As others saw us- being an analysis of grassroots imperialism in 19th and early 20th century Africa.

Bethwell A. Ogot in his book History as destiny and history as knowledge, from which the above title is a chapter, writes in the introduction of the book, that

To tell the story of a past so as to portray an inevitable destiny is for humankind a need as universal as tool-making

He defines historicity as the need to picture to oneself what is destined, the belief that the past determines the future while historiography submits its report to the probable and its assumptions to the verifiable.

This blog is not concerned with a review of the whole book but will limit ourselves to one chapter of the book that retells of how the white people saw us, where, us here refers to Africans and specifically to Kenyans. If I should mention other groups, it will only be tangentially.

To start with, he notes that during the C19, a vast amount of negative propaganda and stereotypes about Africans and Africa was generated in order to justify imperialism. Referring to works by Mudimbe and Miller, he notes, from the earliest contact, Africa has been imprinted with European constructs, such that at some moments, Africans were represented as noble while at others monstrous.

People like Lewis Krapf, Rebmann, he writes, came to Kenya to introduce civilization which they mistakenly equated with Christianity. It has been said, and I think correctly, that Christianity was the precursor of colonialization, that the missionaries prepared the grounds for the colonial administration wherever they went.

He notes, one of the areas of contention was what civilization meant. To one group of whites, following the Enlightenment philosophers held the view that it was essentially concerned with the way society was organized. In this view, civilization was equated to capitalism where private property, the state and commerce are fully developed. The other group of whites, like Krapf and Rebmann mentioned earlier, saw the negro as primarily fallen man. Krapf argued that temporal and spiritual benefits could only reach E. Africa through European intervention making him one of the precursors of imperialism.

The representation of Africa as a tribal continent, he writes, is a white people construct. Since ethnic groups exist in societies such as Ireland, Belgium, Spain and so on, one fails to understand why the whites referred to ethnic groups in Africa derogatorily as tribes. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that ethnic groups and identities are historical creations- they are created by human beings. Ethnicity, in this view, is the consciousness of cultural difference.

To the whites named above and others, regions and people without states are therefore supposed to have no history worth the name. Another Christian missionary working in the Kenyan coast argued slavery was not, after all, the unqualified evil abolitionists thought it was, but that it was better to eradicate it gradually. Another missionary, D Lugard, argued Africans do not appreciate personal freedom.

The idea of Africa as a dark continent, as has been written elsewhere, finds it origins in the philosophies of Hume who wrote there was scarcely a civilized nation of negro complexion while JJ Rousseau proclaimed that blacks were mentally inferior by nature. I want to point in passing that when the Enlightenment philosophers wrote man was a rational being, they limited man to mean white privileged males. Rooted in pseudo-objectivity, male scientists claimed that men were the bearer of reason and rationality while women’s temperament was adversely affected by their dominant reproductive organs which were linked to the central nervous system. Women did not count, they were temperamental and of course, as we have seen already, the negro had no place in their view of nature, in fact, to them, the African was living close to nature. He writes, and I quote

In investigating the savage, the west set up a mirror in which it might find a tangible, if inverted self-image. Non-Europeans filled out the nether reaches of the scale of being, provided the contrast against which a cultivated might distinguish himself. On this scale, the African was assigned a particular base position.

A young Scot, Thompson, travelling through Kenya went even further to rank the different African ethnic groups he interacted with in different evolutionary scales. He, for example, had the Maasai on a loftier position than Wa Kwafi from the coast, who, to him, seemed to have acquired a strain of Negro blood. He didn’t stop there, he ranked the Njemps lower on the scale below Maasais though praised them for their honesty and reliability. The question the author asks at this point is, why should honest, peaceful, hard working agriculturists be ranked lower in human evolution than some thieving, war-like nomads?

The question of nudity, with respect to morality puzzled many Europeans travelers, missionaries and scholars. Dr. Oswald doing some work for the British Museum, was most troubled that despite their nudity, the Luo were a happy cheerful race, living in a state of nature, and at the same time with a high standard of morality. This was only a puzzle because in the European conception of the African, he was immoral. Despite this, he still had space to argue that they were primitive contemporary ancestors of the Scots who should be civilized.

Our author concludes thus

Among the whites in Africa, there was virtual unanimity that in the community of nations Africans were children.

 

This strain of thought can be seen in many interactions between whites and Africans where they refer to Africans as boy, regardless of age.

To these white people,

The African was emotional, excitable, impulsive, had a happy go lucky nature and lacked forethought.

Krapf, mentioned already, believed

Africans will never achieve anything in philosophy or in theoretical branches of science.

The appropriate end to this post is a quote of Mark Twain

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than other savages.

