You lazy intellectual African Scum: Thought-Provoking

You lazy intellectual African Scum – They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations.

Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train.

And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.
“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”

Brawny, fully bald-headed, with intense, steely eyes, he was as cold as they come. When I first discovered I was going to spend my New Year’s Eve next to him on a non-stop JetBlue flight from Los Angeles to Boston I was angst-ridden. I associate marble-shaven Caucasians with iconoclastic skin-heads, most of who are racist.

“My name is Walter,” he extended his hand as soon as I settled in my seat.
I told him mine with a precautious smile.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Zambia!” he exclaimed, “Kaunda’s country.”
“Yes,” I said, “Now Sata’s.”
“But of course,” he responded. “You just elected King Cobra as your president.”

My face lit up at the mention of Sata’s moniker. Walter smiled, and in those cold eyes I saw an amenable fellow, one of those American highbrows who shuttle between Africa and the U.S.

“I spent three years in Zambia in the 1980s,” he continued. “I wined and dined with Luke Mwananshiku, Willa Mungomba, Dr. Siteke Mwale, and many other highly intelligent Zambians.” He lowered his voice. “I was part of the IMF group that came to rip you guys off.” He smirked. “Your government put me in a million dollar mansion overlooking a shanty called Kalingalinga. From my patio I saw it all—the rich and the poor, the ailing, the dead, and the healthy.”

“Are you still with the IMF?” I asked.
“I have since moved to yet another group with similar intentions. In the next few months my colleagues and I will be in Lusaka to hypnotize the cobra. I work for the broker that has acquired a chunk of your debt. Your government owes not the World Bank, but us millions of dollars. We’ll be in Lusaka to offer your president a couple of millions and fly back with a check twenty times greater.”

“No, you won’t,” I said. “King Cobra is incorruptible. He is …”
He was laughing. “Says who? Give me an African president, just one, who has not fallen for the carrot and stick.”
Quett Masire’s name popped up.

“Oh, him, well, we never got to him because he turned down the IMF and the World Bank. It was perhaps the smartest thing for him to do.”

At midnight we were airborne. The captain wished us a happy 2012 and urged us to watch the fireworks across Los Angeles.

“Isn’t that beautiful,” Walter said looking down.
From my middle seat, I took a glance and nodded admirably.
“That’s white man’s country,” he said. “We came here on Mayflower and turned Indian land into a paradise and now the most powerful nation on earth. We discovered the bulb, and built this aircraft to fly us to pleasure resorts like Lake Zambia.”
I grinned. “There is no Lake Zambia.”

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He curled his lips into a smug smile. “That’s what we call your country. You guys are as stagnant as the water in the lake. We come in with our large boats and fish your minerals and your wildlife and leave morsels—crumbs. That’s your staple food, crumbs. That corn-meal you eat, that’s crumbs, the small Tilapia fish you call Kapenta is crumbs. We the Bwanas (whites) take the cat fish. I am the Bwana and you are the Muntu. I get what I want and you get what you deserve, crumbs. That’s what lazy people get—Zambians, Africans, the entire Third World.”
The smile vanished from my face.

“I see you are getting pissed off,” Walter said and lowered his voice. “You are thinking this Bwana is a racist. That’s how most Zambians respond when I tell them the truth. They go ballistic. Okay. Let’s for a moment put our skin pigmentations, this black and white crap, aside. Tell me, my friend, what is the difference between you and me?”

“There’s no difference.”
“Absolutely none,” he exclaimed. “Scientists in the Human Genome Project have proved that. It took them thirteen years to determine the complete sequence of the three billion DNA subunits. After they were all done it was clear that 99.9% nucleotide bases were exactly the same in you and me. We are the same people. All white, Asian, Latino, and black people on this aircraft are the same.”
I gladly nodded.

“And yet I feel superior,” he smiled fatalistically. “Every white person on this plane feels superior to a black person. The white guy who picks up garbage, the homeless white trash on drugs, feels superior to you no matter his status or education. I can pick up a nincompoop from the New York streets, clean him up, and take him to Lusaka and you all be crowding around him chanting muzungu, muzungu and yet he’s a riffraff. Tell me why my angry friend.”

For a moment I was wordless.
“Please don’t blame it on slavery like the African Americans do, or colonialism, or some psychological impact or some kind of stigmatization. And don’t give me the brainwash poppycock. Give me a better answer.”

I was thinking.
He continued. “Excuse what I am about to say. Please do not take offense.”
I felt a slap of blood rush to my head and prepared for the worst.

