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Features

The removal of agency from Africa

Owen Alik Shahadah

2007-06-28, Issue 310

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/42249

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When history is reduced from all the pages and pages to the underlining conclusion, we find regardless of if the author is British liberal, American conservative, or Australian the conclusion is the same. Africa has fostered nothing the Western World considers artifacts of civilization. With few exceptions, this is the underlying summarization on Africa, the pathology of discrediting and take-away, writes Owen Alik Shahadah.


To understand the entire discourse on Africa and African people is to indulge in a vivid exercise in the removal of agency. The primary purpose of this study, new and old is the continuous reassertion of Conrad's “Heart of Darkness.” This is the tradition in anti-African scholarship that provides the moral-academic justification for the slave trade: the most successful commercial venture in the history of humanity. In Europe's bid to protect their trade interest, the marriage between racist academia and the exploitation of Africa had to be made. The need for the continuation of this tradition is not lost in today's markets, which are heavily dependent on sustaining the impoverishment of Africa. Africa today continues to be the primary testing bed for new drugs, social experiments, cheap labor and raw material. A wealthy Africa would create stronger corruption-free government, which in turn would be an antigen to Western imperialist designs. The reality of Africa on-the-ground is a continent locked into a blind subservient orbit. Africa is the junk-yard of the Western World, the sole purpose of the continent is not for the native African, but for the harvesting of materials to construct Western civilization.

People speak from their cultural perspective; this in itself is not a problem. It is a natural aspect of human behavior. When Americans speak of tragedy, they reference their 9/11. However, 9/11 is a date in world history and may have significance to another culture. In Iraq, they have much reason to identify with other incidence in their recent history to reference tragedy, like 11/23. [1] The problem comes when the localized experience of one culture or nation is imposed on the reality of others directly outside of this experience.

Denial of agency

When African history is reduced the underlining conclusion we find, regardless of if the author is British liberal, American conservative, or Australian is the same: Africa has fostered nothing the Western World considers artifacts of civilization. With few exceptions, this is the underlying summarization on Africa, the pathology of discrediting and take-away:

* Ethiopia – Not of African Origin
* Egypt – Not of African origin
* Sudan – Not of African origin
* Mali – Not of African origin
* The Moorish Empire – Not African
* Ancient Zimbabwe – Not of African origin

There is nothing glorious in Africa that has not been reassigned to “White” ownership. And some are confused about terms like Arab, but Arabs from the perspective of Eurocentric history are a “Middle-Eastern Caucasoid,” so quite happily will they reassign Ancient Egypt or Islamic Spain to Arab people. The question for the discerning student of history is; why do all the conclusions always serve to empower Europeans and disempower Africans. It does not matter if they use archeology or genetics, linguistics; the conclusions always make a deposit towards the greatness of Europe, and a deduction from the glory of Africa.

• Who ended the slave trade- Europe
• Who stopped the Arab trade – Europe
• Who was the greatest Abolitionist – A European
• The greatest scientist, thinker, architect, composers, inventors – Europeans
• Who invented modern civilization – Europe
• Who invented everything good – Europe
• Who is the most civilized - Europe

The question that should is left hanging is “What has indigenous Africa contributed to the world?” Because the history of take-away has reduced Africa to nothing, thus validating the old statement “Africa is of no historical significance.” So how are today’s scholars any different from David Hume and Kant? If all their conclusions reduced all the nobility of Africa to given, borrowed or stolen. The ultimate hero in every single story is the European; it is the most inescapable imposed reality the world is forced to accept.

Making a slave

In the analysis of the paradigm “the making of a slave” the removal of agency from Africa was the first instruction needed in the creation of a “cooperative work-force.” Africans taken to the New World had no authority over their life; they were not even allowed to commit suicide. And the reason for adversity to African suicide was not religious or commercially motivated. It was not the fear of losing “merchandise” but moreover the mental domination and removal of all forms of self-ownership from the psyche of the African captives. The re-labeling and amalgamation of the Mandika, Fulani, Igbo, Asante, into one bland color label- black, was part of the greater process of absolute reduction of African identity: A color epithet that Europe believed to be the lowest color on Earth, thus reflecting the social designation of African people in European psyche. But for slavery to work this reality had to be transferred from the European mind to the African mind. Africans had to believe what Europe believed about Africa and Africans. Cultures, ethnicity, legacy, royalty, lineage was now melted down to a single entity—slave. The slave had no past and certainly no future, save for after death when they were allowed to service a white god in an abstract heaven.

