continue to support Israel, regardless of what it does.
Ongoing: most world governments for their endless execution of the utterly failed War on Drugs, which swallows endless billions of dollars and millions of lives, and results in more people taking more dangerous drugs.
Terrorism is becoming ever-more fashionable, especially among those who claim to be fighting terrorism. Here is my selection of the year’s top terrorists.
Winner: President Assad of Syria, for the mass-slaughter of his own people in the streets of Syrian cities. Of course, like all good state terrorists, Assad says that his victims aren’t civilians at all, but are themselves terrorists working in behalf of Syria’s enemies. No doubt, Syria has its own population of morons who believe him.
Barack Obama, for drone strikes on Pakistan that kill civilians on a regular basis. Obama fans may point out that it’s actually the Pentagon or the CIA carrying out these attacks, but if we blamed Bush’s wars on Bush, let’s be consistent and lay the blame for post-2008 terrorism on Obama. It’s only fair. And by the way, it’s probably about time Obama returned his prematurely-awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
West Bank extremist settlers for their barely-reported campaign of “price tag” terrorism against Palestinian civilians. Their strategy is to endlessly provoke the Palestinian population by ripping up crops, sabotaging irrigation systems or damaging mosques, then shooting people who protest. If the protests get too big, they go running to Mummy (aka the Israeli Defence Force) who shoot or arrest and torture Palestinian civilians.
Mystery winner: somebody, probably Israel or the US, carried out a terrorist attack on an Iranian military base, and quite possibly other attacks we haven’t heard about. If Iranians protest or retaliate in any way, it just shows how unreasonable they are. Honourable mention: Western media and politicians who ignore these attacks and continue to beat the drums of war against Iran.
London’s Metropolitan Police, who executed Mark Duggan, a young black man, in North London, based merely on the suspicion that he might be carrying a gun. Immediately after the shooting, the police lied to journalists, saying an exchange of fire had taken place – it hadn’t. The shooting triggered an uprising in Tottenham which led to the UK summer riots. Notably, this is the second time a riot has begun in Tottenham after the police killed an unarmed person. Special mention to the poorly-named Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are never independent and always ignore complaints. As ever, they came down on the side of the police.
While it’s useful to understand motivations, some people are just plain evil.
Winner: “Pepper Spray Cop” – the policeman in Berkeley, California who was videoed casually spraying peaceful, seated protesters in the face with pepper spray. He was just one of many US police officers who took part in violent attacks on peaceful Occupy protesters this year, showing that free speech isn’t as much an American value as we might have hoped.
The US state of Georgia, who executed Troy Davis, despite strong evidence that his trial had been rigged.
Supporters of presidential candidate and libertarian, Ron Paul at a debate. Paul was asked about his “libertarian” approach to healthcare: what should happen to people with no health cover if they were to fall ill? He confirmed that they should be given the “freedom” to die. At which, the audience applauded heartily, yelling “Let him die!”.
Everyone loves a little hypocrisy. Well, MoronWatch does, anyway. Here are some of the highlights.
Winner: Joint prize to The UK, France and the US for attacking Libya, to “protect civilians”. Strangely, their newly-found morality hasn’t been applied in recent years where civilians in their thousands (or tens of thousands) have been persecuted, slaughtered, raped or driven from their homes in various countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Bahrain. Did I mention Libya is a major oil producer?
The Republican Party, who desperately fight for tax cuts for the rich, while proving decidedly reluctant to extend a tax cut for working Americans. Not only is this morally suspect, it’s also economically moronic: tax cuts for people on low and average incomes feed back into economic growth far more effectively than extra money for the wealthy.
Western conservatives, who enjoy using the words freedom and democracy incessantly but who, when faced with Arabs demanding democracy, proved decidedly lukewarm about the idea.
Just Plain Moronic
Awarded for general acts or statements of stupidity.
Winner: The British Public, for rejecting a modest improvement (the Alternative Vote, or AV) to our democratic system that would help weaken the current Labour-Conservative duopoly on power, open the door for the creation of fresh new political parties, and revitalise our democracy (as had already happened when AV was adopted in Australia). The newspapers (which mostly support the Tories or Labour) had largely come out against AV, and since most of the public pay no attention to politics, they voted as the press barons told them to. Thus proving that referendums, though seemingly democratic, are not in practise.
