We are not boys…….
Firstly a big thank you to all of the journalists in Africa who make this website possible. I would like to have the resources to give an annual award for the best reporting but I do not have the finance, so perhaps the Newspapers in Africa can get together and create a “Best Crash Reporting” annual award? Keeping the traffic crash situation in the public eye, creating awareness, plays a big role in transforming public opinion, driver attitudes and political direction, as you will all know if you have been following recent events in Kenya. Unfortunately, I can only give a virtual award and this year it goes to:
Now I come to the headline above, ‘We are not boys’. On my first visit to an African country, working for an international organisation as a road safety consultant, arriving without an official invitation, uninvited you might say, I began my task to encourage a road safety programme. Lacking a good brief, ignorant of the culture, it was a bit like mission impossible. I trailed around the various Ministries, local NGO’s and potential business sponsors touting for support for our new ‘model’ for doing road safety.
It was hard work and I really needed to get the ear and support of the Chief Highway Engineer. He would not see me! I eventually gained access through the good offices of two Members of Parliament who accompanied me on my ground breaking meeting. I was greeted cordially but curtly. I sat down. “So tell me why you are here, he asked?” I began to explain and had hardly started my sales dialogue when the Chief interrupted me and said, “We are not boys that we need you to teach us road safety”. I do not remember much of the rest of the conversation and we left after a very short meeting. I felt hurt and irritated at what I felt was an unprofessional outburst. I had not come to Africa to be spoken to like that, after all, I was trying to help the people.
Well, the more I thought about it, I had to agree that he was absolutely correct. I was only bringing a standard package of ‘western’ good practice that was easily accessible and known to the engineers in Africa, and besides, I had no money to kick start a project. He was right, he knew what to do. I was another arrogant ‘do gooding’ intruder wasting his time. It was a while later that I met him again and I apologised to him. I also thanked him for the lesson that he had taught me. He is a good man and continues to contribute in the sector.
The reason that I bring this story up is that I recently came across an interesting chart on the growth of Religion in Africa. It is quite obvious that the end of Colonialism coincided with the growth of indigenous Churches who began to control their own destiny.
Freedom from Colonialism clearly affected more than economics and politics and I wondered whether the continual intrusions of modern neo-colonialism on the African culture, by the self-appointed guardians of the Universe, governing from their western based organisations, might be doing far more harm than good? Continuing to treat highly educated professionals as ‘helpless’ because “we (the West) know best”, may be counterproductive.
I was told by a colleague at the World Bank that consultants fell into three categories. They called them the 3M’s. There was the ‘Mercenary’; he was the person who just did the job for the money. There was the ‘Misfit’; he was the one who could not get a job anywhere else. Then there was the ‘Missionary’, he was the zealous, well meaning person who wanted to convert people to his way of doing things. Latter day road safety ‘Missionaries’ should learn the lesson from the Chief Engineer, because you will help no one by giving the impression that you have all the answers to their problems and they do not know the answers or how to achieve the goals.
If we really want to help, perhaps we should offer our services, not to get Africans working for us, but to offer our services such that if Africans want our help, we work under them to assist in their programmes. We in the west need to learn how to serve our equals and not treat people like ‘boys’.
I would also say that my experience of Africa over the years has been a steep learning curve. Thanks to the many good friends that I have made on the Continent, I have been patiently instructed in the culture and society, for which I was at the start, totally ignorant and unprepared to serve.
So it is another New Year where another 250,000 souls in Africa will enter but will never see it to its end. It is an ongoing tragedy of Biblical proportions.
AFRICA……if you want our help, how can we help you?