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A Crisis Too Urgent for Wisdom

by on May 1, 2010

Ogochukwu Nweke argues that Africa’s reactive approach to problems has not produced any long lasting solutions.

Daniel Quinn once told the story of how a certain Thomas Abbens, or Abbena, reputed to be the wisest man in Europe at that time, was summoned to the court of a young Walachian prince.

“I’m in need of a shrewd advisor,” the prince informed him. “My subjects are unruly, my enemies ambitious, my sons disobedient, and my wife deceitful. Yet it may be that I will master them all, with your help.”

“I’ll gladly help you,” Abbens replied, “but as a teacher, not as an advisor. We must review your education and remedy its manifest deficiencies.”

But the prince sent the wise man away, saying, “It’s not my education that troubles me but rather my subjects, my enemies, my sons, and my wife.”

A score of years passed before the prince once again summoned Abbens to his side. “I bitterly regret,” he said, “that I declined the proposal you made to me, but there’s no time to accept it now, for the situation is desperate. My subjects plot against me, my enemies encroach at will upon our lands, my sons defy me before their friends, and my wife contrives to alienate what few allies I have left. Guide me through this crisis with your wisdom, then there’ll be time to remedy the deficiencies you perceive in my education.”

The wise man shook his head and replied, “What you’re asking is that I become prince to your sub-jects, warrior to your enemies, father to your sons, and husband to your wife. How can this possibly save you? You must learn to become these things yourself, and even a feeble beginning is better than none at all.”

But the prince sent Abbens away a second time, saying, “If you won’t help me in this hour of crisis, then I must seek one who will.”

When Abbens next met the prince, a decade later, he was a prince no longer but only a beggar in the streets of Budapest.

“It happened a year ago,” the former prince explained. “Because my subjects were in open rebellion, my sons conspired to seize the throne. And my enemies, informed of the conspiracy by my treacherous wife, chose this opportunity to fall upon us. But perhaps some good may yet come of these calamities, for, if you will share it with me, I am at least now free to avail myself of the wisdom I formerly rejected.”

But Abbens replied: “The catastrophe that wisdom might have averted has already befallen you. Of what use is wisdom to you now?”


There are so many results to be gotten from a long-term outlook: there is so much power hidden in time. But only the astute ones will receive it, and only the ones that are patient will get it. No crisis is too urgent for wisdom. How can you combat a situation that you do not understand? How can you confront an enemy you do not know?

For so many years Africa and Africans have found themselves shadowboxing, dealing with situations on face value, without the patience of truly considering the situation and applying themselves to the wisdom necessary for a sustainable solution.

Why should a brother suddenly become an enemy merely because he shares a view different from mine? What happened to working hard to convince him so that he becomes converted? There is a Nigerian proverb that “a king that is too impatient to be advised will walk around without wiping his buttocks after defecating”.

What Do We Remember?

If we would look back on our history, we will realise that every major challenge we have been through as a people was foretold – people spoke and warned us about it, but we were always too hungry for immediate solutions, that we never paid true attention to the long-term benefits a strategic plan will have.

Africans are hungry, give us food. Africans are broke, give us aid. There is war in Africa, send us peace-keepers. Africa is suffering, please send help.

The issue is not whether or not these positions are wrong, but there are questions we are not asking: Why is Africa hungry? Why is Africa broke? Why is there war in Africa? Why is Africa suffering? So, while we are busy receiving all the relief that we sincerely are in need of presently, who is asking the question as to what we should be doing in order to see that these problems do not persist 20 years from now? How can we solve our problems when we are not interested in finding out the cause of these problems? How can we solve our problems when we are so interested in immediate gratification and solutions, that we do nothing to see that the Africa of 20 years from now does not go through the same challenges?

If You Do Not Learn, You Cannot Grow

The challenges we have faced in Africa as Africans have not been peculiar to Africa. They have existed in almost every part of the world. Germany and Japan were countries devastated after the Second World War. The United Kingdom went through so much stress after the industrial revolution. But these countries bounced back in a short time, because they sought ways to understand their situations and applied solutions that will stand the test of time. They were able to solve their problems because they looked inward to understand them, and looked inward again to solve them, putting into deep consideration the peculiarities of their experiences. Japan did not solve their problems by just crying for relief or by borrowing the British methods of nation building – they looked inward to solve their problems, bearing in mind the Japanese experience and peculiarity of their culture and existence.

Today, Japan has advanced and is still advancing because of the position they took in handling their crisis. When will Africa adopt wisdom in handling their crisis – the wisdom that goes to the very root of the matter; a season of learning so that someday we can say that we have learnt certain lessons from our past, which we can apply in order to make our future better than our present.

The Withdrawal Syndrome

Change, as constant as it is, comes with a lot of pressure. Pressure that usually makes it very difficult to go through the whole cycle of the change process. Most times we are not patient enough to pass through this initial difficulty, so we become hungry for immediate, short-term solutions. We do not see the fact that we are not progressing but are instead moving round the same cycle.

We must begin to pay the price for permanent solutions. Solutions that will stand the test of time. Solutions that are available only to the astute. We must sit and sacrifice time to learn. There is always time to learn. And when we have paid the price for learning, we will never pay the price of Abbens 20 years from now. African youth beware. No crisis is too urgent for wisdom – it is never too late to learn!

A Crisis Too Urgent for Wisdom quoted from On Investments

©Daniel Quinn

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