When we traverse the globe today and look at oppressed people, we see that despite their oppression, they are fully conscious of self, they have religion and culture, which they proudly use to, distinguishes themselves from their oppressors. The Jews in Hitler's death camps knew they were Jewish, they had their Torah, they had the Talmud and they had their history, which was reinforced by a Jewish culture. No amount of “special treatment” could alter the Jewish religion or their historical legacy. However, Africans by a process of the most hideous system in humanity were removed and later denied access to their history. Africans could not be attached to greatness as this would then beg the question, if these people were capable of science, engineering, social structure and kingdoms, how can their function be as beast-of-burden? How can a people who forged Timbuktu, Aksum, Kanem-Bornu, Egypt, Nubia, Great Zimbabwe, Ancient Ghana, Songhay, Sokoto Caliphate, Monomotapa be now mere labor units, movable chattel, branded like cattle, confined, de-robed, whipped, and reduced?

It was essential to institutionalize the myth of a dark and savage Africa occupied by heathen cannibals who were saved by Europeans from absolute misery at the hands of their countrymen and marauding Arabs. History narrates that the European in their mercy did Africans a tremendous favor by bringing them to work in well-nurtured plantations in the West, allowing their lives to be touched by a white god, delivering them from savagery to culture, civilization and industrialization. And today this core racism is dressed with roses and resold in the form of the likes of John Reader et al.

Academic racism and agency

The legacy of the African Holocaust has made a profound affect on African academics: It puts the African at a chessboard where all the pieces are white. And because of the profound disinheritance in areas of social-economic, there has been a natural disinheritance in areas of academics. Africans do not have access to research aspects of their history, and even if they do they are trapped in scholarships programs from European institutions. And even if they survive this ‘killing field’ they need to return their work to European controlled publishing houses, if by divine intervention they escape this, there is the distribution issue to deal with. With the volumes of publish works by the “Hitler's of the African Holocaust” it is impossible for Africans to gain any authoritative stance in their own history. Year after year, the bookshelves are filled with one opinion, that of the most perjorative ideas on Africa. Just take a look in the African history section of ‘Barnes and Noble’ or ‘Books, etc.’ And if an African author is to be found it is likely those singing the loudest from this Eurocentric music score.

Oxford academic [[J.R. Baker]] listed that a civilization is comprised of 21 basic components which where critical to demarcate the degree of civilization of a race. His conclusion was that Caucasians met all 21 criteria in Iraq, Crete, India, and in Egypt, and the Asians met them all in China. The Africans and Australian aborigines met virtually none of the 21 criteria. ‘’Race’’. J.R. Baker’’, 1974, p 507-508

Baker, in his book, argues that a society originates a “civilization” if, prior to influence from outsiders, (FN1) most of its members meet most of these 21 requirements (), where “Africans” means sub-Saharan African

The self-referencing of the “old boys” like Hume and Kant is valid today because it is old, white, and used many, many times. We often hear “so and so is acknowledged by everyone to be one of the most prominent scholars of …” so and so is always white. Final authority is white, the accepted standard in academics is the white verdict on Ancient Egypt, Axsum etc. Scholarship is a white only seat, academic apartheid with no room for debate. They say with one breath that some of these old academics were “men of their time” but they still keep saying these people were the ‘definitive guide to Africa.’ How can you say something is wrong but keep using it as a definitive source? The complete dismantlement (deconstruction) of the academic paradigm of authority needs to be a first step in a pure analysis, and it is for Africans to adopt this approach as bases for articulating and imposing a new academic identify on Africa.

African history on an African schedule in an African format for an African agenda. Africans must determine the placement and the process by which African history and culture is taught, disseminated, absorbed and weighted. The agenda setting and permission slips from Europe are the legacy of mental enslavement. The agency of Africa means just that African people as agents of all aspects of their history, politics and culture. This is not a statement of supremacy but mere equality. And for this reason the Maafa studies is a key sign of the Pan-African paradigm-shift where the legacy of the African Holocaust on African people globally is studied within the framework of the natural history in which the Maafa occurred. The emphasis in the historical narrative is on African agents.

Europe solution for Africa

“Begging the fox to save you from the wolf.”

The premises behind much of the solutions for Africa are in the ideal that a hurting Africa needs a humanist hand from Europe. This is like appealing to the fox to save you from the wolf. An agreement in the United Nations’ Security Council or other diabolical agencies such as the World Bank is like an agreement among a choir, and such agreements are not meant to provide any relief to the problems of Africa. NEPAD insist that a richer Africa is in the interest of the entire world, true or false, this assumption will not appeal to the morality of a world system that never in its legacy acted along a moral compass. From “Feed Africa” to “Make Poverty History” which are mere sloganeering programs with no genuine effect to the teeming population of the continent. These campaigns are industries unto themselves that create billions of dollars and generate millions of jobs for Europeans. Entire European not African business exists that sustain their product line entirely from the poverty of Africa. We are naïve and childish to believe a richer Africa is in the interest of Europe. Poor people do not have the luxury of liberalism and freedom of speech. Poor people have no point of view other than “feed me”, Poor people are absent from the luxury of agency. And a poor Africa will always be a slave to a richer Europe.

