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Thursday, August 27, 2009

What do you know about your Africa?

Dear Prodigal Son of the Soil, as painful as it might be to be African in a world whereby there is historical erasure and amnesia in regard to Africa, it is not that helpful to deliberately partake - by way of denialism - in writing off that history as if you fully know it. There are a number of documentations on how there has been a systematic distortion and erasure of what Africa has and is contributing to the world. Have you consulted all of them? Or you have just ended with the Egyptologists you are questioning? As I said to someone else in my earlier response to 'Africa has not produced world-class philosophers', not knowing is not an excuse. Don't tell me you have exhausted the history of Africa because if you had done so you wouldn't have said what you have said without even referring to any of the Africans/Africanists you are arguing against and disputing the evidence they have provided. You can quote and agree with Hegel because you have taken time to engage with him as if he is an authority on Africa's history. But have you taken time to deal with Africa's archives?

For instance, have you taken time to go through Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his colleague's collections such as Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. In regard to pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial institutions of higher learning in Africa have you ever consulted Prof. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza's A Historical Accounting of African Universities: Beyond Afropessimism? Before you wrote off Egypt from Africa as if it is the only civilization Africa could - and should not - boast of did you consider the new archeological evidence presented by our very own Prof. Felix A. Chami in his book The Unity of African Ancient History: 3000 BC to AD 500 . Concerning who write history for whom and why, have you paid as much attention to Jacques Depelchin's Silences in African History: Between the Syndromes of Discovery and Abolition especially its section on 'Is Western Europe the birthplace of civilization?' What about the classics such as The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and Ibn Batuta's travelogues?

One can go on and on referencing but thats not the point. The main issue here is that we need to do away with this intellectual arrogance of presuming we know all that is supposed to be known about this Africa in relation to Euro-America while most of what we know or think we know is part and parcel of the Euro-American canon that belongs to what Edward Said aptly termed Orientalism. Why spend so much time with Hegel who never even set foot in Africa instead of doing what has been referred to as Exorcising Hegel's Ghost by studying about Africa - its past, present and future - in its own terms? Is it too hard for us to search for the unsung heroes/heroines of Africa and engage with what they said and/or wrote? Can't we go to Lake Turkana and study about one Sin Akuru Kuku Lubanga who lived around 2348 BCE and whom, it is said, "Emperor Urnamu of Ur in Mesopotamia sent Emissaries to consult him on matters relating to ethics, metaphysics and astronomy as these related to the perennial problems of human origins, security, survival and destiny" (Quoted from Gilbert E. M Ogutu's African Renaissance: A Third Millenium Challenge to Thought and Practice in African Philosophy)?

Once again let me invoke the spirit of Why I love-hate Euro-America as I end my response by juxtaposing a passage from a Professor of Psychiatry, who was also attempting to respond to that claim that Africa has not produced world class philosophers, with Chinua Achebe's 'Literary-Psychoanalysis':

"If you have lived in the West you know how passionate many people are to show that Africans are not up to it. I have often wondered why. I think that is the question. It is not due to ignorance, they would not be so passionate. What is it that they fear or envy? That would be more like it. The history of mankind is the rise of one people and their decline followed by other people. Where are the Babylonians, Phoenicians, Greek and Romans of yesteryears? Africa day of glory has been and will come again! There was a time the Romans were not thought highly by the Greek, and the Romans in turn thought the British were unteachable" - Prof. Gad P. Kilonzo

"Travelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves. But even those not blinkered, like Conrad with xenophobia, can be astonishing blind. Let me digress a little here. One of the greatest and most intrepid travelers of all time, Marco Polo, journeyed to the Far East from the Mediterranean in the thirteenth century and spent twenty years in the court of Kublai Khan in China. On his return to Venice he set down in his book entitled Description of the World his impressions of the peoples and places and customs he had seen. But there were at least two extraordinary omissions in his account. He said nothing about the art of printing, unknown as yet in Europe but in full flower in China. He either did not notice it at all or if he did, failed to see what use Europe could possibly have for it. Whatever the reason, Europe had to wait another hundred years for Gutenberg. But even more spectacular was Marco Polo's omission of any reference to the Great Wall of China nearly 4,000 miles long and already more than 1,000 years old at the time of his visit. Again, he may not have seen it; but the Great Wall of China is the only structure built by man which is visible from the moon! Indeed travelers can be blind. As I said earlier Conrad did not originate the image of Africa which we find in his book. It was and is the dominant image of Africa in the Western imagination and Conrad merely brought the peculiar gifts of his own mind to bear on it. For reasons which can certainly use close psychological inquiry the West seems to suffer deep anxieties about the precariousness of its civilization and to have a need for constant reassurance by comparison with Africa. If Europe, advancing in civilization, could cast a backward glance periodically at Africa trapped in primordial barbarity it could say with faith and feeling: There go I but for the grace of God. Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray -- a carrier onto whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate. Consequently Africa is something to be avoided just as the picture has to be hidden away to safeguard the man's jeopardous integrity. Keep away from Africa, or else!" - Chinua Achebe

No wonder Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) exclaimed 'Ex Africa aliquid novi', that is, 'Out of Africa there is always something new'!

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