By Mitchell Aghatise||
Incoherent to the passer-by for the argument was in Bini language. In my culture it is frowned upon to argue with an elder, so hereinafter, I will describe the little spat we had as a discussion. I was about 7 years old and was involved in a “discussion” with my grandmother. Her points all rendered in lucid beautiful bini prose: a language that is mine in heritage, but termed local not as of pride but disdain.
From the context of the society painted above that looks at its own as substandard did the conversation stem. I showed my grandmother my “Gameboy Advance” handheld game. As she stared with fascination at the moving characters, she said “…ebo ma gbe…” loosely translated to the “whites are so intelligent”. I knew not where the presence of mind came from but I quickly retorted, “… knowledge is not the preserve of any race and that of course blacks worked at Nintendo as well….” This seemed ludicrous to her, and she was not prepared to accept that premise. As far as she was concerned, we as a people were not intelligent enough to create.
I cannot blame grandma for her view. Haven grown up in Colonial Nigeria, introduction to technology, guns, and even high-tech transportation (which often meant a bicycle) came by way of the European Colonial Masters. Thus, it was expected for her to view knowledge and invention as the preserve of the Europeans. But, this was her single story. She knew not of Ben Carson who was forefront in Siamese separation surgeries; she probably was not exposed to the grandeur of the technological know-how of Africans like us who built the moat in the great Benin Kingdom of times past (a feat of engineering still lauded in modern times). You see she had a single story, but grandma dearest can be forgiven for her single story of Africans and our capabilities because it was imputed upon her; with a generation wherein enlightenment was the exception rather than the norm.
Fast-forward to today, such ignorance cannot be forgiven of the 21st century African. With so many opportunities in education, access to science and plethora of information on the internet; we have, in theory, been broken free from the shackles of doubt in our capacity to invent, innovate and produce. Unfortunately, the theory has not morphed into practice. It broke my heart watching the news and seeing that several thousands have been decimated by this deadly disease- Ebola. Even more jarring is the helplessness that my own kin have shown in this adversity. I wept to see us begging for foreign aid; for doctors to come and help; and for an antidote to this disease; reconfirming my Grandmother’s view of when I was younger. I heard the seven year old boy I once was protesting, “…grandma we are inventors too…”, but the reality on ground quickly shattered such views I may have held.
So what is the problem?
Nagging on about government ineptitude has yet to get us anywhere, the general lack of investment in research facilities or hospitals or things in general that will benefit the masses heart-wrenching at best. The fact that government policies are always reactive is not helping matters. I am happy with the quick response of the Jonathan administration with the money set aside for the treatment as soon as it became known that Ebola was in the country. But, if we had a buoyant medical system before hand, will we have needed such a package? But this is not a tirade on the government today as that will fill a whole epitaph.
Today I dedicate this to the Nigerians, the Africans who show that knowledge indeed is not a preserve of any one race.
When the experimental drug was not sent down to the country, we showed our resolve. Individuals like Stella Adadevoh must be lauded. I am glad that, there are those who despite this adversity are working hard albeit with limited resources to seek African solutions backed by science to solve the problem. We are showing as a people that invention and innovation are not the preserve of any race. We are not any countries wastebasket. Africa should get off its knees and get to work to solve our own problems. How? Well for a start, Ebola came to fore in 1976 but what funding have our researchers gotten to combat it? Let that sink in. We as a people were not prepared for this, not for lack of intelligence but a previous lack of will to apply ourselves to potential problems. The sight of a Nigeria begging researchers abroad for a serum to combat this, was cringe worthy at the very least.
I hope Ebola takes no more souls and I hope it leaves us with a lesson:
“…get off your knees Africa, anticipate and solve your problems while you have the chance, because the rest of the world have their problems to deal with…”
I hope it’s not too late to learn this lesson.
Thoughts and prayers with all those infected.