Some Email Considerations on the African Bush and its European Saviours

Below are some emails that I exchanged with one of my closest friends (PK) just after reading James Miller’s great essay, ‘Carnivals of Atrocity: Foucault, Nietzsche, Cruelty,’ (in Political Theory, Vol. 18, #3, August, 1990.) It is a bit of a switch from the kind of digressions and rants that have appeared here in the past but may be enjoyable to some folks…

MMK: The way Nietzsche (and later Foucault) saw this place has come to pass guy. Is there any doubt that London and Europe have perfected control and the shrinking of the human space by growing the mechanisms of mercy and ‘rational’ policy? And that we, on the other hand, still exist in a place where people are bigger than the institutions that seek to extend control over them. That is where all our shit comes from and also the glorious ability to actually be and feel power -not ‘influence’ as they call it out here.

As Europeans have in the past few generations created their world of rights and utility, they have cast man down. Every man so that even the highest in the land are ruled by mechanisms that are wholly divorced from all. It is what makes you feel that everyone here is arranging themselves vis-a-vis a process, an institution or a set template. The very process of building the modern penal system was reflected in institutions outside it. The goal as Morpheus in The Matrix said: control. But it would have been preferable if this edifice was built by conspiracy, by a king-like figure that yearns for control. That way, it would have a human scale and there would only be a few necks to chop through. But no, this situation is like layers of concrete laid by different generations so that there is now no going back to dig through to the person anymore. No wonder there was this desire to build thousands of nukes. Deep inside I think Europeans are deeply suicidal, they want it all to end but they just cannot get beyond the safety mechanisms that they have built into their societies.

This is what I think is so awesome (in the biblical sense of the word) about this thing we call Africa. It refuses to be brought to heel in the most infuriating and dispiriting fashion. The bush just keeps growing back no matter what the European build on it or at least this is their version of events. Their dreams refuse to take here since the structures that they have grown on their soil can hardly last a generation on ours.

I was watching a recreation of the murder of Lord Errol the other night. Done by the BBC with that cultured, ‘we are going to understand our Africa’ tone. For the first time I actually felt sorry for Europeans who do the whole Africa thing. Their dreams are so flimsy and yet they always start out with so much faith that they can write themselves into the blank darkness and become what they could not in their country. No matter how much life they see or experience around them, whether good or bad, they persist with the conceit that it is not fully human, that it awaits their building it into existence. But it crushes them and in Happy Valley they basically lost it, and have been losing it ever since. All manner of methods have been brought to bear to grow this dream in the ‘bush’: guns, conquest, aid, intervention, non-intervention … everything, and yet it all keeps failing. Africa is their last indulgence. The last kick of their humanist conceits and the place keeps responding by kicking them in the balls. And the pain is probably made worse by the fact that in fact Africans might actually genuinely want to be down with the program, we mean the European no harm after all. We even have many of us trying to grow his little project with him and sometimes for him. But even this won’t take.

Just reading the Miller piece left me with such a satisfied calm. I felt that there was no crisis really in our part of the world. There are problems for sure, but no crisis whatsoever. To be a little Zen, the shit will go as the shit goes and it is as simple as that. Is that too Senegalese?

PK: Guy, remember me texting you last December from Club Afrique in London and saying that perhaps all Foucault needed was a dose of Lingala and a Congolese prostitute to show him in real terms what ‘limit experience’ is to the European — or what he defines as taking shit to the very edge.

The most acerbic criticism, the harshest assessments always come from people on the inside. Or more specifically, people on the outside-in, the silent observers of The Project, any project, the ones always assumed to be part of it but who in reality are deeply critical of it by virtue of their positioning. However, they know of no other. They adopt an anti-language whose deepest metaphors and most illuminating insights, whose zinging idioms are constructed to provide insights into the thing they most detest, which is also they only thing they know: The Project.

Africans who read Foucault love him because he articulated viscerally felt insights. He is no surprise to an African who knows it well but has always wondered where it comes from. But unlike Foucault, we have ways-out, ‘way-forwards’: Foucault’s preoccupation with reconciling his sex with his mind is what Eldridge Cleaver called the dilemma of the Omnipotent Administrator (man that black consciousness lingo was funky! I fear that Africans, in the States at least, have been absorbed into ‘The System’ and are now bland and mild-mannered and addicted to shopping malls). Did you ever read that shit? Juxtapose it to Foucault — it is cruel, angry, politically incorrect, misogynistic, and historically imprecise in places but always stabbing at the heart of African-existence. Anyway, Cleaver’s depiction of the Omnipotent Administrator is the white man as all head, no soul and no sex. He makes cruel stabs — ordinary today but probably deeply wounding then — about the European’s dead-man’s dance; his perpetual suspicion of sexual inadequacy — and by extension, the threat of the Supermasculine Menial.

