Good intentions to dislodge poverty’s tight grip on Africa are welcome and must be well appreciated by every conscientious African who cares to see an end to the continent’s long night of hunger, disease and grinding poverty.
In Africa we should salute all honest initiatives aimed at helping our neglected continent. We say, “Viva!” to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa; Chancellor Gordon Brown’s relentless fight to bring as many countries as possible to the African aid’s bandwagon; Bob Geldof’s Live 8 and his army of world singers and musicians who enthralled the world in the name of mother Africa. We also take off our hats to the audience of millions who responded to the Live 8 call and poured out their pockets and their hearts in the crusade to end poverty.
We do this because in Africa it is the language of singing, music and drumbeats that we understand more than any language. When we are hungry, we sing. When we are sick, we sing. When death descends on us, we sing. When life smiles for us, we sing. We always sing, beat the drums and dance. Music and singing are the secret of our existence. This is how we cheated extinction and annihilation. Even when the prime youth of Africa, the manpower of our continent, were taken in chains across the Atlantic, they took their drumbeats and their music in their hearts, in their heads and in their feet. This is why, when the world sings in our name today, we understand the honesty of it and we sing with them.
In Africa, we also know that it is our singing and our music that soothes our nerves, drives away our blues and sends our hungry children to sleep. But our music and our singing bring no money. Now, when we see music played, drums beaten and lyrics sang in our names to bring us money, we worry. Because we know money is evil - at least, in Africa. You see when our hungry children hear our music, our singing and our lullabies, they remember it is sleeping time and they go to bed. But if they learn that music means money, they would stay awake and wait for food because they know money buys food. In Africa, money is like a snake’s droppings: everyone hears about it but no one ever sees it.
We know it comes from the world to us as aid, as debt, as grants, as charity, as food, and as medicine. It comes from all over the world. But in Africa, our leaders taught us a long time ago that money is evil. They taught us it is the root cause of all wars, diseases and poverty. They said that if money came to our kraals and our abodes, singing would no longer help our children and our wives sleep. It will not be enough to give them food and fill their stomachs. No, they will not sleep until they touch the hard, cold silver and gold money. And in Africa, we know sleeping is the therapy of every disease. If someone doesn’t sleep, he becomes crazy and causes trouble. They even might start a fire and burn the whole camp.
Therefore, our leaders taught us that since money was very rare, like a snake’s droppings, the best place to keep it was in their pockets. Once, they also told us their pockets were so full they would send the rest for safekeeping in far away banks. This is why money is like a snake’s droppings in our continent: we only hear about it, but we never see it.
But recently, some of our young ones who went to schools and travelled to far away lands told us another story. They told us we had to have money to feed our children. They told us we needed money to have schools, hospitals, roads and clean water. They told us that money was not evil and in fact it was not as rare as a snake’s droppings after all. They told us to go to our leaders and ask them to build schools, hospitals and roads for us and provide us clean water. And when we told our leaders, they became crazy and started beating us, killing us, driving us out of our farms and taking away our animals. This is why you can see many wars, burnings and killings in Africa today.
This is why we are worried when we hear Tony Blair, George Bush, Bob Geldof and other well-intentioned people talking about money coming to us. We don’t want more wars, more killings, and more burnings. We want to thank you all for your generosity. Please don’t give us money. Keep it in your faraway banks. We will tell you what we want. We want our children to have good education like your children, so we need schools. We want medicine to treat our sick like you do, so we need hospitals. We want to send our products to far away markets so we can get books and pencils for our schools, medicine for our hospitals and tools for our farms, so we need good roads and harbours and airports. We need clean water and electricity.
This is what we want, Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Sir Geldof. Singing is our faculty. Music is our soul. Drumming is our tradition. This is what we know best. This is our language over the centuries. We sing to send our hungry children to sleep. You sing to make money. Money in Africa is as rare as snake’s droppings and is evil. It should be kept away from good people like us and held tight in the hands of our leaders. Please don’t give us money. Just give us the means so our children can sleep in peace with our lullabies, go to schools and get medicine. Empower us, the people, and not our leaders.