Can Africans Govern Themselves Well? (nigeria)

This is a long, LONG, LOOONG research paper/editorial (more of an editorial). It was published in 2005.

I don't expect anyone to read the whole thing but I think it hits the nail right on the head, and I've highlighted important areas I think stand out.

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---

African countries began gaining their independence from their European colonial masters in the 1950s. In effect, Africans have been trying to govern themselves for fifty years. This seems sufficient amount of time to assess how well Africans are doing. Are Africans doing a good job governing themselves?

As one looks at the African continent, what one sees is unmitigated disaster. With the possible exception of South Africa (which, in as much as its economy is managed by Caucasians, is not an African economy), all of black Africa is badly governed. No black African country is likely to win praises for excellence in governance.

If we go beyond Africa to other black governed countries, such as the Caribbean, we see the same pattern of misgovernance repeated. None of the black Caribbean countries can be said to be well governed. They, like African countries, are economic basket cases. Haiti, for example, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. If Haiti managed its tourism industry well, that alone could make its citizens well off, materially.

This unpalatable situation raises a necessary question: can Africans and descendants of Africans elsewhere in the world govern themselves well? This is a question that must be asked. Indeed, many non-Africans are already asking this question and we, Africans, might as well ask it, and attempt to answer it, as objectively as is possible.

There is no use denying facts. The fact is that Africans, so far, have proven themselves incapable of governing modern polities and economies and that begs the question as to whether they can ever govern themselves well? Human beings tend to judge how well people will do in the future based on how they did in the past. If, in the past, Africans were unable to govern themselves well, people are right in wondering whether they could do a better job in the future.

This question is by no means racist. It does not invite White persons to come govern Africa, as racists who doubt Africans ability to govern themselves would like to be the case. Africa has had a history of been governed by whites and they did not do a better job of it than Africans are currently doing. The question is not bringing back whites to govern Africans but how to help Africans govern themselves well.

There is no use citing the bugaboo of neo-colonialism. That excuse is old and tired. Perhaps, it was tenable in the 1960s and 1970s, immediately after Africans obtained their independence from their former colonial masters, but fifty years later, it would be begging the issue to cite that excuse.

Asians were colonized by Europeans. They, too, were, apparently, subjected to neocolonialism. If the argument of neocolonialism holds water, how come Asians have extricated themselves from its shackles?

The neocolonial argument holds that the Metropolis, the West, would like to keep the Periphery, non-Western parts of the world, underdeveloped; that it is in the interest of the Metropolis to keep the Periphery a plantation economy, providing the factories of the Metropolis with raw materials; and that the West forms a compact with the leaders of the non-West, a Comprador class, and pay them to hold their people down and essentially transform them into peasants, if not slaves, supplying the West with raw materials with which it runs its industries. The West then turns around and sells the finished goods it had manufactured from the raw materials bought cheaply from non-Western countries to the non-West, at exorbitant prices, hence keeping them poor.

Assuming that the neocolonial, dependency, argument has some merit in it (why would the non-West want to be kept poor, one asks) the fact is that Asian countries have extricated themselves from that arrangement and today are the world’s fastest growing economies.

If Asians can liberate themselves from the Western economic strangle hold, one assumes that Africans can do the same? Or is it the case that Africans are less intelligent than Asians hence cannot understand that they are being exploited by the West, and, if they did understand their dependent relationship with the West, cannot figure out a way to emancipate themselves from those bent on oppressing them?

The neocolonialist argument seem irrelevant to the understanding of Africans seeming inability to govern themselves well. Moreover, we know that it is immature to blame other people for one’s problems. Psychologists tell us that there are essentially two types of persons: those with internal locus of authority and those with external locus of authority. Those with internal locus of control see themselves as in charge of what happens to them in their lives and take responsibility for their successes and failures, whereas those with external locus of control see the external environment as in control of their lives and blame it when something goes wrong in their lives. Empirical evidence shows that those who believe that they are responsible for their fate tend to feel empowered and tend to be successful persons, whereas those who see themselves as feathers in the wind, blown about by forces outside their control, tend to feel powerless and tend to be failures in life. For too long, Africans saw themselves as at the mercy of external forces and were failures. Their equally depowered friends like Walter Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa ) tell them that they are little children whose fate is in the hands of adult white people, external persons who did to them whatever they wanted, and that they had no efficacy to do anything about it other than complain about it. It is about time we saw ourselves as totally responsible for our fate. I believe that when we do so, develop internal locus of control we shall become successful in managing our affairs. Children complain about the hands fate dealt them; adults quietly make the most of their fate. As they say, if life gives you lemon, make lemonade.