All this sounds fairly banal today, even irrelevant. I was reading a 1976 Eldrige Cleaver interview in Transition and you can just feel the energy and dynamism of people living inside a project. When I hear the same terms used by the likes of X (a well known rights activist in Nairobi), they sound all rehearsed, as if she (and others) were playing at being adult.

You and I feel that frustration; how reduced, how small, the world gets when we receive the idea of project-completion, of final organisation, of last-man thoughts. And by the way, it’s happening everywhere. Re: the drought thing, and the quite genuine outrage of the public in sedentary-Kenya, an outrage underpinned by Mohammed Aminesque images of starving, fly-ridden children in strange, far-flung locations; in short, an outrage whose infrastructure looks disturbingly like white-liberal concern a la Live Aid/Live Eight. Nobody of course questions why the famine happened or will happen again. It is considered a given that people in strange, non-sedentary locations — people who were not touched by the civilizing mission; whose MBA-quotient is sub-optimal — will starve. The problem, the outrage is about the fact that food aid did not arrive in time. That even after the establishment of ‘early-warning systems’ the government was not able to respond in time.

What I’m trying to say is that we are all being sucked into a last-man thought system. Last as a universe constructed by a narrow-minded little bourgeois whose black holes consist of Friday-night infidelities, credit-card debts, SUV desires and MBA ambitions.

MMK: Let us continue. I need to find me some Cleaver. Now!

The madness in this thing is when Africans try and get with it in the usual babi, civil society ways. They become worse than mad men, they become fools. Did you read the details of Damien’s public execution in Miller and the intimate ritual between ruler and ruled that was playing out? The paradoxical freedom of the victim from all power directed at his intimate self?

Let us praise the bush if only ironically! And by this I do not mean a turn to the ‘primitive’ which as usual is all about the European template. I mean thank god I can listen to Lingala, tusker in hand in screwed Nairobi feeling bigger than all the mechanisms of the state erected to try and get one over on me. Yes, yes, I know that there are many victims and vulnerable people and all that claptrap that is the manna of what I will call the tyranny-by-humanist-increment crew.

Will get back to Cleaver and famines and Kenya in a second. Let me stay with our ostensible saviour for a while longer because after all we are supposed to be trying to be like him. Right? The European is being crushed beneath the layers of his humanist, rationalist and utilitarian institutions. These take aim, whether deliberately or not, at God, and the godliness in the human being, preferring rational man as godhead. Because they have judged themselves to be nothing more than unreasoning flesh straining against reason, while needing a creed of some kind to maintain social control to maintain control, they have built god-like institutions to rule. Each generation for the past century at least has added to the power of these institutions. Would I be going to far to say that politics here is the contest to determine who gets to add to the size and reach of the state-God?

The modern finds a rare recourse in the bedroom where he hopes to momentarily escape the jealous eye of the machines that control him. Words like freedom and society’s will or truth are all mere labels for mechanisms that are anything but. The European lives in the midst of giant conceits that separate his thought and word from their actual nature.

Back to the bedroom: freedom is in transgression, in the sexual fetishes that Foucault was so fascinated by. (Isn’t it funny how all fetishes are embraced by the transgression warriors except for what they call commodity or consumer fetishism?). There is no longer any possibility of freedom here, it is actually a meaningless word and better thought of as a chimera. I am not speaking here of political freedom, in the sense of freedom from dictatorship or the attainment of democracy, but rather the impulse to be free of the overwhelming conceits of the individual European’s society which him no room to breathe even while he proclaims it the peak of human achievement. How maddening it must be: to be told, and to hear yourself say, daily, that you are the richest, most humane, cleverest and nicest while feeling empty and put upon by all that you experience.

