The recent debacle over the conduct of Luis Suarez of Uruguay in the football world cup quarter final game between Uruguay and Ghana got me thinking again about the African psyche and the reasons why Africa still lags behind the rest of the world in so many different fields.
Unlike many of my African brethren I was not necessarily saddened by Uruguay’s victory in that particular game even though I had supported Ghana and had wanted them to progress to the semi-finals of the world cup. I found myself torn between my desire to see an African team progress to the semi finals of the football world cup for the first time and my desire, as a football traditionalist to see a traditional football powerhouse such as Uruguay finally awakening, after so many years in the football wilderness. Being a history lover and a traditionalist of some sorts in these things, for me it was great to see a nation with such a great history and football pedigree, as Uruguay finally taking its rightful place amongst the elite footballing nations of the world again. Secondly, after many years of sincerely believing that Diego Forlan was one of the most underrated players in the world, I was glad that he was finally getting the opportunity to showcase his talent on the biggest stage of all and to also stake his claim to being placed amongst the elite footballers of the world in the modern era.
It was for these reasons that Uruguay’s victory over Ghana was a bitter-sweet experience for me. It also contained many lessons for us as Africans of what it takes to win in the world that we live in and what we will need to do if we are going to turn Africa around in the twenty first century. Luis Suarez was vilified and branded a cheat for handling a goal-bound ball in the last seconds of the game against Ghana and in so doing keeping Uruguay’s hopes of making the world cup semi finals alive. Africans all over complained, bemoaning how Ghana where cheated out of a deserved semi finals spot and how much of an injustice was done in that game. In doing so many Africans forgot to apportion blame where it was justly deserved and this revealed to me a typical African weakness which I believe is one of the reasons why Africa still lags behind the rest of the world at the beginning of the twenty first century. What Suarez did, did not cost Ghana the game. Suarez handled the ball, was sent off and a penalty was awarded. This means that in footballing terms justice was served. The player who deliberately handled the ball was sent off and Ghana where awarded a penalty which gave them an opportunity to win the game and proceed to a world cup semi final for the very first time. In other words, in spite of what Suarez had done, it was still within the hands of a Ghanaian player to ensure that Ghana progressed to their first world cup semi final. This responsibility was handed over to Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan. Of course we all know that he missed the penalty, Ghana lost the penalty shootout and Uruguay progressed to the world cup semi finals.
What was interesting for me was the reaction of most Africans to this undoubtedly emotional defeat. Many Africans were quick to blame Suarez for Ghana’s defeat and to pull out the victim card, saying that Ghana had been cheated out of a world cup semi final spot. This was not just highly inaccurate, but a gross distortion of the facts. As insensitive as it may sound, Ghana lost that match, not because they were cheated, but because their striker and key penalty taker, Asamoah Gyan, missed a penalty he should have scored which would have taken his team through to the semi finals. If anybody was to blame for Ghana’s loss, it was him, not Suarez. Suarez did everything that his countrymen would have expected him to do in order to ensure that his team went as far as they could in the world cup, Gyan didn’t. In the final analysis, after all the complaining and whingeing the end result was that Uruguay were through to the world cup semi finals and Ghana were out. In typical African fashion we found it easier to blame an outsider for failure than to place the blame squarely at an African’s feet for not doing his job when it was required of him to do so. This is the same mentality that we see across Africa when people are asked to explain what is wrong with the continent.
We find it easier to blame colonialism, the Europeans, the Americans, slavery etc than to blame ourselves and to take responsibility for where we are as Africans. Whilst not meaning to downplay the effects of all these external factors in Africa’s continued impoverishment, the reality is that Africa has failed to develop post-independence not just because of the above factors but mainly because of corrupt African leaders, dictators and despots who have ravaged their countries and their peoples for personal gain (and in many instances been allowed to do so by African citizens to the point of even excusing and defending their behaviour in some instances), civil wars consisting of one African faction fighting against another African faction (using European manufactured weapons, but nonetheless still African against African), economic mismanagement by African governments (even before there were structural adjustment programmes imposed on African governments by the IMF and the World Bank there was still gross economic mismanagement within African governments), narrow-minded tribalism and ethnicism (although the roots of these are often traced directly to Europe and colonialism the fact remains that Africans could still have acted differently and in a more humane manner towards each other post-independence, with the broader goal of nation-building in mind) etc. In other words just like with the Ghana versus Uruguay example, despite the external factors, it was still within the control of African citizens and their leaders to build successful, winning nations post-independence, but most didn’t and in fact ended up plundering and looting their countries whilst blaming the west for their plight. This is a trait that we need to lose as Africans if we are indeed going to modernise and develop in this century. You see despite what Suarez did or did not do, Ghana could (and should) have still won that game if their player had done his job, which is to score the penalty. In the same way Africa could still have developed and modernised post-independence despite the scourge of colonialism, neo-colonialism and all forms of exploitation, if her leaders and her citizens had made different choices and consciously followed a different path. It was still within Africa’s control and it is still within Africa’s control to follow a different growth trajectory if we would make better choices and stop passing blame.
It was interesting for me that people found it easier to blame Suarez than Gyan after Ghana’s loss. The reality is that the world does not work like that, if you want to be a winner. The world sympathises with the Gyan’s and Ghana’s of this world but in the end, the bottom line is what matters and after all the tears and sympathy the results that are attained through the work of the Suarez’s of this world still stand. We have to decide as a continent whether we want to be a continent that the world feels sorry for or we want to be a continent of winners. If we want to be winners then we need to produce more Suarez’s. If we want to be a continent that the world looks on with pity (as has been happening over the past fifty years) then we will continue to produce more Gyan’s and to excuse and celebrate their failure. Suarez represents the kind of person who gets things done, who produces results despite criticism and vilification, who will do whatever it takes to advance the cause of his country, who is ruthlessly efficient and effective. This is the kind of person required if Africa is going to arise in the twenty first century. Gyan represents the incompetent, pitiful African who despite being afforded the opportunity can never quite break out of his shell and seems to have a ceiling when it comes to what he can accomplish or achieve, the African who somehow cannot compete on the global scale and is always found wanting at critical moments, the African who can’t take responsibility for his failures and short-fallings but instead looks for excuses and sympathy when he realises that he doesn’t quite match up, the African who will garner the world’s sympathy, receive aid, always be the also-ran on the global stage etc. This is the kind of leadership and citizenry that has characterized Africa over the past fifty years and is one of the primary reasons why Africa is where it is at the moment.
The world is a ruthless place. There is no room for sentiment and emotionalism on the world stage. It is results that matter and if Africa is going to maximize its potential we will need to embrace some of that ruthless streak. Now I am not saying that we should abandon all ethics and morality in the quest for growth and development for Africa in the twenty first century but I am saying that we need to be more ruthlessly efficient, more one-track minded, more results oriented, less tolerant of failure (even glorious failure), less accepting of mediocrity, offer fewer excuses and take more responsibility. In the footballing example I have been using so far Suarez did what he had to do to keep his country in the tournament, Gyan didn’t. That is the bottom line. Whatever sense of injustice and unfairness we may or may not have felt, it was still within the African’s hands to ensure his team went through and when it was required of him to step up, take responsibility and produce results, he did not. It is the same for Africa in so many other spheres. Whatever injustices there have been in the past and whatever injustices are still being festered upon us in the current era, often when Africans are required to step up, take responsibility and produce results, we fail and then blame others for our failure. This is not the winning mentality that produces winning nations. If we want to be at the forefront of world civilization and to lead the world in terms of growth and development in the twenty first century, then the formula is really simple: more Suarez, less Gyan please!