I have carefully observed Africans, in Africa and in the Americas, and believe, sadly, that given their current individual psychologies they seem incapable of governing themselves. Unless they make drastic and sustained efforts to change their personalities; they seem unsuited to ruling themselves.

This is a sad thing to say about one’s own people, but one must be truthful to one’s perception. Perhaps, one is projecting ones negative self assessment, ones self doubt and lack of self confidence, ones belief that one cannot govern, to ones fellow Africans? Perhaps, one is so discouraged that one believes that one is not fit for leadership positions and attribute what one sees in one to one’s fellow Africans? Perception is projection. What the individual sees as out there is usually colored by what is in him. There is no such thing as a totally objective perception of other people. We always see with our past, our history and learning. In that light, one is probably externalizing aspects of what one sees in one to others? Be that as it may, one is convinced that contemporary Africans, until they are modified, are not fit to govern themselves. If their personalities remain as they are, we continue to witness badly governed African states. We shall continue to witness failed African states. If the best that Africa can do is produce egotistical and vain leaders like Abacha, Mobutu and Mugabe, one sees no light at the end of the tunnel.

Only the truth can make human beings free. Denial of the truth does not help any one; denial masks the problem, it does not solve it. We must state the truth of Africans as we see them, rather than pretend that what we see is not there. And if what we see is not there, we stand to be corrected. Correction requires that Africans govern themselves as other people do, decently and without corruption.

As I see it, until Africans change their apparent warped personalities, the world can throw all the money it wants at them, they are not going to govern Africa well. It would pay the world better dividends if it insisted that Africans become true adults and not the current emotionally slow children they seem to be.

Psychology posits developmental stages that all children go through before they attain adulthood, emotionally, that is. One can be chronologically an adult but emotionally a child. See Erick Erickson’s schema in his seminal book, Childhood and Society. Also see Sigmund Freud’s views on children’s emotional development.

All children, at some point, between birth and age twelve, are totally narcissistic. Freud called this phenomenon primary narcissism. Here, children see themselves as the center of the universe. They believe that other people, particularly those that Harry Stack Sullivan called the children’s “Significant others” (parents, siblings, peers, teachers etc) exist to serve them.

Let me repeat: at some point, before age twelve, all children, black, white and Asian, believe that they are the center of the world and expect to get attention without earning it. This stage of psychological development has been called by many names. For our present purpose, we shall call it the narcissistic stage of child development. Every child goes through the narcissistic stage in his development and believes that he is very special and that he ought to be admired by all the people around him; that he should be admired for just being who he is, not because of what he does for the people.

Most human beings out grow this narcissistic stage of development. The normal adult human being gets to a point where he recognizes that he must do something for other people, for them to pay him attention. It is children who expect to obtain attention without earning it. In the adult world, one must do something, and do it well, for other people to pay attention to one. For example, in sports, one must be an outstanding player for society to pay attention to one.

Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are good at their games; most people see them as special in their fields and admire them. They obtain attention based on their actual performances in the field of play, not because of merely being human beings. In the world of work, the outstanding worker is rewarded with promotions and financial reinforcements. Simply stated, in the adult world, social recognition is predicated on performance of certain tasks for the people, doing for the people what they need done gets one their attention.

In the real world, adults do not strive to obtain attention from other adults without first doing something useful for them. It is emotionally regressed adults that seek to obtain other people’s attention without first doing something for them.

Psychologists tell us that whereas most people outgrow their childhood narcissistic stages, that some persons get stuck there. These people develop what is called narcissistic personality disorder.