This morning, while commuting into the city, I found that the tube fare – for an 8 minute ride – had gone up by about 40% since I used the tube a week ago. Bus fare is also up and so is the congestion charge which was meant to discourage driving and be invested in better, cheaper public transport. On getting to the office in a fury, I tried ranting about the raises. In response, one guy suggested that surely there must be someone who is paying less therefore it is ok that he and I get to pay more! Another one blamed Thatcherite policies of privatization and was happy that Labour was finally investing in public services. Yet another constructive type wished that the public could join with the unions to stage a demonstration against the hikes. You see? There were plenty of reactions but none of anger at being made poorer and basically getting ripped off. I pulled a mini Black Man Rage saying that the people here have been broken. Only this Arabic woman jokingly advocated riots or for folks to crowd into buses and refuse to pay. None of the so-called ‘masters of the universe’ types like Blair can actually change anything here, seeing how all interests are aligned to leave standing only a massive depersonalized society-wide controls (Foucault’s govermentality?). You may as well buy a giant dildo and to use it on yourself. Transgression in the bedroom looks to be a way out, right? Turn to your nerve endings – when your nipples are burnt or your penis coated in burning wax – for momentary freedom from your institutional masters in the hope that they are not watching and might disapprove. But you know in truth that this is not the case because their regime is alive and well even in the heart of sexual sado-masochism which is now to be conducted with ‘safety words’, child-safety clamps and feathered whips. With every passing year, they shrug off and flatten the ancient religious and sexual hierarchies with a God at their head substituting them with a flat equality here on earth that they lord over as a new God who believes in nothing except reason and the need to destroy all hope in a human soul. The helplessness of it is must be crushing.

Oh yes, we Africans may go down in the face of some diseases and natural forces but here they are helpless at the root. Well fed in the belly and totally starving outside it. Yet even this binary set-up may be an illusion because it seems to promise that from one can emerge the other but this may only be true in the vast sweep of history and not in the individual life. Thus the constant refrain in the West of ‘what history will say’ about one action of the powerful or the other; it is yet another of the little conceits that are a scream for help by a people so helplessly drowned that they attempt to live in a single life an entire history and futurestory of mankind. Death is what is scary and made so much more so because this ‘modernist’ project or rather projects, for they are many atop and alongside each other, has rejected at its root the possibility of human transcendence.

The European is trapped in a world that he wants to imagine is of his making when he is actually just the recipient of his forefathers’ addition to the very rope that is holding him down. He is caught between pride at the awesome machine that rules him (‘we are the greatest, the best, the superior’) and a mighty desire to escape it (‘let us go to Africa’, noble savages, Maasais, Save The Children). He wants nothing better than pull others in with him so that in doing so, he momentarily escapes. This is where those conversations by the old Africa hand come in. How wonderful and freeing was the world that they had come to conquer and dominate. They had (have) a genuine love for a thing they never shared in. Even in the darkest heart of Africa, their soul was imprisoned in the light of a modernist prison and their simultaneous dream of freedom and dominance would not take. The bush during colonialism and especially after its short reign kept growing back. They were caught between an unfeeling pride for their prison and its soul crushing weight. The few who attempted went mad, and when you speak to them about anything, be it Maasai art or wildlife, and are not coming from their direction, they just sound either foolish or childish.

If only the African could fight this thing, fight to join the moderns. But the African who joins in that game, usually of the babi middle class, civil society persuasion, ‘we can be just like the west’ game, is functionally insane in my opinion. He is driven to join what others are trying to escape, so taken with the narrow freedoms that he cannot spot the machine that is crushing the life out of his human/animal/black/female/gay/landless/vulnerable/disabled/gender outlaw/anti-ageism/welsh/Palestinian/Israeli/Panafrican/labour/capitalist rights colleagues. He little understands that these values are better judged as Trojan Horses whether or not they have universal merit. Many indeed do, but it was never about these rights. It has always been about the institutional mechanism that shall carry them. The Bible is very hip to this stuff and gives a good example in Matthews. When Jesus was in the desert fasting, the Devil came to him and tried tempting him to eat. Now you know the Devil could have hooked him up something to eat, as he did to Adam and Eve, but Jesus chooses hunger. The Devil and in our case the rights crew come in with plenty of temptations but the inner goal is of robbing you of all life. And like I was saying, what makes this so much worse is that there is no conspiracy. It is a wholly impersonal historical epoch that in all probability shall not last. The European is already held captive by it, and we in the bush have been targets for the last few hundred years. Thank God that the bush is going to stay strong in my lifetime.


About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

28 Responses to Some Email Considerations on the African Bush and its European Saviours

  1. Keguro says:

    What ideological, psychic, historical, and political work does the concept of the recalcitrant native (my term) do?

