Life in the 21st century can easily be mistaken for a movie script, but it is the lived reality for billions of people not only in Africa but across the whole world. It is now a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world where all basic values of human decency are now sacrificed at the altar of money. It is increasingly becoming difficult to trust a fellow human being, because of the uncertainty of what they will do to you simply because of money.
This has always been the marking feature of human life since time immemorial. Human beings have always been unpredictable and inspired in their actions by the imperative to survive. This explains the old age adage “survival of the fittest.” But in the contemporary, there has been an aggravation of this, due to the consumerism/hedonism that has enveloped the whole world and from which no single human being can live free.
This is expected, given the spirited efforts of the West over the years to put the whole world under a capitalist order, telling everyone that there is no alternative (Margaret Thatcher’s famous words when she championed neoliberal capitalism in the 80s). The world has been compelled to accept that existence can only make sense if put within the confines of the vicissitudes of capitalism.
It is fallacious to believe that capitalist systems without adequate checks and balances can build societies immune to dysfunction, as is the prevalent case in the contemporary. Being a rigidly individualistic system, capitalism saps the soul out of human beings such that it becomes an antithesis to think about the next person’s welfare or to generally care about the public interest. The unfettered narcissism stemming from a desire to ‘arrive’ at individual success means a person will stop at nothing to get those riches.
All of this has had a hugely detrimental effect on the collective spirit of Ubuntu as per African contexts. This is particularly felt in the urban areas and has gradually crept in the rural area (mainly because of rural-urban migration and the materialist motivations towards urban success). That humanity aspect of “I am because we are” is now a thing losing its relevance day by day, year by year, decade by decade. The postcolonial African society, both in the urban and rural contexts, has become a contradiction in itself.
Crime is just one example that may explain the selfishness pervasive in postcolonial society because the capitalist values embraced by those in power have created an unequal society where those disempowered will do anything to secure their survival. As well as realizing their materialist desires within the framework of a capitalist society. It makes African cities uninhabitable. Trust levels among citizens get to an all-time low. High crime levels in African cities are by-products of inequality, something which African leaders have turned a blind eye to as they vaingloriously pursue neoliberal policies.
Public service provision is at an all-time low again in African cities as these are outsourced to the private sector. The latter is only concerned with extracting profits from services that should be free – health, education, water, power, transport systems, land, and housing. Free in the sense that these public services are the prerogative of the state because the state is the primary guarantor of life before all is said and done. But this is something that has become lost on the African leaders and their citizens. The net effect is a society where people will do anything to get access to these services. And that is unsustainable, creating unlivable conditions of existence – a degraded kind of existence.
We can still do better to create livable African cities where life is not unnecessarily expensive, and where moral decadence becomes a thing of the past. Collectively, the African peoples can steer inclusive development which does not exclude the rural peasantry. Kinder conditions of existence can still be created in African contexts.