The narcissistic personality disordered person believes that, as he is, that he is special. He does not believe that he has to do anything to earn other people’s admiration. He simply believes that other people ought to admire him, even if he is not doing anything useful for them. Indeed, he so believes himself special and superior to other people, that he justifies exploiting other people for his own good. He tends to use people to get what he wants out of life and then discard them, like pieces of scrap iron. On the job, he apple polishes and pretends to like coworkers and bosses, but the moment he gets what he wants through them, gets promoted, he behaves towards them as if he does not even know them. He often marries women who seem beautiful, not because he loves them, but to get other men to admire him for having such beautiful women around him, parlor trophies. The narcissist feels that he is justified in using other people because he is superior to them. The narcissist is self centered and could care less for other human beings welfare; he merely uses other people to procure his own survival. Narcissism is a primitive ego state, a pre civilized ego state, and hence it is found in all children before they are civilized.

Often, narcissism coexists with anti social personality disorder. The anti social personality disordered person feels that the world owes him a living. He has a sense of entitlement. He feels entitled to take from other people what he needs to survive with. He does not believe that he ought to work for his living. He wants other people to work for him and support him or else he takes from them. He finds it easy to steal from other people, even to kill them, so as to get what he needs to survive with. He does not feel guilty or remorseful from hurting other people, in fact, he enjoys doing so. The antisocial personality is a self centered person. In fact, he is so self centered that he is willing to harm and or kill other people, if in doing so he serves his interests. Think of the highway rubber who kills people, takes their money and goes to enjoy his animalistic existence with the money he had stolen.

(If you are familiar with the Nigerian political scene, you probably will agree that I have described the typical Nigerian politician. He is narcissistic and or antisocial in personality structure: he is self centered and does not give a hoot for public interest; he steals from the public treasury, takes bribes and is corrupt; he feels special, seeks admiration from the people and wants to be seen as a very important person, an Oga, but does not want to do anything for the people to gain their admiration. In many instances, Nigerian politicians do not hesitate killing their opponents and do not feel guilty or remorseful from doing so. The typical Nigerian politician is a criminal personality. What we have in Nigeria are criminals in governments.)

Despite his outward seeming smoothness, the narcissistic personality has deep rooted sense of inferiority. (See the writings of Kohut, Kernberg, Masterson and Alice Miller.) He feels inadequate and inferior. Nevertheless, he tended to have had childhood success at school, play and work. His early childhood success gives him the impression that, somehow, he is special.

The inferior feeling school boy who, nevertheless, makes good grades in his school examinations is likely to see the other students who are making poor grades as inferior to him. Thus, over time, such a child compensates with a fictional sense of superiority to other children.

The narcissistic personality generally has a history of social success (at play, school and work) and that enables him to compensate with imaginary sense of superiority to other people. In most cases, he was pampered by his parents and seen as special and that reinforces his sense of omnipotence.

The narcissist generally goes far in life. He is found in the professions, governments, military and the business world. When he meets with a serious setback, for example, a professional failure he tends to become devastated. However, failure and depression is therapeutic for him, for they enable him to recognize that he is not special and that he is not superior to any one. It is at this point that the narcissist begins to grow up, to accept the fact that he is like all human beings, imperfect. When he accepts his equality and sameness with all people and resolves to work for attention, he is finally an adult, emotionally speaking.

Unfortunately, many narcissists never attain adult emotional status. In fact, some of them regress to antisocial personality level of development, the most infantile level of development there is.

The antisocial personality is more like an animal than a human being. Consider: the thief does not expect other people to steal from him. If you take from him, take what he had stolen from other people, he feels angry at you. That is, he does not want other people to do unto him as he does to them. The cardinal characteristic of an emotional adult is acceptance of the Jesus Christ articulated philosophy that other people should do to one as one does to them, and since one wants them to love one, one loves them.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If you steal from others, you should expect to be stolen from. In which case, you would have chaos all around you, instead of a well organized society to live in. As Thomas Hobbes noted, life would become nasty, brutish and short for all persons.

The thief expects other people to be law abiding and then gives himself the permission to sneak behind their backs and steal from them. In as much as they are not also thieves and stealing from him, he expects to live in a fairly well ordered society.

Nigerians come to America. They appreciate the American honor system, the well ordered nature of American society. They want Americans to keep it so. In keeping it so, they sneak behind the backs of Americans and steal from them, such as their credit cards rackets. But if Americans were to be suspicious and protect their properties, Nigerian thieves would not be able to steal from them. The thief counts on the good nature of the person he steals from. That is what makes the thief a coward and a detritus of mankind. A bold person ought to confront people frontally, amano amano.

