Through the African Prism: The Genesis


I brainstormed over the days and weeks prior to writing the first word of what would become this article today, I was confronted with a steady flow of information overload, and as I navigate through them in an attempt to make sense of it all, it hit me that I have never traversed such a challenging route. As this will be my steeliest test yet as a Nigerian and above all as an African, the temptation is of course blaming the state of Africa today on Europeans, Arabs, colonialists, neocolonialists, and or neo-imperialists of the developed world. For a youth with liberal conservative views, a Christian holding unto a sort of calibrated pan Africanist views, I was in a position that I questioned everything I was taught and believed in, scrutinized and analyzed every institution the Church inclusive, seen as sacred and as infallible institution in conservative African society and its arch rival Islam.

During the U.S campaign trail, a lot was said, emotions were stirred. But one that caught the attention of Africans was the statement of Donald Trump where he referred to Africans as lazy and only good in bed, and the promise to deport illegal migrants, the reaction was quick, emotional, with the “backlash” ever being reanimated broadcasted, retweeted, posted and reposted on social media, of course a topic for discussion for the entire duration of the campaigns. Having had my fair share of analysis and history lessons, I came to the painful realization that Donald Trump was right albeit not entirely having ignored the very foundations of a much bigger problem of which are the symptoms that he is focused on. For an African, that is not easy to admit, but here is why.

When Africa is mentioned, what readily comes to mind in western and other developed circles is a backward, primitive and savage place and people, often with violent conflicts raging in its different states and regions, that assessment is not entirely wrong and also not entirely on point.

All these negatives phenomena have been a subject of many interventions such as, aids, foreign direct investment, color revolutions, “peace keeping” and so much more, all this was to help an erstwhile “uncivilized and savage people” of the continent get on the right track towards “enlightened developed status”. But how did Africa get here and how does contemporary Africa and its people view their present predicament, and through the same lenses how do we view events around the globe. Finally, how and who are the best partners to help it achieve its long term goals?

There is no shortage of books, articles, write ups and many such publications on and about chronicling Africa’s its rise/promise and fall, its dictators, its minerals, scenic beauty, take your pick - but Africa in the 21st century is a much more complex. Let it be known that Africa has not always been in this sorry state but had its proud era as a growing and fledging civilization with a long history albeit mostly oral accounts. Thus to understand and appreciate an African, it is perhaps necessary to have a grasp of how far he/she has sojourned through the centuries. When Africans weep and complain about colonialism and the slave trade before it, they are not just making a case against the ills visited upon them by outsiders but are nostalgic for a long abandoned civilization.

This is the mantle of the African struggle, the wars, famine, poor governance etc., are only symptoms to an acute problem of a civilization in crisis. It has been recorded in science journals and many other publications about Africa being the cradle of civilization but a series of events has made that accession somewhat cloudy if you juxtapose it with the present state of affairs in the continent today, though not disputing those empirical facts, what lies at the center of the problem is the truncating of this early civilization which coincided with an era of slow growth and advancement of its civilization on the continent which at that point she started coming in contact with other civilizations, first the Arabs (Contact with Arab emirates in North Africa in 788 A.D, by Idriss an Alid fugitive, in the Moroccan city of Maulaid Idrissa’un) and then the Europeans, the later can be said to be the patient zero which spread the infections which has bedeviled and continues to bedevil the African civilization and views and changed it completely.

This is so because the mixing of the cultures of Africans with Arab Muslims was mostly in religious and economic sense, which really didn’t go on a full offensive against African cultures as a leeway was allowed by the Arabs so long as Islam was accepted and practiced as a state religion as they also exploited Africans through slavery, this led to a situation such that there was a kind of coexistence between Islam and local beliefs and customs, which will explain how Islam is so deeply ingrained in some African states for example Taking Islam out of some West African countries is like trying to take the green out of grass. In any instant someone could be more Muslim than Malian and then two seconds later be more Malian than Muslim (if we tried to split it apart) because to be Muslim in West Africa in the 12th century was a kind of high life club; associated with the rich merchants.

When the Europeans set sail for Africa and other continents, they had experienced the renaissance, and as a rising and growing civilization sought to conquer their everyday mundane challenges for a better living condition, and in the process they pursued a domination of the resources necessary for the actualization of what they craved most, a better life.

Only that in Africa as in other colonies that they were dominating there was an already established order and scheme of things (civilization) which was not necessarily in concert and compactible with the yearnings of Europe, so by a grand design or accident, the poisoning and disruption of this order was greenlighted and was in top gear not necessarily to develop or enlighten the people.

Rather it was to distract them to enable an elaborate exploitation of its resources. It was subtler at first the disguised/buried within “missionaries” with medicines for the sick and so on; this was orchestrated to gain the trust of locals. Jomo Kenyatta will later encapsulate the situation in this phrase; he said “when the Europeans came we had the land and they had the bible, and they said let’s close our eyes to pray after the prayer and we opened our eyes they had the land and we had the Bible." which will later have metamorphosed into a vicious one sided, and long term damaging schemes and also hostile designs/approaches to dealing with Africa and Africans. This can be likened to a young naïve maiden, innocent in all sense of the word distracted then deceived into a union which has brought more pain and regret her way by suitors who promised her respect, love, fidelity for her trust and love, only to be raped and disrespected in every sense of the word and turned into nothing more than an object of erotic desires, satisfaction, and constantly manipulated not to break away from that parasitic relationship.

