Naivety should stop being a policy toward Africa
You are in a coffee shop in Mbabane, the capital city of eSwatini: a tiny, landlocked country within a country. These senseless borders have divided tribes along imaginary lines, one of the main outcomes of inconsiderate border-drawing processes during colonization. As you wait for your black filter coffee, the heat clings to your face in the dead of winter. The blackouts are recurrent, and your mind drifts to the situation in Zimbabwe, the load-shedding in South Africa, and you try to ask yourself if somehow the whole of Africa faces the same infrastructural challenges. Your eye drifts up the currents of half-made coffee beans to a picture of King Mswati the Third that hangs, skewed to the left, above a heap of giant muffins.
Surely, things are this way because of corruption that is so rampant it is institutionalized: a kleptocracy. Then, you learn that the people with whom you sympathize because their roads are not tar-kissed, also do not formally pay for their land, but are assigned a certain section from the local Chief (at most, they paid a cow),and do not pay high taxes either.
Are things still unfair?
Amongst Africans, there seems to exist a strange dichotomy, inclusive of two parallel systems. The one is western, and the other is African. 30km away from an area where one would receive land from a chief, you call an estate agent and ask to view a 4 bedroom house, and you take a mortgage from the state-owned Swazi Bank. This dichotomy is necessary as it seems to solve many interests: it allows for the preservation of African tradition, and avoids completely decimating it in the interests of western traditions, whilst allowing the country to adopt certain measures of westernization so as to appear ‘modern’ and appealing on the global scale.
However, with regards to the dichotomy that is outlined above (that pertaining to the agrarian aspects of the economy) my question is whether this differing treatment of an economic aspect does not somehow devalue it: if, within the same country, the same size of land is valued differently, one being worth hundreds of thousands of whatever currency, and one being worth a cow, are we not allowing an individual to choose which measure of value they are to provide, and thus, instead of acknowledging the land as an asset with a set value, and thus as a piece that corroborates the determined value of the country’s currency, placing it as an asset that could either be worth a cow or a substantial loan from the bank? The only factor disqualifying the validity of this question is the fact that these varying measures, the African one being symbolic (i.e. given because you are thankful that the chief has given you a plot of land)and the western one being material/economic (i.e. given because no assets are gained without participation in the economy) take place in certain jurisdictions- only tribal land can be given at the discretion of the Chief and all the rest be bought and sold at prices determined by complex factors.
But I still think it is a question to be asked.
This dichotomy extends to more facets of life than the agrarian aspects of the economy- one such domain being religion. Africans seem to make attempts to accomodate both the Christian and traditionally African religious beliefs, making space for conflicting means of worshipping a higher an ultimate power. It is not strange to be or have an African friend who goes to church on Sundays, but will burn impepho to honor the ancestors when tragic events arise. This practice of ancestor worship evidences that in African religion, death is not considered as a barrier between the living and the dead, with ancestors being viewed as messengers to a higher power known as Mveliqangi (the equivalent of God). A quick google search reveals that the Christian God also has messengers known as angels, but these angels are not the equivalent of ancestors as they have always been permanent installments in heaven’s gallery, and are not the souls of those once living that have simply retired to new tasks. Furthermore, it is rare that one hears them being formally summoned through prayer or ritualistic means in the manner that ancestors are. From this it is clear that many of us try to accomodate two doctrines that are not accepting of each other’s principles, and have thus invited this economic, political and legal dichotomy into realms that extend into our personal lives.
The process of marriage is one of these personal realms that has not been left untouched. Where Lobola (a process in which the groom offers cows to the bride’s family) is viewed as the traditional form of marriage in the Zulu tradition, being accompanied by uMembeso at a later stage, it is no longer rare to find individuals who agree on doing a Lobola, uMembeso AND a white wedding where, according to African cultures, a white wedding is not necessary to authorize or validate the merging of two families which has already been accounted for through communication with the ancestors. To stand at the alter to say vows before a deity is not the manner in which African tradition can be structured. What do you think my ancestors would say if I told them I had a prenup?
It was tempting to term this relationship more as a ‘symbiosis’ than as a ‘dichotomy’, but it can be argued as to whether these systems of differing origins are sharing these systems in beneficial ways. I find that the binary existing in the infrastructures of African countries needs to be addressed in more detail. Whether this current dichotomy is the only means of serving various interests, or whether it is a system in transition, we stand to find out. In the meantime, I’ll be figuring out a way to explain the concept of a prenup to abaphantsi (the ancestors).