The history of slavery and colonialism left an indelible imprint on the psyche of Africans to this day. This is evident through the lens that Africans relate with the Western world and how their advanced economies are perceived as the proverbial promised land. For much of African contexts, exacerbated by the global dominance of neoliberal capitalism, mimicry is what defines existence for Africans. And this mimicry - in cultural, social, economic, and political terms - reveals volumes of the inferiority complexes in African peoples.
One cannot be blind to the inclination by African societies towards accepting everything that comes from the Global North countries as absolutely correct with zero faults. It is apparent that African initiatives which valiantly address local contexts are looked down upon in favour of foreign solutions. Solutions from the West or the East are regarded with superior and esoteric qualities. The admiration of Global North countries by African societies as perfect destinations for unfettered individual material success are realities we have to inevitably deal with. More so given our acrimonious colonial history. What is lost on many people is that the same alluring material wealth they envy and try to mimic was built on the heinous atrocities of the slave trade and colonialism. And without knowing, inferiority complexes are reinforced.
The process of alienating Africans from the intrinsic context of their immediate surroundings (to erode their identities) is ingrained in the history of colonialism. With colonialism establishing capitalist modes of production in Africa, all aspects of African life were dictated by colonialists as they were too barbaric for private enterprise, Christianity, and European “civilization.” All this was underpinned by rabid racist ideologies that never viewed the African as a human being. Regrettably, these patterns of behavior persist in the contemporary.
Precolonial African ways of existence were simply incompatible with the “civilized” existence of the European colonizers. All the great, momentous historical exploits of legendary African civilizations were deemed non-existent. And history abundantly shows how African pride was washed away as the Africans were taught to aspire towards European “enlightenment” marked with “Christianity, commerce, and civilization.” Africans were told to utterly abhor themselves. They were gradually told to detest their religions, values, customs, political and economic systems in favour of capitalism. One can comprehend the level of decades and decades of self-hate and identity crises in a people.
Even after the struggles for political independence were won, the identity crises for Africans (dealing with contradictory alien economic, social, and political systems/concepts) remain palpable in the contemporary. Policies in favour of the public (Tanzania, Ghana, Zimbabwe, etc) failed to properly take off as structural adjustment was ruthlessly and inhumanly imposed on African countries without democratic consent. With the emergent imperialist/liberal bourgeoisie domination, the West has ceaselessly forged harmful narratives that disparage Africans as incapable of mustering their will to have their own agency. The “white savior complex” that informs imperialist ideologies views colonized people of the Global South as needing assistance from the West - essentially what colonialism cemented in the eyes of the Western world is that Africa cannot survive without Europe and the United States.
For some, it may seem abstract, but the material reality is that Africa grapples with inferiority complexes. Africa’s people, with leaders who are serially neoliberal in their approaches, believe that few good things can come out of the continent. Because of colonialism and the concomitant neocolonialism, prevalent perceptions among Africans are that “everything foreign [read white] is correct/better.” Neoliberalism has aggravated this - the global commercial giants that produce most of the world’s commodities have only viewed the Global South as markets for such commodities. This has ferociously increased individualism, narcissism, and consumerism/materialism in African societies.
This is even mirrored by how moving from an African country to the diaspora - in the West or East - is regarded as one of the highest levels of individual material success and is thus glorified beyond measure. As the political tides always reveal, Africans are unwanted in these “promised lands.” It is the cheap labour they mostly supply towards the global wheels of capitalism that is needed. This is attributable to the resignation gripping many an African - there is no collective optimism that people can come together to progress their country. The resort is an individualistic route to leave for the diaspora despite the hostile conditions. All because such countries are viewed with unrealistic envy and expectation for private material wealth as shown through the global media - movies, music videos, social media, and the mainstream media. There is a consumerist fetish to mimic everything European or American - that is capitalism’s warped angle of success.
