‘Patriotism of the stomach’ is much more pitiable than it sounds. Patriotism even in moderate forms is a thoroughly virtuous state of being to adopt underpinned by loyalty, commitment, support and above all selflessness in support and defence of one’s country. In Africa it is the reverse, with rare exceptions. Unfortunately, the most ‘patriotic African’ (as is locally regarded) is the one who intends to or actually (a) steals the most, (b) profits the most or (c) defends the banditry and profiteering of others the most, from and the at the expense of his or her country. The ‘patriotic African’ is vicious not virtuous. How can a positive ontology of the African come out of such a bifurcated internal conflict? An ontology of patriotism based on ‘the sharp’ dispossessing the state and citizens of their wealth has too many horrendous implications.
Empirics and observation will enable one to answer the following questions. Who praises and supports Africa’s undeniably corrupt leaders the most? Who denies government abuses, human rights abuses, neglect of the majority, state-sponsored violence, state-sponsored massacres, regional ostracism and so on the most? Who defends or denies economic decline, uncompleted projects, policy fiascos, impounded monies, vast fortunes overseas the most? Who manufactures myths and denials about the poor, neglected and the dispossessed as if they were living in great comfort and luxury the most? The questions are perhaps endless but the answer is simple – the ‘patriotic African’. Patriotism take on a new and overly perverted meaning in the parlance it is use here.
The ‘patriotic African’ is a good amateur (sometimes professional) PR practitioner, “All is well” [in a governance sense] or “It is well” [in a religious sense] is his or her theme. The only time you can observe him or her cry or wail is when their narrow interests are threatened or removed from them. The person threatening their interests is readily classified by them as an ‘unpatriotic African’. It is the ‘patriotic African’ who will present a toothless pseudo-critique of government then claim very visibly “I criticise government too!” especially when attacking the genuine critiques of others. It is the ‘patriotic African’ who informs us of the existence of a “flourishing and vast African middle-class” with lots of money to spend; the comprador wants ‘foreign investors’ support. It is the ‘patriotic African’ who will risk their lives to support the actions and persons of thieving and (state-enabled) profiteering patrons they expect livelihoods from. Every ‘patriotic African’ has patrons who are “incorruptible” or “infallible” on their side in the spirit of agnotology.
In African terms ‘the patriotic’ are strictly those who have something to steal or profit or are close to those who do or can. Patriotism of this kind is a function expected or real access to lucrative resources, a quid pro quo relationship between individuals and the state cum its rulers. Uncorrupted individuals (they exist at all levels), the “structurally adjusted” workers / professionals, the poor, the struggling, the unemployed, those without access tend not to be patriotic at all without being unpatriotic. The state virtually does nothing for them. Among the successful, those who regionally / ethnically ostracised politically and / or economically, those who do not need theft or state-enabled profiteering for their success or comfort, those who do well but have a big conscience are not patriotic either. Such Africans are more loyal and committed to their religions and ethnic groups.
Not surprisingly, the ‘patriotic African’ is no more than a prostitute, his or her self-styled patriotism is for sale. The moment he or she conclusively loses access to lucrative resources his or her patriotism fades fast. Under such conditions the patriotism can transform into a virulent form of ‘anti-patriotism’ in a matter of minutes, days or weeks. In Nigeria, politicians deal with this problem by changing political party membership or allegiance to competing powers frequently, it keeps them from anti-patriotic activity, at least visibly. The clients of politicians are even more spontaneous in their calculations of switching to patrons for greener grass. The ontology of African patriotism does not have to be impoverished, it is neither the stuff food nor money. However, did proper patriotism really ever exist for the majority in post-colonial Africa?
As the ground-breaking anti-corruption advocate, John Githongo, tweeted on November 3rd 2014 “It seems the majority of African armies generally don’t shoot at other soldiers but at wananchi. You don’t join the forces to be shot at.” The soldier is the supposed to be the icon, epitome, symbol and image of patriotism. In Africa it is not so. The military does well as a despotic political party and not much else. You need to see soldiers beating defenceless citizens mercilessly mostly for flimsy reasons; In Nigeria such is called the Mad Dog Syndrome. How many Africans on the street have the courage to stand up to soldiers in uniform and with guns anyway? If state serving soldiers are not patriotic but self-serving is it the majority of Africans who are permanently in the lower two rungs of ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ that would be patriotic?
Let us not forget the focus areas of the ‘patriotic African’. Building space rockets that go to the moon charging $1 million per person; contracts for managing cyborgs that will replace all military personnel; collecting genetic profiles of all citizens; developing the best public policies ever written. It is very proudly and widely claimed in the media in Nigeria that the Nigerian Police Force is one of the best in the world; Ghana was a highly advanced modern civilisation before the coming of the White man; the Malians had astronomy laboratories 2000 years ago; the Ethiopians had the best fighting force in the world at one time. Forgive the mild hyperbole but this is invariably the thinking mode of the ‘patriotic African’. African nations become great and excellent by his or her sheer will power and beliefs, reality is perpetually on vacation. The ‘patriotic African’ is neither ashamed of nor embarrassed by Africa’s economic, social and political failures or problems in the present. They are not ashamed of the memories of slavery and colonisation and will do nothing to either reverse the consequences of such experiences or further imperialism. Instead he or she reframes them with delusional or schizophrenic reverie. The quest for money and resources, and a ‘pat on the back’ does make people deceptive, dishonest, violent and ruthless, it is a bit tragic that it makes the ‘patriotic African’ stupid or even slightly mad.
Patriotism [to the state] is one word that has no place place in the modern African psyche but it may in future times.In occasions where patriotism is used in Africa for its proper virtuous meaning and context the discourse that accompanies it is never really good either. Patriotism, in this sense, is used as a very decisive caution against foolishness. Why are you filing your taxes so honestly? Don be so patriotic! Why do you want to return home from the USA? Do not do it out of patriotism! You found a wallet containing $2000 and you want to give it back? You are too patriotic! Now you are in office enrich yourself as much as you can? Do not be patriotic at all, what has Nigeria do for you?! Virtuous patriotism is usually a mistake because its outcomes will be thankless for its practitioner in Africa. A common experience is that if out civic duty you report a crime you may be arrested for the same crime just because you can be easily extorted by the police. Patriotism to religion and ethnic group is much more robust.
The ontology of the African has among other things been made derisory by the nature and quality patriotism witnessed and practiced in Africa. When patriotism is merely or seriously a means of warding off irrelevance, hunger and poverty it requires a new name, a new conceptualisation and a new practice. Only then can a positive ontology of the African and his / her virtuous patriotism be possible.