(Initially, the criminals in Nigerian governments stole their people’s monies and banked them in the Western world. They then turned their country into a lawless jungle. Finding their country unlivable, they are now running to the West. They want to take advantage of the well ordered system that obtains in the West. Alas, they have brought their amoral, thieving ways to America. They are engaging in every criminal activity known to man, the least of which is 419. One just wishes that the law enforcement authorities in America would be draconian with them, quickly apprehend these uncivilized animals; try and send them to long term jails, and when they have served their sentences, repatriate them to their chaotic country. America must not permit these people to turn its well organized society into the lawless bedlam that is Nigeria.).

If one engages in adult thinking, one would recognize that social order is maintained when all of us respect each others’ properties. The antisocial personality is about five years old, emotionally and does not think in adult terms. He thinks that he is tough and smart by cheating and stealing from people, not recognizing that if other people choose to do as he did, that the social fabric would break down and we revert to a state of anarchy, as is apparently the case in Nigeria. Nigeria is lawless, without government performing its function of enforcing law and order and punishing corrupt people.

Most Nigerian leaders, African leaders and indeed black leaders tend to be narcissistic personality disordered persons. Some of them are outright antisocial personalities. They seek public office for the attention such offices give to them, not because of what they intend to do for their people. The Nigerian politician wants to be the president of Nigeria because that office gratifies his need for infantile narcissism, his desire to be in the lime light and be seen by most people as a very important person; not because he has a burning agenda that he sees political position enabling him to realize.

African politicians, like human beings everywhere, suffer from the other personality and mental disorders: paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, borderline, histrionic, avoidant, obsessive-compulsive, dependent, passive aggressive, schizophrenia, mania, delusion, depression etc, but the two elaborated in this essay, narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders, seem the most pronounced ones in them.

Consider Nigeria’s President, Olusegun Obasanjo. He runs around the world, fancying himself a great leader. But his country has over fifty percent unemployment rate. If he truly cared for his people, he would stay home and seek ways to provide them with jobs. He would hang his head low with shame, for a man who cannot provide jobs for his people is not a leader.

If Nigeria’s president wanted the office of the presidency to do something for Nigeria, the least he could have done is give all Nigerians electricity and pipe borne water. The total annual electrical output of Nigeria’s Electric Power Authority, NEPA, is less than is necessary to power the Seattle Metropolitan area (Washington, USA) in a year. Nigeria cannot produce as much electricity for a country of 130 million people as is produced for an area containing less than 2 million persons, in the USA. Yet Nigerian politicians are sitting on billions of oil revenue.

(Nigerians steal most of this oil money and squander it. They even borrow money from world monetary institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, presumably to fund developmental projects for their people. However, they squander such money. They then beg those institutions to forgive them their debt. These criminals run around pretending to be leaders. But we all know that if Nigeria’s oil revenue dries up tomorrow Nigeria will become another failed African state. Indeed, Nigeria’s failure will be very spectacular and would drag many West African countries down with it. We know all this and keep quiet. Well, I will keep quiet no more.)

Apparently, the leaders of Nigeria could not estimate how much power their entire country needs and set about providing it. Obasanjo probably does not have a clue as to how much electricity Nigeria needs. His goal, apparently, is to be the most important person in Nigeria. His job description is to run around the world spending Nigeria’s meager resources in his ceaseless traveling. The head of state of a banana republic possessing his own jet, while the Prime Minister of England flies commercial is a caricature of a human being.

I have observed many African politicians and sadly have not seen a single one that seemed to me to be an adult, emotionally. What I saw were children who are invested in getting attention from other people. This phenomenon does not end with politicians. The typical Nigerian middle class person is primarily interested in your calling him: professor (which, to his infantile mind means a prestigious person, rather than what it means, French for teacher), Doctor (which, to his infantile mind means that he is important, rather than what it means, some one who dedicated his life to the search for knowledge to improve the human condition) , Chief, (which, to his infantile mind means that he is important, rather than what it means, a leader of a primitive German war band), Alhaji (which, to his infantile mind means that he is a very important person, rather than what it means, in fact, a person who has fulfilled the Islamic religious obligation of going to Mecca, Hajj); being called engineer (substitute with whatever profession he imagines that he is…this practice is not done in the West, in the West, people are simply called Mr., without identifying their occupation, but in the context of Nigeria, the individual’s profession has to be stated to make him seem important).