    He is one of my current obsessions. As in, I am writing about him.

    Must the African or Africa be recalcitrant? What do we gain and lose with such a concept?

    (My rather crude reaction being, I’m seduced by the exchange, but not willing to put out.)

  2. MMK says:

    keguro – I do not think that the miro has to be recalcitrant to European authority or guidance. He might just have other interests, have other narratives (some that are even drawn from the European well or at least impacted by it) that are concerned with entirely different inputs/outputs. There is a European assumption that the world has a single narrative thread running through it: his. It allows him to come up with phrases like ‘humanity expects’; the ‘world wants to know’; ‘international community’ on which so many abuses are based. Because this narrative is secular, it often must have soem idea of ‘man’ as god or as end-point. This is what I have been railing about because that ‘man’ is simply the jungu.

    Consider as an example the outrage in Harold Pinter’s speech on receiving the Nobel. A lot of Africans I know told me how much they agreed with its sentiments without for a minute considering where Pinter stands vis-a-vis this stuff pissing him off.

    He is not angry as much as he is despairingly in love with powers that have betrayed him. Whatever rage he has is comical while in that hall receiving his Nobel from the very great and good who he is actually angry at. It is a futile cry, a straining against his inevitable madness since he sees no way out except to scream at the latest little advance in the project while his screams are made up of the project’s older stuff. You see guy, only craziness awaits. This is shit like the gnostics were trying to argue.

    Just look at some of the little crutches that he is trying to use (WHILE ACCEPTING THE NOBEL!):

    Pinter: ‘…But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now.’ It is as if there is a single central narrative that encompasses the world and that ‘We’ (the people he is speaking to) have been betrayed when it comes time to manage it.

    ‘The Sandinistas weren’t perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.’
    How sad. What he wants to say is, ‘man, you stopped these guys from becoming us. Getting to the final stage in the sole human narrative that we embody, we in this hall.’

    ‘I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.”
    The use of these metonyms: ‘America did this’; ‘Kenya did that’; ‘humanity said’; ‘the world expects’ only reflects the brutal narrowing of human experience and desire to a few stories and voices. Everything outside these metonyms does not exist. For example, people in Kasai Orientale in DRC right now do not exist and will not exist unless they are spoken to or for by one of these metonyms. That is the basis of Pinter’s rage. It is within the very thing that annoys him, and said inside a Nobel hall only reflects a slight countering of the logic of the thing he hates which is himself.

  3. Keguro says:

    Have you seen Kwame Anthony Appiah’s recent piece in the NYT on Cosmopolitanism? It’s the same business he’s been flogging for years, complete, as usual, with descriptions of his relationship to Ghana royalty. (How that man does not understand his “Coming To America” narrative as part of his appeal is quite beyond me.)

    For all I disagree with a lot of him, I do buy his argument in In My Father’s Houseabout the origins of African nationalism and “the” African identity, that, inevitably, we must look to the diaspora to see how and where these ideas emerge.

    It is this concept which arrests me when we begin talking about what I insist on terming the “recalcitrant native” or “African recalcitrance,” which itself has a peculiarly western genealogy.

    I’m not flogging the tired argument that we “learned everything” from the west, merely that we have formulated some, if not many, of our epistemological categories and ideological positions in relation to the west, just as the west has done the same. The famous Rushdie quote that most of England’s history happened outside of England might be appropriate.

    Some years ago, some African scholar whose name I forget, claimed that the problem with African politics vis-a-vis the west, was that we spoke in politically divergent terms: while we tried to excoriate them via humanism, they had moved on to postmodernism. (Was it Dennis Epko? It might have been. My files are in another State right now, quite literally.)

    An alternative narrative, most certainly.

    However, as a recent and very reluctant convert to a modified humanism, I am reluctant to lose the advantage of speaking through what Adrienne Rich terms a “common language.”

    I think, and this is where my comments on your previous posting come in, we run into trouble when Africans become “trickster figures” or, in my terms, “recalcitrant natives,” familiar with but somehow, through some quirk of history or ideology or location resistant to western narratives.

    That said, as I mention in one of my posts, I do think that what we read (and celebrate? this being my problem with Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s claim that authentic nationalism lies with the “peasant”) as the “failure” of western modes of “governmentality,” to misuse Foucault, explicitly critiques the limitations of such systems.

