THE COUNTER RENAISSANCE

A publication by and for African Youth

Issue 2: March 2001 

“Education, as we know it today, has adjusted itself snugly to the industrial mode and produced specialists rather than focused on the training of both mind, soul and the human body.”

- Catherine Odora-Hoppers

PAN-AFRICAN IDENTITY

Identity: The Essence of a Struggle

By arbitrarily parceling out Africa into parts in the late 19th Century, imperial powers not only created explosive (flamable) geo-political boundaries, but also imposed limits on our perceptual intelligences. They effectively ensured that any attempt to resist imperial frameworks was done within these limits/ boundaries. For example, during the fight for independence in various parts of Africa, the phrase Nationalism was coined and very quickly reduced to a sham. It came to mean opposing the imperialist, but only in so far as his physical presence was concerned. But appearances can be deceptive and the departure of imperialists never meant the departure of their agendas and institutions. As soon as African nation-states achieved ‘independence’, Nationalism desperately struggled to find its relevance in neo-colonial Africa. Aided by the existence of imperial institutions, it conveniently came to mean the vicious hatred of fellow Africans not belonging to one’s country. This sham Nationalism has become a formidable hindrance in our efforts to rid Africa of its oppressive colonial paradigms.

Worse still, by identifying ourselves with imperial creations, we are annihilating huge portions of history. Along with the centuries of blood shed and the plunder of natural resources (used to build modern Europe), we also ignore the spiritual, socio-economic and political frameworks that existed well before the first imperialist set foot on the continent of Africa. To refuse to confront our past, learn from it, and lay meaningful groundworks for a humane, just responsible settings, for now and the future, is to reward and advance the exploitative and murderous ways of imperial powers.

Why the Pan African Identity? Pan African Identity is a theme that does not merely seek to Africanise us for the sake of it. Neither does it seek to lead us into the fadist ways of racial triumphalism or xenophobia. Rather, it draws our conscience to an endeavor much deeper and much more significant. It brings us back to ourselves, breaks down the institutional barriers through which we understand reality, awakens a conscience within, strengthens our will and spirit to be ‘ourselves’ and create meaningful pathways forward all rooted in the larger meaning of what it is to be human.

The Pan African Identity asks of us not to get trapped in the delusive and simplistic perception that Identity is merely the product of our historical past (itself defined through the Western lens) and our ‘modern’ present. It challenges the theory that the export of Western institutions was done for any altruistic or benevolent purposes, while also cautioning against the confusing postulation that "the middle road is always the safest course." Two simplistic extremes are commonly advanced as competing against each other- Modern systems and Traditional systems. This so-called safest course (which in fact is an illusion) therefore pretends to play arbiter, combining the good and avoiding the evil of both sides. In reality, we see how anything that challenges Modernity is ruthlessly dismissed and categorized as traditional and by implication, backward! For decades, this overly simplified axiom ("the middle road") has influenced institutional thinking in Africa and provided a perfect camouflage for the decimation of local ways of understanding. For example a farcical system of democracy has sought to portray Africans as undemocratic and incapable of self governance. Democratic ideals have been an integral part of African social life for centuries exemplified by the Africans natural impulses for discussion, equality and the sacredness of human life. But those at the helm of modern systems of ‘democracy’ in Africa on the one side vociferously oppose the description of Africans as undemocratic, while on the other hand have no qualms about perpetuating the status quo. Most importantly, the Pan African Identity asks of us not to get trapped in this ‘middle road’; the delusive and simplistic perceptions that identity is merely the product of our historical past (itself defined through western lenses) and our ‘modern’ present.

It is important to recognize that the presence of colonizing institutions and assumptions in Africa was never an accidental occurrence. There was a deliberate, precise and explicit purpose to establish the Western Identity in Africa, break down local resistance to Western values and reinforce Western dominance. To legitimize this dominance the West actualized its sense of Identity via its institutions – economic, political and social. The purpose was to colonize the minds (and histories) of Africans and to make them believe that slavery and ‘backwardness’ resulted from a "natural progression of things". This colonization of the mind was furthered by discrediting Africans’ history, their ways of life and by creating sufficient doubt in their minds about their own value and meaning- making systems. The colonizer also promoted his own language so that it became the only medium of understanding social reality. The consequence was the erasure of subtleties and nuances inherent in local languages. In such a scenario, it became relatively easy to package and sell enslaving assumptions to a people who had themselves become ‘convinced’ of their helplessness and servitude.

