Murder, war, riot, terrorism, insurrection; that I hope got your attention. Ever since Cain slew Abel, people have deplored, celebrated, moralized and, above all, have been fascinated by violence. Violence has been explained as a form of entertainment for sadistic puppeteers on high, as a depraved and sinful human choice and as a glorious expression of manly heroism and self-sacrifice. What is more sadistic, depraving and sinful is the impunity with which violence is being executed, exalted and excused, despite the fact that the manifestation of this act sends chills to the spine of nations, continents and the world. I recall vividly the gory account of a friend’s experience with the notorious Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria.
It was the dawn of a beautiful Sunday morning, with so much expectation for an uplifting message from the closed canon. With this exhilarating expectation, she walked to the church upholding that benign face as she did with the beatitudes in the Word. In the prime of a spirit-filled exegesis from the clergy, there was an ear-splitting sound that shook the foundation of the church. In the split of a second, the pews were empty and the sight outside the church’s building was a fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:15 “…lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” Her experience and many other debilitating experiences in different African countries, have torn the fabric of peace we most cherish, stung the blooming ideas we once groom and decimated our promising economy. Recalling my friend’s ordeal, I am compelled to ask, “Where is the better angel of our nature?”
In the quest of finding an answer to this question, I am deeply concerned about how best the leadership disposition in Africa can elicit a cultural evolution that spans the space of thoughts and ideas on moral probity. Perhaps, with the cultural evolution of ideas on one hand and the discovery of the better angel of our nature on the other hand, we can walk with dignity, love and self-reliance across the corridors of peace and security singing freedom, freedom at last! But, how can this be done?
Let us in a sublime moment of truth, assume that the 17th century thinker Thomas Hobbes was right, when he said that, in the state of nature, the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. To the extent to which this is true, we have experimented the Leviathan principle in our political system as a counter measure to the brutish nature of man. In the Leviathan, the State has had the authority to assert power over matters within the State. The political philosophy of the Leviathan has influenced the creation of security institutions that have helped relapse the expression of the brutish nature of man. However, in the execution of the obligations of these institutions, we have failed to checkmate the tsars who, in their self-delusion of being sacred cows, have misused power, evidently, in their flagrant disregard for the rule of law, their looting of the national treasury with reckless abandon and their involvement in unprintable vices. To nip this trend in the bud, it is imperative, that the leadership of the State respect the social contract it has with her citizen, by creating a stronger grass-root security institution that earns the trust of the people. We cannot create a security force that is the people’s bête noire and expect a successful intelligence gathering on threats to our society, neither can we give meagre wages to members of the security forces and demand piety in the discharge of their duties. If we do these, we risk the attainment of a degenerated society where the cliché “the nearest sheriff is 90 miles away” in the cowboy movie becomes a reality and the rest of the story is left to our imagination.
Beyond the extension of the Leviathan principle, peace and security can be attained and sustained based on the practice of patient capitalism and gentle commerce. Statistically speaking, in the last 20 years, we have seen more civil wars that have resulted in deaths in under-developed and developing nations than in the developed nations. My view for not only capitalism, but a patient capitalism, hinges on a Latin phrase “assecuratus non quaerit lucrum sed agit ne in damno sit” loosely interpreted as “the assured does not seek profit, but just indemnity for the loss.” This phrase captures the financial aspirations of that nondescript African woman, who, with blood shot feet, hawks on an untarred street to earn less than a dollar, just for a servile meal. Her demand from her leaders is not to enjoy the opulence in castles that lie on the streets of Cape Town, nor to partake in the meat that falls from the table of flamboyant dinners. She is simply satisfied with the crumbs, as far as these crumbs are a just indemnity for her loss. In honouring her wish, we can prodigiously practice the principle of patient capitalism exemplified in the business ideology of Jacqueline Novogratz.
In the accounts of Jacqueline, she described her experience with the 20 sexual workers in Kigali, Rwanda who had started a bakery business simply for the sake of charity. Her experience with these women reflect how essential it was for her to listen, to ask the right questions and most importantly, how it spurred her to establish Acumen fund; a non-profit venture capital fund that raises charitable funds from individuals, foundations and corporations. Simultaneously, the company invests equity and loans in both profit and non-profit entities that deliver affordable health, housing, energy and clean water to low income people in Africa and South Asia. Her company’s principle of patient capitalism is one that is built based on a charitable perspective. We must understand that, although the ability of a man to gain income empowers him to gain choice, what is more empowering is the dignity derived from meeting the needs of his family. Since dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth, it behoves the State to establish a capitalist system with a charitable component that enhances the ability of the people to meet basic needs like quality education for their kids, excellent health services, clean water, three square meals etc. To do this, corporate institutions must be compelled to listen to market reactions and adjust prices appropriately.
In addition to the economic ideology of Jacqueline, we have the doctrine of the gentle commerce proposed by Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brede et de Montesquieu, a French lawyer and political philosopher who lived during the age of enlightenment. Gentle commerce simply upholds the positive sum game and supports the involvement of countries in open economy and international trade. Over the course of history, statistics have shown that countries that embrace open economy, and are involved in international trade, get embroiled in fewer civil wars. To be more precise about this fact, in 2017, the 10 most insecure countries in the world were either not ranked or ranked below 97% of countries with open economy in the 2017 index of economic freedom. Therefore, in propagating the doctrine of gentle commerce across economies in Africa, there is a need for visa free policies, unrestrained technological development, attractive foreign investment policies, and excellent business environment that supports local start-ups.
Specifically, there is need for an explosive reformation in the technological space of Africa. This is because history has shown that, humanitarian reforms are often preceded by new technologies responsible for spreading ideas and sharing experiences: For example, in the 18th century, the humanitarian revolution was preceded by the republic of letters (a cross boundary discuss among political and philosophical thinkers); in the 20th century, the revolution on the right of people was preceded by the rise of the Marshall McLuhan electronic global village; and the Arab spring of the 21st century was accelerated by the rise of the internet and social media. These narratives reaffirm the need for Africa to join the global technological space and consciously effect solutions to the problems plaguing Africa.
No doubt there are more things that can be done to expand the circle of our empathy and to ensure that the people we are accountable to are empowered to find that better angel of their nature. More importantly, as leaders, the buck stops on our desk to progressively and perpetually engage the truth about the safety of those we govern; and just before we ask, what is the truth? we should bear in mind the words of Tierno Bokar, the great sage of Bandiagara, who said, “there is your truth, there is my truth and there is the truth.” The truth is that: for many people like my friend, we owe them the creation of an enabling environment where they can worship their God, not in fear, but in truth and in spirit. Also, the truth is that, that nondescript woman with skin the colour of chocolate, whose kinky hair cannot form ponytail has the right to a life of opulence like we do. Finally, the truth is that only these truths can give us sustainable peace and security in Africa.