By Hama Tuma
The hue and cry for the new millennium has left me cold and totally unmoved. As is always the case with the Africans, I am forced to ask if it really is our millennium.
Taking into account that most rural Africans would not even know a new year has come let alone a new millennium, and adding to these millions of Muslims who have their own calendar (and are not yet close to the twentieth century) and the Ethiopians, who also have their own calendar and who would be seven years shy of 2000 when January comes, I dare to affirm that the so called millennium is not our affair.
Which does not mean we will not join the reveling if we could get the chance and the time out from the wars and the dreary struggle to survive.
We Africans are condemned to repeat the past not because we forget it but mainly because we are forced to relive it. We repeat the tragedy as a tragedy and if there is any humour and joy in our life it is because we have stolen it or perhaps due to something in the African soul which makes us smile in the face of adversities and when everything and more goes wrong.
This must be why well-to-do Africans from Abidjan to Addis Ababa, from Cairo to Pretoria are reserving rooms in those expensive Sheratons and Hiltons to celebrate the coming of the new millennium. It is comforting to note that at least our own bourgeoisie and rulers will enjoy the event just like the donors who bankroll them in the name of development and corporation.
The new millennium will probably be a rerun of the B-grade life we Africans have been forced to endure in the one that is winding up. What makes the whole thing complicated is that words have now changed meaning and we do not know what is what.
In the past millennium, we knew of the slave trade, we endured colonialism, we were subjected to neocolonialism and everybody said tribalism was bad and evil and this thing called â€˜ethnicâ€™ a backward concept, and national liberation struggles were fashionable. Come the new millennium, we are entering it as slaves but labeled free and independent.
We are subjected to tyranny and foreign domination but we cannot utter the very word imperialism without risking being called an old guard, outmoded, archaic, a fossil.
National liberation struggles seem to have died with Che and nowadays the guerillas are (check Sierra Leone and Uganda) worse than the government they are struggling against.
Tribal and ethnic have now become kitsch and fad words; foods are ethnic, clothes are ethnic, ethnic is cool, Tribal Jam is the name of a musical group and does not refer to a traffic problem between warring tribes, and there are even governments who enjoy the support of the Western world while boldly proclaiming that they practice ethnic politics.
So, who will fight? The enemy is dissimulated, hidden behind words, we are confused and in our confusion we are likely to welcome their millennium by fighting among ourselves. It is like â€˜the whole thing is complicated. Let me kill my neighbourâ€™ kind of reasoning. A Somali, Liberian and Rwandese logic you could say, to mention only a few. Maybe they will survive in the coming millennium while all others perish.
I am sure some people would accuse me of being a cynic, bleak in my vision if I even have one. Others could possibly say I am a reactionary with no â€˜we shall smash all the wallsâ€™ revolutionary fervor. Perhaps they are all right but my problem is with this thing called our reality.
My people say: a flower tree which is near a cactus will always weep. By nature or design, our continent is attached to the cactus (I do not want to call it Satan like the Iranians), it is forever weeping, bleeding.
As I look back at the past century and observe that the new one our rulers are planning to celebrate with their masters finds us in the most depressing and disastrous condition, my optimism abandons me.
I can tell you I am no wide-eyed True Believer or optimist but a Gramscian pretender with an â€˜optimism of the heart and pessimism of the mindâ€™. The most impoverished people? The highest infant mortality rate? The highest number of ADS victims? The most number of refugees? The highest number of illiterates? The least developed countries? Ask any such question and the answer is Africa.
Wouldnâ€™t it be better to claim that sometime in the past millennium they, whoever they may be, have conspired with our unelected leaders and stolen our next millennium and all the possibilities of our welcoming it with joy?
If the past and the present do not augur well for the future it does not mean, of course, that we Africans should not enjoy the celebration. Even those whose calendars do not say 2000 can still have a good time. Not for the ordinary reason of just enjoying themselves but to stand up to the callous rulers and power holders in the metropoles.
We must go out and have a wild time to welcome in the new millennium just to show to Bill Gates and the few other individuals who own more money than our continent can make in years, that they do not own the monopoly on joy and that poor as we are we have the right to party and enjoy ourselves.
Celebrating the event should be our way of telling the IMF and all those claiming that they own our souls that we still gyrate and swoon to our own music and no one can steal our laughter even if they may hold us in debt.
But can we do it? Will, for example, Kabila and his enemies realize the importance of this particular event and let the people dance the new century in? I have my doubts.
As I tried to explain something before, our rulers lack a sense of perspective and humour. They hate sharing joy. They will feast and party to welcome the millennium but they will for sure keep the prison gates locked and their soldiers out on the streets or in murderous operations.
Our rulers are jealous of us, they want to see us famished and forlorn, bleeding and dying, suffering and groaning. In short, our rulers want us to live the new century like the past one. Some of us may thus be forced to become Muslims and postpone the coming of the new century.
More optimistic ones could become Ethiopians and postpone the millennium for seven years. This may be the politics of the ostrich (hiding your head in the sand and imagining the danger has gone away) but in Africa it may be the only salvation for quite a few people, provided they are willing to change their religion and hoping that the Ethiopian government, which says there are no Ethiopians but ethnic groups living in a place called Ethiopia, could agree to accept that we call ourselves Ethiopians and get back to 1993.
It is so complicated this coming millennium. Should we ignore it? Should we acknowledge it and celebrate it so as to send messages to the industrialized countries? So many questions, so few answers: the perennial problem of Africa.
Come January 2, 2000, tell me, if you will, if the new millennium has relieved us of the likes of Iyadema, Kabila, of famine and AIDS, of subservience to the West and of poverty, or if it even promises to do some of that and I will eat back all my bleak words and apologize and hail the new millennium with the fervor of a Bill Gates or of any African tyrant who had been hoping to continue to dance on our backs.
Hama Tuma is an Ethiopian novelist and playwright.