by Owen Ngandu
I have always been intrigued as to why Africa and black people in general, seem to be looked down upon by the rest of the world; and try to answer this question without including politics, although some of our leaders leave a lot to be desired. Are those the best leaders our communities can produce really? But anyway like I said, I will stay away from politics.
In as much as our political ‘leadership’, historical injustices and external influences are to blame for Africa’s under development, or rather slow development, we should also try and look at what we as the citizens are doing and how we are contributing towards the development we wish to see. It’s okay to recognise and point out areas where everyone else has failed us, but are we seeing our own failures. We need to do a serious introspection as some of the so called bondages no longer have a hold on us as much as we depict them to have. Are we also not standing in our own way to some extent and contributing to the collective obstacles and hindrances to development? I hear a lot of my friends and peers shout out about ‘the struggle’, but are we sure which struggle we are in now and if so, are we fully equipped for it?
Enough of the philosophy, I will jump right into it. I am a great believer in Africa as an ecosystem. I believe and advocate for the advancement and inclusion of African indigenous knowledge systems, ideas, concepts and products into the modern day living. There is evidence up to today that Africans as a people have lived and survived on these knowledge systems and products. I also believe that when God created the heavens and earth and everything in it, the natural gifts, which included the different make ups of our bodies, adopted according to our natural habitations. Our natural environment compliments our natural being. Everything from food to herbs that we would ever ‘naturally’ need was provisioned for us.
Most of what we need to succeed as Africans is in our knowledge systems, concepts and products and that is what distinguishes us from the rest of the world. Surprisingly, those same knowledge systems, concepts and products are on a fast decline and no one seems to notice or care rather. Everyone wants to identify with the west and recently the east, which is not a problem by the way in terms of learning and understanding other cultures, but let it not make us abandon the good that comes from Africa.
Not all of our indigenous knowledge systems, ideas and concepts are bad as we have been made to believe. In as much as not all imported systems, ideas and concepts are good in the African context. We need to strike a balance. Which brings me to my question, which is the title of this article, “Why would I, an African, drink Chinese tea?” Well they have told me of all sorts of benefits the tea comes with, I mean some of my friends. Some even joined these Chinese tea selling clubs/networks. The question that has always come to my mind is, do we not have our own African herbs with all these benefits or even better suited to us, they are telling us about? I remember growing up in Zimbabwe and whenever I had flu as a kid, my mum would crush what is known in Shona as gavakava and make me drink it, and the flu would be gone in a day. Ndorani is another example of a well-known herb, which is a bitter herb usually put in water or porridge. It is red in colour and used to treat illnesses such as hypertension.
Now today I have to walk into a pharmacy and buy a box of Chinese tea for my flu, seriously? Do we not have African entrepreneurs out there that can process and package our own African tea? Is this not the reason why today we now have diseases that were previously not common amongst black Africans, cancer for example? Not to mean that the Chinese tea causes these diseases, but most imported artificial (GMO) products have been proven to cause cancer. Let’s give an example of something closer to home for most male black Africans; Aphrodisiacs, it is common knowledge amongst black men that African roots and herbs are the best for sexual enhancement and/or dysfunction treatment. Nothing can beat that amongst African men, but surprisingly the biggest sex drug in the world is Viagra, imagine? We can go on giving examples but the point I am driving at is that if we are not giving out value in terms of African products and services to the world, taking advantage of our uniqueness that God blessed us with, we might continue to blame and suffer.
Developing these unique products and services and transforming them into businesses and industry is one way to change Africa’s fortunes. Let us have manufacturing plants unique to Africa, services unique to Africa that we can export to the rest of the world.
It has been said so many times that Africa is endowed with natural resources and for the most part, that meant minerals and agriculture, and yes it is, but that’s not what I want to dwell on in this article, not to say it’s not important, but that there are a lot more articles that cover the subject, and this discussion hopes to compliment the knowledge and advise on Africa’s natural resources. We need to take notice that now the world has changed drastically. There are other opportunities in other areas that we might be losing sight of. For example, there are Silicon Valley companies that are worth more than some of the biggest mining companies in the world and even some African countries’ economies. There are companies that have less than 5 or so years of operations but are already worth billions of US dollars. When we speak of untapped natural resources of Africa, the human resource is the biggest untapped talent. Hence the talk of knowledge systems, ideas and concepts. Africa is well positioned to introduce unique ideas that cannot come out of anywhere else except Africa.
In advancing our knowledge systems, ideas and concepts we should adopt them for use by the rest of the world, thereby creating value and opportunities for Africa. For example, the extended family welfare system that has sustained Africa for centuries can be institutionalised into a structured concept and adopted for the rest of the world for value. In Africa it is common that should a child find themselves being orphaned, the extended family will take care of the child. It’s usually the uncles and the aunties that assume the role of parents. The modern western society that we are now trying to replicate here in Africa does not recognise and is not familiar with this dynamic. The ideal for me will be for our governments to bring this concept into their social welfare system for example. Instead of encouraging orphanages, why not pay towards the upkeep of the “orphaned” child to whoever of the remaining relatives that take over the parenting of the child. To me it would make more sense than to have these children grow up without parental figures in their lives in an orphanage, which is a western concept, than for them to grow up in a proper home, with “real” parents and a loving family.
The reverse is true for existing western knowledge systems that are needed in Africa. Opportunities lie in adapting these systems to suit the African market. We are the custodians of African knowledge, ideas and concepts, we need to learn to utilise them to benefit our society.
Yes, it has been agreed, the injustices need redress, but let us not lose some of the greatest opportunities we have by just focusing in one area of empowerment without getting a full grasp of the ‘struggle’. Our thinking needs to change, let us look at ourselves using a different lens.
Africa is bombarded with western and eastern systems, solutions and products whilst we as Africans watch. We are the consumers of these services and products, yet we have a choice of where to spend our hard earned money. If we make an effort to be conscious of what we buy and from whom we buy, our society can truly be transformed. We need to create our own products and services, for consumption by our own people. Our governments are reaching out to foreign investors for investment into our economies, and these so called investors are taking charge of vital components of our economies, which in my opinion would be difficult to recover, if we as Africans do not get up a play an active role in our own economies.
It has been said before, one does not need money to start a business. One needs a good idea and a good strategy, the rest will fall into place. Let us pitch our governments and local companies on local indigenous knowledge and products and you will see how we will change our fortunes as a people and transform our beloved continent.