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The Slave Mentality of Africans Must be Confronted

“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought...” --- Euripides

By Oswald Hanciles

The majority of Negroid Africans are still slaves. Or, they have a ‘slave mentality’. This includes even most of the African leadership – political; religious; economic; social; intellectual leaders – who have held the reins of Africa’s leadership the past 50 years. In Sierra Leone, our charismatic, photogenic, and pro-development President, H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, has been nourishing the seed of “attitude” change – but, apparently, his psychological programme is yet to have full traction. The underlying reason could be that President has yet to confront, diagnose, and prescribed solutions for the slave mentality of the average citizenry. Africa’s festering slave mentality comes in diverse forms – and there is contention as to its manifestations. As Africa is enmeshed in probably its greatest crisis today: Climate Change. Climate Change, I diagnose, is a continuum of the Atlantic Slave Trade. To combat Climate Change, Africans must collectively put themselves on a therapy couch and exorcise their slave mentality demons.

Slave Mentality and Entitlement Mentality

African-American writer, Kuuleme T. Stephens, in an article titled, “Slave Mentality vs. Entitlement Mentality” defines a bit of “slave mentality” thus: “….when a person has or is feeling inferior or…. feeling lost without hope, a feeling that we do not have the power to significantly alter our own circumstances…. Another sad symptom of having a slave mentality is believing that White people are superior ….A person conditioned to quietly, and without objection, accept harmful circumstances for themselves as the natural order of things. They’re also conditioned to accept their master’s view and beliefs, about themselves, and strive to get others, within their group, to accept the master’s view…”.

Author Kuuleme T. Stephens also writes about the “Entitlement Mentality”, which is…..”a state of mind in which the prevailing mentality of a society is that of entitlement to receive from the government or state what is apparently due to them or owed. …(The)….unemployed who feel that it is the state’s responsibility to put bread in their bellies ….”. The author has in mind largely the majority of African-Americans living within the U.S. But, poring on his definition, and, thinking on what the majority of unemployed or mal-employed youth say in Sierra Leone today – i.e. “The youth dem wan woke, but, woke nar dae” – fueled by songs from their musical idols like “Emerson”, one can discern a lot of similarities between Africans  in Africa and African-Americans in the US. Africa’s leadership still meekly accepts the dictates of the IMF, World Bank, etc, and the seemingly omnipotent and omniscient Global Big Business – i.e. 3% of proceeds for our diamond sales. 3%!!!?? Africans take as sacrosanct the political boundaries of Africa – Liberia…Nigeria…Zimbabwe…Gambia… – that was carved in 1884, making Africa into ‘worm states’ that  to do combat with  ‘tigers’ and ‘elephants’ like US, China, Russia…..

 Atlantic Slave Trade is Root of Slave Mentality in Africa today (??)

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, famous African author, and distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, and Director, International Center for Writing and Translation, University of California, Irvine, US, trace the roots of this slave mentality to the Atlantic Slave Trade era. “… (The)  slave trade ….was a gain for the world, especially in the West, was a loss for Africa. ….Slave trade and slavery were a historical trauma whose consequences on the African psyche have never been properly explored….”.

Prof. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s says: “It’s the moral consequences that deeply worry me — the negative perception of Africa and Africans by others, and the negative self-conception of Africa and Africa by Africans….”. (Source: http://unchronicle.un.org/article/learning-slavery-legacy-slave-trade-modern-society/)

In the ‘rebranding’ emphasis all over Africa today, media gurus are grappling with the challenge of changing the perception of the West about Africa that is almost always one of wars, tribal wars, genocide, drought, mass starvation….; but, they have yet to come to terms with the mindset of most Africans who believe that they are really inferior to whites.

 Soyinka: Slave Mentality if we don’t fight injustice within Africa

On the “slave mentality” of Africans, the November 5, 2009 report of the Ghana News Agency reports that Nobel Literature Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, …. said Africa’s inability to progress beyond liberation from colonialism was due to the lingering slave mentality of its leaders and intellectuals. He said even though African countries had long gained independence from western powers, “the slave mentality continues to govern our thinking and our writings”…..Prof. Soyinka… said there was a limit to what extent Africans could blame the colonialist and neo-colonialists for the woes of the continent; and that African leaders were as guilty as the colonialists for the current state of the continent.

Kuuleme T. Stephens, from across the Atlantic Ocean ‘pond’, almost appears to echo Prof. Soyinka:  “I often hear people make the claim that Blacks (African Americans) were better off when they were slaves. I myself have been known to say such things when people piss me off and respond out of ignorance to a posting or article. My reason for making such an argument is if Black Americans are not going to stop living in the past and blaming others for their problems, we will never move forward as a people. To maintain a belief that you are owed something and entitled to things when you are doing nothing to help yourself is absurd. To stay ignorant as a lifestyle choice and have others (the government) take care of you and tell you what to do is exactly what the slaves did, and some continued to do even after they were freed…”.

