With Latirr Carr
I have always dreamt of the honour of addressing our Masters – preferably in full Agbada or Kente, or perhaps even in a full rainbow kissed Chaya Baye Faal. Addressing those for whom we exist in anything less would surely be an atrocity. Even these days, one must be careful how one addresses these blue eyed gods without whose intervention we would have been lost to idol worship, running around taatineen, and making love like foxes in the wild.
When therefore, I read the statement from the European Commission on the situation around our new and then trashed draft constitution, that dream I had a long time ago poked its nose back into my business. I had to attempt, at least, to honour my ancestors by being…bluntly, unapologetically, stupidly, African.
You see, our friends above us, in geography and in status, and those on the left of us across the Atlantic (of course left is good and right is bad) have not recently been accorded the privilege of being enslaved, dominated, ridiculed and drenched in full blown poverty. Of course, I write this purely as an African, devoid of all sense, of all understanding, of all humanness.
Our people, unavoidably because of their daftness, their lack of understanding of simple things, have for over a century blamed their woes on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and on colonialism; both disproportionately blamed for our continual woefulness. They forget that slavery, in all its cruelty and degrading nature, existed long before the Portuguese landed on our shores. They forget that even in the scriptures which you were generous enough to spread to us, and those which our darker (in comparison to you) cousins close to our horn in North East direction also cared to share, slavery was a huge part of civilisation.
Of course, in their total misunderstanding of history, when your brothers try to explain that Portugal is not Europe; that Britain is not Europe; that Spain is not Europe, they argue, and like the broken clock which is right twice in the day, that when your great grand-parents came to visit us, they were not nations, but Empires, representing territories considered to cover the majority of what you now call countries of Western Europe.
So, Massa, it is imperative that, as you continue to reach out to save us, you remind them, that for fear of losing your lives to the dreaded mosquitos of West Africa, it was not you who raided our villages and stripped us of our young and able. You would be kind to remind them that it was their own grandfathers, in their thirst for wealth, in their desire to rid communities of the husbands or wives they had set eyes on, to rid their communities of strong men who would battle against their misrule, that it was these grandfathers who had traded sons and daughters of the land to yours.
How misplaced has our anger been. I apologize on their behalf that when conversations centre around your own Holocaust; the attempted and almost successful extermination of Jewish and lesser people from the face of Europe, our people who unfortunately you have schooled, turn to your very own grandfather, the great King Leopold II. It does not matter that, in developing the wasteland that was Congo, All the Kings horses and All the Kings men, carted off our continent’s from the dark interior of the jungle, across the Congo river and into mighty Belgium. It does not matter that in developing the wasteland that was Congo, 10 to 15 million people were slaughtered in what these African idiots are calling the worst and earliest genocide in the modern world! How disingenuous! Don’t they know that 1885 to 1908 doesn’t really count as times in the modern world!?
You see Massa, it is time you speak truth to these ungrateful Africans, these Gambians who forget their place! You have been silent for too long. It is time you teach them their history; that without you, they would have been lost in the wilderness. Did the Psalmist not say it in Psalm 107? Perhaps when you brought us the book you should have underlined the verse and inscribed it on the walls of every door of no return you spent our gold building! Then, perhaps we would remember our scripture.
Now decades after you granted all of us Independence why then do we still point that crooked finger at you? It is not your faults that those chains of steel have forced our fingers to take this unfortunate shape. When we speak and our voice trembles, it is not because your hands have long ago choked us to submission. When we walk and we stumble, it is certainly not because the chains are not altogether broken. You came, you took from us (to help us), and you gave us freedom, even when we didn’t ask for it. What more can you do?
Oh and wait! When your empires left us, did you not also build our governance structure and teach us democracy? In Nigeria, you left without knowing that you had created structures which would ensure continued hate and anarchy for decades. It is not your fault that you pitted the North against the East, and the East against the West. It is not your fault that in the midst of the chaos a further Central had to be formed?