The Pan African Identity is an integral part of Pan Africanism which began in the 40s and 50s. At the time, the overriding objective of Pan Africanism was to uproot colonialism in all its manifestations, as well as restore dignity to a people already exploited and brutalized by the genocidal ways of colonial dominance. An examination of events in Africa currently demonstrates a perversion of the ideals of Pan Africanism. Pan Africanism was initiated to resist imperialist ideals and decolonize African society from oppressive economic, social, political dispositions. The level of bitterness, anger, resentment and exasperation prevailing in Africa today (strikingly similar to the sentiments preceding independence) bespeak of a people, not only suffocating under the grip of neo-colonialist strangulation, but also craving for grounded approaches to existing chaos. Pan African Identity, while ascribing to the twin principles of resistance and decolonization should seek to restore Pan Africanism as a regenerative paradigm. The dissipation of the spirit and the will to resist colonizing frameworks came about because there was hardly any effort to adopt the strategies of resistance, decolonization and regeneration.

The dominant approach to Identity (i.e Nationalism) is wholly inadequate, both because it draws its character from Western cultural institutions, but also because it perceives Identity in atomized, narrow, abstract contours. There are doctrines too firmly rooted in institutional structures (State-Market-Civil Society) to be meaningfully and seriously challenged within them. The doctrine that we are all ‘economic human beings’ fanatically pursuing the economic virtues of a materialist environment, is an established ‘rationale’ upon which so- called modern institutional structures continue to justify their indispensability in our society. In nurturing novel understandings of Identity, it is essential to de-link ourselves from unyielding institutional shams and offer spaces for interpersonal dialogue. There are yet countless aspects of Identity which we can and must discover and explore through consistent dialogue and reflection.

Identity has innumerable conceptions. In modern society, there are different ways through which controlling institutions and principles subtly impact our senses of Identity. For example, how does Western democracy influence local understandings of Identity? How does globalization limit and frustrate our rooted approaches towards learning about and interrogating Identity?

What follows is an article by Charles Otieno on "The African and Democracy.-The Ideals of Nyerere Revisited". In it, Charles talks about the embeddedness of democracy within the fabric of African society, illustrated by the practice of its three essentials: Discussion, Equality and Freedom-visualized by Nyerere. While reading Charles’ article, we may want to reflect upon these relevant questions regarding Democracy and Identity:

 

1. In what ways does the practice of Western-style ‘democracy’ kill our creative endevours towards generating styles of democracy that we can meaningfully identify with?

2. Through whose lenses do we draw such fatal conclusions as "there was no democracy (and by implication Identity) in Africa before the coming of the imperialist"?

3. We are told that African tradition is outdated and backward. But do so called modern institutions allow us spaces for Discussion, Equality and Freedom in order that we may engage with our senses of Identity?

You will also find an excerpt from ‘Globalization: The Myth That Rules and Ruins Our Lives’ by Dr. M. O. Arigbede. Away from the cacophony of sounds surrounding globalization as well as the barrage of high sounding economic vocabulary abounding in financial circles, there are ‘real life questions’(questions from the soil) which ‘real’ people would like to pose for globalization. Fundamental, crucial questions which lay open the guileful ways of globalization. Arigbede, in "Simple Questions By Non-Pompous People" exposes the monster of Globalization through witty and insightful questions, going to the heart of our very Identity and provoking us into deeper reflection.

But there is also a deeper meaning and purpose expressed in Arigbede’s piece. It has to do with context. We were born into and have grown up in a context, therefore we live in a context. The texture, tone, color, flavor of our existence is couched in an African context. Our language(s) expresses not only our history, the social reality of our environments, and our hopes, dreams, aspirations for the future, but also expresses the essence of our Identity. For the youth, these are the languages that we must re-connect with, particularly because the relentless assault on indigenous languages, by so-called modern languages, is choking treasured spaces for learning within our communities. But in the absence of languages that store and transmit the "utamaduni", how will we make meaning/purpose of our lifelong experiences and also share/grow these with others?

