The quest for internal harmony in Africa
By Gracious Madondo
MOLEFI Kete Asante has most assuredly become one of Africa’s most iconic writers and literary critics of all time.
Over the years Asante has created quite a reputation for himself as a professor, critic, writer and cultural activist.
Asante is widely known for his greatest artistic creation of all: The theory of Afro-centricity, a paradigm based on the idea that Africans should work towards the reclamation, restoration and correction of Africa’s distorted history and civilisation by adopting an Afrocentric perspective and set aside the Eurocentric approach.
Asante’s writing carries the thought of Africa’s consciousness calling for Africans including those in the diaspora to hitch to Africa’s history and culture as the base of Africa’s future endeavours and success.
This is his major concern in most of his works which include: “As I run Towards Africa”, “The African American People”, “Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait”, “An Afro-centric Manifesto”, “Cheikh Anta Diop; An Intellectual Portrait”, “Encyclopedia of Black Studies and Erasing Racism” and “The Survival of the American”.
Born on August 14 1942 in Valdosta Georgia in America, Asante birth name is Arthur Lee Smith Jnr. He considered the name change because he considered it a slave name adopting the Sotho name Molefi meaning one who gives and keeps traditions.
Asante currently lives in the US as an African-American Professor and leading figure in the fields of African American, African and political science studies.
In March 2015, Asante held an Afrocentric International Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe where he advocated for the re-writing of African history by fully setting in motion the African theory of Afro-centricity. It was at that conference that he also made available his latest publication titled “The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony” (2nd Edition).
In this book whose cover is that of a Harare street, Asante puts into play the Afro-centric theory by analyzing the history and origin of mankind and the history of Africa from pre-historical time to the pre-colonial society to the colonial and colonial society.
This book appeals to its audiences by providing them with the chronological and critical examination of history of Africa putting Africa as the centre of the world.
The book is uniquely structured into parts rather than chapters. The first part of the book touches on the beginning of the existence of man- the origins of mankind.
Evidence pointing to Africa as the cradle of mankind is immense and Asante takes time to give thorough examination of the irrevocability of this premise.
Referring to the pre-historic times, Asante proffers an appraisable argument with archaeological and biological evidence of bones and stone tools discovered by scientists.
In the human evolution stages the Zinjanthropus is the first on the list and evidence collected from the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa points to Africa as the home of the earliest human ancestors- the Zinjanthropus and the Homohabilis.
The emergency of excavations of this kind around the world has led to the discovery of more and more bones but each of the bones found, as asserted by Asante are believed to have developed from the earliest remains of the Zinjanthropus and Homohabilis found in Africa.
A quotation from Cheikh Anta Diop from the 1950s and 1960 buttresses embodies Asante’s assertions: “Africa was not only the cradle of mankind but also the cradle of civilization”.
This then marks the age of literacy in the African history and the history of man with Africa as the foundation of it all. Asante builds this argument on the basis of the fact that if the first man walked in Africa it logically follows that the first human to manage affairs of the environment for survival was also Africa.
Asante’s historical analysis is satisfying and what makes it even more appraisable is the accuracy in dates, names of places and most importantly the archaeological evidence that cements it all together.
Elements of early civilization as Asante elaborates include writing and architecture as evidenced by the pyramids of Giza Egypt, the Egyptian Sphinxes, the stone walls of the Great Zimbabwe, philosophy from the most famous philosophers namely Imhotep, Ptahhotep, Merikare, Sehotipore among others.
Civilization also stretched to mathematics and science as well as the abundance of deities, this is also very significant in putting to rest the Euro-centric thought that there was no religion in Africa before the coming of the whites.
“The History of Africa; The Quest for Eternal Harmony” does wonders in reasserting the lost and distorted history of Africa and Asante traces the history as the book progresses.
As Asante himself says; “The book will allow students to access the major developments, personalities and events on the African continent” (2015; viii).
Asante acknowledges the social, economic, religious and political organizations of pre-colonial Africa with reference to some of the powerful states known to history.
These include the Zulu state, the Great Zimbabwe state, the Edo Empire of Benin, the Swahili nations with the word Swahili derived from the Arabic word Sahili which means coast, referring to the people living in the coastal area who led to the establishment of the huge coastal trading cities such as Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kilwa among others.
It is the establishment of such rich and prosperous states that attracted outside attention, especially the Congo and its basic that caught the attention of King Leopold of Belgium who wanted the Congo as his personal property.
This history handbook is artistically woven with each historical event chronologically into the next.
At this stage in history Asante chronicles how Africa is faced by two principal invasions mainly that of Arabian traders and European missionaries which each had a hidden agenda upon Africa’s people and its resources.
The coming of outside influence into Africa led to what has become known as popularly known as “the partition and the Scramble for Africa”, as a result of the Berlin Conference.
As Asante elaborates this did not only lead to the 150-year African-European continental war but it also lead to the cultural shock that has left Africa spiritually and physically dismembered due to the slave trade and the introduction of Christianity.
It is remarkable just how Asante captures the history of a people. The exploitation of Africa by European nations aroused a consciousness among Africans and their leaders led the masses to fight for independence. This is the 19th century and Africans in the continent and those abroad united for a common cause with characters such W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Haile Selasie, Nelson Mandela, Marcelino dos Santos, Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe and scores of others with the vision of “The United States of Africa”.
As part of the history lesson Asante acknowledges how the 19th century activity of war motivated writers around the continent leading to the birth of African literature, altogether revealing the relationship between history and literature.
The coming of the whites, the cultural infiltration and the struggle for independence is a common concern for these writers who include Chinua Achebe with his novel “Things Fall Apart” a 1958 publication which remains as the most sought after text in modern literature.
Molefi Kete Asante’s “The History of Africa” 2nd Edition is a full package for modern history. The book provides a wide range of history from the earliest pre-historic to the present day and as Asante providing “a fresh survey that includes a wealth of indigenous ideas, African concepts, and traditional outlooks that have escaped the writing of African history in the West”.
It is therefore that aspect of fresh survey that makes this book a compelling and relevant book on the history of Africa.