On the night of 21st May, 2008, Chelsea FC captain John Terry stepped up to take what was supposed to be the winning penalty of the Champions League Final in Moscow. All was set for the festivities and he straightened his arm band in anticipation. However, just before he kicked the ball, he slipped on the watery turf and saw his effort clip the outside of the post. A few minutes and four penalties later, Manchester United were crowned champions of Europe leaving Terry and his teammates disconsolate with grief.
My Chelsea-supporting friends did not take the loss so graciously. To them, that moment, that mistimed kick, was the culmination of years of hard work and preparation. The feeling was that he had not maintained his focus and had ended up taking the opportunity too lightly. Some sports analysts even accused him of fantasizing about the next day’s newspaper headlines and engaging in premature celebrations. Similar feelings and thoughts resurfaced when Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed that last gasp penalty that would almost certainly have taken his country into a historic semi-final at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Unexpectedly let out of jail, the Uruguayans seized their moment and progressed at Ghana’s expense.
How do you feel when someone with a rare opportunity seems to be taking things rather easy and running the risk of losing out on a historic or life-transforming experience?
That is what got me angry at church today. In fact I am still angry as I write. I do not know who I am angry at…. But before I go into that let me tell you what provoked me. Sharing an unusual message entitled, “Do You Understand What You Are Reading?” Pastor Mensa Otabil took congregants on a journey that lent solid credence and a scriptural framework to something I have been feeling so strongly about of late – the fact that Africa’s time has come.
I will not attempt to serialise the sermon as time, space and context would not permit me. For my purposes however, let me say he laid the foundation with the encounter in Acts 8 between the Philip the disciple and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
The man from Ethiopia (Dark Face) was described in seven interesting ways:
1. A Black Man
2. Eunuch (Powerless/Unable to Produce)
3. A Bureaucrat (Man of great authority)
4. Submissive (under Candace the Queen)
5. Trusted (Steward of great Treasure)
6. Educated (Reading)
7. Religious (Travelling from worshiping at Jerusalem)
“To all intents and purposes, this is the story of today’s Africa.” Dr. Otabil stressed.
“An educated, religious black bureaucrat with access to great resources yet unproductive and lacking understanding.”
Africa has so much potential, so much promise but very little to show from our recent past. The result is an inferiority complex and a sense of despondency about the future. As is his custom, Dr. Otabil intricately navigated his way through the Old Testament, starting from Abraham through Moses. He made special reference to the role of Jethro the Midianite (or Ethiopian) priest who mentored Moses in law, worship, governance and leadership. The conclusion was that the black man had been the source of light and knowledge to the world before and could step up to the plate once again. Of course, I impatiently await the concluding part next week.
While I do so, let me give you 10 reasons why I feel so angry.
1. There must be a reason why the Eurozone is in such a deep debt crisis and the well-oiled American economic machinery is tottering so badly. But are we thinking of what that means for us?
2. The number of African countries in the list of top ten fastest growing economies in the world must surely mean something. But do we really know?
3. Why are we not able to massively rally the young people, who form the majority of Africa’s population, around the solutions to our problems? It is easy to get people on the streets to demonstrate for or against one cause or another but there surely must be a higher calling. There is so much untapped energy but so little understanding of what it takes to positively galvanise it.
4. Every prediction about the future seems to suggest that global food security will be a very big issue going forward. Sadly, we still do not seem to have found an integrated solution that massively utilises the huge tracts of arable land that literally engulf us.
5. We are so deeply divided along political, tribal and religious lines that someone reading this will be spending all their time trying to place me in one narrow box or another. It is a pity that we think the things that divide us are more important than those that unite us. I thought that the years many of us spent in boarding school were supposed to neutralise these unnecessary divisions. Maybe I am naïve…
6. The last time I was in Lagos on the Springboard Road Show, I was impressed with how Governor Fashola had cleaned up the city. He had cleared the most notorious slums and planted grass and flowers along the street sides with sprinklers working and ambulances parked at designated slots. I know how that city looked like before and I sincerely don’t care about any explanation. I just got one message… It can be done!!! We are not a dirty continent and should not accept it.
7. It is unfair for a substantial chunk of our political discourse to focus on trivial issues like who is suffering from what sickness and who smokes what when major issues like unemployment, corruption and sustained economic wellbeing are crying for significant, long-term solutions.
8. There is talk of a new scramble for Africa with our Asian friends at the very forefront of the effort. While others spend day and night strategizing about how to completely take over the pillars of our economy and our resources, we seem to be content to see everyone as a friend or partner. There are parts of our economy that are literally no-fly zones for any Ghanaian. We know them but do not seem to care.
9. We celebrate the mediocre and pat ourselves on the back for having come close to the so-called advanced countries in any activity, sport or business. We crave their endorsement and rejoice whenever the “bosses” have something good to say about us. Every small organisation or person in some country somewhere thinks that they can relate to us with some imaginary authority. African businesses pay thousands of dollars to receive awards from fictitious organisations and flaunt them just because they come from Europe. Come On!!! Aren’t we worth much more than that?
10. Isn’t it sad that some of the greatest Africans of our time have passed on without publishing as much as a word as a legacy for posterity? We surely cannot sit quietly and let our heroes die with all their wisdom when in other jurisdictions, butlers, drivers and even neighbours of accomplished people publish books providing their perspectives as observers of their achievements.
Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875-1927) did not mince words when he stated that “Only the best is good enough for Africa.” I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing like African time and African quality, especially when it refers to mediocre work that is allowed to pass off just because it is African. Our books, music, schools, businesses, churches and leadership must all aspire to the highest global standards. We must believe that we are good enough to compete in anything and at any level. Let’s not apologize for taking our place and insisting on being heard. We have a story to tell and tell it we must.
I must confess that I am still not sure about who or what I am angry at but does it really matter? I suppose it doesn’t, especially if I channel that ‘righteous’ anger into something fruitful. After all, isn’t it more empowering to contribute to the solution than to complain about a problem? God bless the Aggreys, Nkrumah’s, Otabils and the several others who have championed African excellence over the years. May posterity be far kinder and more appreciative of you than we seem to be today!
Let me end with the words of the man they called the “Aggrey of Africa” who told the story of the eaglet that stayed with chickens for a long time until it had a revelation of what it really was. It then flew away never to return to scratching for crumbs.
“My people of Africa” said Aggrey “we were created in the image of God, but men have made us think that we are chickens, and we still think we are, but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don’t be content with food of chickens.”
So help us God!!!
Peace & Many Blessings!!!
From A Very Pensive Albert