Today at every major anti-slavery or save Africa project is lead by a European deciding and inviting personalities from the African world to sit at “THEIR” table, to discuss Africa’s problems. The frontline for Make Poverty History is a “museum of rock star” beyond their performance years, probably seeking redemption and revival; Gedolf is the expert on famine, Bono the authority on AIDS. Bob Geldof, the Jesus and Tarzan character all rolled into one. The first name that comes to mind when abolition is whispered is William Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe. Walking in the legacy of Dr. Livingston, I presume: A man who single-handedly ended the ENTIRE Arab Slave trade. Again, the agency in African liberation is Europe. None of these ‘saviors’ of Africa even deal with how Africa found itself in the endless cycle of horror. What kind of world do we live in when the views of the oppressed are expressed at the convenience of the rich?

Language of racism

To highlight the academic dilemma against Africans it is necessarily to just site one of Europe’s key historians on slavery. The age of the work and the period it was written in seem to make little impression in universities today, who seem to neglect the social status of Africans in the time these so-called scholarly books were being written in. It also neglects to highlight the mindset of the authors of these works and their contribution to the obscuring and footnoting of African history and African contributions to civilization. Men who would be labeled by a self-determined African today are referenced and cited with little challenge. Despite all the new research and development, this dead racist scholarship is still held high as the authentic source on Africa. Almost as if the more you reference a bad source the more authentic it becomes. The foundation of history of Africa cannot be studied outside of the dynamics of race and racism in the writings of African conquers. This is not to dismiss their entire work, but surely to raise the red flag of sincerity, and subsequently expose the agendas behind these scribbling. J.D. Fage sits high on this throne of Anti-African rhetoric [2].

“Today, however, some scholars assert that slavery did not have a wholly disastrous effect on those left behind in Africa.” [3]

We must assume there is again some degree of salvation in the actions of the Europeans enslaving Africans. It is like saying the Jewish Holocaust was not entirely beneficial because some Jews got senior position in the Nazi army, or slavery was good because Africans got free Caribbean cruises.

“At its peak, the Atlantic slave trade took about 90,000 slaves per year out of a total population of around 25 million in just Guinea, where the vast majority originated. This number was significant, yet only a moderate annual growth rate in population was enough to sustain it by replacement. Therefore, the slave trade is unlikely to have caused a decrease in the population of West Africa, though it may have reduced or even halted population growth in some regions.” [4]

Again, we see the apology and denial of the consequences of enslavement [5]. What this is saying is the harvesting of African people was done sustainable and that it had no demographic consequences on birth rate, it would be worth mentioning that the most viral and healthiest members where been exported overseas so it is inconceivable that it would not affect population demographics not to mention settlement patterns and human social potential.

The Nok civilization is argued by some to prove that Africa had a civilization prior to the arrival of Europe.

This kind of tone appears to vindicate Africa but it actually introduces reasonable doubt. Its references again the false notion of a primitive Africa as a half-valid hypothesis for it shows by implication that anything or everything in Africa has to be articulated by juxtaposition. African civilization does not require any proof or revolutionary rethink. This kind of reasoning follows from “he seems very educated for a black” or “you see they are not all savages.” What needs to be done is exposed the motives behind those removing African agency from the annals of world cultural contributions.

“For those left behind in Africa the standard of living increased substantially and the region became divided into highly centralized and powerful nation states, such as Dahomey and the Ashanti Confederacy. It also created a class of very wealthy and highly Europeanized traders who began to send their children to European Universities. [6]

The contempt in Eurocentrism is so self-evident it almost needs no commentary to identify either intention or fallacies. It is be restated the source of this material comes from a respected seminal academic and authority on Africa. Before Europe, we know the Kanka Musa had gold reserves that made Ancient Mali one of the riches economies in the Ancient world. It is also a fact that Sankore was an African university so notable that Arabs and others came to study there. All of these non-direct facts retort the claims that contact with Europe brought power and education. Also the statement about Europeanized traders is intended by the author as a compliment a kind of accession of the African from savage beast to Europeanized. Fage trips and stabs himself with his own pen and exposes and implements himself as one of the historical agents of academic racism that has distorted the African historical timeline.

Conclusion

It is the responsibility of the next generation of academics to re-interpret the works of their predecessors. This is not a duty exclusive to the victims of Eurocentric academic racism but rather to all. The plurality and multicultural world is far safer if we all exist in an environment of balance and fairness overriding the miss-motives of the past. We must sail the ship of truth on the sea of lies, against the tide of repetition, for this is the only way to erase the pre-assumed notion that washes and perverts the greatest human science--history.

