A few months ago, I talked with a government official about the fatherhood empowerment non-profit I launched in Africa. The “wow” feeling was all I got.
Now, please don’t get me wrong; he’s smart, groomed for Washington, picked to follow, and may very well deserve to be in the position he’s in. But should he be in a position to advise folks on ways to help Africa? I don’t think so and let me tell you why.
He was willing to share his point of view—and advice—on Africa. And he seemed to know a lot about Africa, at least what Washington wants to know about Africa. But to make a long story short, when it was my turn to give my spiel, I told him that the Color Him Father Foundation goes into the workplace and provides training for fathers and young men. His response—“But governments already do that kind of stuff in Africa”—quite frankly disappointed me.
“Really?” I replied. “Like what? Where?” I asked.
“Things like…teaching the locals to wash their hands after going to the toilet,” he answered and then dug deeper. “They teach them about drinking clean water, using mosquito nets…wearing rubbers.”
“Really. That’s interesting. Anything else?” I asked, but I was already musing internally about this mindset. Be careful not to raise a poor man’s expectations too high. Manage expectations today so you can control the poor man for life. Or else the poor man might actually rise up one day and become an equal. Is that what you think? Why am I here talking with you?
But that wasn’t all; he had more to add. “Why do you want to go into the workplace anyway? Very few men in Africa work in formal jobs. Instead of working with the companies, you might want to consider focusing on the community.”
And be another community organizer? Is that what you think I am? Is that what you think Africa needs? I thought this, but I certainly didn’t say it. Using such words as “community organizer” in Washington, D.C. is code for designing public policy using the progressive playbook, so it has to be used very carefully. Anyway, what happened next shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who truly knows me.
I’m always willing to accept that I don’t have all the answers and I certainly don’t pretend to. Hell, I’m not even close, but one thing is certain: I don’t lose well and I don’t back down. Other than that…I am a fifty-three year old who can’t stand when people waste my time, and I utterly detest people who willingly marginalize the potential in others just because that’s what they’ve been told to do.
Needless to say, my conversation with this Inside the Beltway know-it-all ended quickly. But in all honesty, the problem is much bigger than one person, or those telling him what to think. There’s a reason so little progress is made in Africa while so much time and resources have been frittered away. We, the U.S. Government, are part of the reason so little progress is made in Africa and we’ve been part of the problem for a long time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know Africa is not simple. It’s a mess. I know a lot of Africa is a shit show, but a lot of Africa isn’t. And just like we view everything else in life, there has to be a point in time when we stop thinking about Africa just when children begin to go hungry, or there’s another civil war . . . dirty hands, filthy water, malaria, and the need for safe sex. Now don’t get all this twisted; these are very important issues and need to be focused on, but sooner or later, we need to view Africa as a continent capable of developing.
Upward economic mobility is what I am talking about, and in doing so, I am frequently reminded of how important it is for others to see such potential in every human being. You see, most of the time, the problem is that those who have already reached that peak can’t see certain others getting there. It’s the old pick the winner/create the losers game that the United States Government seems hell-bent to impose on everything it touches. In Africa, to me, it seems especially true.
My final point is short: Africa, as a continent, can move up and many Africans have…on their own. But do we, the United States Government, really see this upward mobility potentially getting bigger? Spreading? Becoming a trend throughout the continent? Do we see Africans rising and potentially running their lives on their own? Do we see their countries potentially as equal to us and other rich developed nations? Do we see Africa’s true economic potential?
I don’t think we do. I don’t think we want to.
And for Washington, D.C.—Africa called; the country wants its future back; and I say, “Good for Africa.” The rest of the world wants a future. The rest of the world demands a future. So why shouldn’t Africa?
Sooner or later, we must try to see Africans as potentially equals†
It’s a small world…so write about it.
D.A. (Dennis) Winstead
Award-winning International Author
Founder and Head of
Color Him Father Foundation