I have been teaching English to Korean students for the past year and a half. My students have taught me so much in the past 18 months. Surprisingly, the primary lesson learnt, is about who I am as an African. You may ask how students aged between 8 to 15 years of age can provide such insight. I shall elaborate.
I often hold conversation contests in my class and my students get to practice what they are taught during the week. One student Kevin, was on the losing team and he remarked that the opposing team who were defeating them were either American or European. He went on to say that, his team was African because they were losers. Comments like these are very common in class and I am no longer offended when my students make such remarks. Truth is I cannot even defend my continent because many of the statements they make about Africa are true.
I sometimes ask my students to explain certain things about their culture that I do not always understand. They always end their explanation with a simple statement, “Teacher, I am Korean” ,this they say with pride. I ask myself how children so young can have such immense pride in their culture, language, cuisine and history. I also ask myself why Africans cannot foster this kind of pride. Middle and High school children (age group 13-18) are required to do 24 hours of community service each year, which amounts to about 2 hours per month. These kids clean public parks, stadiums, swimming pools, and help the elderly walk in the subway stations amongst other things. I am starting to understand where their pride, accountability and sense of ownership come from (It is something our continent’s governments should consider ). They are required to contribute to their country’s well being from a young age. Korean children love speaking their language and have great respect for their culture, they are extremely proud of Korea’s achievements, almost fanatical at times.
I had a phone conversation with a Ghanaian friend a few days ago and we were talking about the subject of African pride. He made some statements, which initially offended me, but after careful consideration, I could not dispute what he had said. He said, “Africans are inferior when it comes to knowledge and implementation compared to Europeans, Asians and Americans.” We have highly learned Africans but we fail to translate this into anything concrete. Why is this the case?
I have come to a few of my own conclusions as to why we cannot even get the basics right on the African continent. We have no pride, accountability, sense of responsibility and ownership. This includes politicians, citizens and civil society in our continent. We are mediocre and accept mediocrity instead of demanding excellence. We have no benchmark to measure ourselves against. Let’s stop blaming: slavery, apartheid and colonisation for our mediocrity. We have nobody but ourselves to blame. It is 2010 and many African countries are celebrating more than 40 years of independence. We have, however failed to achieve anything tangible in this time. Let us foster some pride and take responsibility for the poverty, hunger, corruption that prevails in our countries. Our continent’s success solely rests on every African’s shoulders. We as Africans need to create the standards we deem acceptable for Africa. Africans should hold politicians who plunder our resources for self-enrichment accountable. If someone tried to steal or take advantage of your family, you would be outraged. This is the same principle we need to cultivate as Africans. This continent has so much potential, we all need to start believing and actively striving for excellence starting from the way we treat each other as Africans, our work ethic and how we use state and public resources.
Those of us blessed with children need to teach them about who they are, teach them to speak their mother tongue because it is easier to understand and learn about your culture through language. Self-hatred of our skin colour, language, culture, and heritage needs to end. We have a rich history, which needs to be taught. In the age of the World Wide Web, many of us have access to information about our history. One can never understand who they truly are if they do not know where they come from. All too often, we take the negative aspects of westernisation and replace our cultural norms with it.
I no longer defend our continent when I am asked about Africa and why it is in the state it is in. I merely acknowledge that we have many challenges, which I believe will change in my lifetime. For such a revolutionary change to happen, it has to begin with you and I. It starts with little things like: arriving at work on time, being honest, helping someone in need, teaching our children respect, participating in social and civil society, taking initiative and not relying on our governments to save us and lastly looking after state resources. Take pride in every aspect of your life, be accountable for your actions and have a sense of ownership for our continent. Whatever little contribution you can make, make it. Not only for yourself, but also for the generation which will follow.