The continent is replete with a citizenry that has come to glorify individual material success over the public good. That collective sense of togetherness, moulding a progressive national consciousness is ailing. One’s worth [perceptions of personal “arrival” to success] in African urban and rural contexts is measured by the extent to which that particular individual can mimic European/American ways of living. Even where this means people embracing pernicious ideas such as privatized health, education, water, transport, etc that are accessible for an elite few and out of the reach of the rest of society. Because of self-hatred that Africans cannot truthfully and candidly tackle head-on because of biased formal education curricula, it does not dawn to many that the existing capitalist global framework is meant to disadvantage people of the Global South.
The African bourgeoisie - petite and comprador - signal their “arrival” at individual success by dissociating their beings with African customs and norms that inherently inform the existential identity of Africans. What obtains in the contemporary is a tragic mimicry of Global North trends in literally all facets of life - there is no respect for African ideas, solutions, and customs as they are regarded inferior to those of Europe/America. They do not hold any “international appeal,” they do not trend on social media, and they do not bring millions of dollars, private schools, and private jets.
The much-vaunted “foreign direct investment” basically implies that foreign companies from advanced economies in the East or West can come to African countries, do whatever they like with their private capital and profits, pay workers undignified, measly wages/salaries, damage the environment and get away with it simply because they are “foreign investors” either from the East or the West. And in most instances, these multinationals flout taxation laws as African governments enter neoliberal alliances to enjoy private profits with the owners of international private capital. But all this can be conquered through introspective self-love in each and every African citizen. It is a daunting task but one anchored with optimism.
Revisiting the revolutionary tenets that propounded iconic African luminaries that include Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral, Franz Fanon, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Samora Machel, etc to resist colonial oppression is of paramount importance in fostering assertive images of self-belief and self-worth in Africa’s citizenry. Both for urban and rural contexts. These principles (they shared a common source via left-leaning ideologies) were predicated on the universal good of the public - everyone was equal and deserved equal access to social/public services that are inextricable from existence. Theirs remains an immortal rebuttal of capitalist values that alienated Africans from realizing their full self-worth. A collective national consciousness informed by public solidarity triumphs over individualism and hedonism.
A retrospective look at Africa’s historical struggles against colonial racist repression should firmly instill in Africans the resolute idea that they can do things themselves. Confidently for that matter. Africans have power in their own identity and agency. There is no need to cry over foreign investors when the continent is teeming with enough human capital in the form of manpower and intellectual prowess. There is no need to fancy European names and denigrate African names as backward and unfashionable. There is no need to insanely follow every European/American fashion trend.
The suit and tie, almost a “national dress” in much of Africa, gives people an “inflated sense of self-worth.” There is no need to cry over the lack of oil refineries when this can be done for the benefit of the public. Or how others religiously follow European football leagues without having any single care in the world for what happens in their own backyards. In arts and entertainment, most notably music, the “worth” of an African artist multiplies hundredfold upon being recognized in London, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, or Paris. And in the final analysis, these attitudes are thoroughly self-defeating.
For the emotional intelligence that evokes questioning sensibilities for the ultimate development of self-love for Africans to come to fruition on a wide scale, the formal education system must be heavily altered to reflect objectivity, relevancy, and the regard for local contexts. Education in Africa must convey in people a sense of mental emancipation that culminates in the destruction of inferiority complexes that reign supreme on the continent. Education that addresses decolonization of the mind is what Africa needs, not one that compels students to senselessly cram and load information in their heads to get exceptional academic results. The lens viewing education in Africa must change - education must be honest, fearless, candid, objective, and liberating. This on top of availing new avenues for opportunities to come up with local solutions specific to African lived realities.
The dearth of altruistic and patriotic self-love in Africa has been worsened by neoliberal capitalism that glorifies profits and individual material wealth over the dignity of human life and the planet. Colonialism had already alienated Africans from their identity knowledge-creating a replica of a European albeit one treated with contempt because of skin color. To be properly identified as fully African is something that may be difficult especially to those of younger ages.
Africans should discard the tag of passive people who always wait to be handed things and do not have confidence in driving their own initiatives. Africans should not feel inferior because all human beings, regardless of race, class, gender, or faith are equal. No human is above the other, and no human is less than the other. This calls for deeper thinking on our history and how our present realities have turned out.