Last week a colleague and friend of mine said as we were coming back from lunch near by our office in Rotterdam: “Africans don’t understand sarcasm; you can say the worse things about them, they will still smile, they just don’t get hit by the broken arrow!” This might appear as a prejudice that Africans do not know what subtlety is, which in turn might be a sign of no or less intelligence. But the literal statement is actually true. But it covers a reality far greater than what my colleague sensed.
Last week in Cairo, with a group of young people and other colleagues, we went for a movie in one of the fanciest places in the city, Stars city. The movie that was displayed was the last king of Scotland, featuring Idi Amin Dada in a grotesque but inhumanly bestial and violent movie.
Almost the only black and proud African in the movie room, I could imagine what was going on in peoples’ minds as the scenes where passing on, negating all basic universal values: love, science, honestly, friendship, equality, human dignity to the benefit of a ridiculous understanding of leadership.
At the end of the movie, I was so shocked that my friends felt the need to comfort me, though they couldn’t clearly understand the reason for my emotion. I am grateful for the sincere support they gave me, but as I analyzed my feeling, I realized it was a mix of rage, frustration but deep hope:
- Rage for the undisclosed information: When it comes to Africa, only misfortunes sell. How many people will know that Idi Amin Dada had almost no education and could barely read? How many people would know that he was put in command of the Uganda by the colonial power knowing very well how cruel he could be? That he was previously arrested for Barbary when serving as a sergeant to repress the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya? That he was exempted from a well deserved trial by the colonial power and appointed leader of the army and then head of State just to prevent the communists from taking over the country?
- Frustration for the unperceived sunshine that filtered through the movie: scenes of rare beauty and authenticity appear throughout the movie, but how many people have prepared eyes to see them? The trust and confidence given by the whole population at the beginning, the smiles and games of kids in the sun, the happiness of people dancing and singing in the streets? Everyone who has traveled across African villages knows what I’m talking about. My colleague is right, African don’t understand sarcasm, they are those pure people that daydream everyone is good intended and lovely. This is a root of the leadership and governance problems Africa has. People are happy with their life and finds reasons to even love those who destroy them. Murder hundreds of people, do good to two people, you can still be a good leader in Africa. There are dozens of Amin Dada ruling Africa today as “democratically” elected Heads of State.
- And finally hope for the unachieved future: this was the most overwhelming feeling. I don’t really care about the image people have of Africa, though I find it revolting to see people put their “We are the World” face when approaching Africa. I don’t care if people live their entire life with a rational steering wheel and discover late that their emotional steering wheel is what brings meaning and purpose. Africans live this all their life, but tend to forget to beauty that lies in them. I do care about how responsible Africans feel about their responsibility towards the world. How many of them will watch the last king of Scotland, feel enraged, frustrated, not engaged? Very few. How many people will go to their work in the morning thinking that they are not teacher, doctor, policeman, businessman, writer, student, but engaged in building Africa and the world at large? How many people will feel responsible for what happens in Beyrouth or Bogota? Being African is about rediscovering the forgotten purpose and bringing it forth to enlighten the world.
The message of the king of Scotland is for me a message of hope and a call for engagement. Africans need to rediscover the kingdom in their hearts and invite the world to see it.