    Here, I would then agree with you that only a myopic view of history (as narrative) would reject the proferred critique and speak of it in terms of failure.

    Because I cite her relentlessly (and wrongly) I conclude with Spivak.

    In an early essay, “Feminism and Deconstruction” (?) she writes that while deconstruction might allow us to remove the difference between “men” and “women,” such work accomplishes little beyond demonstrating the inadequacy of all identity categories (an obvious point) and the brilliance of the executor (shameless and ultimately useless narcissism). Though I cite deconstruction, I should clarify I do not classify myself through it, but acknowledge its usefulness in my own intellectual trajectory, though I misuse it, often.

    To continue, from Spivak I have learned and continue to learn the value and difficulty of trying to theorize complicity. Thus, to give one example, Simon Gikandi has recently asked how it is most African nationalists were, at the same time, the most “westernized.”

    I don’t think his comments are at all inappropriate to our times: how is it that we students and intellectuals in the west, trained out of the wazoo, offer, to my mind, some of the most insightful critiques into “Africa” and the conflicted relationship between “Africa” and “the west.”

    And so, I end with scare quotes, because we must think complicity, even as we try to figure out the work of recalcitrance.

  4. What you are raging against might very well be described as the foundations of civilisation. It sucks to part of the system, but if you remove the rules of the game then what?

    As you rightfully point out, the critics of the system are the ones stuck in it and outcries like that of Pinter become rather futile. But, in all honesty, where would you say your own placwe is? Within or outside the system?

    If you give those outside the system a chance to choose what would they say. It is cooler living in a mudhut and being able to stick it to “the man”, than enjoying the benefits of western civilisation with the chains that come with it? I think not. If you are outside you want in! If you are inside you probably really want to stay but it is cool to rage against the system.

    So can we find an alternative? An African way of civilisation? I know what you think of African democracy, but is this case any different? Can the beautiful free spirit of Africa be tamed into something else than western style civilisation? What will the cost be?

    From Pinter’s perspective then, can the West ever get out and what will the cost be. A mudhut in Sweden is damn cold I tell you. A care without heating useless. What will I have to give up to be free as a Masaai?

    (By the way, I have a little rant against aid again on my blog that you might enjoy.)

  5. chepkemboi says:

    Ngai fafa, MMK, you and Keguro remind me in all your posts that I should go back to school!!!!

  6. MMK says:

    Keguro – I hear that! I must say that I have not read Spivak at all. Africans and Europeans, miros and jungus, are joined at the hip. Each can barely make sense of himself without reference to the other. But my problem with the ‘common language’ that you speak of is that while Africans and other folks are in it if only as a result of empire, it is mostly at the end about Europe’s little conceits of itself. This becomes far clearer when you see the institutions that spring out of the humanist ideas of which you speak. Here are the UNs, the Nobel Prizes, the donor aid packages and the ceaseless hand wringings by the Geldofs. They are the flip-side of the past attempt to use military force to extend the imperial realm now being carried out by moral force. The goal, whether they are conscious of it or not, is what it was in 1895: to write themselves onto the world which they consider to be a blank slate or one with meaningless or inhuman scribblings that must be erased. The missionaries are still with us but now they are secular priests who do not even have the slight humility of having God at the head of their mission…

    Our languages are not different, but neither are they common. It could well be that the words and even the moral principles are the same in London as they are in Nairobi. And there is nothing wrong or unusual about that. But it is how and where this language is being used. I find when I am in Kenya and with folks from example from the evangelical churches that they are creating an entirely new world with the very same words being used here. Same with river road filmmakers whose Kiuk language films would be instantly recognisable to anyone who has watched a Mexican soap. The difference they have – as opposed to the French Cultural Centre sponsored filmmakers – is that they have identified their audience and are responding to its needs. They are growing their cannon, as opposed to trying to join another one that does not even acknowledge the existence of their audience other than as recipients of aid or people to help with HIV/AIDS… Am I being clear? I feel like I am becoming harder to understand by the minute.

  7. MMK says:

    Robert – I am by no means advocating refusing heating or even ‘rebelling’ against the west. In fact that is my very point, the west has nothing but childish dreams about itself that it wants to transpose in Africa. I so often meet people here in London who ask with intensity ‘what should we do about Africa?’ Surely, they say, something must be done … humanity and history demand something be done by us about Africa. Well, this is what I am calling childish dreaming. There is nothing westerners can do but run around trying to realise fancies that their societies cannot turn into reality. What turns my stomach is Africans who believe that these childish imaginings of their European ‘partners’ are something to have hope in: that UNDP is really going to make you richer or that Oxfam will be at the forefront of helping your trading.

