When are we, as Africans, finally going to start supporting each other? Asks Frances Mensah Williams
This is the big one; for the first time ever the African continent has played host to soccer’s biggest tournament, the FIFA World Cup. I’m proud and excited that the World Cup has come to Africa and yet I’m struck by the continual carping and criticism that was levelled at the African organisers of this momentous event, and a surprising amount of which was by Africans.
I visited South Africa last summer as part of a media group hosted by the South African government to witness the final touches to the pre-tournament preparations taking place. Parts of Cape Town and Johannesburg looked like building sites as existing stadia were upgraded and new arenas built. New and upgraded infrastructure reflected the billions of Rands investment that had been spent to get the host country World Cup-ready.
So what makes it so hard for us to get behind such efforts and to cheer on our African brothers and sisters?
The Other PhD
A phrase commonly used in Ghana – and perhaps elsewhere in Africa - is ‘Pull Him Down’ or PHD. A saying which reflects all too sadly on our propensity for looking for negativity when faced with other people’s achievements.
We’ve all come across negative people. People, whose aura is so toxic that they can crush enthusiasm, discourage initiative and poison enterprise just by being present. People who, when faced with the success of others, seek only to reduce or belittle these achievements with snide asides or warnings of impending disaster.
There’s a lesson to be learned from watching crabs. Toss a few live crabs into a barrel and see. As one starts to climb up the side of the barrel in a bid for freedom, he can count on at least one of his companions to reach up and pull him right down again, forcing him to enjoy the bottom of the barrel along with all the others that took no chances.
But while the sabotaging crabs may succeed in pulling down their friends who harbour greater ambitions than becoming someone’s next meal, they never manage to raise themselves up.
A Question of Trust or of Envy?
I am a great believer in networking but, as an African business person based in the UK, I see time and again a fundamental lack of trust in our own resources. Now everyone, me included, has had dealings with some people from our communities with scanty morals and even fewer scruples. If you are in business, you learn the lesson and keep a wide berth from such people in future. But such behaviour isn’t confined to Africans by any means (proof available, if needed) and shouldn’t stop us from dealing with our people as individuals.
But what is it about our communities that make our own people look elsewhere when it comes to spending their hard-earned money? What is it that sees members of other communities – Asian, Jewish, Middle Eastern – turn money around within their communities to create prosperity for everyone, while we race to spend ours elsewhere? How can we convince investors to put money into our institutions, shops and businesses when our own folk hesitate to patronise our services?
We need to reflect on why we, as Africans, are so ready to spend our purchasing power everywhere but in our own communities. Sometimes it is about quality; we can’t deny that some of our services can leave a lot to be desired. But again, that’s not unique to Africans – how many times have you experienced poor customer service or shoddy goods from businesses owned by other nationals?
So is it about quality or an unconscious – or even conscious - desire to avoid putting money into the pockets of people we know? Would we rather see another community enriched by our own foods, goods and products than to see some of our own succeed?
Here’s to the Cup!
The South Africans have a word – Ubuntu – which encapsulates what we should be aiming for. In its essence, Ubuntu is affirming of others; where one does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for one has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that one belongs in a greater whole and that when others are diminished or humiliated, we are also diminished.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu explained the concept of Ubuntu thus: “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
Well I, for one, will be spending August (and afterwards) talking up Africa instead of pulling her down. If others are focused on denigrating our continent and people, it is not necessary for us to join in. Like any other continent, we have good and bad; so instead of focusing on the negative, let’s celebrate the positive. Let’s rejoice in the success of others and as we lend our support, open the way to receiving support from others.
So, well done, South Africa; no matter how the games turned out, getting us to this point and bringing the games to Africa has been a fantastic achievement!
Frances Mensah Williams is the Editor of ReConnect Africa.com (www.reconnectafrica.com) an online careers and jobs publication for African professionals around the world.