One should not equivocate on this matter. Nigerians, Africans, black Americans are driven by vanity. They seek public office for ego reasons, not because of what they want to do for their people. In as much as their motivation is to gratify their arrested emotional needs, they cannot make good leaders.

Those who have paid attention to the personality structure of African Americans came to the same conclusions, though they tended to attribute these people’s apparent stunted lifestyles to the effect of slavery and racism on them. See Oversay and Kardiner, The Mark of Oppression; Thomas Pittigrew, A Profile of the African American; Karon, The Negro Personality; Franklin Frazier, The Negro Middle Class; Franz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks; Omanini, Prospero and Caliban, The Psychology of Colonized People and Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized. Each of these observers concluded that the Negro is infantile in his emotional organization, seeks attention from other people, tends to be fearful and pleases other people rather than stick to the truth, as he perceives it to be. Stanley Elkins called such perpetually laughing and jiving Negroes Sambo. These folks spend their meager money trying to look important in three piece suits, expensive cars etc rather than go do work that produces something for the economy. The Negro professor, for example, makes sure that he looks very important, though he has written nothing to make him a real professor: a person who propagates knowledge.

I am not motivated to seek excuses for any one. What I see is what I see. I see Africans, African Americans and black people, all over the world, who place their egos above social interest, who seek public offices to seem prestigious persons and who do not seem to understand what political offices are for: to serve people. I see people who do not understand that maturity and emotional health, in fact, requires one to be humble. A truly mature person does not feel special and superior to other people. He knows himself as the same and equal with all people. He seeks ways to serve other people and not seek credit for it. He gives praise and glory to God for every thing he does. He knows that by his own power that he can do nothing; that the child of God is powerless to do anything by himself and does whatever he does with the power of his father in him.

Humility, not vanity, is the sign of emotional maturity. Can you say that Nigerian, African and black leaders are humble? They are arrogant do nothing so-called leaders.

I was once in the British House of Commons, during the questions and answers period, for the British Prime Minister. This man, on the spot, could tell how many children are in British elementary schools, secondary schools, technical schools, universities; he could tell how many students passed the GCE OL in the past year, what schools produced the best results; he could cite the number of hospital admissions in the entire country during the past year, what diseases they were treated for and talked about the problems with the national health system; in short, this man had the data and statistics of every aspect of his country’s activities in his finger tips. He is clearly a policy wonk and enjoys the process of making and implementing public policies. Above all, he takes responsibility for how his country’s economy is doing and if unemployment rises he takes blame for it. There is a leader for you. He is leading his people, working for them. He was not in office to be seen as mister important chief thief of his country.

By contrast, ask the Nigerian head of state how many pupils are in elementary schools in his country and the would not know. You see, he is in office, not to help the people but to gratify his narcissistic desire to be important, to be admired as the chief of an country.

I would like to see each African leader tell us what he has done for his people in any given year.

Let me recapitulate what I have said. I have said that Africans, at home and in the Diaspora, have personality disorders that prevent them from becoming good leaders and that until they change their distorted personalities that they are not going to be able to govern their countries well. This is a serious assertion for one to make.

The critical thing to do is get Africans to become adults, emotionally. Adults are persons who care for their fellow human beings and who consciously set out to serve the public, rather than their self interests only. An adult sees a problem that needs to be solved and goes about solving it, irrespective of what is in it for him.

The best lived life is one dedicated to serving the common good. Pursuit of social interest is the best indicator of mental health, Alfred Adler tells us and my experience testifies as correct.

Some say that this infantile vanity in Africans is due to colonialism and racism. On the other hand, since the problem exists in Africans, at home and abroad, could it be said to be genetic? (Narcissism is found in all human populations. That is why we have religion and other philosophies to help ameliorate swollen human egos. In so far that pursuit of vanity and childish pride is genetic; it is in all human beings.)

What is salient is that irrespective of its cause, vanity can be eradicated. Africans can be taught to care for their fellow Africans and stop being brutes that see their brothers suffering and do not give a hoot about it. Africans can be taught to learn to negate their vanity and dedicate their lives to serving the public good. Some of us have transformed ourselves from self seeking persons to social serving persons hence most Africans can be made to serve the common good.


