A continent that once used to be
By Amalawi - Mon Jun 11, 9:00 am
TODAY, as I write, I am seized by a thick cloud of mourning. A deep sense of foreboding has gripped me. Tears fill my eyes. I have a feeling that there is an impending death in the air, a momentous death.
It looks to me, with my tutored eyes, that Africanness is about to die. The prognosis of Africanness is poor, indeed bleak. This worries me.
The motive behind my words today is grounded in pursuit of a cure. I am deeply convinced that to every malady there exists a cure. This is the basis of my hope.
As to whether the patient will recover or heal, only time will tell. Nonetheless, for now it is my duty and yours too dear reader as an African, to steadfastly search for this remedy and judiciously administer it.
Today, as I write, I am reminded of Steve Biko. Steve Bantu Biko was born in Kingwilliamstown, Cape Province of South Africa, on December 18, 1946. On August 18, 1977, he was, by white apartheid South Africa, again detained. He was taken to Port Elizabeth, where he was kept naked and manacled. He died in detention on September 12, that same year.
Steve Biko was a fine African, a man upon whom many young Africans ought to model their lives. His spirit shall never die. Even in his death, Steve Biko is a fierce and ardent advocate of the freedom of black people in particular and that of all people as well.
Freedom, dear reader, is that condition in which you ought to exist, which condition was conferred upon you by nature, the condition that conduces to the full expression of your potential, the condition that allows you the full expression of your integrity as a human being, its limits only defined by the said integrity.
Dear reader, it is when free that you are able to survive and prosper. Devoid of freedom, life becomes only a semblance of its fullness, one then stunts in every sphere of human expression, and such a less than natural condition then manifests itself as poverty, squalor, pain and perennial suffering.
Any normal and healthy human being existing without freedom eventually rebels against this state of being. This is what happened to Steve Biko.
Steve Biko merely wanted his humanity restored and respected. But finding this offensive and undesirable, white apartheid South Africa persecuted him until the very thing that he fought for for himself and the rest of humanity, life, was taken away from him.
In his article, ‘Let’s Talk About Bantustans,’ he admonished as follows: ‘In a land rightfully ours we find people coming to tell us where to stay and what powers we shall have without even consulting us.’
Such was/is the arrogance of the coloniser.
This, dear reader, is not a blame game. This article merely seeks to explain your present condition as an African, the quagmire that you find yourself in.
Colonialism is not over. It is alive today and kicking.
Whereas it was relatively easy to fight off the physical occupation of our lands then, it is now not as easy to fight off the colonialism that we presently find ourselves in. You see, the colonialism that now bedevils us is presently embedded in our neurons. It is a part of our psyche as Africans.
Steve Biko again: ‘A man who succeeds in making a group of people accept a foreign concept in which he is expert makes them perpetual students whose progress in the particular field can only be evaluated by him; the student must constantly turn to him for guidance and promotion.
In being forced to accept the Anglo-Boer Western culture, the blacks have allowed themselves to be at the mercy of the white man and to have him as their eternal supervisor.
Only he can tell us how good our performance is and instinctively each of us is at pains to please this powerful, all-knowing master Steve Biko, The Quest for a True Humanity, I Write What I Like, Heinemann.’
These words of Steve Biko’s were expressed about four decades ago. But this, dear reader, is exactly what is happening today. Today, Africa is the product of the acculturisation of a people with alien ways that has occurred over time in a manner as illustrated by Steve Biko.
You see dear reader, as we pursue the future it is wise that refer to our past. We are all products of the past. Yes, both tomorrow and today are children of yesterday. We ignore the past at our own peril. No one, not one human being, can ever escape his past.
And the seeds of the difficulties that we all face today were sown yesterday.
Malawi and much of Africa has really changed.
Today, lamentably, there is very little in urban Africa that has remained African. Soon, there might be nothing. This is what fills me with a sense of mourning today, the imminent death of Africanness. Stopping it is our collective call.
Many Africans today are not African at all. When one looks at the Africans today, one sees only their black skin as a reminder of a people that once used to be. The black skin seems to be the only vestige of a proud history/heritage of a once magnificent people.
