Lately I have been revisiting the human mind and exploring its immense power. Proverbs 23:7 clearly states that, ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ To put it bluntly, you are what you think. I have also dug into a couple of books about mindset. They include Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich,’ and Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.’ It is against this backdrop that I read Thomas Sankara’s 1984 speech to the UN General Assembly. Below is an excerpt from the speech (emphasis mine):
“In these tempestuous times, we cannot leave it to our enemies of the past and of the present to think and to imagine and to create. We also must do so. Before it is too late--and it is already late--this élite, these men of Africa, of the third world, must come to their senses; in other words, they must turn to their own societies, they must look at this wretchedness that we have inherited, to understand that the battle for thought that will help the disinherited masses is not vain and can become credible at the international level. They must provide a faithful picture for their own peoples, a picture that will enable them to carry out profound changes in the social and political situation so that we can free ourselves from the foreign domination and exploitation that can lead our States only to failure.”
Three words jumped out of the speech and lodged themselves in my mind – battle for thought. He called on Africa’s elite to engage proactively in this battle. For me, this battle is as strong as ever. In fact, I dare say that it's Africa’s most important battle ever. So far, it is a battle that we have been tragically losing. While there are pockets of Africans, maybe a couple of millions, who believe in the immense potential of Africa to feed itself, clothe itself, house itself, develop itself, replenish itself and govern itself, the vast majority of African mases are understandably preoccupied with basic survival. It’s hard to think about Africa’s potential to build a new Cape Town – Cairo Highway or Nairobi – Accra Highway, when you are preoccupied with your next meal or that elusive job. That’s why Thomas Sankara was specifically calling on the so-called African elite to ‘understand that the battle for thought will help the disinherited masses..’
The problem of Africa’s elite is that they tend to wallow in their own walled off comfort zones both physically and intellectually. They turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the unfortunate retrogression on the continent because ‘my family and I are doing just fine.’ That, is a defeatist mentality because if those around you are going down, they will eventually take you down with them. Our fate as Africans is intertwined and we will eventually either rise together, or sink together. The starting point of rising together is to win the battle for thought. We must transform our continental mindset from defeatist to triumphalism. We must then develop contemporary pan-Africanism that solves Africa's problems innovatively and pragmatically.