In his book, “The prayer of the Frog” Antony de Mello tells the story of a woman who lost her coin and went about looking for it on the street. In sympathy, neighbours and passers-by joined in the search for the needle in a haystack. After a while, a thought came to one of the searchers who asked where she actually lost the money. To his surprise the woman said that she lost her money in her room. “But why are you looking for it here?” was the curious man’s next and natural question. He got an even bigger shock when she said she was looking for her money outside because it was brighter outdoors. It sounds so ridiculous but there is a human tendency to look for solutions to problems in a manner that draws attention but never finds the solution. It is a deliberate scheme to deny the truth. Truth unsettles us because it challenges our illusions, the falsely-founded privileges we cling to and the mental constructs that serve our selfish ends. Unfortunately, the shadows of repressed truth never sleep.
The acclaimed Nigerian novelist and story teller, Chimamanda Adichie, needs no introduction. Among her many themes, the danger of a single story stands out. The power of stories to communicate truths that are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to convey with mere words becomes clear. The story reveals a fundamental dysfunction in the blue-print of human consciousness, deep-seated prejudices and unrestrained hunger for power over others which we would prefer to keep in the dark. On the one hand, there is a defective human consciousness that resists the stories of other people because hearing them will expose the half-truths of our own story; on the other hand, there are the victims of the untold story, whose reality remains untold, as the story is founded on a supremacist ideology that is sustained by false arguments. Powerful media are engaged to spread propaganda that then becomes the story; the people are made to believe it and the victims internalize it. The victims’ part of the story is suppressed and never heard. This obliterates a very significant part of the whole story.
As Chimamanda puts it, “the simplest way to defeat a people is to create their story and start with secondly”. It is the tool used by religious bigots to unleash terrorism in the world. It creates a narrative that makes people who do not share your religious ideology evil and therefore unfit to exist on the surface of the earth. The platform of the single story has become the domain of global economy and politics. Chimamanda underlines that the story of the failure of African states is not complete without the colonial creation of African states to serve the western interests. In the same vein, globalization is the name of the new single story to propagate the economic power of the global north and justify the story of Africa as an impoverished continent that needs her support. The West has created the story of Africa as a continent of hunger and poverty but refuses to tell the story of the creation of the global economic structures that have made Africa a reservoir and suppliers of raw materials for her. It is fashionable for the global north to tell the story of the corruption of African leaders who loot the resources of the continent but seldom to talk about the more cancerous and systemic use of legal instruments to protect the African plunder in Europe, support and even encourage tax evasion, proliferate offshore companies and tax havens, transfer pricing and manipulate invoicing. Is the person who steals not as guilty as the one who protects and keeps the stolen funds?
There are numerous examples to buttress this point. The recent Global Financial Integrity report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. The EU has consistently accused Nigeria of working against the regional integration of ECOWAS and opposing the current state of the EPAs but the EU is not willing to tell the other side of the story – the use of EPAs to ensure the steady supply of raw materials for industries and market for her finished products. The West constantly tells of endless wars in Africa but does not talk of the Western life styles (built on the resources of Africa) and Western capitalist ideology that drive these wars over resource control. The story of Africans dying regularly in the Mediterranean Sea is always in the news but the story of the drivers of forced migrations is deposited in the background. Obviously, global politics and economic powers are fuelled by the single story told by the West.
It is noteworthy that Chimamanda’s ‘danger of a single story’ is a literary recast of an old, tested, Latin maxim, “audi alteram partem” which is translated as “listen to the other side” or “let the other side be heard as well”. It is a principle of natural justice which demands a fair hearing in all cases. Among other tenets, it stipulates that all parties be heard and that the judgement be given by an impartial third party. The latter implicates another principle of fair hearing which holds that no one can be a judge over his own case. The general underpinning pedestal is that all human beings are endowed with an equal and inalienable dignity. It is the foundation of fair play in the dealings of individuals and nations because it avoids the danger of a single story.
From all indications, Africa is yet to enjoy the injunctions of the audi alteram partem principle in her dealings with the Western world. It is still a single story and that is dangerous. Can Africa tell her story? Yes, of course! But that is made very difficult by the current economic configurations of the world and the ingrained, selfish desire of ‘powerful nations’ and conglomerates to perpetuate the status quo. How would a man under the rubble of a fallen house get up to fight the men who designed and built the house with substandard material in order to make more profit? It is not so much the story of the man under the rubble as that of the man who compromised the standards.
In truth, What Africa needs from the rest of the world is not sympathy but a restorative justice and empathy for our common humanity. Thus, AEFJN calls on those all who trade with African nations and those who champion the course of our common humanity to make it imperative that they listen to the other side in their dealings with/about Africa. In 2017, that is the demand of AEFJN.
Chika Onyejiuwa CSSp