UK Prime Minister Dave Camoron for publicly giving the advice that people should pay off their debts. Although this advice is sensible, unfortunately our current economic system isn’t. A widespread shift from spending to saving, at a time when the economy is already struggling, would make the situation worse. By the end of the day, Dave was forced to reverse his advice. People are supposed to keep spending, and paying down their debts, even as the majority of them become poorer. How will that work? It won’t.
All-round weird moron Donald Trump, for suggesting that the US should take Libya’s oil as “payment” for “liberating” Libya. It’s almost like the good old days of Empire. In fact, I think it is the good old days of Empire.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his wonderfully simple (in every sense of the word) 9-9-9 economic plan, under which corporation tax, income tax and sales tax would all be pegged at nine percent. The tax would result in the poor paying more, the top 10% doing pretty well, and the top 1% doing fantastically well. Cain proved incapable of explaining how it could possibly work, just as he proved incapable of explaining anything at all, from foreign policy to why a series of women would accuse him of sexual harassment.
The delightfully named, but not at all delightful, Eric Pickles, Tory government minister, for the most pointless spending exercise of the year. Councils across the UK have been encouraging recycling by providing households with recycling bins and reducing general waste collections from weekly to fortnightly. Although this is sensible and desirable, the British press and public did what they do best: moan about it. So Pickles threw £250m at restarting weekly bin collections, thus managing to waste huge amounts of cash and reverse years of progress towards recycling, all to win a few moron votes. Not only was the idea moronic, but most councils have rejected the cash anyway.
The British government and media, for creating a new moral panic about Sexualisation, an imaginary problem designed to scare parents that society had become too sexual, and was threatening their children – and hence laying the foundations for future legislative attacks on sexual freedom.
You’ve probably seen the video of racist-tram-woman ranting at “non-English” people on a tram in South London; it went viral yesterday, culminating in the woman’s arrest. The arrest was predictably followed by moronic screams about attacks on free speech or authoritarianism. But the woman’s behaviour was clearly within the definition of hate speech, and was clearly upsetting to those she chose as targets. It also came close to inciting a violent response. It was a textbook example of why hate laws exist.
People who have never experienced such an attack may have difficulty understanding how it feels to be on the receiving end. As I’ve mentioned before, I have experience of being a “visible minority”, to use the politically correct terminology. At my London school, I was among a white minority of around 10%. Through my adult life, largely because of choices I’ve made, I’m often in a minority of one among black people. And black crowds are no more enlightened in their treatment of minorities than white crowds are.
I experienced something very similar to yesterday’s incident, a few years ago on the Subway in Brooklyn. I was the only white person on my train carriage; this didn’t strike me as weird or frightening, as I’m used to being in that position. Nothing happened until I caught the eye of a man staring at me; my natural response was to nod in greeting, to which his reaction was to scream at me: Who the fuck you looking at, you White Bastard? My initial response was rage, then a mixture of fear and embarrassment. In London, I’d know how to respond, but in New York, I didn’t know where I stood. Unlike the other passengers in the South London tram incident, nobody on that train stood up for me. Every coward or racist on that carriage found something else to stare at. If there’s a shred of comfort from the London video, it is that people stood up to the racist bully; London 1, New York 0.
There’s no such thing as “reverse racism”; it’s a myth. Racism is racism, and it’s always moronic. The idea (that I’ve heard from liberals at times) that racism directed at white people is somehow more excusable due to the actions of other white people towards other black people at other times is ludicrous. Because some other white people were/are guilty of “oppressing” some other black people somewhere else doesn’t make my skin colour a valid target of hatred.
I’ve experienced racism many times – usually in subtle forms. Walking with a black woman in London, New York or Accra I have been met with confrontational stares from passing men. My only option as a man on the receiving end is to puff out my chest and stare back. To look down, to back down increases the risk of an attack escalating. This can become tiring; it drains you, makes you angry, makes you start to misjudge people’s attention and see racism where there isn’t any. Those black and Asian people on the London tram have all faced racial aggression before – probably not so overt, but nonetheless, it’s hardly a novel experience for any of them to know that a person dislikes them for their skin colour or accent. I fully understand the reaction of the young black man who rose to respond; but was glad that he was persuaded to sit down again.
