Overcoming Misconceptions: In the past lies the key to the Africa’s future

 

For purposes of our present and future, it is of utmost importance that you understand your history and culture. You must resist, sustain and, if necessary, oppress any attempts to dim or destroy your history and culture. Writes SAMUEL D PASCOAL.

I believe that many of the problems we face today, from struggling economies, faulty education systems to unpractised cultures, stem from the fact that many African’s are not fully aware of the history of their people or their country.

<p> ••• Negate Distorted Pre-colonial History

To look for solutions to the present and future by analysing the past is essential, because I have come to realise that if the African people – youth especially ‑ were to know the capabilities of their ancestry and how the historical turn of events came to place Africa in its current ‘Third World’ category, then a spark would reawaken in them, the desire to demand more of themselves, their fellow men and ultimately, contemporary socio-economic service providing institutions, the crux this analysis.

Beyond the scope of the ‘history’ analysed in many of our high schools (events surrounding colonialism, the world wars), lies a history of an Africa that housed international centres of commerce, a history that demands the respect of the present and the future. Between the 9th and the 16th centuries, West Africa was home to kingdoms like those of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. Between the 13th and 15th century CE, during the peak of the reign of the kingdom of Mali, it was the second largest empire in the world, only the after the Mongolian empire in Asia.

By comprehending our pasts and how we came to be where we are, we better position ourselves in the present. Imagine how Namibia would be without the Cassinga Massacre, Angola without its civil wars or even Germany without the 2nd World War. Analysing the real past, enables a people to know how they came into being, whether politically, economically or culturally. By studying history, you not only evade and improve on the errors of the past; you most importantly also get to know yourself in comparison to others.

Knowing the capabilities of your own people, who lived in your own land (regardless of time), gives you an advantage on solving similar and new problems, in the present and future. It is this past that I wish to highlight here. But first a reminder, in order to break new ground on long-existing social problems, it is essential that you remain objective and forward-thinking in your mental approach to the analyses presented here.

••• The Colonial Tactic

Colonialism, in Africa, was a tactical period of exploitation. The coloniser, in their attempt to ensure their exploitation of Africa, knew that their presence in the continent had to be justified. One of the main tactics that colonisers used all over, even in the Arab world, was that of “planting deep in the mind of the native population the idea that before the advent of colonialism their history was one which was dominated by barbarism… the passion with which Arab writers remind their people of the great pages of their history is a reply to the lies told by the occupying power” (Fanon: 1961: 171).

Colonialism sought to do more than just exploit the natural resources and physical labour of the people. It also tampered with history as a way to further destroy the African people. 

By diluting the connections that Africans have with their past – a past in which Africans lived without the oppressions of today, a past in which their physical labour was also exchanged for social services yet they did not struggle as such and most humiliatingly, a past in which contemporary technology never existed – the colonialist made it easier to succumb the native to his will. In the words of Frantz Fanon,“Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. 

By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it. 

This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today. 

When we consider the efforts made to carry out the cultural estrangement [that] is characteristic of the colonial epoch, we realise that nothing was left to chance and that the total result looked for by colonial domination, was indeed to convince the native that, colonialism came to lighten their darkness” (1961: 169).

This was translated into very practical examples that exalted European culture but denigrated local cultures. Examples range from the fact that they divided Africa among themselves and imposed physical borders onto it without ever consulting the native, to the fact that they disregarded the then socio-economic service providing institutions of politics, economics and even education – all existent before colonialism – and enforced theirs.

Do not allow yourself to be fooled into believing the lies of an Africa that was uncivilised before colonialism or any other previous historic contact with whites. We had the capabilities of managing our physical resources in order to aid ourselves in the provision and fulfilment of various general socio-economic tasks.

Colonisers thus presented their presence in the continent as a necessity to the natives, as if in their absence Africa would relapse to its barbaric past. And so it went…

By placing Africans in low levelled jobs which the colonisers supervised, like: building railways and breaking rocks in mines, the colonisers attempted to perpetually inform the native that he was inferior; a mere cog, whom under the ‘right’ guidance could be part of a worthwhile project, like a road, a mine, or a school, anything that the colonisers brought that by their and even native Africans standards, appeared developmental.

As we look around today, it has become safe to say that many and much of contemporary Africans are the result of a scrambled, decayed and undefined history. We are a people who have lost contact with our roots. A people satisfied with a flawed, decayed history that was bestowed upon them by their very oppressors. Allow me to explain.

As such, before we analyse contemporary avenues that may be explored and exploited for the benefit of contemporary and future socio-economic service providing institutions, let us look at some of the institutions or social formations that ensured the happy livelihood of the African people in the past.