As young people we must nurture defenses within ourselves against "I-Know-All Systems". It would be self defeating to ingest colonizing languages that transmit such totalizing frameworks.

- Isaac Ochien’g, Editor

MADAM AND THE CENSUS MAN

The census man,

The day he came round,

Wanted my name

To put it down.

 

I said, JOHNSON,

ALBERTA K.

But he hated to write

The K that way.

 

He said, What

Does K stand for?

I said, K— And nothing more.

He said, I’m gonna put it

K—A—Y.

 

I said, If you do,

You lie.

My mother christened me

ALBERTA K.

You leave my name

Just that way!

 

He said, Mrs.,

(With a snort)

Just a K

Makes your name too short

 

I said I don’t give a damn!

Leave me and my name

Just like I am !

 

Furthermore, rub out

That MRS., too

I’ll have you know

I’m Madam to you!

- Langston Hughes,

prolific poet of the Harlem Renaissance, among African-Americans in the 1920’s

 

Excerpted from GLOBALIZATION: THE MYTH THAT RULES AND RUINS OUR LIVES (Simple Questions by Non-Pompous People)

by Dr. M.O. Arigbede

< If we say that we have become independent in 1960 (in Nigeria), how come we cannot still rule ourselves according to our own long tested systems of governance?

< If we say that we are trading and development partners with the people of Europe and America, why are we always having to buy more and more expensively what they make with their machines while selling them in return, more and more cheaply, only those products that we harvest from the land – and we cannot make our own things and also sell to them?

< If our forbears did not have to depend on other peoples for their food, why are we now in a situation where we must import more and more of what we eat? Is it that we have become intolerant and incapable of producing our own food?

< From our own experiences, if a farmer grows yams in abundance, his family must have the right to eat as much of yams as they may wish to – without having to pay for this commodity the same way the family of a farmer who does not produce yam does in a market? How come we are forced to pay for those gifts that God blessed us with at home here as if we were strangers seeking to buy these things from our own government? Or what is all this about other people forcing our governments to remove what they call subsidy from those services that our people need so badly?

< What justice is there in asking that gifts of nature, like petrol, which we have in abundance here, must cost the same here as it does in other countries of the world whereas, the income of the workers here is about one hundredth of that of the worker in the U.S for instance?

< Why does our government accept that bigger and richer and more experienced manufacturing companies from Europe and America, can now come into Nigeria on the same terms with smaller and poorer companies owned by our people- with the result that the Nigerian companies go bankrupt and lay off masses of workers?

< Why are our rulers pretending to rule or to have power when it is becoming ever clearer daily, that the policies they enforce on us are made outside this country and rammed down the throats of other people through their own rulers?

< Those of us who know anything about farming know that if corn planted on a piece of land has matured and grown tall to cover the soil, one does not then plant anew, under the tall and older plants, fresh plants that must just sprout and reach for the sun…the smaller ones would definitely not receive any sunshine and must die off. Why don’t our governments not seem to recognize this simple law of nature and are asking our weak and young manufacturing outfits to compete on an equal basis with the better and longer developed ones from outside this country?

< What sort of help are we getting from Europe and America if all the people that we train as doctors of medicine and engineers, etc leave our country to go to these foreign countries in order to earn what their counterparts there earn – incomes that they cannot earn here at home ? Why is it that it is only these qualified ‘workers’ on whom we have spent so much money and whom we need so badly – not ordinary workers like ourselves – that are allowed or encouraged to come to these foreign countries?

< Why has our history so abandoned us to the dictations such that everything we could be or have must be determined from outside our country to the extent that even our children look, feel, think and act more and more like Americans, for instance than Nigerians or Africans for that matter?

< Why, in spite of the fact that we work very hard from dawn to nightfall, not spending anything on ourselves or our children, not having any luxuries, in fact, not eating enough at any time, why do we continue to be so poor?

< How did we get into this human trap called World Bank-IMF, and how do we spring this trap? Why should it be possible for two man made organizations – we learn that those who sat to invent them were actually men, not women who know the pains of childbirth and would not easily create monsters to terrorize their offspring–to enforce their devastating programmes of so-called adjustments on whole nations?

