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Towards the re-invention of Africa

24 May 2020 at 08:15hrs | Views
The world is a huge afterthought. Most of what we know about the world and what happened in it is based on the history that was told later, in the hindsight of the historians.

We can perceive the world, for that reason, as an artefact of memory. It is for that good reason that the ability of a people to remember what happened to them and how it happened may as well be their ability to survive the past and the present and therefore stand a chance to proceed to the future. History is therefore never innocent but always imbricated with power; the historians know this. And who are the official historians but the agents of power. They construct and narrate history according to the desires and dictates of conquerors and winners. They do not necessarily trade in truths all the time.

Those scholars or journalists that excavate and tell the truth always are a minority of rebels. They are very few; Asia had one Edward Said and Africa has Mudimbe, the notable among a few. Power imagines, constructs and names the world according to its appetites and interests. In the struggle for liberation and for the future, therefore, the past is much more important than the future. Without the past there is no future to talk about. The present, that is the here and the now, is only a passage and a stage upon which the past and the future are negotiated and transacted. Most historical and political battles of the present are simply battles over the past.

When the past is won the future is guaranteed and when it is lost the future is doomed. Frequently the wounded of the past become the victors of the future. As another Africa Day arrives, it is important for Africans to reflect on the past of the continent and its battles. To see if any African futures can be salvaged from the African pasts is a liberation struggle of the present. We have before us the struggle to remember and reflect on our remembrance.

Understanding Europe
All because of the past there is no way Africa can be thought of and spoken about without the reflection on and mention of Europe. No way. One of the most canonical philosophical and political questions that have been asked is Walter Rodney's: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa? That is a question that has not come close to being answered even as Rodney made a sterling presentation on how through slavery, colonialism and imperialism Europe exploited Africa and took the continent out of its path and reduced it to an object. In that way, Europe imagined, constructed and invented Africa after its appetites and interests.

The enslavement of Africans and the colonisation of the continent became what the Congolese philosopher Valentin Mudimbe called: The Invention of Africa. To understand Africa and ponder its future, therefore, cannot be achieved outside an understanding of Europe and how it underdeveloped and invented the continent and its people. That entails a serious engagement with the past. And a serious pondering of what Europe was and what it is. The name of Europe comes from the name of the daughter of a Phoenician King; Europa. Europa is said to have been powerfully beautiful and majestic.

Her father should have been a powerful man to influence the marketing of her name that was adopted by a continent. So the same way Europe has done politically, economically and culturally, the continent usurped and exploited as its own a name from the Semites. The name Europe is therefore not European just as European wealth, power and prosperity are all siphoned from elsewhere. There was a time when Europe was the home of everything barbaric and backward.

At the time civilisation and modernity were found in Asia and Africa. History tells us that a small province of the world called Europe after some beautiful girl managed to turn itself into the centre of the world through conquest, imperialism, slavery and colonialism. Globalisation, in truth, became the nickname for modern imperialism that was used to consolidate the power of Europe in the world.

But Why, Empire?
Many African children ask this seemingly silly and also very innocent question. What would have happened if Europe and Africa encountered each in good terms and exchanged knowledge, goods and services without conquest and the domination of one by the other? That is what African leaders have always wanted. That question begs another simplistic and even naïve question. What came into the mind of Europe to compel it to get down to such evil as the conquest, enslavement and colonisation of Africa? If one consults history books the answers range from the nonsensical to the wild.

Excuses and explanations, claims about civilisation, modernisation and all that. One of the most direct and unpolished answers to that question came from none other than Cecil John Rhodes. To cite Rhodes directly, he said: "I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for bread, bread, bread." So there was unemployment, poverty and hunger in that part of the world, bread was scarce. And what did Rhodes think and do about that serious problem in the United Kingdom.

He tells us all that : "In order to save the 40 000 000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands" because as he had said before, "The Empire is a bread and butter question, if you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists." That is why and also a bit of how Europe had to conquer Africa. That is why our part of the world ended up called Rhodesia after Rhodes himself. The conquest of Africa was a political move to solve the problem of hunger and avoid civil war in Europe.

The invention of Africa
After conquest and colonisation Africa became an artefact of Empire. The culture, economy, politics and history of Africa became European. What is called African history is in everything a history of Europe in Africa. Not even the name Africa is African. In Latin, the Romans called the continent "Aprica" which means a sunny place. The Greeks had called it "Aphrike" to mean a place without coldness. The Arabs had it as "Ifriqiya" for a very hot place. We were not only conquered but constructed, invented and named.

Conquest forcibly incorporated the continent into the modern capitalist world system which as Cecil John Rhodes said is a "bread and butter question." Africans and Asians, according to that historical ideology were backward, inhuman, godless and evil. They needed civilisation and modernisation that was dutifully delivered by the conquerors. Africans, we are taught, must have the humility and gratitude to be grateful for the modernisation and civilisation that they received.

This history and ideology has been so strong that some if not most Africans today will defend it as true and right. An ideology is powerful and successful when its victims begin not only to believe but to preach it. A victorious ideology is the one that turns its opponents into its advocates. Eurocentricism has become such an ideology among us.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Gezina, in Pretoria:

Source - sundaynews
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