“You my friend flying with me and all your kind are lazy,” he said. “When you rest your head on the pillow you don’t dream big. You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, who is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say,” I protested.

He was implacable. “Oh yes it is and I will say it again, you are lazy. Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away.

I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”

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I held my breath.

“Do you know where I found your intellectuals? They were in bars quaffing. They were at the Lusaka Golf Club, Lusaka Central Club, Lusaka Playhouse, and Lusaka Flying Club. I saw with my own eyes a bunch of alcoholic graduates. Zambian intellectuals work from eight to five and spend the evening drinking. We don’t. We reserve the evening for brainstorming.”

He looked me in the eye.
“And you flying to Boston and all of you Zambians in the Diaspora are just as lazy and apathetic to your country. You don’t care about your country and yet your very own parents, brothers and sisters are in Mtendere, Chawama, and in villages, all of them living in squalor. Many have died or are dying of neglect by you. They are dying of AIDS because you cannot come up with your own cure. You are here calling yourselves graduates, researchers and scientists and are fast at articulating your credentials once asked—oh, I have a PhD in this and that—PhD my foot!”
I was deflated.

“Wake up you all!” he exclaimed, attracting the attention of nearby passengers. “You should be busy lifting ideas, formulae, recipes, and diagrams from American manufacturing factories and sending them to your own factories. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole our ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.”

He paused. “The Bwana has spoken,” he said and grinned. “As long as you are dependent on my plane, I shall feel superior and you my friend shall remain inferior, how about that? The Chinese, Japanese, Indians, even Latinos are a notch better. You Africans are at the bottom of the totem pole.”

He tempered his voice. “Get over this white skin syndrome and begin to feel confident. Become innovative and make your own stuff for god’s sake.”

At 8 a.m. the plane touched down at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Walter reached for my hand.
“I know I was too strong, but I don’t give it a damn. I have been to Zambia and have seen too much poverty.” He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something. “Here, read this. It was written by a friend.”
He had written only the title: “Lords of Poverty.”

Thunderstruck, I had a sinking feeling. I watched Walter walk through the airport doors to a waiting car. He had left a huge dust devil twirling in my mind, stirring up sad memories of home. I could see Zambia’s literati—the cognoscente, intelligentsia, academics, highbrows, and scholars in the places he had mentioned guzzling and talking irrelevancies.

I remembered some who have since passed—how they got the highest grades in mathematics and the sciences and attained the highest education on the planet. They had been to Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), only to leave us with not a single invention or discovery. I knew some by name and drunk with them at the Lusaka Playhouse and Central Sports.

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Walter is right. It is true that since independence we have failed to nurture creativity and collective orientations. We as a nation lack a workhorse mentality and behave like 13 million civil servants dependent on a government pay cheque. We believe that development is generated 8-to-5 behind a desk wearing a tie with our degrees hanging on the wall. Such a working environment does not offer the opportunity for fellowship, the excitement of competition, and the spectacle of innovative rituals.

But the intelligentsia is not solely, or even mainly, to blame. The larger failure is due to political circumstances over which they have had little control. The past governments failed to create an environment of possibility that fosters camaraderie, rewards innovative ideas and encourages resilience. KK, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, and Banda embraced orthodox ideas and therefore failed to offer many opportunities for drawing outside the line.

I believe King Cobra’s reset has been cast in the same faculties as those of his predecessors. If today I told him that we can build our own car, he would throw me out.

“Naupena? Fuma apa.” (Are you mad? Get out of here)


Knowing well that King Cobra will not embody innovation at Walter’s level let’s begin to look for a technologically active-positive leader who can succeed him after a term or two. That way we can make our own stone crushers, water filters, water pumps, razor blades, and harvesters. Let’s dream big and make tractors, cars, and planes, or, like Walter said, forever remain inferior.

A fundamental transformation of our country from what is essentially non-innovative to a strategic superior African country requires a bold risk-taking educated leader with a triumphalist attitude and we have one in YOU. Don’t be highly strung and feel insulted by Walter. Take a moment and think about our country. Our journey from 1964 has been marked by tears. It has been an emotionally overwhelming experience. Each one of us has lost a loved one to poverty, hunger, and disease. The number of graves is catching up with the population. It’s time to change our political culture. It’s time for Zambian intellectuals to cultivate an active-positive progressive movement that will change our lives forever. Don’t be afraid or dispirited, rise to the challenge and salvage the remaining few of your beloved ones.

Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.

