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Africa: The friends we need

By Francis Onaiyekan   |   02 October 2016   |   3:40 am

Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu
The joke is often told of other continents accusing God of bias for giving Africa so many natural resources. He is said to reply ‘wait until you see the quality of leaders I give the continent’.-

Introduction: on Friends and Friendship
No one would dispute the need for a friend in any and every situation of life – in good times and in bad times, and even in-between. Indeed, ‘the better part of one’s life consists of one’s friendships’, said Abraham Lincoln. So, friends we do need, and always will. As it is for individuals, so it is for nations, and continents.

This explains the commonly used phrase in diplomatic circles, ‘friendly countries’. Besides, no one can survive in isolation; we are made for each other and friendship is the tie that binds peoples. The Bantu (South Africa) philosophy of Ubuntu, as explained by Archbishop Desmond Tutu says ‘you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself…’ ( retrieved 26/08/16). Ubuntu affirms that ‘I what I am because of who we all are’. That is the fruit of friendship.
Who is a friend? What is friendship? What does a friend do? Some quotes may help our understanding.

A ‘friend’ is ‘a person who helps or supports someone or something (such as a cause or charity) says the Merriam –Webster online dictionary. Similarly, Oxford Dictionaries online defines a friend as ‘a person who supports a cause, an organization, or country by giving financial and other help’.

To his friends, French writer and philosopher, Albert Camus (1913-1960) urged: ‘Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me, and be my friend’. A friend such as this is a partner and the relationship a partnership characterized by equitable, mutually beneficial collaboration. The Greek playwright, Euripides (480- 406 B.C.) opined that ‘one loyal friend is worth a thousand relatives’.

American automaker Henry Ford expressed his expectation of his friends thus: ‘my best friendship is the one who brings out the best in me’.
Friendship is the tie that binds friends; it is the act of friends, the state in which friends exist. In sum, friendship is as friends are, and do.

Friendship is the cement of relationship such that people of different culture and color can affirm in Zulu that ‘Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu’. This means that a person is a person through other persons; that I am because we are. One cannot but agree with both Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) therefore that ‘friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity’; with Abraham Lincoln that ‘the better part of a one’s life consists of one’s friendships’ and with the Tanzanian adage that ‘to be without a friend is to be poor indeed’.

Does Africa need friends? Of course yes. Does Africa have friends, in the true meanings of these quotations? I wish I could say a confident ‘yes’. But I will not, because I cannot. Considering the treatment of the continent over time by the rest of the world, I do not have sufficient and convincing evidence to say that Africa has friends – as defined by Camus, Gibran, and Ford. Africa is poor because it has no friends! Perhaps though, one should not be so naive as to expect Mankind to be abundantly good. ‘Rare as is true love, true friendship is rare’ said the French poet, Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695).

On the least however, one should reasonably, expect Africa to be its own friend, that Africans be true to Africa and be a ‘friend’ of their own continent. After all, they have no other continent to which they can lay indisputable claim. Alas, I find too few Africans with an abiding sense of ‘sweet responsibility’ -as opposed to crass ‘opportunity’- to Africa. There are just not enough friends of Africa within to make the critical difference in favor of continent-wide progress and greatness. So I would aver that Africa is in need of friends from within as well as friends from without. Now, this is not at all a good situation for a continent to find itself. For, it is bad enough to have ‘enemies’ without; but, infested with ‘enemies’ within meaning Africans working against the development and progress of their fatherland, it does not require ‘Solomonic’ wisdom to see that this continent can neither develop nor make progress.

Nevertheless, it is more than a mistake for other nations to not be a friend of Africa; it is dangerous – for Africa as well as for the rest of the world for the reason of the uniqueness of Africa in the world.

The Uniqueness of Africa
On the world map, Africa is set in the middle of the six –some say seven- continents –North and South America to the west, Euro-Asia and Australia to the east. There are literal and metaphorical meanings to‘middle’. The synonyms of ‘middle’ include ‘median’, ‘half-way’, ‘central’, and ‘midpoint’. For example, the midpoint of a 12’’ ruler is that very fine point where you can hold it up in a state of balance.

There is something virtuous and valuable about ‘the middle’: Buddha taught about ‘The Middle Way’ of moderation and wisdom. Confucius taught about ‘The Doctrine of the Mean’ that say ‘’Equilibrium is the great foundation of world, and harmony its universal path’. (Soccio, 2010:23) In the art of negotiation, the middle ground is sought in order to achieve a win-win agreement among contending parties.

Africa, as the midpoint of the world, is central to a state of global balance.

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Abraham LincolnAfrica

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