Remember the movie Call me Bwana from the 1960s. It was a crazy mad cap adventure of Bob Hope masquerading as the great white hunter. NASA falls for Hope’s pretenses and recruits him to find a lost spacecraft in Africa before hostile forces could lay hands on it. Bwana in Swahili means master. It has its roots in Arabic word Abu’na (our master). The whites were Bwanas – the masters in Africa. In many ways they still are. Their legacy and influence is still very strong and visible. Take for instance the drive from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha. You drive on the left hand side on the narrow single road and all the signs that you find along the way are in English. You would find nary any sign in a local language and the odd one out in Swahili is written in English script. I could detect only three such signs in the two hour ride. One was for a brand of chapatti. Another showcased a trakta (tractor) and another was a campaign poster extolling the virtues of a candidate for the local elections. It was quite evident that the white masters have totally suppressed the African languages. The villages are shanty towns with small churches dotting the landscape. The Africans still believe in voodoo and black magic and other indigenous beliefs but subscribe largely to the white man’s faith. There is no wild life visible. Most of it is now restricted to safari parks and resorts. Most that you see in the countryside are cows, sheep, hens and ducks. You can also see donkeys grazing or pulling heavily laden carts. I’m told the Chinese are importing these animals for purposes other than as beasts of burden. So I suppose we are not alone in earning from this asinine business practice. Sacks of khat, a mildly narcotic weed, line the road to be exported to countries like Somalia. The Somalis are addicted to this niswar like intoxicant. Our famous addiction is the Kenyan tea. A substantial amount of our foreign exchange is spent on importing tea from Kenya. Tea was bequeathed to us by our colonial masters the way they gave opium to the Chinese.
In the 1950s and the 1960s as the age of colonialism was ending and countries in Asia and Africa were gaining their freedoms. There was a great deal of hope. Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kuanda and Jomo Kenyatta were being hailed as the new breed of African leaders set to lead their nations to a journey of prosperity. The great African dream did not materialize the way it was expected to unfold. Africa is still mired in poverty and is being thoroughly manipulated by former colonial masters. Resource cursed countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone of the “blood diamond” fame are experiencing civil wars, internal disturbances and bloodshed. Africa is hopelessly divided along the linguistic lines bequeathed by the colonial masters. Francophone and English speaking Africa look at each other with suspicion and hatred. Arbitrary lines drawn in the sand cut across ethnic and tribal lines creating wars which have no end in sight. Smaller colonial powers like Belgians exercise great influence over former colonies like Congo. Contemporary Africa has the largest number of conflict zones.
While individual Europeans own large plantations and their governments are indulging in a new kind of land grab in Africa. They are not only obtaining licenses for large blocks to prospect for oil but are also buying huge swathes of land to grow agricultural produce for their own national food security. Ironically food for the Africans is in short supply and many African countries are experiencing famine. The Bwana in Africa is perpetuating a new age of colonialism.