Amongst a series of sesame street alphabet books I read to my boy, I particularly like the one that deals with the letter W. It’s titled “Bert wonders why”. Every time I traverse the rich landscape of this letter with my son, we both see Bert wondering why a lot of things are the way they are. His head is filled with more question marks than there are on the suit of the Riddler. As time passed on it has slowly dawned on me that the book is a deliberate attempt to spark something in the mind of the young, a conscious effort to fuel the leaping flames of a toddler’s curiosity.

One of the monikers Africa is known by, is the “dark continent” and I believe this comes more from the dark clouds of nescience billowing over the soul of our race than our skin colour.

My pastor said that whatever the African does not understand he puts a label of mysticism on.  After a couple of drowning accidents in riverine areas where there are strong currents, the local dweller would most likely attribute the event to a powerful force in the river and idolize it while a Caucasian who comes along would do some measurements and build a bridge over the river.

The phenomenon of lightening was a bit too much for man to fathom which made us in Nigeria attribute its power to Sango, the god of thunder but stopped at that juncture. Life was peachy so long the god was given his dues. He later became associated with the Nigerian Power Holding company popularly known as Nepa and it is not a surprise that we are still besieged by epileptic power supply in this modern age. Some might argue that the Caucasians also had Thor, who was Sango’s Scandinavian equivalent but they did not stop there. During the 1700s Benjamin Franklin became interested in electricity and spent almost a decade conducting electrical experiments. Ultimately he discovered that lightning is an electric current in nature and also that it is dangerous. The man was inspired to invent the lightening rod which protects people and their property. Now the constancy of their power supply can be likened to that of the seasons.

Edward Jenner in the 18th century noticed that milk maids did not generally get small pox and started wondering why and how to prevent the dreaded disease. His probing mind uncovered the breakthrough we have in immunology till date. I stand to be corrected but I haven’t yet heard of an African producing any vaccine for any disease even those that are predominant around here. In Africa, small pox was attributed to the wrath of aggrieved gods and the patients were left to die.

This difference in approach to life and its complexities is the bane of the African life. We come short when it comes to analysis and research. We almost have no statistics for any thing in Nigeria. This shows up in our books, movies, politics, education, name it. Without research to add to our creativity, our productions come out as abysmal. Try watching a medical scene on a home video. CAUTION! You might just puke. But when you watch flicks like Gray’s anatomy, House or ER, you almost always think you are seeing real doctors in action. Erich Segal spent four years on his book “Acts of Faith” and it turned out to be a bestseller. He spent that amount of time unraveling all the intricacies connected to the plot. We need to borrow a leaf from his book.

There’s something that prevents Africans from asking why things are the way they are and how to circumvent restrictions. Instead we attribute everything to angels and demons. Our churches also do not help matters sometimes. Medicine men are a dime a dozen, feeding off people’s folly like scavengers on carrion. We spend loads of time binding and casting, sacrificing and chanting, bowing and kneeling and never ask why. If anything, the forces that are held in so much awe thrive on the obtuseness of the dark mind like microbes in blood agar.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, it was noted that the South Korean Airline had a lot of crashes, causing a lot of disquiet in air travelling circles. This necessitated some research and the inference made was that the underlying problem is cultural. This discovery went a long way in ameliorating the challenge but in this environment we might still have been entreating the gods of the atmosphere and binding the Prince in charge of the air. The fact that someone thought of why and how, simplified a prodigious problem.

Amazingly when we travel to more enabling shores, the African mind becomes like a golden eagle that has been freed from a titanium cage and soars to unimaginable heights. This proves that our challenge is cultural. There is something about the black man’s culture that thrives in ignorance. His culture exhibits gravity like pull on his mind. This explains why sometimes a Harvard business school graduate with enough qualifications to make him the beau of Athena would get entrenched in the same rut of nepotism, greed and myopia that an unenlightened compatriot finds himself in when it comes to running a business in this country.

Our society is more interested in the certificates and laurels that come from education (which is why parents will pay for their kids to have exams in special centers where they will have the latitude to cheat, students will pay lecturers in the satellite campuses of our universities to pass without receiving lectures amongst other things) but will despise learning, the light that dispels the darkness of dumbness.

I can almost wager that if it were an African that an apple fell on instead of Sir Isaac Newton, he would have quickly bitten into its luscious succulent skin and thanked the spirits who bestowed such kindness on him or he would have run off in a frightful haste believing that it was the devilry of his household enemies. But it was not so with the great scientist, that common incident sparked off a trail of questions that that led to the taming of gravity.

For any one with insight it is so obvious that the African continent is brimming with potential and great wealth, human and otherwise even much more than our first world contemporaries. The fact that we are still way behind them is strongly attributed to the curse that Noah placed on his son Ham (the African line descends from him) which made him subservient to his brethren but one of the ways to break the shackles of this jinx would be to become regenerated from the inside out. Secondly like the sesame street puppet Bert, WE HAVE TO START WONDERING WHY!!!


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