REFERENCES

1. On November 23, 2006, a savage string of bombing attacks erupted on the capital's Shi'ite Sadr City slum to kill at least 215 people and wound 257.
2. The reclaimed history Man http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/cameron_duodu/2006/06/the_eurocentric_view_of_africa.html
3. A History of Africa: J.D. Fage pg. 261
4. A History of Africa: J.D. Fage pg. 260
5. Maulana Karenga 500 YEARS LATER, Film
6 History of Africa: J.D. Fage pg. 274

* Owen 'Alik Shahadah is a director, African academic , writer, musician, photographer and music producer. He is best known for authoring works, which deal with African history, social justice, environmental issues, education and world peace. Born in Hanover, Germany and educated in both England and the Caribbean, Shahadah is of a new generation of African Diaspora filmmakers inspired by the likes of Ousmane Sembène and Haile Gerima. He produces work that articulates a multidimensional African world perspective. Testimony to this is 500 Years Later.











* Owen 'Alik Shahadah is a director, African academic , writer, musician, photographer and music producer. He is best known for authoring works, which deal with African history, social justice, environmental issues, education and world peace. Born in Hanover, Germany and educated in both England and the Caribbean, Shahadah is of a new generation of African Diaspora filmmakers inspired by the likes of Ousmane Sembène and Haile Gerima. He produces work that articulates a multidimensional African world perspective. Testimony to this is 500 Years Later.

* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org


Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

@ Tola. The problem with your comments is you are actually saying nothing. You could actually copy and paste that argument and attach it to almost any article ever written. If an article is on slavery, then that is the topic. So what is the point saying "we have heard it before", one would hope you have heard about slavery before. Does that means no one can write about slavery?

Now the article is not about "solutions for Africa" it is about "Agency" and the need for African agency. And maybe you are unaware that the author is one of Africa's best documentary filmmakers with films such as Motherland which deal with the great glory and accomplishment of the continent. So I think that is very constructive.

We must be very careful with this tone that you are displaying because too often it takes no qualification to say these things. Not one point you were able to make to any specific argument. Just a carpet statement which could be attached to Farming habits in Southern Africa or The crisis in Darfur. Try and focus in the future.

New African

Shahadah really hits the nail on the head and concisely puts African Eurocentralism on the chopping board.

However, Shahadah is overly pessimistic of western influence. He ignores the instances in recent history where the west has played a clearly positive role in the development of parts of Africa.

The first example that comes to mind would be western sanctions against South Africa and global lobbying that led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela. The impact of this historical moment in Africa speaks for itself.

Shahadah equally does not point any fingers at purely selfish African leaders, leaders who are not guided by western ideology of capitalism or marxism or any other that claims to be for the 'common good' of the ordinary citisen, but that of “me and I”.

Former president of Zambia F T J Chiluba, who stole a conservative estimate of 43 million US dollars, only made moves to pay back the money to the Zambian people after a court order from a British Court.

Meanwhile within Zambia the court proceedings against his corrupt actions remain in limbo, almost ten years after he left office! Where does western influence stand in this instance?

I think it is fair to say that a lot of African states are or have experienced cleptocracy and a political setup which solely exists for the political elite.

It is in these circumstances where we as Africans across the continent, with our poorly performing and poverty ridden states, should point the finger at ourselves for tolerating such bad leadership!

It is no wonder why we continue to be exploited by the west, and in recent times the Far East. Weak leadership and increasing Eurocentric culture amongst us Africans definitely plays its role in Africa’s present.

KC Longwe

This article raises some pertinent points, especially in regards to the lazy misnommer 'black' applied to people of subsahara African and Aboriginal Australian origin. The problem I have is that it states the obvious and is nothing we have not heard before. It further puts Africans in the 'victim' role constantly misunderstood and put upon. As if we have to wait to be defined or even acknowledged properly by the West. Surprise x 2 this will not happen! As Mr Edule said, Africans need to take our story into our own hands. Instead of continually bemoaning the injustice we should get on with rectifying it ourselves as some are already doing. I just think articles like this justify the often cynical observation that as Africans we are too busy with the academic discussion and intellectualisation of our problems instead of practical change.

Tola

I could not agreem more with this sharp, critical and passionate analysis. I think we as Africans need to do is to write our history, preach our civilizations and take steps to developing the African continent. Any fallacy that Europe is interested in the development of |Africa, despite token aid, must be disabused. As long as we as Africans donot take the future of Africa and Africans in our hands, we will be sujected to all sorts of distorted history and also, 'low' tratment.. the author call it racism!

Oscar J. Edule, Ugandan Student

exception piece, it is one of those templates articles that could be used to serious probe the deeper issues that affect us. It is like self-determination, and the paradigm shift are important so to is agency because it really helps us start from the correct foundation.

Netsante Tsefaye




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