Or better yet

The only difference between the average civilized man and the average savage is that the one is gilded and the other is painted.

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Africa

I have been busy lately writing a term paper that leaves little time to blog or visit your wonderful blogs. So in the meantime, you can watch the documentary below and others in the series. I will be a minute.

Dear Black people of the world 

White people, I will get to you shortly.

Young and old, from the Cape to Tripoli, from the sunny shores of Nam Lolwe to Lagos, you have been misruled, misled and oppressed for too long. I want to call you all to rise up in one voice and say no more to oppression. You will ask, I address you as who. Well, as one of you and as one who thinks. You have been told many flowery things, I will name a few, to enable us begin the conversation and if we all join in, we can chart a cause for ourselves and for our progeny.

1. Rule of law and constitutionalism
How has this helped you? Look at you Kenyans, the political elite kill you with abandon when the law is very clear everyone has a right to life and so many flowery things. South Africans, how is it with Zuma? He seems to have made corruption the 9th wonder of modern world. Soon he may be so corrupt, corruption will not recognize him anymore. Ugandans, look at yourselves. You would not know what a peaceful protest is if it hit in the face. And my Nigerian friends, well, your problems are too many to be enumerated. Those documents haven’t served the people they were meant to serve because it was never about you. They give you rights, but just enough to enslave you. Destroy those colonial relics. Reorganize. Think. Work towards common good without the need for flowery language. I am not advocating for anarchy, on the contrary, I am only stating facts. Your forefathers lived without those flowery documents. You too can. There is no society that has been made better by having many laws.  Basic laws of equity are sufficient to live by. The first thing you must do is to run your presidents and political class out of town, take charge of your destinies. Life went on in Nigeria when Buhari was on medical tour in England. It can go on without the political class.

2. National borders and boundaries
Tear the boundaries. Allow free travel among yourselves. Forget about those divisive descriptors. Oh I am Kenyan, oh Ethiopian, oh Zimbabwean, what do these mean in any meaningful sense of the word? You divide yourselves in silly ethnic conclaves that make it impossible for you to achieve any form of human development. If you must have a passport, have one passport. The African passport only to be useful for travel out of the continent and to make identifying you easy in the event you die. Standardize and reform your education to meet the demands of your population. Most of all, it must teach Ubuntu. Let brotherhood exist in everyone’s heart.

3. Trickle-down economics
This hasn’t worked in America, in Europe and it hasn’t worked anywhere in Africa. If you continue with this silly idea, only a few of you will continue to get rich while the majority will wallow in poverty waiting for wealth to trickle down. Rethink your economics. Draw from your traditions and from whatever theories you have learnt and build holistic communities that work for everyone. It is not a sign of progress or development to have 1 Dangote and 100 million paupers. In other spheres of life, that would a psychological problem. Don’t venerate mental deficiencies as a sign of civilization. It is backward.

4. Free trade with the developed nations
This is a lie as white lies come. Your incompetent leaders sign trade deals with these nations that keep the rest of you poor, sick, underfed all in the name of free trade. They developed their nations either with the labour of the black person or with your resources. Speak with one voice. Work towards feeding yourselves. Reduce the imports of luxury items which you can do without. Put in place protections for your nascent industries. Innovate in sustainable energy. Reduce over dependence on fossil fuels. Develop agriculture as you industrialize. Reduce rural- urban migration but urbanize rural areas to reduce pressure in urban centres, to maintain kinship ties.

5. Military expenditure
I am not a romanticizer and I don’t think our forefathers fought less, no, on the contrary, I believe there were wars of conquest and of resources. In my second point I said forget national boundaries. Forget national armies. You waste so much money buying tools of death from the US and from Europe then fight among yourselves. All of you are stupid. Why are we so intent on repeating the stupidities of Europe? They fought 2 world wars, got you involved, for what? If you must have a standing army, create a small transnational army with a limited budget. I assure, you will not need that army in one hundred years. Form strategic alliances with whoever you want. Let the work of defending the territory be theirs. Get the best of any deal and if there is any that does not work for you, kill it.

6. Foreign debt
How was this debt acquired? Take the case of Kenya. The colonialist came, stole land then at the time of leaving, gave us a loan to purchase our land back. Become radicals. For each year under colonialization, calculate amounts that should be repatriated. By the time you are finished with that, Europe and America will be owing Africa. Demand payment of these monies immediately either through cash transfers or machinery or whatever that is useful to your economies. Use this money to rationalize your public sector. Don’t pay one fool so much and then pay the next intelligent person a meager salary. Pay each one sensibly. Eschew luxuries. You will be happier and live longer.