Climate Change is a continuum of the Atlantic Slave Trade

I take the middle ground.  Prof. Soyinka is damn right.  Africans cannot continue screaming about the injustices of the past of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and neo-colonialism, while they give overt or covert political support to ethnic jingoists, petty tyrants, and crude mismanagement of their political and social systems. Or, worse, are apathetic about politics.   Paradoxically, Prof. Soyinka is wrong; and Prof. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is right.  Africa must seek redress for the Protracted Holocaust of the Atlantic Slave Trade, or, risk being engulfed in something much worse than that – masquerading today as ‘Climate Change.  I choose this middle ground – with knowledge borne from experience, not merely knowledge trawled up by examining secondary data within classrooms.

In 1992-1993, the organization I was co-founder for in Liberia in 1989, GREENLOVE, was contracted by the World Wide Fund for Nature-United Kingdom (WWF-UK) to produce and publish PANGOLIN for the Cross River National Park Project (CRNPP) in south/eastern Nigeria.  WWF-UK was managing the CRNPP, the largest tract of virgin tropical rainforest in Nigeria, contiguous to the Korup National Park in Cameroon. The white British WWF Manager, Nick Ashton-Jones outwardly was fervid for the conservation of the tropical rainforest.  But, in his dealing with GREENLOVE/Nigeria – which comprised my humble self, a Sierra Leonean; Tunji Odebiyi, a doctoral candidate in environmental psychology; Ronnie Siakor, a Liberian genius in cartooning – he exhibited business stances which I interpreted as crudely racist; and, he wanted to ‘buy the indigenous people of the forests cheaply’.  I protested vehemently.  I remembered as I tried to fight for the indigenous people of the forest area, one of the youthful intellectuals  who was a staff  of the CRNPP, Paddy Ezeala, of the Igbo state of Abia of south/east Nigeria (now a senior staff of OXFAM-International) said to me: ‘You are fighting the white man, but, if it were not for the white man, you and Ronnie’s talents in environmental education would never have been recognized, and you wouldn’t pass the gate of this project as refugees from Liberia. As a Nigerian, just from the next door state of Abia, the people of Cross River State have been fighting me to get me out of my position as a ‘foreigner’….”. I pause here on this ‘biographical knowledge’. Think deeply on Ezeala’s words!! Ashton-Jones’ ‘slave master’ stance set me afire to develop projects that show that the Climate Change is a continuum of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Let’s fast forward to the present.

 President Koroma to Provide De-slaving Leadership at Climate Change Summit

In global university ranking, the top university in Africa (from white race created, and, still, white dominated South Africa) is No 700. The level of science education in Africa is abysmal.  When Ban Ki Moon stood next to our President Koroma about a week ago, he said what would sustain our peace in Sierra Leone would be “rule of law” and “quality education”.  From Senegal to Monrovia, to Lagos, the investment in science and technology in West Africa is disgraceful. I can hazard to say here: given the chasm in science and technology between the richest countries and West Africa today, it would be TEN TIMES EASIER for the white man to enslave us today than during the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade.  As Climate Change vagaries loom, all deep thinking African leaders, especially elders over 45, must do a re-think.

It is my hope that as President Ernest Bai Koroma goes to the special summit on Climate Change being called by the UN Secretary General in September, 2014, he would provide trailblazing leadership….Among all the countries of Africa, Sierra Leone is ‘richest’ in the ‘history of the Atlantic Slave Trade’ – from the land that today is our geographical space, a lot of slaves were captured and taken to the Americas, and, to this land, the largest number of these slaves, freed in the late 18th Century, were returned (today known as ‘Creoles’ or ‘Krios’). Learned Africans are bemoaning the lack of diagnosis of the slave mentality on Africans: I think that ‘Sierra Leone’ is the place where there is much concentration of this slave mentality disease. As President Koroma hopefully lifts a freedom banner for all of Africa, he should be standing on a firmer moral ground if he begins the diagnosis and cure in his own backyard of this slave mentality. Stay Tuned!!

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  • Antony Watkins

    A very insightful and compassionate article, Mr Hanciles. If I may add the unconscious shackles of our individual and unconscious legacies are prisons made up of fixed mindsets and beliefs steeped in contempt and denial. Following your line on Euripides … being externally or internally not permitted to speak one’s thoughts; to discover others thoughts and thereby illuminate the landscape of our mutual suffering and our desire to grow; to develop and become the best we can for ourselves, others and our descendants : – is at best a penurious servitude. We must grow and unlock barriers to our natural urge for collective entitlement and use the past as good compost to cultivate our growth rather than resting in our fixed glories ad losses.