The colonialism that today explains Africa’s difficulties – economic, social or political – is not the physical one that, foolishly, many African nation states commemorate as having abolished through the observance of their independence days. It is the cultural one.
Cultural colonialism is the worst form of colonialism. It changes people for good. It erodes their identity. When thorough, people cease to be what they used to be. It is this transformation of a people that today makes me say that many Africans are sorry mutants.
The pernicious nature of this cultural colonialism is that today it occurs both at the individual and institutional levels. It has been as insidious as it has been damaging.
This transformation of the Africans even has ‘educated’ Africans as its advocates. They argue that what has happened is merely desirable modernisation. What they omit to say is that, at present, it has bound the African in a state of developmental confusion and bewilderment. It has made the African second-rate to its source/original.
Dear reader, Africa today is two things. One, it remains a source of raw materials for the West and other industrialised nations. Two, it is a market for the finished goods from these nations. And the power over both, the control of the extractive industry as well as the productive one is not with the African. This is where the problem lies.
And when one tells you, dear reader, that this has come about because of cultural colonialism, you better listen, my dear fellow.
What is African about an African today?
Note that the educationn model that today Africa religiously follows, although flawed, is Western. Africans know more about the rest of the world than they do themselves. Is this acceptable? Strangely, and without shame, Africans wholly embrace this education despite its teaching them to forget themselves.
Is it then any wonder that we behave Western in much that we do when the education that we consume is Western? Are we to be surprised that today we are avid consumers of things Western when we are groomed from childhood to do so?
Observe that much of Africa is today either English or French.
Now if the United Nations was truly about the unity of human beings shouldn’t a leader from any part of the world be allowed to speak in a language that he is most comfortable with in its environs? Isn’t the insistence on the five languages prohibitive of human expression? Surely the UN can find someone to interpret Chichewa or Tumbuka!
Even the way that we practice our agriculture and animall husbandry has been infiltrated with ‘scientific’ methods that today cause more harm than good. It is not uncommon for the African today to subsist on pizza, French fries, hormone-boosted chickens and other alien foods that have questionable genetically modified organisms in them.
An organic way of life, which evidently extends life-expectancy as opposed to curtailing it, instead of it being the norm, has today been relegated to activities that are now only donor-driven, such activities themselves merely being for the creation of employment by the foreigners and for the foreigners.
The God that the African today worships is not even ‘his own’. We even celebrate Christmas; even more than the Westerners themselves. The symbolism that is within this commemoration is not at all at issue here.
What the African ought to know is that Christmas today has very little to do with Jesus Christ and his way. It has everything to do with Adam Smith and his capital.
Steve Biko again: ‘The religion they brought was quite foreign to the black indigenous people.
African religion in its essence was not radically different from Christianity. We also believed in God, we had our own community of saints through whom we related to our God, and we did not find it compatible with our way of life to worship God in isolation from various aspects of our lives.
Hence worship was not a specialised function that found expression once a week in a secluded building, but rather it featured in our wars or beer-drinking, our dances and our customs in general. Whenever Africans drunk they would first relate to God by giving a portion of their beer away as a token of thanks.
When anything went wrong at home they would offer sacrifice to God to appease him and atone for their sins. There was no hell in our religion. We believed in the inherent goodness of man – hence we took it for granted that all people at death joined the community of saints and therefore merited our respect.’
But then the coloniser came and called all this paganistic and barbaric. And many, most Africans, believed him. From then onwards, our culture would no longer be the same.
It causes my heart to flutter with pain when I hear Africans today prefer a ‘white’ wedding to a traditional one. My mind though understands. We even exchange rings as a sign that now we are married. If you cannot afford a ring you are even derided as poor or being non-loving.
However, the conflict of all this becomes manifest when you see men and women with ‘wedding rings’ behave in a manner that is the very insult to marriage and its values.
For the African of olden days, marriage was the coming together of families. It was a community event that cemented that community even more, a most sacred event in the life of the African. It was an expression of our very humanity, a base for unity and development.
