Motorcycle Diaries / Senegal: "Most folks do indeed want the same thing"

Part One

One of the most striking things that jumps out at you, though not immediately, is the degree to which the people have not taken full control or ownership of their space. There is little-to-no apparent sense of “us” in what happens. One of the clearest examples of this can be seen in the basic presentation of the city, which is filthy. You also notice the degree of nastiness in people’s attitudes and a major decline in character.

The country operates as if the population had been in the backseat of a car and then was told to do everything necessary to take care of it after having never been given a hand in its operation in the first place. This, of course, was exactly what colonialism facilitated via the nature of its educational system, whose purpose was exactly to create a group of people who are “completely canonized into activities of the intermediate type,”(1) or, whose function only as handymen for the well-being of the colonial administration(2).

Thus, not only is the group in question deprived of the opportunity to truly get an idea of the workings of a functional government (and thus gain an idea of what would be required to construct something that would work to the betterment of the population it is said to serve), but they, by virtue of their suddenly “privileged” position and the deliberate program of socialization carried out by the educational system, lose their capacity to see themselves as individuals capable of thinking and achieving on the highest levels. This would allow them to become true leaders and come to identify themselves (their goals and their interests) with those of the colonizers. This idea of socialization then carries over its effects on the general population in much the same way as it does for children in the states when it comes to education. Although the setting is ostensibly African, the system is colonial.

Thus, while achievement may be higher than that which is seen in America from children, the effect on ones’ self-confidence is similar--only the bar for achievement is higher. It makes itself manifest when the topic switches to organization or the presentation of any challenge that falls outside of the rigid set of requirements that have been placed in front of them before hand. Also, there is a blockage that comes in the area of creativity--creativity which is not directly connected with “cultural” displays. Thus, a dance or wrestling match will be carried out with impeccable precision. However, when one must actually take control of anything, impotence arises.

This is because (as in the U.S.) an inferiority complex develops a sort of a depression, which is “coped with” by allowing certain, unacceptable things to be viewed as acceptable in addition to venting one’s full energy in the direction of some other, seemingly more doable activity. Hence, focus is put on other, perhaps less valuable activities and the nature of the original oppression is never addressed. In fact, the avenues of escape from it are never thoroughly analyzed (for you feel yourself incapable of doing so in addition to making change). This is also due to the fact that an image is easy for the people in charge to project, while continuing to benefit from their position within the system.

Thus, the society in many respects appears to only represent its members in an outward sense. It is not a true or thorough reflection of its people, but rather, seems like a sub-system built on the foundation of individuals being forced into a position in which they are just trying to cope. The foundations, however, are no longer theirs. They no longer make the decisions and thus have lost their power to define themselves as a unit and determine independently the way in which they move through the world (such a definition being, then, a full reflection of the system of values from which it derived).

Part Two

In many respects the society is not a true or thorough reflection of its people, but rather, seems like a sub-system built on the foundation of individuals being forced into a position in which they are just trying to cope. The foundations, however, are no longer theirs...

The result is a going through the motions and the “workings” of a system that is not truly functional. It was never constructed to function for the betterment of the population as a whole and was never changed by the governments that subsequently came into place for reasons already mentioned, not to mention the intensification of neo-colonialism, with all of its necessary evils.

The people, therefore, do not act as a group and further fail to conform to the standards that the community had set up for itself in advance of the onset of colonialism. Furthermore, in more than a few places those standards have been dropped for the colonizers.

Hence, one can see in the place known for its “kindness and hospitality,” the exact opposite: disrespect (even and sometimes especially toward elders); deception and dishonesty even among “everyday people” and an embrace of certain Western values--specifically materialism. Furthermore, systems simply do not operate correctly. Again, the feeling of ownership and love that creates community has been undermined--since colonialism necessitates that this be stolen in order to enter in its own system. There is no effective waste management system and electricity is shoddy, even in the capital. There is a pervasive level of incompetence in even the most basic public positions and the government wastes money on the most elaborate of ceremonies on the same roads where its homeless sleep. Things have broken down.

Some of these things are “normal” to an extent, however. Nothing is perfect and even in the best of places, things may go sadly wrong. One of the most confounding things though, is seeing the results of oppression when the oppressor is not visible. Coming from the states, we are accustomed to being able to sense the oppression around us in basically every system that we come into contact with. Those mechanisms have been constructed differently within the context of the continent. Thus, behavior is similar in certain respects, but it comes as more of a shock because it is not expected and its causes are not readily apparent.

Clearly, not all has gone bad. At certain times in the day the university library has standing room only and it is not at all abnormal to meet someone and soon afterwards be invited to their house--with the expectation that you stay for the better part of the day.

Seeing the reality of their situation does underscore the importance of the task that we all have in front of us. In taking the time to ask around, I found that most folks do indeed want the same thing (almost to a tee). And in talking to people from rural areas, you will find that our value systems are indeed very closely linked. That humanity still is shared and at certain junctures the truth of our historical connection becomes startlingly palpable.

And with the thing that oppresses us both being quite similar (only varying in degrees in certain areas), our needs too are strikingly similar. It is also apparent--especially given the degree of alienation witnessed among many Africans--that the way in which we see ourselves is absolutely paramount. Thus, this presents the need for Africans as a people to take full control of our own institutions and definitions of us. If not, our oppression will continue to intensify as it is doing now by the moment. The need is desperate.

{ exclusive feature}
by Lafayette Gaston {The Liberator Magazine 2007: 6.1 #17; 6.2 #18}

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