    No, I am not advocating an alternative civilisation or a rebellion or some grand project. I am just saying do what you are doing, looking to the only audience, market and polity that is open to you which is the one you are in. Ignore the European where you can because he is at best a monumental waste of time (when on his high horse) or at worst a dangerous distraction.

  8. Keguro says:

    We’re on the same page.

    Like me, you oppose the unilateral flow of ideas and concepts–it all goes “east” or to the “global south”

    and the euro-american presumption that our cultural products must speak “to them” in “their languages,” which, as you point out, is an imperial conceit.

    totally clear.

    I simply ramble in disconnected fragments. A bad habit I picked up from Spivak. (Yes, I blame her for my bad prose and confused ideas!)

  9. MMK says:

    Keguro and robert – I think what I am talking about is what Amartya Sen (not a common name in cultural identity discussions) calls the ‘irreducible diversity’ of India which the West cannot wrap its head around caught as it is in a single, flattening view of the sub-continent. It is this diversity, not only in intellectual traditions, but in actions and motivations that in Kenya for example is outside the fencing in of the present europe-africa narrative. It cannot be boxed in by projects emanating from the center (whether London or westlands), and it is what I love about home when all is said and done.

  10. Anonymous says:

    So what African alternatives are there politically, socially and economically on the micro level because the macro level is currently unworkable? What should the African should the African aspire to; if not to untimely afford MTV, SUVs, Big Macs, Big booty Redbones and flat screen plasmas?

  11. MMK says:

    Hi Anon – Of course as I am sure you know, there are a million aspirations in Africa as anywhere else, and indeed many for MTV, SUVs and Big Macs. My point is that the projects of mercy from the center, whether it is in London or a Nairobi, assume that they know best what those aspirations are and that they can deliver on them. The African is always frozen like a deer in the headlights, perpetually waiting for someone to ‘do something’. His is an existence lurching from one crisis to the next and the only hope is the moral mission of the European. I can never get over the Britain which in 1976 was asking the IMF for credit, turning around less than a decade later to lecture countries that were in the same bind.

  12. I still think something must be sacrificed in society. You cannot have complete individualism and at the same time expect society to provide for you in terms of education, social welfare jobs etc. Somethings got to give when you sign the social contract – a piece of your own freedom. The alternative – anarchy, which might very well be a beautiful society to many, but in my view more looks like the Sudan or Eastern DRC.

    Perhaps the people in London and Stockholm have been forced to give up too much in return for too little, which is why they are frustrated. Perhaps the ulimate balance lies closer to individual freedom – I would like to think so after growing up in a social democractic society where everyone had to be socialised into the society from 1,5 years and the first attendance in State daycare centers.
    Or am I missing your point?

  13. MMK says:

    Robert – There is very little anarchy anywhere in Sudan or Congo. Violence yes, lack of central authority certainly but anarchy, rarely. And even within those places are many societies with differing contracts – Nairobi for instance is no Ituri province but they cannot be differentiated since it is Africa. I am complaining – in quite unproductive fashion I have to admit – against the idea that these places will only become ‘real societies’ when they approximate western society. One of the reasons why Africa is so often consigned to a perpetual hell is not just because of its problems, it is, in much of the European mind, a place of perpetual intellectual darkness and adults who remain children. It is the darkness to Europe’s light. This simple opposition, on which is based much of the engagement between the two is ahistorical and unproductive. The African would be better off ignoring it, and I think most largely do so. It is Europe, in need of upholding its humanist myths, bored, in need of a moral mission now that the imperial one has failed, that is addicted to this view of Africa.

  14. Anonymous says:


    I am asking for alternatives even micro ones, I think we have beat the “foreign aid is a lie and the failings of Delusional do gooders” to death, we are preaching to the choir.

    Ultimately, whatever solutions that meet African aspirations will have to come from her. Again I ask, what the solutions are thier implemention. Solutions to the African wanting what his western brother has. We can very dangerously get into tireless and narcissist problem definition One-Upmanship.


    I am still trying to figure out what the west has given up for their relatively better life that the African still has. Can anyone think of an example? Can African leadership market it to the Africans as a solution?