••• Pre-Colonial Africa

We will not delve too deep into pre-colonial African history because it is not the intent of this article to sideline whites and live in the past. The truth nonetheless remains that to make the best of the present and future of socio-economic service providing institutions; we need to fully comprehend the past. I wish not to entirely discredit Africa’s relationship with Europe as it stands today. What I wish to do is to give the youth an answer to a contemporary problem, to show the youth a path that leads to sought after independence and self sufficiency, a path that doesn’t expect of them to compromise with much of today’s obtuse decision making institutions.

The efforts disseminated by colonialism to dilute African history prove its significance. It is evident that the relationship between past events and current success is one that requires both innovation and inhibition to comprehend. 

The existence of a self sustained African village circa 16th century will not help keep the belly full today, or the existence of a forward-thinking individual in Upper Volta circa the 1980’s will not free us from poverty today. In the words of Fanon:

“I admit that all the proofs of a wonderful Songhai civilisation will not change the fact that today the Songhai are underfed and illiterate… but it has been remarked several times that this passionate search for a national culture which existed before the colonial era finds its legitimate reason in the anxiety shared by the native intellectual to shrink away from the Western culture in which they all risk being swamped. Because they realise that they are in danger of losing their lives and becoming lost to their people, men of culture renew their contact with pre-colonial history” (19613: 168), because history is abundant with evidence of a time when Africa was self sufficient to the best of its ability, and guess what fellow readers: people caused less harm to the environment, were more economical and were indeed ‘developmental’.

We need proof of a past Africa –that was capable of taking care of its inhabitants and thrived, yet didn’t subscribe to socio-economic service providing institutions as we have them today: Institutions that are stagnant, saturated, and not groundbreaking and forward thinking.

••• Walter Rodney and the Pre-Colonial  African Past

In his most renowned work to date, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, Walter Rodney a scholar, tracked down historical events that occurred throughout Africa prior to colonial intervention, events that testify of a time when Africa was self sufficient to the best of its ability.

 

••• Development before European arrival

The first essential distinction Rodney makes on the issue of identifying proof that Africa excelled before European intrusion, is that of discerning between culture and civilisations. By classifying Africa as a civilisation in comparison to other civilisations, we make a critical mistake. In Rodney’s words: “It is enough to note the behaviour of European capitalists from the epoch of slavery through to colonialism, fascism and genocidal wars in Asia and Africa. Such barbarism causes suspicion to be attached to their use of the word: ‘civilisation’, in describing Western Europe and North-America” (1972: 41). Because of this, we should rather make use of culture as a determining factor. When talking of culture we are referring to: “a total way of life”.

On this premise, by presenting various credible examples, Rodney thoroughly identifies: music, dance, art, organised farming, (inter)national commercial trade, religion (he presents religion as being both positive and negative), communalism, the use of iron and much more as credible proof of development in Africa prior to Western invasion. 

Rodney identifies a number of factors that historically gave Europe the upper hand from which it benefits from until today. Rodney’s analyses goes beyond colonialism, which makes it essential.

It is here where a successful future lies for the youth. By associating the values and qualities learned from the past with the contemporary, innovative, service-providing tools of our time, that get the same job done to the best of our contemporary capacity, using little input in the search of quality and sustainable output.

We criticize the contemporary socio-economic service providing institutions that we inherited from the previous generation, because these social system as we have them today, demands much of us with little promise in return. 

Due to heightened unemployment rates in both Namibia and Angola – this article will highlight why contemporary criteria for assessing unemployment are faulty – it is a norm to have students graduate and remain unemployed due to a saturated, overburdened non-innovative social market. 

The social systems and contemporary socio-economic service providing institutions are incapable of absorbing the growing economies of Africa as we have them today and definitely as we’ll have them in the future. We will not yield change if we continue with the same attempts for eradicating social problems.

By being disconnected from their histories (through colonialism) and realities (through cultural globalisation) Africans have become desensitised to their problems. In Africa unemployment is normal; poverty is normal, lack of resources (natural, economic, educational) is normal, politicians and civil servants whom occupy offices and make promises that they never keep is normal. 

We are precisely where our oppressors want us to be. Christian Maurel (1969) argues that “If we are writing on the history of battles then colonialism was a failure, but we need only look at attitudes of mind to realise that it has been the greatest success of all time. 

The finest flower of colonialism is the farce called ‘decolonisation’… the white man may have retired into [the backstage], but he is still producing the show”.

To be continued next week….

April 2014
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