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48 thoughts on “You lazy intellectual African Scum: Thought-Provoking”

  1. I read this article in total shock. I felt all the emotions you described as Walter spoke. At the end of the article, I found myself feeling deflated and very ashamed of all my degrees and titles that I have been going around showing off. At the same time, this article confirmed some thoughts that i have been having lately and suddenly realized that i am not entirely mad. You see, i have been working in the field of development and any terminology and jargon in regard to poverty that World bank, UN, IMF and whoever has come up with has been the blue-print of all my work. But recently, i have been secretly thinking that i no longer believe in development. With every funding application i have been making, every speech i have made on poverty, gender etc, i have had this constant question in my mind – ‘Development for whom?’. All the funding schemes that are given to developing countries are always in line with the donors development policy. This article has taken me a step forward in changing the direction and path of what I had stupidly always believed.

  2. I have come become frustrated and quite irritated with Africa myself. We don’t need much but the ability to think. Look around, what do we need to progress in Africa…nothing. We blame the leaders for our demise and what do we do about it?…well the word is obvious…nothing. The more I travel, the more I realise people don’t care about Africa; what they have for us is a mixture of pity and awe at our level of inadequacy. It’s really sad and Shannon is right, it’s about time Africans woke up.

  3. It all seems to be in our blood. It seems to be our habit, our inheritance handed over from one generation to the other. Africans have sat in the same classes as their European counterparts, but when they return home, what difference do they make. They obviously get better jobs over their local counterparts who schooled in universities in Africa because we respect foreign universities.

    We have to start believing in ourselves, liking our products, being happy that we are africans and being patrotic to our country. How many of us like to patronise made in Africa goods? We all prefer to buy what comes from the white man’s country. Why would’nt the white man feel superior when we don’t value ourselves. Most of us silently wish we were white.

    Its a long way gone. We need to renew our minds.

  4. It strikes me that there is a lot of vast generalisation in ‘Walter’s’ comments. You cannot sum up a whole continent in such a sweeping and cruel way. Having lived in Botswana and Zambia there is a lot of genuine, community-minded and creative thinking-and-doing. Is there enough? Probably not. Overall education standards are still too hit-and-miss (sorry, another generalisation) but, if you provide good-quality education for the vast majority, things WILL change. Is their laziness in Africa? Of course. But you CAN blame hundreds of years of colonial exploitation and that can’t be wiped out in a few generations. Look at the examples of schools like Maru-A-Pula in Botswana and you will have hope. Hope and achievement.

    PS: I do really like this article. It is brilliantly written, provocative and thought provoking. But I do believe much of Africa is already awake. It just needs a lot of help, i.e. education, to be able to create its dreams on a wider scale.

  5. This article is a chilling truth of the demise of our mother land Africa. I have always maintained that the white man has his ways and did appalling things that I believe most of them regret as at today but we must not dwell on it and remain in the doldrums of developmental agenda. All what Walter said are true to the core about Africa not only Zambia. We are lazy, lay-back and hate our country and ourselves with passion. My Malaysian friend recently told me in Liberia that the difference between them and us is the fact that we don’t love our country. They come to Africa to exploit us because our leaders and men in position of trust and responsibility are corrupt and think only of themselves and their families. Walter hit the nail on the head and I think we need to bury our heads in shame especially the so-called “educated elite”. They are the woes of our dear continent, Africa. I am one of them and I must say that we are disgusting and shameless beings.

  6. Intriguing and thought provoking article. Any Intellectual African on this blog, I believe, is scratching his head and wondering how useless he’s become or how to impact his environment positively.
    Many have tried and still trying with constraints and bureaucratic chains resulting disappointments, emotional conflicts, psychological breakdowns and finally, most cases, recoiling into where we find comfort for fear of loosing identity or life.

    I wish current occupying leaders will read these articles to know how they’re or the continent is perceived. Again, they might not even see this, and better still not care after all, because they’re only engrossed in their quest for their selfish motives. they’re too busy building their own empires.

    It hurts to reflect and relive after many years of the conditions and disgrace we’ve encountered both broad and in our motherlands. Some of us now don’t even know where we to belong anymore because the white rejects you and one’s country doesn’t welcome you and your ideas/contributions either. Its so hard to even get your ideas across let alone get it implemented unless you belong into the circles. You’re called names if you try to inject discipline into the system and if you’re not lucky, you’ll be eliminated.

    Perhaps, without the white greed that they keep encouraging in most of these places encouraging corruption & greed, some part of the generation will see a different light. How could the white preach ethics and pledge help, only to go and deceive leaders? Of course, they’re not helping either and I’m surprise your guy is not ashamed either for telling you their motives.