The surprising thing is that the problems of Africa are not as complicated as some people think that they are. In fact, Africa’s problems are very simple. Simple problems require simple solutions, not the complex ones Africans often seek.

Each African country was put together by European powers. The Europeans, understandably, did not come to Africa to serve Africans’ interests, but theirs. Once we understand that Europeans have no business serving African interests, we would not waste our time and energy blaming them for our African problems. We should seek solutions to our African problems.

Each African country was hastily put together by foreign powers. The various tribes/nations put into specific countries were not asked for their consent before they were associated with other tribes. In some of these artificial countries, some tribes dominate other tribes. Consider Nigeria. Here, the Hausa-Fulani-Yoruba political alliance dominates the other tribes. Obviously, this situation cannot last forever, and if the current black colonialists expect it to last forever, they are lacking in understanding of human nature.

Human beings are characterized by their desire for freedom. For a while, you can restrict their freedom, but, sooner or later, the caged bird will fly away. So what do you do in a multiethnic country? You make each tribe a state and have them join a federation. Thus, in Nigeria, there must be a Hausa state, a Yoruba state, an Igbo state, an Ijaw state, an Efik state, an Edo state, an Urobo/Ishikiri state, a Tivi state etc. The smaller tribes can be bundled into groups of states. Altogether, we would have about twenty economically viable states in a federation of Nigeria. Each state would govern itself, manage its economic resources, and pay taxes to the central government and delegate foreign and military policy making powers to the Central government. See the Constitution of the United States of America.

Now, what is so difficult about accomplishing this very simple and inevitable goal? It must be done, sooner or later, so why haven’t the so-called rulers of Nigeria done it? They want to slough from crisis to crisis. When they grow up and become realistic adults, they must do what they have to do, have each tribe rule itself.

What goes for Nigeria goes for all multi tribal African countries. Each of them must become a true federation, with each tribe becoming a state in it.

African countries are very backward. What to do? Provide universal free and compulsory education to all African children: six years of elementary schooling, six years of secondary schooling, and four years of university for 33% of the best secondary school graduates, four years of technical education for 50% of the next best secondary school graduates etc.

Africans are afflicted by untreated diseases. Provide all Africans with free, that is, publicly paid, health insurance. Each state should be responsible for providing its people with free education and medical treatment. (Beyond those two areas, the private sector can pretty much be left to take care of the other aspects of the economy, with the government regulating it, as it is done in the United States of America.)

Africa is the least industrialized economy in the world. Embark on a serious industrialization program, so that in fifty years, Africa will be as industrialized as Western countries.

Embark on a policy of developing the infrastructures necessary for a modern economy. (I have developed these ideas elsewhere.)

Where will Africans obtain the resources to accomplish these seeming grandiose goals? We shall get them from Africa. We sit on enormous resources and do not know how to exploit and develop them. With good leadership and management training, we can transform Africa into a well governed place in ten years.

I advocate that All African governments build leadership and management schools, equivalent to USA Master in Business Administration schools, in every major city and require all persons who want to go into politics to first attend these schools. For example, if one is already a lawyer, one still attends the leadership and management school, for two years, to learn the basics of leadership, finance, public and business; accounting; marketing; human resources, etc. Politicians must learn what leadership is all about. To lead means positing goals that are deemed good for the public and seeking resources to accomplish them. Before a person goes into politics, he or she must write a 250 pages book describing what he plans to accomplish while in office, and how he intends to do so, where he would obtain the human and capital resources to do so etc.

With iron fisted resolution and commitment, African problems are not so difficult to solve. Instead of addressing their problems, what we see are Africans who behave like five year olds, feeling special and seeking admiration from every person around them, while doing nothing for them. We must put an end to this disease of the black race, this infantile narcissism.


When Africans give up their current over investment in narcissism, pride and vanity and learn that the most rewarding life is one dedicated to serving the public good, they will make excellent leaders and governors of their continent. They will go from being under socialized persons in three piece suites to socialized persons in Khaki pants and rolled up sleeves working for the development of their countries.

