Those Intellectuals …


By Bai Gbala

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 5, 2004

A recent BBC Focus On Africa program requested Africans on the continent as well as elsewhere in foreign countries to respond to the question of whether or not Africans living abroad, particularly those who posses social, economic, and political knowledge or expertise – intellectuals - have the right to criticize the socio-economic and political policies and programs of their native homelands.

This question is the outcome of sharp, criticisms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria by one of that nation’s foremost academics and intellectuals, Professor Chinua Achebe, internationally recognized for his award-winning novels, including Things Fall Apart, an African and world literary classic. Professor Achebe now lives and teaches in the United States of America.

In a wide-ranging press interview broadcast on BBC radio, Professor Achebe described the Federal Republic of Nigeria, his native country, as a country that “does not work”, among others.

This question (whether or not Africans living abroad, particularly academics and intellectuals, have the right to criticize the national policies and programs of their native countries) takes on profound, crucial importance in the light of prevailing ethnic/tribal/religious violence, socio-economic deprivation, and abuse of civil liberties, all of which tend to give rise to the recent, massive exodus of Africans to western, developed countries. The question is furthermore important in considering the widening gap in technological – basically information technology – and other economic development schemes between the developed, western countries and Africa. With these conditions notwithstanding, do African “book people” or intellectuals, living abroad, have the right to criticize their homelands with indifference?

Indeed. The right to criticize is part and parcel of constitutional, democratic thought and critical to its practice; it is the concrete manifestation of one of humankind’s freedoms inherent in democracy – the freedom of speech. However, we must recall that constitutional rights are not absolute, but conditional. In this connection, African “book people” or intellectuals living abroad have lost that important socio-political right. Here is why :

Those intellectuals who abandoned their homelands, motivated by the quest for the proverbial “greener pastures”, a socio-economic prosperity, and thus become a statistic of the famous and well-reported “African brain-drain” in favor of foreign countries;

2. Those intellectuals who, for ten, fifteen, twenty-five or more years or generations, have lived abroad and “invested” in careers, modern homes in western suburbs and pension income for retirement;

Those intellectuals whose children, being born and raised abroad, have acquired, internalized, and adopted (including intellectual parents) foreign socio-cultural patterns of behavior – mannerisms, language, attire, values, etc.;

Those intellectuals who, when ask or told about returning to their homelands, ask in response, “what am I going back to that country for?”

Those intellectuals who have apparently given up and lost their sacred citizenship, ethnic/tribal/national pride and love (call it patriotism, nationalism) that one feels and experiences when one walks the streets, alleys, and byways of one’s homeland, un-molested but protected, respected and honored, with head held high, knowing that here one is just as good and honorable as everybody else;

And yes, those intellectuals or “book people” – university professors, economists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, business executives, political scientists, politicians, health and industrial scientists, etc., etc.- who left, abandoned their countries, with their training, experience and specialized skills; and thus failed and refused to lend their intellect, vision, wisdom, and commitment to their respective countries in poverty, disease, ignorance, and above all, socio-economic and political tyranny, human suffering and death, have correspondingly failed to fulfill the responsibility and obligation conditional to the enjoyment of the right of free speech to criticize.