    This is eye opening and its about time we stand for better governance or uphold resistance to corruption both within among our leaders, from foreign investors and so called rescuers. For once, someone is talking and hope we can learn from it and act on it NOW….

  7. Indeed, this is a real eye-opener and a food for thought. Oh, if we the contemporary Africans can’t start to do something now, then the unborn ones that are coming later will be doomed as they reach Africa on earth. Lets wake up now so that posterity won’t judge us as it is currently judging those that came before us.

  8. We all must agree with what Walter said in here,this situation sweeps through the whole of Africa,what happens after our some of our own people get opportunity and leave our shores to study out side Africa? some don’t even come back at all those who come back seem to look as if they just went on some holidays and they come back to tell their friends and family member’s how beautiful cities are in Europe and America looks.

    I believe the Education is about the superior adjustment of man in his mind body,attitude and behavior,where are those who gained scholarships and went to study? are we feeling their impact that must bring about change in our communities and countries.

    Boasting of credentials and hanging of certificates in offices in Africa is not the panacea for Africa’s problems,I am that and what are just nothing if people like that calling and seeing themselves as the Educated elites cant help make a change.

    Public institutions are occupied by such educated elites,the laws are policies are there,yet they don’t have the abilities to help nations in Africa the midst of plenty human and natural raw materials we still beg for world Bank loans and IMF loans with harder terms of payment conditions, we are failing because those leading us are Blind and cant see and read to know what they even sign with the developed countries.

    We must work with people with wisdom first and Knowledge second and not just knowledge,how and why do we have to think that some people not the same as you with very little natural resources and unfavorable snowy weather conditions that takes them almost suffering come to help you with with a lot of natural raw materials to be successful and get well than themselves? do you think they must help us to develop our countries, so they will fail in their countries? we must love our neighbors as thy self, but Africans seem to love their neighbors in the developed countries more ourselves,may be our intellectuals and politicians, think that’s what will make us Africans enter into the kingdom of God promised us in the Bible.We seem too generous with them but that’s not what they are marking us with as the measure if some one is pretending good and love to us,cant we see or feel,are the so called learned people of the continent dead alive being?for how long will they sit down as we die premature?help us to even change what we eat so we can have short live so we cant concentrate properly on good things we must do to help Africa grow.I rest my case.

  9. It all starts NOW with YOU and I. Be challenged and get on with what you have. Appreciate and be proud of it and involve others.

  10. This is an eye-opener article, pragmatically shaped to pull us out of our hibernation and our lethargy.
    Yes we are sleeping and need to wake up. While reading this fabulous article, I have thought about so many of our brave men, women and intellectuals who have taken on this fight of creating and re-inventing our own Africa but who unfortunately fell under the conspiracy of the dominant forces in their dream to make our continent a better place. I think of the late Thomas Sankara, Patrick Lumumba, Tavio Amorin, Norbert Zongo and so many others… who are no longer on this earth, who’s life have been cut short for preaching the message of the true self-determination, liberty and pursuit of happiness in a land tremendously rich and equipped to be the best place on earth. They all fell under the firearms of the oppressors for doing exactly what the writer of the article before us is urging us to be involved in. This must be a continuous and consistent effort. It is never too late; let’s start doing something about this in a very organized and structured manner. We must at least break with the status quo. Our intelligentsia is a true value to achieve such a goal. Yet our collective effort is the only way out. We must come together and stand as one single man to overcome the empire reign and domination.
    It is a false statement to suggest that no African intellectual has taken on this fight before or has never worked hard for innovation, invention or creativity. Yes we did have so many of our intellectuals who have taken on the task and still working hard at it as we debate now. Some of them were even actively involved in inventions and discoveries that have been unfortunately for us credited to the “white man”. We Africans have no patent nor copy right when it comes to our inventions… On this note I urge you to watch this movie called “Something that the Lord made”. Yet the empire is so powerful that we can only win this adventure if we firmly come together and deeply believe that we can do this and revolution our dear continent. To accomplish this, we need a single pate-form, a crib that assembles the entire African natives. The balkanization of Africa that took place in 1884-1885 has profoundly weakened us. The Europeans were able to do what they have accomplished on our continent because they came together and designed the evil planed to divide our continent and its people so they can reign over us. Thus, the very first step of this “project” is for us to be re-united so we can stand as one single and tighter force against the oppression… Please read the book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” written by John Perkins.

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