The Mystery Of The Crab Mentality & Why It Holds People Back

Crabs in a bucket.

I heard this phrase a lot growing up as a young girl in West Africa. While I never knew what it meant, I understood that it was not a positive thing to say. Each time someone uttered those words, it was typically followed by a loud hiss or a provocative shaking of the head in sympathy…or anger.

Ten years later, I was in a Sociology class at my University when I heard it again, after a long time. This time I finally got to understand what it meant, and more importantly, how I had seen it play out constantly in some of the settings I had been in. I distinctly remember visiting an aunt of mine who pulled me into her garage and showed me her new Mercedes Benz. A highly successful business woman with a penchant for German luxury cars, this was her latest purchase as a reward to herself. I asked her if I could take it out for a spin around the neighborhood.

“Oh, noooooooo,” she responded hastily.

“Why not? I promise I won’t damage your car.”

“My dear, I am not worried about you, I don’t want the neighbors to see the car.”

What the? I gave her a very puzzled look. I mean, the car was not going to sit in the garage the whole time, she had to drive it around at some point.

“I have had a lot of people turn against me because of the car,” she continued “Some people have even spread rumors about how I acquired the car saying that I may have stolen the money for the car.”

I was jolted back to the present moment in the class when the Professor started to briefly explain why the phenomenon was described as such. When fishermen would harvest crabs and gather them into a barrel or a bucket, crabs as a group will typically try to pull down other crabs that would make an attempt to climb to the top in an effort to escape.


I travel to various countries around the world, and truth be told, I often wonder if this ‘crab mentality’ is in place in the way outsiders view the African continent or what their expectations are of Africans. I overhead a former co-worker flippantly mention that she ‘couldn’t imagine not working in the development field, as the Africans she meets have no clue about what they are doing sometimes’?Sigh.

Are we that hopeless that we need constant saving? I think not. The resilience and fortitude that we possess is more than enough to transform a lot of our innate ideas into reality. The continent has generated pioneering leaders who are at work in leading vision into reality; partners both near and far need to cheer us on, not drag us down.?Let us rid ourselves of this toxic mystery.

Crabs in a bucket.

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