  15. MMK says:

    Anon – I see that all these theoretical meanderings are makign you impatient for us to get into a conversation about solutions, alternatives and leaders who market them to a single mass audience. But look around us, people are working, farming, hustling, voting, fighting, worshipping…life is going on. ‘The Solution’ is for this to be understood by the powers that be, especially the ones in government. Get out of the way should be the by-words of these leaders. The constant search for a single plan, a brilliant white paper from a single point (state house or save the children) is what I think is a waste of time. It is where our bitterest disappointments come from.

    And, by the way, you would be surprised at how large is the choir singing for more foreign aid and that attempts to claim that behind it and them lie the solutions to ‘the problem.’ There is no problem with wanting what the west has, none at all. But it is not westerners that will deliver to the African who wants what it has.

  16. Anonymous says:


    I am not a believer in magic bullets solutions from high tower western NGOs and their African clones. I just read about the $17 Billion/Year Mexican immigrants send into the Mexican economies from the US and it profound effects. The various programs and how they are administered were very inspirational. There weren’t any grand plans for Mexico City and where it was involved it caused inefficiencies and problems.

    Can I at least get a little something? Some action no matter how small? I believe these very little actions are what aid our desperate aspirations.

  17. MMK says:

    Anon – I could not agree with you more. Kenyans abroad last year, as an example, conservatively sent home $600 million according to the central bank (the figure could top $1 billion). Compare this with the $70 million that the UK gave Kenya in 2003 with all those conditionalities or the $108 million from the United States. Yet when ministers come to London, they tell Kenyans here that they have come to speak to donors and that all will soon be well! Imagine the UK’s contribution for a second and picture in your mind the consultants here in London who are paid from it and DFID expats in Nairobi also drawing on the same amount. Compare this with the $1000 a Kenyan will send to his mother to pay for some medicine, school fees or to start a small business. Despite this, all the headlines are about the donor! If only more services could spring up to make it cheaper and easier to send the remittances. Anon, that might be a money making opportunity for you…

  18. That Africans would buy the idea of Africa as a place of perpetual intellectual darkness and adults who remain children I find ridiculous. Like every group of people on this earth Africans think they are the best. Yes, in Tanzania there is some self defeating talk of “bongo land”, where nothing works but where you survive by being street smart, but otherwise the self image of Tanzanians seems to be rather the opposite. Tanzania is the light compared to the capitalist evil societies in the West. Nyerere is still God and had the West not disturbed him his socialist development experiment would surely have worked. As if…

    I would instead argue that Africa should take a closer look at the West. Study it hard – rject some things and also seek out some goodies to take after – because there are some, instead of resorting to truly unintellectual anti-western rhetoric which is truly the darkness you are talking about.

    The result of ignorance and lack of constructive critique and analysis is that the worst of Western culture and values keep flooding African countries, ever increasing anti-western sentiment and backward looking marxist babbel. It is a terrible spiral that is accelerating out of control, and I fear that before long you will see a new breed of African terrorist joining hands with muslim extremists in a perpetual war on modernity and capitalism.

  19. MMK says:

    Robert – no, I do not mean that Africans are the ones that buy the idea of Africa as darkness (even though some do, so taken are they with this view that is only slightly a caricature of the western one).

  20. Keguro says:


    why do I feel as though I should take you to my grandmother’s house?

    You know, many Africans don’t give a rat’s ass what the west thinks, feels, imagines, or wants from them. Many of us who live in the west learn to be the same way.

    Kimani’s point is not that we think we are superior, but that we don’t even acknowledge the validity of the competition that would determine superiority.

    And when you talk about “anti-western” sentiment, I wonder. We are barely a generation away from colonialism. Should we embrace the west that raped, pillaged, and killed our grandmothers and grandfathers? Is lingering anger unjustifiable?

    And besides anger, why should we ever look to the west for values? Is this not the point of Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism? “Colonialism is Thingification,” he says.

    To be critical of the west is not the same as being a terrorist. Only a truly paranoid position would align critique with violence.

    Neither is it being anti-intellectual. Only a certain imperial arrogance recognizes one valid epistmological system.

    And this view is one we reject. That I write and speak in the accents of high english does not mean I’m inhabited by an english homunculus.

  21. Anonymous says:


    Ease up star, a brother has to read you with a dictionary in hand “epistmological” !!!

    For the rest of you don’t front, so here is the meaning “Epistemology, from the Greek words episteme (knowledge) and logos (word/speech) is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, origin and scope of knowledge.”