People have the right to ride a tram or walk the streets without facing aggression. The moronic woman broke hate laws and it’s right that she was arrested. A failure to react condones the behaviour; at a time when racism and nationalism are on the rise, failing to deal with hate crimes will inevitably result in the crimes multiplying and becoming more serious.
The same applies to hate speech everywhere; for example, South Africa too is experiencing increased racial tension, not just against the white minority but against foreign blacks too. South African minorities need hate laws to be enforced every bit as much as (or perhaps even more than) minorities in the UK need protecting. So do minorities in Rwanda, where hate laws (for obvious reasons) are ruthlessly enforced. Racism is a universal problem, affecting minorities of every race, tribe, religion and colour. To protest that arresting the tram moron was an attack on free speech is simply moronic.
I try to maintain a global perspective in my moron-watching, but that’s difficult: just trying to keep track of moronic activity in Europe and the US is hard enough. However, Africa is a continent that has always held great fascination for me, and I’ve enjoyed travelling to a number of countries there. Sub-Saharan Africa is a wonderful place to travel. Sadly, the Western media is interested in reporting little other than famine and war in Africa, ignoring most of the other 99% of happenings there. The BBC used to produce an excellent radio programme/podcast called This Week In Africa, which gave a good, weekly overview of African events – sadly that was lost to the UK government’s moronic austerity measures.
Focusing on African morons may make some liberals uneasy; because African heritage is deeply entwined with racial issues in the West, many will miss the obvious: Africa itself isn’t a racial issue. Furthermore, the politically-correct version of African history tries to explain away every failing of Africa by blaming colonialism. Colonialism did represent resource-theft on a huge scale, and the colonial “scramble for Africa” carve-up by European powers created long-term political headaches that still rumble on; yet the colonial era (approx 1880s to 1960s) was also an unprecedented time of development for the continent, during which the population increased around sixfold and the continent’s great cities of today were born. The “it’s all our fault” school of Western liberal thought is a fine piece of subtle racism; while white supremacists like to say everything good in Africa is a foreign import, liberals say everything bad is. In reality, Africa is capable of both success and failure without our help. Africa is rich in many resources, but perhaps one of its most abundant resources is bad leadership; if moronic and crazy leaders were tradeable currency, Africa could be the wealthiest continent on Earth.
Africans themselves generally have a clear view about where their problems originate: after all, they are the ones who are daily extorted of money by the police, who face discrimination based on which ethnic group they belong to, who struggle to make a living at the roadside while their politicians drive past in fleets of expensive SUVs, who see their countries’ resources skimmed off into Swiss bank accounts. A Sierra Leonean businessman I met was refreshingly straightforward about his country’s problems: “Our leaders are a bunch of illiterate savages”.
The African story isn’t just the gloomy tale of war and famine that’s dripped out through our media. Despite a handful of countries that can truly be said to be “basket cases”, the average African economy is growing at a very healthy pace. Schooling is becoming ever-more standard, and literacy is growing fast. The lack of good communications across the continent has been rapidly solved by the arrival of mobile telephony, with mobile phone ownership approaching levels seen in developed countries. Africa’s final hurdle is to improve its governance. African countries will no doubt soon experience their own civil rights era; with more educated and demanding populations than ever before, we can expect, within a few years, to see black Africa rise up in pursuit of better leadership, as we’ve seen in North African and Arab countries this year.
So here is a brief tribute to a few of Africa’s moron leaders – those people who by theft, suppression of free speech or just downright idiocy, are slowing Africa’s emergence into the developed world.
Robert Mugabe is the perfect example of a revolutionary hero who turned out not to be such a great national leader once the revolution was won. Mugabe served over 10 years in prison during the struggle against white minority rule. In power since the formation of Zimbabwe in 1980, Mugabe quickly revealed his moron credentials by attacking his opponents and committing mass-murder against a tribal minority, the Matebele. Gradually, Zimbabwean opposition was crushed. Mugabe then set out on a populist land-grab from white farmers, handing land to his friends and supporters, with the result that harvests failed and a once-prosperous country fell into poverty. Indeed, hunger is a favourite weapon used by Mugabe against his enemies. Despite being electorally defeated, Mugabe refuses to let go of power, and will remain until death (he’s 87), or until his ZANU-PF cronies finally find the guts to depose him.