When a human being devotes him self to serving the common good of humanity, he obtains the gifts of God: peace, happiness and material abundance. But when a human being is self centered and vain, as most African leaders currently are, he does not receive the gifts that God has already given his children, waiting for them to receive it, when they love and serve one another.

In this essay, I deliberately avoided engaging in excessive causal analysis and explanation for why things are the way they are in Africa. I did so because Africa has, for too long, had many people concentrating on pointing out why it is not doing well what it ought to be doing. I did not want to provide yet another excuse for Africa’s misgovernance. Yet there are explanations for Africa’s problems.

My perception of Africans is that until recently they lived in what Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) called the state of nature, a less organized society. In the state of nature, man is an egotist and took from other men what he needed to survive, without caring for their welfare. Contemporary African leaders take from their countries what they need to gratify their egos, but do not care for the people’s welfare.

It is such variables as religion and philosophy that civilize man’s ego. By civilize, I mean made to live in a city, made to share the same living space with other people and to care for other people. Africa was unfortunate in that it did not have cities and thus was not civilized; the people were not made to cooperate with one another and to serve one another.

Of all the factors that civilize human beings, religion is probably the most effective in doing so. Christianity came to Africa only recently, no more than two hundred years ago. (I am aware of the few exceptions, such as in Ethiopia and the Congo.) It usually takes up to five hundred years before a world religion like Christianity shrinks the ego of primitive persons. It certainly took that long before Christianity began to civilize Europeans. Even then, Europeans are by no means totally civilized, they are somewhere between civilized and barbarian. Nevertheless, Christianity prepared European rulers to serve their people. With the demise of religion in the West, Westerners are reverting to primitive egoism and the result would be the end of Western civilization.

Africans are self seeking and self serving and not social serving. Even when they claim to be Christians, Africans really do not know what Christianity means. They tend to see Christianity as magical wand that enhances their egos. They really do not know that the real mission of Christianity is to teach people to (1) serve their fellow human beings, (2) love their fellow human beings, (3) forgive all people the wrongs they do to one another (4) and, ultimately, enable human beings to altogether eliminate their egos.

Human beings must give up that which they proudly identify with, their separated ego, selves, for them to see the face of Christ and return to being with their father. No person who lives in the ego is aware of heaven, that is, formless unified state. The ego is what we came to earth to experience and is what keeps us in this world of separation, space, time and matter. To return to our permanent home, formless unified spirit, we must give up our attachment to the ego and the bodies that house it.

The ultimate goal of all true religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism is to enable human beings to overcome the world, which means to overcome their identification with separated ego, selves and return to unified spirit self. These religions help human beings to be “selfless”. At present, each human being believes that he has a separated self and defends it; true religion enables him to realize that his real self is part of a unified self, one self, God, that is, simultaneously itself and infinite selves, human beings.

We shall not try to explain the nature of unified self; it is ineffable. For our present purpose, let us just say that Africans have un-socialized egos hence their seeming devotion to seeking attention from other people, rather than serving other people. Hopefully, by the end of this century, Africans would have had sufficient exposure to the civilizing effects of Christianity (and other philosophies that show human beings how to live a service oriented life style) and begin to shrink their primitive and untamed egos.

In time, Africans will learn to devote their lives to the service of other people hence form good governments. As I pointed out in a different essay, Africa’s current nation states are artificial constructs put together by the West to serve Western interests. In time, these artificial countries will be deconstructed and reconstructed to serve African interests. I visualize a Pan African Federation with four hundred states (there are four hundred tribes in Africa, I counted and named them in a different paper), each state composed of one tribe; all of them in one federated country along the line of the United States of America. We shall, before the end of this century, attain Kwame Nkrumah’s goal of having one United Africa Federation (UAF).

In the meantime, my function is to keep reminding them to serve people and see governmental positions as from which they serve rather than stroke their narcissistic egos. The narcissistic ego is an un-socialized ego, a primitive ego that adapted to life in the jungle, but not in the city. City living, that is, civilized living, entails shrinking ones ego and putting it to social service, rather than only self service.

