Do African countries like Nigeria have YouTube or internet?

I hope the person who asked this on Quora was joking.

In Africa we don’t have YouTube (what’s that even?) and internet? No. We use smoke signals and drums for faster communication. Where we need to send someone, we use horses at relay posts to deliver messages written on cow hides or frog skins because we still don’t know how to make paper.

As for music, we have market days where people come to perform and there is a person to select which songs will be played on each market day. A musician who gets selected to play frequently receives many likes, I mean thumbs up and is given kola nuts in appreciation. Those who get to play only a few times get sent to the dustbin of the clan history and may not be remembered unless someone does a cover for their songs.

Just to cover all other bases, we don’t have computers in Africa. The most advanced technology we have is Casio electronic calculators. I wanted to say we have only seen computers in movies bit figured this will lead to other questions like do we have movie theatres? or Cinemas. No and No. But we have those old projectors where a movie is screened on a white background and usually at night because we don’t have any buildings where such an event could take place.

The largest house here is like the one captioned below and only the chief and spiritual leader has such a house. The rest of us make do with tree canopies in inclement weather otherwise the sky is a good enough cover for us.

The largest house in Africa belonging to the chief and spiritual leader

Don’t be tempted to ask about whether we have aeroplanes, cars and trains. No. We don’t. We don’t need them. Our transport needs are very limited. The average African lives their entire lives within 3 miles of their birthplace and you don’t need any motorized transport for that, do you?

I hope you find this helpful. Should you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact us in the feedback page or in the comments section.

Burying Okoth, reflections

I am using Okoth here to stand for the African. This, therefore, is a reflection on African customs around death and burial with specific reference to the Luo of Central Kenya. In the last post, I did ask who owns the dead and if it is possible for one individual to lay exclusive claim of the dead. These questions, I think, we will continue to grapple with for a long time to come.

In this reflection, I want to do the reader some justice by introducing Ken Okoth and Luo customs regarding death. I will then look at some scholarly articles on the conception of death in Africa and the associated rituals, the meanings attached to them and so on.

I want also at this point to correct some form of disinformation that has been repeated ad nauseum on twitter by unread Kenyans that burial rites was introduced to Africa by the colonizers that we all left the dead to die in the forests. While this is true for certain nationalities like the Kikuyu, the Nandi, there were elaborate funerary practices in many places in Africa depending on the social status of the dead.

It is necessary that we have a working definition of culture before we can proceed. It has been defined as that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society or as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively or the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It should be noted also that culture has these basic characteristics

  • learned
  • shared
  • based on symbols
  • integrated
  • dynamic

With definitions behind us, we can briefly look at how the Luos dealt with issues surrounding death. But first, a cautionary note. Paul Mboya wrote about Luo Customs in 1938, that is half a century after the colonialist first set foot in Western Kenya. I mention all this because it will be evident in a short while how culture is dynamic. And this is an important point.

When an old man died, Mboya tells us, the first wife stripped her clothes followed by all others in the homestead to signify the death of he that clothed them home. If however, the man did not respect his first wife, she would refuse to strip and had to be persuaded but the cat was already outta the bag. A pre-burial (buru) ceremony was conducted in the wilderness where the enemy was fought. The grave was dug in the centre of the house of the first wife, or if she had died, a small hut was built. Burial took place on the fourth day for a man and third day for a woman after which there were several days of plays, tugo, to celebrate the dead. There was a public dress for the widow(s) of the dead. During the mourning, if any of the widows had bracelets, these were to remain covered until on the day of tero mon (when a widow got a guardian).

After several days of celebration and cleansing, bulls were slaughtered for elders, brothers in- law, and if the deceased was a wealthy man, a he-goat or ram was slaughtered for people from the homeland of his mother. If he had been a village elder, an elder was chosen on this day.

From the moment the family gathered in the house of the first wife following the death of the man, no one had sex. Nobody was allowed to go back to their houses until all the conditions set by custom were met. Then and only then did the bereaved members have sex.  At this point, I would just add that mourning period lasted from several months to a year and different ceremonies were performed in this period.

It is evident from the foregoing that among the Luo, there were elaborate ceremonies surrounding death. In a manner of speaking, there were no private funerals. The question of whether you had lived with your villagers or whether you had been estranged does not arise in death.

In Funerals in Africa, Jinra and Noret write

These events continue to provide crucial insights into the state of society, as they are integral to social, economic, religious, and political life. For Westerners, among whom death is normally a private and family affair, this is sometimes hard to fathom, but in the African context, funerary rites are oft en the communal event sans pareil, with ramifications going well beyond the events themselves.

