Saturday, February 7, 2009

Not so Long a Letter to a Prodigal Son of Africa

Dear Pious Prodigal Son of the Soil,

Self-proclaimed pious men taught me to give thanks to everything. So, 'no, thank you' for your disguised letter. Anyway, let me respond to it.

A spectre has been haunting African Studies for quite some time now - the spectre of decolonization. If we appropriate one of my finest son's - Frantz Fanon's - conceptualization of decolonization as a violent process, then the process of decolonizing the Study of Africa in general and African Studies in particular has indeed been violent, at least in the realm of intellectual rivalries. This has been particularly evident at the turn of the 21st century, not least because of you, my prodigal children who are wondering here, there and everywhere. On the eve of the dawn of this century we indeed witnessed mounting bitter contestations over the production, dissemination and entitlement of knowledge on and about me.

It is important to note that these contestations were not only global and inter/multidisciplinary in scope, but also racialized. They cut across cultural, racial and national divides. Thus, in a way, the contestants closed the 20th century with a high note of affirmation to the fulfilment of the famous DuBoisian prophetic declaration that the last century would be characterized by the problem of the colour line i.e. that of “the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea”. Expectedly, these contestations spilled over to the dawn of the 21st century and kept widening the gulf and antagonisms between scholars of Africa, both within and without Africa .

A sample of notable contestations, as you well know given the fact that you are currently refuelling them, include those fuelled by Sally Falk Moore's defence of a Changing Perspectives on a Changing Africa: The Work of Anthropology; Philip Curtin’s critique of Ghettoizing African History; Mahmood Mamdani’s debate on Teaching Africa at the Post-Apartheid University of Cape Town: A Critical View of the ‘Introduction to Africa’ Core Course in the Social Science and Humanities Faculty’s Foundation Semester, 1998; Henry Louis Gates Jr's travelogue about the Wonders of the African World; Achille Mbembe’s African Modes of Self-Writing; and, last but not least, Gavin Kitching’s apologia, Why I gave up African Studies, which you have appraised.

As we approach the close of the first decade of the 21st century, contestations and crises besetting African Studies remain a challenge. It is important, then, that you keep on looking critically at their intellectual and institutional implications to the study of Africa , Africans and, inevitably, Africanists such as those who, following in the footsteps of Kitching, are on the Afropessimistic verge of giving up African Studies because they find it depressing. But, my son, it is high time now that you look at the possibility of charting viable ways out of the ‘Africanist-African’ divides and their conceptual impasse for the sake of what is supposed to be the primary beneficiary of African Studies, namely, Africa .

My pious son, in your attempt to legitimize your sojourn far away from me - your inspiration - you are actually creating another 'authenticism' that only serve to fuel more schisms between the so-called my continental scholars and diasporic scholars. Does the fact that one of the citadels of the plunder of Africa's minerals accord you the privilege to have a class with "more than half the continent" make you a more important scholar of African Studies? Indeed the "chances of having such a geographic swathe in a single classroom in such “authentic sites” as Ibadan, Legon, or Makerere" borders null. Why? Because my children think they have the luxury of joining the Kitchings of this world to give up on what some of my sons refers to as the task of 'bringing back African Studies to Africa.' Yes, a lot of my children are wandering far away from me, building other continents' ivory towers. Now they call them African classrooms! Even that great son of mine, the one who reminds you, his siblings, that you have to do to your languages what people of other continents did to their languages, has been busy building those granaries of other continents.

Yes, some of you call it academic exile. Some of you even claim that you are doing more good to me when you are far away from my geographical and bureaucratic confines. After all, once in a while you come to visit, nay, re-search me. But, as that son who champions decolonizing the minds of his siblings would say, you go back with your books and reports written in English and other so-called languages of globalization to fill the granaries of Euro-America with that knowledge about me - the one you call African Studies. Is it really the Study of Africa? Or is it African Studies made in USA as my other son once called it after meeting the wraths of Africanists in America and that so-called exceptional Africa?

Well, I apologize for exiling you. But, you very well know that I have more than 50 bosoms. If one cannot succour you surely another can. And of course I have that bosom that resemble the bosom that is nurturing you now. As a compromise some of my sons and daughters are using it to avoid what one of my sons (who keep disowning me) dubs writing about Africa from a cliff. I know the last time you visited this bosom you were so upset that it has generated since the natives took over. In an ironic way you sang the same song as apologetics of colonialism: 'these natives!'

My plea for you sons and daughters of Africa is to stop brain-draining me. Despite all the reservations you have toward me and your comprador siblings, I have offered you a lot. So, don't take me for granted. The pat/matriotic among you must not despair. By any means necessary you can reclaim your heritage from those children who have stripped me naked in front of rapists/plunderers of this so-called globalizing world. After all they are no longer my children; I have already disowned/cursed them, accordingly. Yes, according to African culture(s) that some of you detest.

So, dear prodigal son, why quibble about who knows me better? Haven't we heard enough of that? Can't my children use their nervours energy and intellectual creativity to invent what will make me cease to be the laughing stock of Hegel's ghost? How long will it take my children to read between the Aime Cesaire's rhetorical negritude line: "Hurray to those who did not invent anything, who never discovered anything"? How long?

Please come back home my prodigal children. There is a lot of work to do here. Land to farm in Zimbabwe. Schools to teach in Tanzania. Roads to reconstruct in Somalia. Houses to build in South Africa. Films to make in Nigeria. Hospitals to consult in Algeria. Markets to attend in Ghana.

By the way, I have already stretched my hand to God.

I miss you dearly.

Truly yours,

Baba/Mama Afrika


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