PS: My brother, Ejike Kingsley Osuji, never ceases pointing out that I tend to make global generalizations about Nigerians. He says that there are upright and outstanding Nigerians in every field of human endeavor. I must confess that there was a time when I categorically dismissed most Nigerian as crooks and wanted nothing to do with them. I would not hire them for the organizations that I was fortunate to run. But, I have since learned that there are Nigerians who are as selfless and dedicated to public service as mother Teresa. In this essay, I made generalizations about Africans’ proclivity to vanity. Obviously, there are selfless and social serving Africans. To these selfless Africans, I ask for forgiveness. I thank those Africans that recognize the truth of Spinoza’s teaching that: virtue is its own reward.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD

Africa Institute, Seattle

6 answers

Please wht is ur own definition of un-patriotism? When the citizens of a nation conceal the evil that goes on in the country or revealling them? I personally cant hide my feellings about Nigeria and likewise others, But issue is wht have we done individually to help restore this evil. At my corner my own quota remains representing Nigeria in a good manners. And i think that is the only thing the citizens own that country and its for the government to represent us otherwise by build a good Nigeria, Or you can  tell me wht can the youths do about the electricity and bad roads. Voluntarily Pick up their Shovel and tools to repair them. Wht is the Objective the Government then if we shouldnt blame the government for bad roads, poor electricity and unemployment situation in Nigeria? Nigerian have millions of degree holders without Jobs, Please tell me which family would spent thousand of Naira training their kids to degree level and accepting the child to engage in any sort of voluntary job for the society? We are all Nigerians we need to be realistics not jst comparing ourselve to US in some aspect and not in all aspect. In US is it the citizens that fix up those things for them or the Government fix them up for its citizens,

You can only Blame a child for his failure when his is being layed of Good Foundation,

The question is "can Africans govern themselves well? You have to highlight the word WELL. It is quite Obvious that Africans cannot govern themselves from wht we see in African politice since many gained independence,  And mind you when we talk of good governance means being independence, politically, economically and otherwise and development in all aspect, Liberia jst came out of a long civil war which gave birth to their new government, still dependin on US and China for aids and rebuilding the nation, exploiting their gold and diamonds in returns, Can we use that as an example of a good governance?

Ghana one one of the largest exporter of gold and cocoa, after 8years of John Kuffour,he could not wipe their name off among the HIPC nations;Leaving Ghana with the high cost of leaving and Education, Is that supposed to be an example of good governance?

Go to asia and see countries like Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan, Japan,etc. They have no natural resources but their governmant made the best out of them, That is wht we call Good Governance.


From being on Nairaland,I think Nigerians are some of the most un-patriotic people on planet earth.Americans hardly say crap about the US but Nigerians on here called the country such names as "useless",etc!!

I think its time for the Nigerians Youth and Citizens to work together for a better tomorrow.Instead of running around complaining about dirty roads and Nepa,They should go to school,get a degree or even try volunteering in their respective communities.There is only so much that the government can do!!~~The government should be blame to some degree but every that is wrong in Nigeria its not their fault!!


Good point, and I see what you mean, but is having 1 good president, or a peaceful transfer of power an appropriate litmus test for overall governance success of a nation?

A nation is not just leaders, it is also the people. The leaders can only do so much, and the rest lies with the common man. Are we as Nigerians, the PhD holders, the so called professors, and the so called engineers doing enough to hold our own. Do we roll up our sleeves and get the job done when it needs to be done? When 1000 youths butcher each other over religion or tribe is it the president's fault? Or is it our parents, neighbors, friends, or is it our fault?


Well,Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is doing a good Job rebuilding the country.~~She is governing well~~!!

With all the foreign aid that Ghana receives,Ghana is doing a good job building their country.~~Ghana is very modern and a beautiful country~~!!Those are examples of Good African leadership in my book!!


Can you elaborate?

Liberia is not what I would call a well governed nation. A 14 year civil war, brutality of unquantifiable proportions, disease, abject poverty, complete lack of basic infrastructure, the list is basically endless.

Ghana only had its 2nd peaceful transfer of power, and while on the right track, its still a corrupt country, there is very little investment in overall infrastructure, power, roads, and so on. Ghana receives foreign aid from countries India of all places.

Is our standard of well government so low that we consider a country that just had a peaceful election well governed? On that merit both Bangladesh and Pakistan are well governed. Are our standards so low?


Really Long Indeed!!

Yes,Africans can govern themselves well.Look at Ghana and Liberia!!~~~We just need Good Leaders~~Not Power hungry fools~~***

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