Writing the Struggle – Africa’s instability – look further than tribes
What are the root causes of Africa’s instability today? Is it the tribal, cultural or regional differences? Do African intellectuals fully understand the nature of Africa’s problems or they are like Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s character, Waiyaki, in “The River Between”, who went to learn the ways of the coloniser and never returned to his people?
Language defines a culture, a people, a nation and a history.
Yet at the centre of Africa’s demise lies the death of vernacular languages.
The irony today is that while we fight for a return to ourselves, we still use the language of the coloniser. And for Africa, the continent is clearly divided into Francophone and Anglophone zones marking out who speaks what language.
Of course, there has been talk that in order to defeat the enemy, one has to know and understand them. This is what old man Chege in Ngugi wa Thio’ngo’s book “The River Between” tells his son, Waiyaki.
“… Mugo often said you could not cut the butterflies with a panga. You could not spear them until you learnt and knew their ways and movement. Then you could trap, you could fight back… Go to the Mission place. Learn all the wisdom and all the secrets of the white man. But do not follow his vices. Be true to your people and the ancient rites.” p. 20.
For Ngugi, however, and for Africa, most of those who learn the language of the coloniser (including me) have not been able to use it in the struggle and emancipation of their cultures.
Instead, that eagerness to suck up everything led most of us to a point of no return. When we look back at ourselves, we see ignorance, hence, this tight embrace of foreign cultures and languages.
Waiyaki went to Siriana Mission to learn so that he could trap and fight back, but he was trapped and could not fight back.
In sucking up foreign languages and cultures, Africa has not been able to really understand the causes of its instability. Those like Waiyaki never really bother to go deeper into the problems wrecking the continent today. They would rather listen to the colonisers for answers, which they accept without scrutiny.
Take the Congolese problems, for example, which has been blamed on tribal wars. But is it real about tribes? Isn’t there something more sinister at play which the Waiyakis fail to see and understand?
In a chapter in his book “Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature”, Ngugi writes: “The study of the African realities has for too long been seen in terms of tribes. Whatever happens in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi is because of Tribe A versus Tribe B. Whatever erupts in Zaire, Nigeria, Liberia, Zambia is because of the traditional enmity between Tribe D and Tribe C.
“A variation of the same stock interpretation is Moslem versus Christian or Catholic versus Protestant where a people does not easily fall into ‘tribes’.
“Even literature is sometimes evaluated in terms of the ‘tribal’ origins of the authors or the ‘tribal’ origins and composition of the characters in a given novel or play.
This misleading stock interpretation of the African realities has been popularised by the Western media, which likes to deflect people from seeing that imperialism is still the root cause of many problems in Africa. Unfortunately some African intellectuals have fallen victims — a few incurably so — to that scheme and they are unable to see the divide-and-rule colonial origins of explaining any differences of intellectual outlook or any political clashes in terms of the ethnic origins of the actors . . .”
No wonder why, even when the most educated African leader takes over Government, they end up parroting their former master’s language without making real change that benefit the people.
For some reason, it appears as though the Waiyakis do not fully comprehend the nature and extent of the culture of imperialism. (To be continued)