Standing tall on the public greenspace of Champ de Mars in Paris is the Eiffel Tower. Beautiful. Magnificent. Majestic. This cultural iconic tower, the most visited paid monument in the world, had me stunned by the level of detail as I laid my eyes on it. It has stood for close to 130 years. Awesome.
Having been built between 1887-1889, what amazed me was how the French had the intellect at the time to put up such a remarkable piece of work for the world to see, using wrought iron. I turned to my husband and asked, “Where had we gone wrong as Africans? Tulikosea Mungu nini?”
You see, as the French did put up the tower, my ancestors must have been somewhere hunting and gathering, or dealing with the new forces of colonialization. Probably the basic needs were just different, the former being a display of might, the latter being about survival. And yet, our land had all that mankind needed to flourish, and the colonialists had noted that. Vast. Arable. Full of resources.
But where did we lose it? Our heritage, our cultural icons. Our history. Was it due to colonialism, because our ancestors were at the beck and call of their masters? Could other factors have played a role, like our education system? Moral values?
Take Kenya, for instance. The people are, by and large, very good people. Our country is known for its hospitality, athletics, beautiful landscapes, resources, to name a few However, it is also known for poor management of resources, despite the high potential we have as a nation, and of course, corruption. At the heart of the matter is that we’ve become a selfish bunch, adopting a ‘me, myself and I’ attitude. It’s not something new. It happens world over, but we seem to have perfected the art.
We’ve become great imitators. Anything from the West, be it dressing, accents, lifestyles, et al, see it and we shall copy it. We no longer speak our native languages, preferring instead to speak English because, well, it shows the level of sophistication in our lives. Listen to our radio and TV presenters, you’d be forgiven for thinking someone had pinched their noses. Listen to people around you. Trust me, you are in good company.
For many in the country, many years ago, it was a big deal for those generations to visit the capital, Nairobi. A couple of months of living in the City in the Sun, and a few rural folks would say they didn’t understand their mother tongue. Why? The influence and the affluence associated with the big city.
Walking the streets of Europe with my husband, I reflected on the numerous benchmarking trips by our leaders. They visit abroad to borrow the best of practices, with the aim of improving our nation. But does that improvement happen? Or is it that they are driven by the love of multiple allowances to enrich themselves, at the expense of our public coffers getting depleted with no benefit ever reaching the common man?
Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu, in a Ted Talk ‘How Africa can use its traditional knowledge to make progress’, challenges Africans to utilize their own knowledge to make advancements. She shares her experiences about the education curriculum that is informed by western situations. Certain aspects of our education borrow largely from the West and adopt little, at times very little, of the African heritage. We’ve been made to believe that the West offers better solutions. But as Chika proposes, it is time we really unlearned our western ways and embraced solutions that work for us.
That’s not to mean don’t marvel at the Eiffel Tower, just picture yourself building your own.