< We do not understand the meaning of so-called ‘National External Debt’. There is no time when the people, that is us, instructed our leaders to go borrow such huge amounts of money that we are now alleged to be owing. What did our governments do with these monies? Did the money lenders make sure that the monies were applied for the purpose/s stated at the time of borrowing? Is it true that even the interest rates charged on these loans changed from time to time without the agreement or the knowledge of the borrowers? Should we really be repaying such corrupt loans for ever and at the cost of our national livelihood?

< Does it mean that without the so-called aid from Europe and America our nations cannot develop? Is this how it was with those countries that have developed themselves? From all that we hear, is it not really that our poor countries, that give aid to the developed countries?

< If two financial organizations can dictate to the rest of the world and make decisions for us all even without participation, what is the meaning of the democracy that those who direct these organizations recommend to us?

< With all these problems and injustices that seem permanent, are we not correct to ask: just what are we poor people and nations doing here in this ‘their world’?

 

The African and Democracy:

The Ideals of Nyerere Revisited

"[I aim] to point out the dangers that are facing our very existence, the dangers of self abasement which will eventually lead to cultural and intellectual suicide if not to the worse fate of reversing to servitude, the dangers of leaving behind, and thus losing forever, the African basis for a stable African society."

— Kihumbu Thairu, 1985

UTAMADUNI WA KIAFRIKA

(the african civilization)

 

"‘They talk till they agree.’

That gives you the very essence of traditional African democracy."

— Julius Nyerere, 1961

 

"…These three then I consider to be essential to democratic government: discussion, equality and freedom," wrote Julius Nyerere far back in 1961. Sadly, in Africa, as elsewhere in the world, these three essentials to democracy are no longer considered to be the foundations of democracy. Although in the last decade, there has been increasing noise made for Africa to democratise, the reality is that the subversion of democracy is what has actually taken place. African democratic ideals have been frustrated and destroyed, ever since the white man set out to conquer and dominate Africa. In fact, replacing such ideals with European- and American-style class authoritarianism (officially described as "multi-party democracy") has been the main feature of the Development of so-called Democracy in Africa. The deceptive mantra of government for, of and by the people — where "the people" actually means the ruling elite — has been pushed down the throats of African countries and, in the process, has subverted the ideals of African democracy.

 

It has of course been believed that before the coming of the white man, there was no democracy in Africa. The opposite is in fact true. Careful scholars of African history have revealed that African communities were among the first to develop democratic ideals. Although mostly anarchic, traditional African societies conducted their business mostly through discussion. The African’s ability to discuss was as African as the African tropical sun.

 

Most African societies did not have a strong centralised government or an aristocracy. The structure of the society was a direct extension of the family. The family unit merged into a larger blood family, which merged into the tribe. Discussion started right from the family units and extended into other arena. It is difficult for the European mind to imagine and accept that when a village of about one hundred people, gathered and talked together until they agreed to where a well was to be dug, that this group was in essence practicing democracy. Unless a section of the group acted as an opposition group opposing the ‘motion’, and that this group was organised, and that it would consistently vote for or against the motion as a group, only then will democracy be viewed as having taken place.

To be continued...

- Charles Otieno-Hongo

 

 

One isn’t necessarily born with courage,

but one is born with potential. Without

courage we cannot practice any other

virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind,

true, merciful, generous, or honest.

- Maya Angelou,

author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

 

Strong people don’t need strong leaders.

- Ella Baker,

radical African-American political activist of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s

 

The principal horror of any system

which defines the good in terms of

profit rather than in terms of human

need to the exclusion of the psychic

and emotional components of that

need--the principal horror of such a

system is that it robs our work of its

erotic value, its erotic power and life

appeal and fulfillment. Such a system

reduces work to a travesty of

necessities, a duty by which we earn

bread or oblivion for ourselves and

those we love. But this is tantamount

to blinding a painter and then telling

her to improve her work and enjoy the

art of painting. It is not only next to

impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.

- Audre Lorde,

radical author of the poetry collection, Black Unicorn