7. Religion: Christianity and Muslim
These two religions have been responsible for religious conflicts in many places around the world since they showed themselves on its face. If you must still practice them, make religion remain a private affair. Don’t fight religious wars. No one can arbitrate which is the right god or the right manner of worship. It is not in the province of reason to mediate on such metaphysical subjects. Pray all you want, but keep public spaces and discourse secular. Have robust debates but do not use violence to settle difference of opinion. Instead, develop better arguments with which to respond to your interlocutors.

Dare to dream.

Apologists of the empire

Sam Akaki writes in a Guardian article thus

Britain may have “buried a large part of its 20th century history, along with the rest of the country’s tradition of brutality and crimes against humanity in building its empire” (Building Brexit on the myth of empire, 7 March). But, to give the devil his due, it is an incontrovertible fact that Britain left positive legacies of social and economic development in the empire. In Africa, for example, the British transformed a borderless continent inhabited by warring tribes and clans, ravaged by disease, into modern nation states. They built hospitals, schools, elaborate networks of roads, railway lines, air and sea ports. Crucially, they introduced the rule of law, which protected all Africans irrespective of their tribe, clan or religion.

Tragically, the baby was thrown out with the bath water at independence, ushering in a vicious cycle of self-destructive civil wars across the continent, as demonstrated by the current violence in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. At the same time, despotic leaders are amending their constitutions and clinging to power for the sole purpose of stealing development funds. The result is a widespread lack of opportunities, which is forcing hundreds of thousands of African men, women and children to take risky journeys in search of a better life in Europe. In 2015 and 2016, an estimated 10,000 African migrants perished in the Mediterranean.

Ironically, it is Britain which is funding several NGOs that are performing the role of governments in providing basic education, health services and clean water. It is also feeding millions of refugees in internally displaced persons’ camps across the continent.

He, without shame, wants his readers to believe the British in building the Kenya- Uganda railway were concerned with improving our infrastructure for benevolent ends and not to exploit the hinterland. 

He tells us Africa was borderless and warring without presenting any shred of evidence. It should be remembered, especially for those who are ignorant, Africa before colonialism had nation states. They had their boundaries they had their system of governance and they definitely were guided by rule of law. Had they been a lawless horde, they would possibly have been all dead. Besides, in many places, for example in kenya, the boundaries many places have were extant before the colonialists and we’re adopted and have retained their names. I know Akaki doesn’t know this and that explains why he is an apologist for the colonial administration. 

Again, to demonstrate his ignorance further, he points to the Sudan which has been mired in civil war partly because of the actions of the colonial administration that forced the north and south into a marriage where the south is the abused partner that keeps on giving. It is ignorance that is only possible in the mind of a present day African fed on silly TV sitcoms and who does not bother to engage with the history of the continent. 

Lastly in giving the devil his due he tells us about NGOs in Africa. He forgets to mention the history of colonialism that forced almost all the able bodied African men and women to look for work in the settler farms and business to pay a tax regime that served only to impoverish Africa. He conveniently does not mention that most of the whites sent by the colonial administration as administrators were idiots and had failed back home. What were they to teach Africans in governance? 

African states have their own failings. That I must admit. But for an African to start lecturing us on how the British and other powers in Europe helped us is unbecoming of an intellectual. 

One must address issues of imbalance in trade agreements, puppet presidents, SAPs and their effects on the civil service in African countries and other emerging economies of the South. Finally one must address the plunder of resources from Africa that continues to date. The destruction of local ecology to feed Europe. An example in point is introduction of Nile perch in Lake Victoria mainly for export to Europe that has in about 40 years killed almost 400 indigenous species that were only found in the lake.

Akaki,  please give us a break and learn a bit of history. 

How Africa developed Europe

The end of colonialism in Africa only freed the continent politically. The international economic and political system after the Second World War, in the name of liberalism and free trade, pulled together all unequal countries (in terms of development in mode of production) to compete against each other in the open market. This in turn helped the continuation of the exploitative structures whose foundations were laid in Africa in the precolonial and colonial phases. Owing to a lack of access to technology, capital and skilled human resources, which colonialism stunted in Africa, the continent was not able to break out of the role of primary goods producer and supplier to the international market. The attempt at import substitution industrialisation (ISI) also failed and created more debt burden for African countries. Since colonialism never allowed the development of a strong bourgeoisie class in Africa, the state had to play a dominant role in the economy, and parastatals (public sector undertakings) became a common phenomenon in many states after independence (Ake, 1981, page 92). Developed countries, insisting on linear model of development based on modernisation theory, prescribed that African countries should open up their economies after independence to continue the trade relations

I think any discussion about Africa that does not look into the effect of colonization and the unfair trade agreements do not do justice to the problem.