Christmas is always a joyful time for me with its traditions: carol services, cards, presents, meeting friends for lunch and looking forward to a restful and quiet couple of days in front of the telly after much eating and drinking. Oh and there’s a lot of talking on the phone and Skype with my far flung family.
This Christmas though was quite different. Mainly due to the fact that I got invited to the neighbours’ for Christmas lunch, which turned into dinner and a great day out (without actually going out if you know what I mean).
We ate, drank and laughed a lot; at ourselves, at each other and the comedic antics in the various films we watched. (Shock horror, there was nothing on TV but Johnny English was a particular favourite).
Inevitably though, amid all this laughter, came a serious discussion about politics. It all started with a phone call from Nigeria (the phones had been going all day, as my hosts, as am I, are of Nigerian origin) and the host engaged in a fairly heated debate on Nigerian politics; the role of the government, the integrity of government and whether there was any or indeed ever likely to be.
After the host’s wife reminded him of what the discussion would be costing the caller, the call ended abruptly. After all they had only called to wish the family a Merry Christmas!
The discussion then continued in the room and as those who know me well can testify to, I am never short of an opinion or two, so I joined in robustly! Add to this the fact that I’m in the middle of writing a book, before long we had a pretty good discussion going.
We all agreed that the government was corrupt, the system was failing in more ways than can be counted and it seems nothing could be done to change things. Being an optimist, I found this quite hard to take, so I insisted that there was a solution, we just had to find it. After all, the western democracies that are held up as the ideal, didn’t get there over night and Nigeria being still a relatively young nation (independence from British rule only came about in 1960) still had a lot to learn and a long way to go.
Compare Nigeria’s 50 years to France and America’s 200+ years and Britain’s split with the monarchy which happened over 300 years ago, then it’s fair to say, Nigeria is a baby. All the European countries that have recently broken away from communist rule have the same problems as African states, corruption, poverty and mismanagement of funds, so it’s not so unique.
My host was having none of that though, he asserted, that reform should no longer take hundreds of years, as technological advancements means we can get almost everything done faster! I conceded the point.
My opinion though, and food for thought I think for us all, is that the reason democracy hasn’t seemed to take hold in most of Africa, is that we have failed so far to create a system of government that works for African people. The African way of doing things is traditionally by consent. When you look at the system that was in place before the western culture intruded, it was all about discussion, collaboration and consultation. Kings had their chiefs, the chiefs had their cohorts and after much deliberation, there was a decision that everyone could live with. I daresay, the practice continues in many African families today; there is a family meeting about an issue, everyone puts their two cents in and a decision is made, backed by the head of the family.
The insistence on following a western style democracy, ignores our heritage and damages our identity and that’s why a solution is still elusive. I guess because I’m writing a book on black British identity, it seems obvious to me, but nobody can achieve anything worthwhile, whether as a country or an individual, without first coming to terms with who they are. So far, that seems to have eluded a whole continent, but I hope it’s changing and will continue to do so.