This was a hypnosis on the grandest of scales, first Africans were ushered into the world Europe’s achievement, thanks to science mirrors, guns, medicine, etc was of course fascinating for a civilization which was still in the early stage of the iron age; thus the distraction these cultural items provided was huge and that halted to a certain degree the growth and advancement of the Africa civilization, this has succeeded in reducing African culture into more of amusement for tourist, as we all know Culture is the core of our humanity and holds some of the secrets to life's purpose.

There is no authentic autonomous identity outside of the culture that cradles it. it is certainly not National Geographic's image of drum beating Africans in grass skirts, or CNN's notion of dancing naked Africans eating bush meat, or even the Kora player playing in a European night club. It does not exist for the pleasure of Western tourist, as African culture is not a theme show at a Walt Disney exhibit. Too often the notion of African or Black culture is viewed through the touristic culturally curious lens of Europe. So "culture" per UK's mission in Africa is tantamount to "jungle culture." And it is also certainly not what "blacks” in urban America do on MTV base.

Today, it is almost impossible to conceive of African culture and not hear some drums beating, and some guys jumping around the stage: It is someone not Africans who defined culture as the total expression, in this case African culture; Africans continue to internalize a myth built on the skewed mixed up situation of bartered culture resulting from that apparent clash. But in Ethiopia, culture is in the coffee ritual, in Mali it may be tea ritual and camel racing, in Afro-South America it can be seen in capoeira; in Haiti it manifests in Vodun, in Trinidad in the Steel Pan, in Barbados in the CouCou and flying fish.

Coming on the hills of the crisis Africa and Africans were at the time undoubtedly unprepared for an eminent clash in values and ideas, this clash has and will continue to be the bane of many crisis Africa finds itself in, as is the case with conflicts in different hot spots around the globe.

But only in Africa’s case the consequences were far reaching and has affected every fabric of society, and after centuries those problems still exit. Along with the clash between European and African civilizations, along with continued clash of cultures of the many diverse ethnic groups and religious practices as Africa and Africans were not a monolith cultural phenomenon and very deep differences existed between its many different groups and sometimes warring communities.

Thus the situation begs the question that beyond the need for administrative convenience which necessitated the bringing together of these different groups and which is responsible for the present-day political division and integration of different African people, communities and regions; was truly ready to integrate at that point in time?, was Africa’s north ready and prepared to meet the south, was its east ready to meet its west or vice versa (was the Hausa/Fulani ready to meet the Igbo or Zulu, or was the northern Arabs ready to meet the sub-Saharan black Africans), if one studies the level of animosity that exits between some of Africa’s major groups and sub-groups in the past and even today, one will appreciate the need for a gradual evolution of these many cultures to a state where they accepted and respected each other, and on that basis build on such principles to coexist and develop through inter and intra cultural agencies exchanges and values integration for a more sustainable advancement of the African civilization through building and strengthening of institutions that support and protect a collectively agreed upon goals for development.

Then the second phase came in less subtle terms, it was the discrediting of African norms and traditions and substituting these values and institutions with similar or totally alien models. One of such is religion; traditional religions based on ancestral reverence and worship was labelled as evil idolatry and devil worship. It should be clear that though most African societies were primitive, there were some that have evolved past the hunter/gathering and subsistence agriculture to an organized mini states and others even kingdoms with centralized authorities, such as the army, the king/queen and their court, the existence of commerce and diplomacy between these statelets and kingdoms flourished and was in no way inferior to practices elsewhere in basic principles, ancient Ethiopia and Egypt readily comes to mind.

Thus the eroding of these institution had catastrophic impacts on the African psyche and mind. Though most smaller communities and societies were behind in this regard it was only a matter of time and association before they all attained the much needed advancement in their civilizations and gain a sit at the table as equals with other “great” civilizations as most of the “great and enlightened” civilizations started from such humble beginnings. Thus the relegating of such institutions and replacing them with European institutions was bound to pose a challenge to the people, for example the settling of disputes was carried out by clan heads or the priest of the local deity worshiped by the locals, repelling and replacing such with a penal or criminal code of western circles was absurd not because the locals were hostile to anything western, but at that moment have not evolved to that point of formal and bureaucratic flip flops of a documented constitutional order.

But nonetheless they maintained law and order their own way, as it was in Europe that once upon a time the king or the church was the absolute power in European societies, but overtime the different institutions/arms of governance and authority in Europe evolved out of the sole control of vertical and absolute control of the monarchs and church, to a more independent institutions of checks and balances (Executive, Legislative, Judicial arms) that exists today, thus stopping or “accelerating/hastening” of the same process they benefited from influenced Africans, in more harmful ways than good.

This set of actions and inactions affected and deformed the most critical entity to any human venture and development, the mind in this case the African mind. As throughout the ages the battle to attain set goals has always been the battle of the mind, and with a stagnated or defeated mind the goal stalls or is defeated, as it was first captured by Rene Descartes “cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am” which was the foundation of western philosophy for quite a while) but in the case of the relations of the colonialists and Africans, the fuller version of Rene Descartes statement is more appropriate “dubito ergo cogito ergo sum” (“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am). The later proposition is the true state of the continent and her people as the contact with Europeans and the subsequent exchange during the colonial era has torn the mind of Africans between their culture and heritage with assimilating into the culture and society modelled by Europe as they doubted their century old beliefs and cultures then proceeded to think in-line with that doubtful state of mind which has led them to become the confused and stagnated people they are today. 

To be continued.