The famous saying to the effect that only a true friend tells you of your bad breath informed the title of this piece steeped almost entirely in metaphors. But beyond metaphors and the metaphorical charter of catchy highfalutin headings, there is an aptness in the descriptive as far as a comprehension of the African condition goes. In every sphere across the mother continent, morality and character are somehow made to equate a condition of compelled mental gagging. For to speak freely in Africa is to court rebuke and the disdain of society; indeed, to earn oneself the unenviable position of the enemy of progress, a dis-respecter of constituted authority, or an untamed, poorly brought up and sharp-mouthed brat! And all this in spite of an otherwise vibrant civil society and citizenry who are top notch advocates for the freedom of expression in their respective countries and on the continent. In Africa, there is no short supply of the sloganeering of a free and just society that properly mirrors the western way.
A trip into reality and a transportation of these strongly opinionated advocates of free speech into real life settings and the amazement one gets surpasses perplexing. Whereas the world was well entertained by the most recent presidential election campaigns in the US wherein a certain Donald J. Trump bulldozed his way to the White House on content developed from labels such as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary”, civility was not tossed out the window. Has anyone paused to wonder that Hillary Clinton actually attended the Donald Trump inauguration which has been severely bashed for being scantily attended? Need one analogize a similar scenario in Africa? The outgoing Kayode Fayemi, for example, was absent from the incoming Ayodele Fayose’s inauguration as governor of Ekiti State in 2014. The people did not bat an eyelid because they understood. In their culture, the nurturing of bitterness is arrantly first nature. Despite pockets of politer characters like Goodluck Jonathan who attended Muhammadu Buhari’s assumption of the presidency, the politics of bitterness and vindictiveness has been the lot of the largely postcolonial continent. Note, however, that in the mind of the average native, Jonathan goofed by showing up and was widely laughed off as ‘stupid looking’.
And this continues to characterize politics in the black continent such that the recent political party defections in the world’s most populous black nation have continued to reveal the brashness and acute lack of tolerance for criticism/disagreement in the African’s make up. We have seen how the impeachment of the senate president and that of a governor in the middle belt has become the primary duty of the ruling party’s chairman. Away from politics and the trend is one and the same in business, education and wait for it: personal relations. It is precisely why the title of the piece serves both as figure of speech and as actual reality. Simply put, if you told a colleague, business partner or friend that he or she has bad breath, albeit in confidence, the recipient of this information would work and sacrifice some time towards ensuring that the ‘unsolicited adviser who feels better and superior’ develops a brand of bad breath or worse. When one contrasts this mindset with the littler work and effort it would take for the recipient to get help in dealing with the bad breath from its root cause, the disparity between Africa’s location presently and where Africa ought to be becomes microcosmically apparent.
What, therefore, does the foregoing state of play portend for Africa? What precisely is freedom of speech in a society where good advice is understood as an attack? How is it possible that an educated mind is so rigidly unable to receive criticisms, accept the sense in them, and take necessary measures towards a better self? How can it be considered worthwhile to be so unconcerned about one’s bad breath, yet, so active in creating a space of an epidemic in halitosis? As my friend Femi retorts perennially: “Africa!” My dear African, please learn to take the message and mind not the messenger. This way, Africa just may make good strides in the near future and bequeath a better continent to herself and her children…