The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept which states that a person’s self is formed from society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. The term refers to people shaping their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them.
Based on this school of thought, and going by the fact that the individual is the basic unit of society, then it can be fairly inferred that a society is formed of how its citizens perceive it. On that premise, one can fairly figure out the state of a society which looks negatively upon itself, while others do same to it.
It is on this premise that I am strongly of the view that despite Africa’s numerous challenges, our greater good will be forthcoming from focusing predominantly on the opportunities that abound to tackle these challenges than a perennial moaning and rumination over them.
This is why I immediately get uneasy when scholars or persons from our part of the world deliver entire speeches focusing mainly on Africa’s challenges; with sparse or no mention at all of possible and concrete ways out of the wood. That was the fundamental reservation I had with prof. Lumumba’s speech delivered at the event organized by the PAVA Foundation at the Alisa Hotel. Apparently, the Professor has become quite famous for delivering talks on Africa’s problematic state with quite an oratorical flourish. But what are the real psychological consequences of such speeches?
During the days of colonialism, I believe the colonial masters had told us severally how backward we were and how we were not good enough. Today, it is our leaders and scholars who do same. If it is self-evident that our lot is not the best, then what do we do? Do we keep lamenting? I believe it is time we take it easy feasting on the pity pie. Yes we’re here now. Where do we go hence, and how do we get there? That is where the real challenge is.
I remember about 5 years ago, I was on what I now refer to as ‘a revolutionary high’. Well before, I had been voraciously consuming literature on the neocolonial and the neoliberal agenda. In fact, I was consumed with figuring out what is so wrong about our society and encrypting it all for the world to know. I believed in a complete diagnosis of our situation and changing the status quo.
Then one fine evening, in the company of one of my comrades, we paid a courtesy call on Dr. Yao Graham, Head of the Third World Network-Africa. In fact, that was my first time meeting him. That fateful encounter, I must say was my ‘Paul on the road to Damascus’ moment. It altered significantly how I viewed the African Challenge. I remember going on and on about our plight and how things must be done differently. The excesses of the ruling class, marginalization of the masses, the wretchedness of the peasants and how it must all change.
The learned Dr. listened patiently and nodded in agreement to all my concerns which came across more like justifiable vituperations. When I paused, he asked; “So what would you do to change the situation”?
The question sounded simple at first. But in attempting to answer it, while placing it within the sphere of current geopolitics, national psychology, political economy among other concrete realities; I realized how quickly it is for any informed person to prescribe an antithesis to any solution one may propose for our current situation. Immediately, a maxim which I always read but never really tried making sense of came rushing to mind; A revolution is not only a struggle against an old order, it is also a contest to install a new one. I had no sense of ideological clarity and organic unity of the form the much desired new order should take. That, I must admit, seems to be the case for most of us change seekers.
From then on, consciously or unconsciously, I began to realize how rare it was for scholars of our time to postulate solutions to the African challenge without being harangued from all spheres. More importantly, I realized most scholars stayed with the diagnosis and steered clearly off any concrete and coherent path – be it political, social or economic. In fact if they did, they attempted to remain as vague and as scant as possible. Sadly, some of them would insist that a diagnosis of the problems presume an automatic outline of solutions; a position which remains quite problematic to say the least.
After all, some pioneers have been bold to prescribe their choice of paths; talk of Nkrumah, Claude Ake, Dambisa Moyo et al. So the question is; why don’t scholars and other speakers of our time unapologetically indicate the path they believe? The likes of Nkrumah indicated what must be done. They also stated strongly the consequences of not doing what they propose. Hence the famous axiom of Nkrumah; ‘We must unite now or Perish…” and so on. As such, what would have rather surprised the likes of Nkrumah would be to wake to a developed Africa today. For that would mean an antithesis to their proposed approach to solving the African challenge. Thus, I beg to differ when Prof. Lumumba continues to state that Nkrumah and his likes would be disappointed if they were to rise today. On the contrary, they would not be, because they had earlier prescribed and predicted the various permutations of the future in their works. That is called Vision!
A second factor which is instructive about the heroes of our past, Nkrumah in particular, was his attempt to appreciate the psychology of the African and find ways to galvanize the continent towards progress. Remember that, coterminous with his diagnosis of the challenge was also a bold, uncompromising creation of a path to exiting the status quo. Whither that ideological intensity in our modern scholars?
Why tell me to change leadership, change my mind and not tell me what you feel is the superior or better way to do that? There are numerous choices of leadership and so are multiple avenues of instituting change. So the next time I listen to a scholar, I don’t only expect from him a lucid articulation of the problem; which I must say is relevant, but more importantly an organic unity in thought and practice. We are inundated with the preaching of the good customs, but what should be the superior practice in the sphere of political economy?
I hold that, going by the psychology of continuous exposure, if Africans are to harp more on the solutions than we do the problems, the continent will be more the better for it. The more we talk difficulties; they will essentially pertain as our reality. The more we talk the solutions; well, it’s only rational that we’ll be more inclined as problem solvers. Thus, I do believe that, a 45 minutes speech would better serve if 30 minutes is dedicated to laying out the road map to where we can be and how to get there. The remaining 15 minutes or less may well be spent on outlining problem, not the vice versa. For already, we live with these challenges.
So as a speaker, tell me what you believe must be done and why you think it must be done and where it may or may not lead to; and I’ll decide to go with you or not. Do not leave me wondering so what now? Change yes, but how?
While the event of the PAVA Foundation was one par excellence, I believe that my fundamental challenge was with the ratio of challenges in relation to solutions that comprised PLO’s speech. Maybe I’m biased towards a particular dialectical approach to intellectual discourse. Maybe I always anticipate a brief diagnosis of the problem and a quick departure towards a new synthesis; towards a new Africa, theorized on very practical considerations.
Maybe I expected too much of him within the time frame available for the speech. Maybe I need further interactions or reading of the good Prof. to appreciate his approach better. Maybe, just may be…
But all in all, his delivery, and grasp of the continent’s status quo remains A+; but like the proverbial Oliver, I ask for more. You think I’m being a tad too critical? Well, if you could ask PAVA, I’m sure he’s smiling down from above.