In Sierra Leone, we all know you had no idea that the corruption you had taught the traditional rulers would not be unlearned. Did you not teach us the book that we would learn to be honest human beings; that we would do as you said and not as you did?
In Francophone land, have you not kept our monies for us? Have you not been generous enough to rid us of leaders who would lose us further in the wilderness? Oh generous Massa! How can we repay you? Our gold, diamond, iron and oil is certainly not enough! Our artefacts and even the remains of our great leaders will not suffice. Even where you past has been one of domination, enslavement and destruction, why must the children pay for the sins of the father? Why must you return what you have taken?
It is only a few of us that really understand what is at stake. Only some of us; those of us who have been enlightened by your words of kindness, touched by your grace who understand that you have been generous. They understand fully that you owe us nothing.
So when you give us aid from your banks; when you donate to the cause of a “real democracy”; when you use the infrastructure gained from your looting of our resources to help us escape poverty (or be forever drowned by it), some of us understand that you owe us nothing. Even though we acknowledge that history has taught us that, Europe has forever paid its dues to each other…that families and communities wronged by two world wars continue still to get their voices heard and their pockets filled by those that wronged them…that the tone of dominance still used by you Massa on us is very dissimilar to that used on other you have done much more for in the past and without enslaving their people; even then Massa should we not bow down our heads in acknowledgement of your greatness?
So our great Massas, when we spoke to you on the phone, when we sat across you on the platforms you were generous enough to have us sit as “equals” on, when you sent your experts all the way to our dark and hot lands for our benefit, we should have read between the lines! How stupid of us! We should have understood that there is a fine print and then there is the fine print underneath the fine print. Should we not understand that your aid is not necessarily to help us create employment and rid your shores of our uselessness? Should we not understand that your aid is not necessarily to TRY and FAIL to compensate us for the fact that, had it not been for our lands and their resources you would most likely have been the ones receiving aid? Should we not understand that your aid is not necessarily to lift our people out of poverty? Should we not learn from history? That once upon a time you brought us the mirror and the book, and you left with our people and our lands?
In now appearing as our saviours, is it not clear that the Chinese are our enemy? Why would the Chinese help us? Were you not their masters too? Why have they forgotten all the values you taught them? When you pillaged their lands and broke their backs, was it not to rid them of their backwardness? Was it not because they didn’t know how to lift themselves up from the backward slums and decadence? Why should we trust them?
Massa, I apologize on behalf of the many that believe that a gift is just a gift; that a grant is just a grant; that a loan is just a loan. I apologize for the many hypocrites who do not understand that, in accepting your gifts, given to us freely, we MUST accept your whims and desires and again chain our people to your mercy. We trust you to be merciful as you have always been. We must accept that even where we understand the conditions of your generosity on paper, every now and then, you have the right, as our Masters and Saviours, to tell us how to live, how to govern and how to obey. We know it is in your best interest for us to be and do better.
Next time Massa, we will be humble. By coming to your table and receiving your gifts we are beggars. Beggars definitely have no choice. We also have to accept to forever follow your lead. Even though we have Africanised your religion and that from Arab lands. Even though we have toiled to create our own identity. Even though we continue to work to re-discover ourselves, rest assured that your interference is not only appreciated, but necessary.
I can assure you that even where other West African countries continue to resist; even where strong African leaders continue to speak truth to you even though you continue to give them aid; even where West African people are supporting their leaders to define what the new Africa must look like, you can find comfort in knowing that we in The Gambia continue to humbly show our appreciation to your goodwill and seek your mercy.
We promise to not read from history. We promise to not hold you to your past. We promise to trust only those you trust and hate all those you hate. We promise to be loyal servants, deserving of your help and support. When our leaders seek to challenge you, we promise to remind them of their place; that they are nothing but vermin, devils, beggars, filth of the earth, and only your grace and your love, can save them from themselves.