My African experience

Africans belong to very old and magnificent civilisations and their cultures are extremely rich and diverse.

Mujahid Alam September 25, 2010

I have recently returned to Pakistan after spending almost 15 years in Africa working for the United Nations. Most of my work and travels were in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. My first visit to Africa was in 1995 in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda when I was selected to work on the panel of experts established by the UN Security Council to investigate some highly sensitive aspects relating to the genocide and the resultant explosive security situation in the wider Great Lakes region.

My years spent in Africa have been some of the happiest and most fruitful of my life. I fell in love with Africa from the very first day I arrived in the continent and my fondness for the land and its people kept growing with every passing day. Unfortunately, I also discovered that Africa suffers from a multitude of misperceptions prevalent amongst many people all over the world. It disappointed and hurt me greatly that these misperceptions were also ingrained in most of the Pakistanis I met in my frequent visits home, people who were otherwise educated and well travelled. It would not be wrong to say that these misconceptions are mainly based on ignorance and prejudice and, in many cases, outright racism. However, one must also acknowledge that genocide, civil wars and coups in many countries on the continent have provided fertile grounds for some valid criticism. But this needs to be viewed in correct perspective.

In all my years of close personal interaction with African people I have found them to be among the best I have come across anywhere in the world. They are generally kind, soft and gentle people. Exploited by the ruthless colonial occupiers for centuries before they regained independence, many of them continue to be exploited by their own corrupt rulers in cahoots with their former colonial masters.

What I learnt in my interactions is that the Africans want to lead a peaceful and progressive life. They belong to very old and magnificent civilisations and their cultures are extremely rich, diverse and deeply rooted in their daily lives. They don’t want foreign values to be imposed on them nor do they want outsiders to lecture them on what is good or bad for them. Respect for the elders and close family ties are still followed and encouraged.

The propaganda about the Africans being uncouth, uncivilised and barbaric was deliberately spread and fostered by the early colonial invaders actively supported by Christian missionaries who considered it their religious duty to ‘humanise’ and ‘Christianise’ the unbelievers.

Have we ever thought of the origin of words such as ‘black market, blackmail, black magic’ etc? All these words have a negative connotation and the common denominator is the word ‘black’. This is no mere coincidence. Why should ‘black’ be associated with everything negative and impure and ‘white’ with everything pure and clean?

Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2010.


rehan | 11 years ago | Reply @Faraz. Pakistan has the world's 5th largest coal reserves(correct me please if Im wrong).Oil deposits have also been reported.We have the BEST potential for energy production by wind.There is no dearth of the sun shining on this part of mother Earth..Yet..yet..we talk of energy crises! is not Pakistan's Geography which has anything to do with its backwardness(we have made the atom bomb afterall!!...and are being bombed still).CORRUPTION.Simple.Same is the case in Africa."Powers" will ensure in making the most condusive environments for it(I can hear someone is another 'conspiracy theory' digger!..ok I am).Africa was "rich"in man'power' and the Gora took slaves from here.Just late as the early 90s.."DEMOCRATIC"/"HUMAN RIGHTS" rulers of S.Africa supported by STRONG nations..though not openly..(and not condemned as harshly as Saddam's regime/Ahmedinijad)..had BLACK/WHITE segregation in their country.A western puppet.Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 30yrs..So..its all Global politics..don't blame the poor common African please,just as we wouldn't blame our poor Haaris in Sindh.Case closed.
faraz | 11 years ago | Reply @faraz But the question remains: why hasnt the continent developed over past 2000 years? Yes european colonists wreaked havoc with their societies but before their arrival, were there any developed cities, towns or villages? Why dont they extract these resources and sell in the market and get easy dollors? There has to be a reason for their backwardness.
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