Book Review: The Africa Within by Tawiah Aboagye

I recently took part in a debate with  a group of Pan-Africanists ina Facebook forum who said that the white man should be blamed for everything that has gone wrong in Africa. I made objections and stated to the group that our leaders had allowed indifference, corruption, greediness, folly, and power to rule them instead of allowing reason, equity and justice to dictate their course. They  asserted that I had become too westernized and that I needed to be in Africa to understand what is happening. I recommended they read Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent to broaden their simplified notion of Pan-Africanism.

A common observation that I have made based on interactions with educated Africans is their tendency to believe that Africa’s problems are caused by someone other than Africans.  I see this as an ignorant excuse.

Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades and continues to grow in debt and poverty due to internal factors and partly due to the policies of international institutions. International factors are subjected to debate and might take a while to make changes. What we cannot however deny is how our own policies – if there were any – at home have failed the ordinary African. It looks like our leaders didn’t have any plan after taking power.

 Some may blame external factors and the other internal factors , I attribute Africa’s problems to bad leadership. In The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe asserts that “the trouble with [Africa] is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” He adds that “The [African] Problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. In the entire booklet, the wise man did not point a single finger to an external factors. Our  continent lacks  altruistic and competent leaders.

Tawiah Aboagye Annobi, a  young Ghanaian writer, puts his  passion of a better Africa into a drama titled “The African Within”. The book is set in a small village called Africa.  In a drama staged in seven acts, we journey through the daily politics of five African leaders to discover the motivation behind their management of the village of Africa.

At the beginning of the drama we discover that the founder and former ruler of the Maame Obaatanpa (Good Mother) Africa has mysteriously taken residence with the gods and cannot return unless a sacrifice is made. With her absence,  peace and happiness has left the village of Africa. Five elders- Sekyere, Addae, Esare, Tutu and Yawansah- of the village have taken over the governing of the village. The leaders who took over the ruling of the land have limited their duties to the looting of their own people. They don’t work on their farms anymore and most of them  lease their lands for long periods of time resulting in their entire families living on the royal treasury.

The villagers, burdened with injustice and heavy levies imposed on them, ask the elders to appease the gods in order to have their Good Mother Africa returned to them. With the leaders having everything to lose from her return, they find ways to prevent her return and also conceive of a dubious policy to triple the already burdensome levies the people are paying to the royal house. What follows is forging of alliances and greed to eliminate anybody who seeks to combat or eradicate the selfishness and treachery of the African leaders. In the course of the drama, two elders Yawansah and Tutu become aware that the looting of their  people must cease and they should rather find a way to get Good Mother Africa to her people.

In the following dialogue, the true intentions of the other elders are revealed:

Tutu:  Tell them true leaders lead from behind. Good leaders put others in front, especially when fortune occurs. Real and brave leaders take the front line when there is danger. With this, people will appreciate your leadership. Tell them I am not against them, but I do not support them. Let them know that my heart and conscience cannot be ignored.

Sekyere: Don’t be ridiculous! That kind of leadership died a long time ago in Africa.

What would it take to bring liberation to Africa? With the help of the village priest, the secrets of the gods are reveal what would enable Good Mother Africa to return to her people.  Ntiri, a noble descendant of Maame Obaatanpa Africa, volunteers to be sent to the gods to bring back the Good Mother. He comes back after a dangerous journey that he pays with his life he tells the villagers Maame Obaatanpa Africa is not going to return.

The message of this book is  if the villagers individually do good, and their leaders are true and selfless, Africa will recover from her social ills.  To achieve this,  if every  villager sacrifice their hearts for Africa and allows Africa to live in them, the plights of Africa would cease.  The priest of the land in the closing scene addresses the public:

“To those already leading, be true. To those yet to be appointed, do away with indecisiveness, selfishness and never be counted with the traitors. Put problems of the land first and have the happiness of the people at heart. My people, you can never take from someone who owns something within him. If only we would have a peaceful Africa within us, nobody could take away our happiness. Let us live in Africa, as we would love Africa to live in us. Treat your brothers fairly and make sure you do good, regardless of what others are doing. That is the only way we can see happiness, development and above all, peace.”

In all, this is a well written and easy to read drama but it has its shortcomings. First, setting the complexity of African society and politics in a small village, fails to portray the global trade and colonization, the economic and social conditions under which the African people once lived have been altered.

The message from the Good Mother Africa was very impressive and it is the true turn around change for African leaders in general; to sacrifice to develop society. We must learn to develop new ideas to filter the changes confronting us, embrace the positive changes and direct our affairs to the benefit of all. Can Africa survive? The words of the priest means there is definitely hope for Africa but the hope must be based on credibility.

Robert Guest author of the book ‘The Shackled Continent’ said that African leaders must become wise and recognize that Africa belongs to its people, not its rulers.

To gain worldwide respect, we as Africans have to prove to the world that we are capable of managing our own affairs. Liberating Africa means equipping the ordinary African to mentally stand up against the deception and narcissism of our leaders and the exploitation of outsiders whilst training young men and women to take advantage of our resources to the benefit of all.

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Dominic Mensah

A young man who is chiefly passionate about the big questions of life. Philosophical ideas give my life meaning. The joy of thinking, the challenge of understanding, the inspiration as well as the consolations of philosophy- welcome to my world! On Africa, knowledge is prerequisite to its liberation and survival. The progress of Africa must be sought by improving the intelligence of every African soul. I seek to serve Africa through critical thinking. Therefore I became a thinker to serve Mama Africa.