Monday, August 15, 2011

The Weekly Sneak: African Social Intelligence

The UK riots, eh? Who could have predicted that? Well, most social scientists, actually. Here's a great post that gives a brief breakdown of the circumstances leading up to the explosion we just saw. I imagine this is just the beginning- like Columbine spawned a series of copycat crimes, this youth-anger-slash-and-burn method of social protest might just gain legitimacy as a form of "revolution." Look what happened after the Arab spring: a global obsession with reproducing the phenomenon.

Well (expletive deleted) that. While I am all for cultural exchange, I am decidedly a cultural relativist, and in many ways a total Afrocentric conservative. And this ka-"youth culture" that is emanating from the American mediatainment industrial complex has created a global fetishization of youth that I often find completely abhorrent. Women's magazines horrify me with their sexualized emaciated prepubescent children passing as supermodels, hip hop terrifies me with its vastly unchecked misogyny, violence and consumerism... anorexia, bulimia, self-hatred, botox, cutting, rioting, plastic surgery, preserved Hollywood celebrities who pervert our notions of what a forty- or fifty- year old looks like in real life... young Tanzanian women with perfectly beautiful pear shapes worrying about whether they are skinny enough or not...

Some aspects of what passes for "modernity" can just go straight to hell as far as I am concerned.

Too long it has been desirable (expected, frankly), for Africans to look Westward and Northward and take our cues from there. We have internalized this message, unfortunately. I can see it in the Facebook updates of people demanding that we bring violent means of conflict resolution to Tanzania to change our internal relations of power. That this is said with no irony whatsoever (violence in the service of... peace? in Tanzania of all places?) makes me wonder how self-aware we are as Tanzanian youth. Also, just how much world history we understand...

Anyways, I do think we've got something precious that apparently the UK could use more of. I call it Utu, although it goes a little bit beyond that. So this week, I took the UK riots as a jumping-off point to say to my peers: yeah, we got problems. But let's step away from all the cultural and political copycatting and handle our business like some well-raised, intelligent, self-aware Tanzanians. If we don't, we'll only end up in the same tight spots when its our turn to be called Elder. And won't that be a bitch to explain? The UK riots are the horrible lesson we don't have to live through to learn.
"Which leads me to the notion of respect for elders. This one is a double-edged sword: anyone who has spent five minutes watching Bunge TV will know that age does not automatically confer good sense, wisdom or even good manners. Sometimes drastic measures are needed to discipline our elders when they misbehave, since the worst of them believe complacently that age will protect them indefinitely from critical scrutiny. However, even as angry youth we cannot afford to ignore the ways in which our society provides for inter-generational conversation and mutual support in the things that matter. Those who have walked before us do know one or two lessons about life that are worth learning, wisdom does have its place in life."
Besides, we have a legacy to respect here. Mwalimu was barely in his thirties when he took command of a new country and foxed his way through the Cold War to protect a fledgeling country from predation. Most of his cadres were hardly old enough to shave. I can bet you that the previous generation didn't earn us the international reputation we enjoy by being hot-headed dingbats. Yeah, youth is cool, but maybe we can learn a thing or two from the old revolutionaries. They actually earned their stripes.

Oh, yeah. So this is for the EA. Which is owned by the Aga Khan, a mzee poa if there ever was one (and he started out pretty young). I expect to be thoroughly caned for my conservatism this time around :)


  1. You are forgeting one thing Binti, times have changed. How that saying go "Desperate times require desperate measures". African states always seem to find themselves in dire situations.

  2. Mzee- ama nikuite Mama?- Asante. It is time that African states/people exited the negative feedback loop of perpetual desperation fuelled by formulaic drama-mongering. Au siyo? We might not have the liberation struggle to focus us, but surely we can do better... yaani, at least give me some reason to hope.


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