    MMK – Sorry to regress on your blog.

  22. MMK says:

    Anon – chill, all the people here are good peoples; they have to be to have th patience to get through my rants which I was just reading through and could not make heads or tails of. Let me ask a totally different question, why is it so much easier to blog than to get any other kind of writing done? I am starting to think that I should actually do my research write-up on a blog somewhere!

  23. wow. That sums your blog up for me.

  24. Keguro,

    I am somewhat surprised at your outrage, but I guess you see this white intellectual wannabe who has lived for a year in Africa and therefore thinks he nows the place. First, I do seek to provoke Mr MMK who happens to be a good friend of mine. Second, anti-western sentiment based on post-colonial lingering anger is not justifiable unless it is on a personal level. But unless you are affected personally and unless the offender is still alive – get over it. It is also a lame excuse in my view. I see no lingering anger towards the African leaders who committed the very same atrocities – before and after colonialism. It is much too easy to come back to colonialism when discussing todays problems and frankly, even if many root causes of problems are to be found within the colonial era, the way forward often has NOTHING to do with the colonial era.

    The anti-western views I face at the University of Dar es Salaam are most often anti-intellectual. Not because they are anti-western or because I am a neo-colonial bastard, but because they are based on a rather outdated form of Marxist school education that still somehow prevails in Tanzania.

    When it comes to my paranoia only history can decide who is right. However, when veyr bright students of political science at the university of Dar es Salaam have the views they have, and many of them based on terrible and false propaganda (if you trust me to make that judgement) I do not want to know what a hungry and dissillusioned former child soldier might think and do. A man with 500 dollars and a small bomb may in that case prove to be very persuasive. The growing insurgency in Iraq proves just how small the step from critical to violent actually is.

    “And besides anger, why should we ever look to the west for values?”

    Well, my friend, why should anyone ever try to learn from someone else? Just as I seek to learn from MMKs Eastern, african or Western or whoevers knowledge and values, I belive Africa can learn from the West. To think otherwise is – well anti-intellectual.

  25. Keguro,

    I am somewhat surprised at your outrage, but I guess you see this white intellectual wannabe who has lived for a year in Africa and therefore thinks he nows the place. First, I do seek to provoke Mr MMK who happens to be a good friend of mine. Second, anti-western sentiment based on post-colonial lingering anger is not justifiable unless it is on a personal level. But unless you are affected personally and unless the offender is still alive – get over it. It is very dangerous if old personal anger takes hold and creates an institutionalised societal negativity about other people. Racism and hatred is the result and history has many cases of it. Anti-western sentiment because ogf colonialism is also a lame excuse in my view. I see no lingering anger towards the African leaders who committed the very same atrocities – before and after colonialism. It is much too easy to come back to colonialism when discussing todays problems. Frankly, even if many root causes of problems are to be found within the colonial era, the way forward often has NOTHING to do with the colonial era.

    The anti-western views I face at the University of Dar es Salaam are most often anti-intellectual. Not because they are anti-western or because I am a neo-colonial bastard, but because they are based on a rather outdated form of Marxist school education that still somehow prevails in Tanzania.

    When it comes to my paranoia only history can decide who is right. However, when veyr bright students of political science at the university of Dar es Salaam have the views they have, and many of them based on terrible and false propaganda (if you trust me to make that judgement) I do not want to know what a hungry and dissillusioned former child soldier might think and do. A man with 500 dollars and a small bomb may in that case prove to be very persuasive. The growing insurgency in Iraq proves just how small the step from critical to violent actually is.

    “And besides anger, why should we ever look to the west for values?”

    Well, my friend, why should anyone ever try to learn from someone else? Just as I seek to learn from MMKs Eastern, african or Western or whoevers knowledge and values, I belive Africa can learn from the West. To think otherwise is – well anti-intellectual.

  26. Keguro says:


    you know we africans get carried away by big words–it’s because many syllables approximate our languages.

    Because, you know, we use simple root words and just make them long.

    from menya to amenyekeire
    from hota to matiangahotire
    from eterera to wetereirwo

    so, I see many letters in a word and I feel happy

  27. Keguro says:

    and I misspell my own language


    all those letters confuse me!

    and fate plays, especially since I’m writing, “they could not have managed”

  28. Anonymous says:


    You should also ask why its easier to blog that to do ones work.–>

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