But then look at the way the ‘modern’ Africans treat the extended family, itself the definition of a nascent nation in African terms. He has only disdain for it.
To groan with pain you just have to look at the mutated Africans. The divorce rate amongst their kind nearly equals that of the West. Worth noting is that there was no divorce in Africa because one was married to the whole family of one’s spouse.
Soonn, in the name of ‘human rights’, Africans of the same sex, under what are called ‘civil unions’ or as a consequence of the re-defining of marriage, might begin to legally sleep with each other. This is the Western model of modernisation and development. But one might argue, is this the path that Africa wants to follow?
Note that the very foundation of African societies was founded on respect for one another. Though now bastardised, the concept of human rights has its roots in being African, umunthu.
Malawi, in search of development funds seems to be ready to barter African decency for Western decadence. As if bowing to the British dictates of tying aid to ‘the rights of homosexuals, rights that are seen as human rights, Malawi is now leading the Africans to new levels of Westernisation. This is the curious case of burgery going normal and global. Question it and you risk demonisation and ostracisation.
Note that the whole framework of development that Africa today pursues is a Western one.
The failure of Capitalism, as evidenced by the implosion of Europe and other Western states is a wakeup call for Africa. Do not follow blindly, it seems to warn.
That the world can be developed differently is not at all in dispute. The need to re-define the development model for the future of the world now beckons. Africa needs to restore its identity and through this process offer the world a new model for development.
Africa, the land, is arguably the only place in the world that is still as raw as God made it. It possesses unsurpassable potential. This offers Africans a grand opportunity to avoid the path that the West and its ilk have followed for centuries, a path that has led to much inequity, materialism and moral decadence, a path which today is denying the West the authority over the world which it has enjoyed for the said duration of time.
Further, note that Africa has always placed the highest value on the community and the family. Values intrinsic in this way of life must never be lost, dear reader.
Yes, there are many things Western that we must practice and cherish. That we must engage in sorting of what is best for us and discarding that which is harmful is a call for the African that has never been so urgent.
In addition, that today the African frowns upon his own medicine/herbs is a paradox of existence that is yet another offshoot of the re-orientation of the African’s mind. It is the very epitome of the lostness of a people.
That Africans are still grappling with conformity with the Western model/framework of development in the face of centuries-held beliefs is the confusion that today explains the underdevelopment of Africa. Alas, Africans are still trying to manage their lives based on systems that are totally alien to their identity.
It is as consumers and followers of the ‘master’s’ that Africans have succeeded at living, a situation that, itself being alien to their innate freedom and identity, they find most discomforting and painful.
The task of restoring Africa’s identity and offering the world an alternative model of world development, a model that though prizing capital places full value on the family and communalism, is with the new leaders of Africa. Indeed, a ‘new breed of African leadership beckons.’
In pursuit of freedom, African or otherwise, one must heed the following: ‘We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress… And that the “system” concedes nothing without demand’ Steven Biko, The Quest for a True Humanity, I Write What I Like, Heinemann’
The insidious but sure erosion of a people’s way of life has occurred. Africanness is on the wane. Africans are slowly but surely becoming white/Westerners. The call for the salvation of Africanness again sounds for every discerning African.
Africans today are nothing but, albeit a poor one, a semblance of Westerners.
But being African goes beyond living on this geographical land called Africa or merely being black. It’s about our way of life. The spirit of umunthu defines us as a people; the spirit that proclaims that it is because you are that I am; the culture that had no orphans because the child belonged to the whole village.
The questions that today stare in the face of the emerging African leader are: Is it possible to adopt a foreign culture well and yet retain one’s identity? Or is it desirable that all of Africa goes fully Western?
The time to say enough has again come. The era of the restoration of Africa’s identity is here. The world now cries for a new development blueprint.
Many Africans today exist as Africans in name only save for their skin colour, itself now undergoing a kaleidoscope of changes.
Today Africa is NOT free. This is why I cry! This is why I mourn! This is why I speak!
Will you help me carry this cross, pilgrim?