Traditional “medicine” and superstitions are rife in Africa, and this extends even to the ruling classes. Nelson Mandela’s successor in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, allowed himself to be convinced that AIDS wasn’t related to the HIV virus, and acted to prevent antiretrovirals from being made widely available, despite South Africa having the world’s worst AIDS epidemic. After several years, Mbeki’s stance was overruled, and antiretrovirals were made available, but only after an estimated 365,000 people had died due to his ignorance. Mbeki’s successor Jacob Zuma showed himself to be no more enlightened about AIDS when, standing trial for rape, he revealed he’d had unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive, and had showered afterwards to “protect himself”.
Resentment between African tribes has often been hugely exacerbated by the hasty drawing of post-independence borders as European colonial rulers left and African leaders replaced them. Every African country is ethnically divided to some extent, and leaders (elected or not) will often represent their own group rather than the national interest. It’s hardly surprising then that African leaders tend to use power to discriminate against rival tribes, which in turn heightens tensions and makes conflict and genocide more likely. This happened most starkly in 1994 in Rwanda, where the minority Tutsi ruling group was suddenly turned upon by resentful Hutus, resulting in the loss of around 800,000 lives.
In Kenya, the 2008 elections collapsed into ethnic violence between the dominant Kikuyu tribe and others; political leaders on both sides were accused of stoking the violence for political gain.
Sierra Leone has racist laws on the statute that prevent any non-native from being born a Sierra Leonean citizen, however many generations his family may have lived in the country.
Africa’s most multiracial country, but also a fragile one, is South Africa; a Cameroonian man recently told me of his difficult experience working in South Africa, saying that black South Africans were the most racist people he’d ever encountered, especially against other black people. South Africa’s ANC leaders have generally been careful to tackle racism, seeing the danger it could cause to such a diverse country, but recently a leading ANC figure, Julius Malema, was convicted of hate speech after leading the singing in public of a song that advocated “killing Boers”. So far, South Africa is largely peaceful and politically stable, with the ANC easily winning every election. But with growing anger against ANC corruption, and the rise of an opposition party led by a white woman, watch out for more race-baiting coming from the ANC as its monopoly on power becomes weaker.
Africa is perhaps the worst place to be gay. While homophobia is widespread pretty much everywhere on earth, African laws against homosexuality tend to be the most draconian, and the most enthusiastically implemented. Liberals often try to blame this on the West, pointing out that many of these laws originate from the colonial era, and that African homophobes are enthusiastically supported by American Christians, but that’s a subtle piece of liberal racism which assumes Africans wouldn’t know how to be homophobic by themselves. The laws may descend from colonial times, but then so do almost all sub-Saharan African legal systems. African homophobia is homegrown. Europe has now abandoned its homophobic legislation, but African nations (with the laudable exception of South Africa) seem to show no enthusiasm in doing likewise.
If one country can sum up the greatest hopes and worst fears for Africa’s future, it’s Nigeria. A large, federal nation of 36 states and 155m people, it has oil reserves that bring huge revenue flows into the country. Unfortunately, much of that is embezzled within the corrupt political system, and rapidly exits the country again. Nigeria has the wealth to build good education, healthcare and electricity infrastructures for its people; but has largely failed to do so. By rights, given its mineral wealth and human resources, Nigeria should be ready for a place in the G20; but that is a distant dream.
A figure that best illustrates Nigeria’s problems is the salary paid to its politicians. Incredibly, while three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 per day, Nigeria’s elected representatives earn around $1,500,000 per year (no, that’s not a typo: I really said $1.5m), and are the world’s highest paid politicians. By contrast, US politicians earn around one-sixth that amount. This huge reward for winning elections helps explain the corrupt and violent mess that is Nigerian politics – and the perks of political life go far beyond the salary.
