When a society constantly struggles with underdevelopment and seemingly endless delay, it is almost inevitable that they will look for metaphysical explanations for their problems. That was what Yoruba Nation Self-Determination Struggle leader, Prof. Banji Akintoye, did when he offered an unreserved apology to the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. Claiming that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that our backwardness is a result of the curse put on us by the family and relatives who sold our fathers into slavery, Akintoye thought progress would be made if we lifted the curse and killed the injured. to calm down. For a renowned historian of Yoruba history, it is rather curious that Akintoye needed the Holy Spirit to give him the information that has long been recorded in books and has been a stockpile of movie stories.

Since he lays claim to divine inspiration, his dissertation deserves an interrogation before it enters our churches and becomes a point of prayer. You only have to look at our religious houses and the content of the prayers where we say ‘amen’ loud and raw to determine how much Africans invest in finding the supernatural roots of their underdevelopment to overthrow them. We’ve blamed all sorts of devils — slavery, colonialism, ancestral curses, and village folk — but identifying enemies hasn’t set our fate right. The religious resources we have regularly invested in discerning our problems have not yielded much because the cause is not as spectacular as enslaved people who cry, curse and jump off the board. The truth is much more trivial. Some time ago, some preachers also sold the belief that Africa’s underdevelopment is the result of the mythical curse of Cham, but that was purely racist nonsense.

At least three things stand out immediately in the note that Akintoye issued through his Communications Agency. First, the apology was not addressed to an official representative who could extract a workable plan from it. Second, he primarily blamed the Yoruba people for slavery, even though virtually every society practiced it. Transatlantic slavery may be unique to the extent that it laid the foundation for modern capitalism, but slavery is a timeless human practice. From the sweatshops of Asia to the exploited workers forced to build beautiful skyscrapers in the UAE, even the modern economy runs on slave labor. Attributing any moral responsibility to the Yoruba people seems rather complacent. Third, the letter is reminiscent of one of the Nigerian movies where people only ask forgiveness for past mistakes when they’ve come to a fixed end, not because they’re morally evolved. Our films perpetuated the ethic of double-stealing from people: you take something from them by wronging them and then return to demand their forgiveness so that you can overcome the adversity that befell you because of another careless life choice.

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While there is some truth to the observation that Africa did not develop after slavery, the curse that plagues us has no supernatural origin. What bothers us is the consequences of our cultivated habits of exchanging resources for goods and services without developing the ability to produce. The Africans of the past traded enslaved people for the modern goods they needed but could not produce. In that sense, they are no different from today’s Africans whose relationship with their land and its resources is equally extractive. Take the example of countries such as Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria and Mali. We loot our forests to sell rosewood to the Chinese, whose fast-growing economy requires a steady supply. It is an activity that is causing civil war in some communities in Senegal (and who knows where that will lead in a few years?). Aside from the depletion of forests, the wildlife that populates them is endangered. Lacking a sense of self-preservation or even a basic appreciation for the biodiversity of the forests, our people repeatedly violate the logging ban to sell their natural resources to China. If slavery were legal, wouldn’t they raid villages?

We are a society that likes to consume, but lacks the patience and self-control to force production. When a race of people is as prone to instant gratification as we are, it is impossible that they will not appear cursed to outside observers, as they will continue to make the most imprudent of all choices. For next year, we have been told that Nigeria will need to borrow N11 trillion to fund its 2023 budget. They said they would spend 31 percent of that amount on fuel subsidies. This supposedly social investment is not regenerative, but should be kept on the books, as that is some of the money that the All Progressives Congress will use to fund their expensive election campaigns in 2023. Fixing the sins of Africans in the past without linking their bad habits to the current culture will achieve no more than just an empty ritual.

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If our society is backward because we sold enslaved people, how come our employees who bought them are doing well? Western societies have not only built a global economy on slavery, but they have also spawned resilient institutions that our leaders may not reach 100 years from now! That those who have diminished other people through forced labor, mutilation, genocide, hunger and disease have somehow risen above that darkness is proof enough that the consequences Africans suffer are not of a pronounced curse. Countries like Belgium and Germany are responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history, but they are also some of the most prosperous places. From the 19th to the 20th century, Belgium waged unspeakable evil in Congo. Congo, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, is unfortunately also one of the poorest. Today’s leaders, greedy and morally incontinent, have failed to dig them out of the rubble of Belgium’s crimes and associated trauma.

Before the Holocaust, the Germans had had a trial run in Namibia, where they wiped out entire populations. I can bet that their poor victims of the Herero and Namaqua genocide also cursed the Germans, but you can’t tell by the orderliness of life in their society. The first time I visited Belgium, I was struck by the quality of life there. Then I realized that even God doesn’t automatically stand next to the poor victim to see the evil oppressor punished; God is only on the side of those who know what they are doing. It’s hard to admit, but if the countries that traded in slavery send their ships to the coast of Africa today, half the continent will be begging to come in. They will willingly exchange the despair and frustration that define their lives on this side of the Atlantic for the chance of a living from working the plantations of Oyinbo. Better to serve in heaven than to serve in hellfire!

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Finally, I must say that I appreciate Akintoye’s gesture of using his status as a Yoruba elder to offer a formal apology to the people who have been sold into slavery. Truly, we must apologize and make reparations, not to take away a curse, but because we owe the Africans in the New World that reckoning. Where I deviate from his mission statement is that he has no corporate mandate. Such apologies are so weighty and historically important that they cannot be an individual initiative. It has to be done by the whole society.

If we are to sincerely apologize for the past, we must first consider how our ancestors were misled by the shiny objects of modern capitalism. We must study history closely to understand the links between the past and the present and make concerted efforts to break the habit of exchanging things of value for the ephemeral. Where past African leaders sold their human and natural resources to the slave traders, today’s African leaders are still cutting open the earth and selling us in deals that will enslave generations of unborn Africans. If there is a jinx anywhere, it is in our inability to reflect on our history of making irresponsible choices; our ingrained habit of mental laziness, depravity, inability to take responsibility for our lives; and the inhumanity that prevents us from creating livable societies.

If we do not introspect properly to understand how we undermine ourselves, we cannot break our habits of underdevelopment, nor even offer a meaningful apology to those to whom it is owed.

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