Nigeria’s economy is growing and the country is becoming more wealthy. But unless its wealth is shared among the population, the nation risks falling back into bloodshed. No country can have a stable existence with the world’s worst poverty sitting alongside enormous wealth. And the oil won’t last forever; if the proceeds are not invested wisely, Nigeria could see catastrophe as production goes into decline. If Nigeria destabilises, the entire West African region, and beyond, would be flooded with refugees and collapse into chaos. Probably more than any other country, Nigeria is key to Africa’s future.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, a rising power, and a land of huge complexity, its population comprising around 250 ethnic groups. The country has huge oil reserves and an economy growing at Chinese-type speed; at its current rate of development, Nigeria stands to become a global power within decades. In surveys, Nigeria generally ranks as the world’s most religious country, with its population roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Religion in Nigeria is one of its fastest-growing industries and is hugely competitive, especially in the wealthier Christian-dominated south. Nigeria’s demographics and history make for the evolution of bizarre new strains of Christianity; despite the country’s growing wealth, inequality is extreme, and most Nigerians still live in poverty. Education has yet to reach the majority – only about 30% of Nigerians receive secondary education; and despite the dominance of non-African religions, most people still hold on to traditional beliefs in juju (black magic) and witchcraft.
Additional to the home market, Nigeria’s large and wealthy diaspora are also targets of the religion biz, with large international church networks blossoming.
These factors make for a population that’s deeply susceptible to superstitious beliefs, and a large number of religious preachers who are willing to exploit the ignorant for huge financial rewards. The religion business is so lucrative that Forbes maintain a rich-list list of the wealthiest Nigerian pastors.
Nigeria’s pastors preach a kind of anti-Christianity known as Prosperity Theology, which promises not just eternal salvation but wealth on Earth too; this is (understandably) hugely popular, despite contradicting the traditional Christian idea of wealth and inequality being evils. The sight of the rich extracting money from those who can’t afford it is ugly enough, but much darker practises also take place. Given the cost of medicine to ordinary Nigerians, and the belief in juju, many preachers offer cures for cash. This practise was most recently revealed to be taking place in London, where three AIDS sufferers in the congregation of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest pastors, TB Joshua, are reported to have died after stopping their HIV treatments.
And it gets worse: three years ago, a documentary called Nigeria’s Witch Children was shown on UK Channel 4. This revealed horrendous and widespread abuse of children labelled as witches. While this happened because of traditional superstition, it was stirred up on a large scale by wealthy pastors who were selling “exorcisms” to their poor victims.
We’re used to thinking of missionaries as Europeans who go to preach in Africa. Now the flow is reversing – the Nigerian pastors are coming!
O is for Omnipresence
Once upon a time, God was a physical being who lived somewhere. In a primitive, tribal world where few people strayed far from their home village, that made sense; people could believe that a god or gods could be found on an island they’d never visit, across a sea they’d never cross, or up a mountain they’d never climb. Primitive gods aren’t fluffy, undetectable things like those of today; they have substance, appearance and location, and can be called upon at will to prove their existence. Moses, for example, was able to climb Mount Sinai (alone) to meet God and collect the tablets containing the ten commandments.
As people began travelling further afield, God became more elusive. The atheist rapper Greydon Square (who you should seek out if you enjoy intelligent hip-hop) said the following in the track Mission Statement on his album, The CPT Theorem:
I love how the gods used to live in the mountains, and when we moved to the mountains and never found them, then they went and moved to the sky, then we moved to the sky, but we didn’t find them there, and you’re wondering why.
… thus summarising the religious problem nicely. God is always to be found just beyond our reach. The heavens were once “up there” in the sky. But when mankind insisted on inventing flying machines and space rockets, heaven, like God, became an abstract, elusive thing. So if God is no longer somewhere, he must be everywhere – how else could he hear our prayers, check that we go to church or see us sin?
Omnipresence is only a temporary refuge for God. Having evolved from a physical being who intervenes in our affairs to a wispy cloud-thing who generally leaves us alone, he becomes a soft target for scientific reasoning, which grows stronger all the time. Of course, the power is still in the hands of the believers. All they need do to prove their case is provide evidence of God’s existence – and presumably they have some hidden away somewhere, ready to reveal at the right moment.