The contestation of Okoth’s body and his cremation, can be understood, in the words of Jinra and Noret as representing social breakdowns brought about by religious changes, colonialism, urbanization, economic and others. Funerary practices should be seen as a link between the living and the living dead. We are told death is a crisis, it shakes the society and requires ritual treatment.

In The African Conception of Death: A Cultural Implication, Baloyi argues that the misunderstanding and conflict that
often arise in multicultural context especially the workplace, is due to the different conceptions of experiences
such as death, its cultural implications and meanings of the rituals performed during and after death. He notes, to the African, death is conceived not as discrete event but as part of the life cycle. The dead continue to exist among the living dead or ancestors. The dead live in community with the dead.

He writes

The mourning or grieving process cannot therefore be linked or limited to some time span in a discrete sense. It is for this reason that Africans take time off from work when their loved ones are dead, to perform rituals that eternally connect them to the deceased. Therefore from an indigenous African ontological viewpoint, death does not imply an end to life, instead, it marks the beginning of another phase of being.

In this sense therefore, death rituals become very integral parts of society living. They perform important functions of linking the two worlds; that of the living and the living dead (those recently departed and are still remembered) and are seen as important in maintaining balance and harmony between the living and the living dead. These rituals include, but are not limited to, bereaved family members shaving their hair, and the slaughtering of a domestic animal.

Baloye continues to argue that Ubuntu and Umuntu are ways of life of the African, that is, being-with- and- for-others. This being transcends death. He writes

Providing food to the masses of people who come to the funeral including slaughtering an animal is an Ubuntu philosophy imperative. The process of burying the dead, the accompanying rituals and the veneration of the living dead constitute performances and conversations as authentic.

It’s been argued elsewhere that nearly all African communities believed in burying the dead in their ancestral
land, where the spirit of the dead would join with the spirit world. Among Ghana’s Ashanti, families,
relatives, and members of the community would mourn at the homestead of the deceased (Owino, Bereavement and Mourning in Africa). He says the Luo usually buried the fruit of the yago (Kigelia africana) tree in a grave in the dead soldier’s homestead in the same manner they would have buried his body.

It appears to me, then, that the decision by Okoth and those close to him to consider cremation and a private funeral is an anathema to the people of Luo Nyanza and goes contrary to beliefs held by many Africans, however, since we can agree on culture being dynamic, a time may come when cremation will become part of culture. Maybe we will have public cremations, I don’t know.

Maybe, a new set of questions arise

  1. How do we reconcile the African philosophy of Ubuntu/ Umuntu with the individualized culture of the west?
  2. What compromises should be made between an individual’s wishes for after death and those of the community?
  3. Can the rituals around death be separated from the contestations around property inheritance to allow a public burial for a private individual?

 

Contra Larry

There is the popular phrase

“Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

which when applied in this case means Africa must tell her stories. As long as our stories are told by others, here the western media but this could be the case also with the media in the Arab world, we will always come out badly- which has been the case for ages- but then telling a different story when there are glaring dysfunction is not helping our case. It is in this view of the hunt that my country man attempted to tell the story of Africa.

The article has generated quite a bit of heat since its publication. There are quite a number of people who agree with him. There have also been those voices that opine the piece lacked nuance and there are those who think the reporting is flawed. For those disagreeing with the post, the main issue is that it is not supported by facts, paints a glossy picture while ignoring the glaring structural problems in Africa.

There is a tradition in the west, exemplified by Hegel when he wrote

Africa must be divided into three parts: one is that which lies south of the desert of Sahara–Africa proper–the Upland almost entirely unknown to us, with narrow coast-tracts along the sea; the second is that to the north of the desert–European Africa (if we may so call it)–a coastland; the third is the river region of the Nile, the only valley-land of Africa, and which is in connection with Asia.

and continues to say, the negro

“exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state and has no knowledge of an absolute Being, an Other and a Higher than his individual Self.

To him therefore, the African proper, to use his phraseology, is not a subject of history.

We spend so much time responding to the descendants of Hegel instead of challenging the systems at home that oppress us with support from the western governments and their mouthpieces- journalists and media houses with bases in Africa.

It does seem to me that Larry’s article is no different from Mbiti’s African Religion and Philosophy where he attempted to to assimilate African thought to western categories, not for consumption by Africans, like this article, but for consumption of those who had removed Africans from the stage of history. I don’t think we have to justify ourselves to anyone.

Well, we have banned the use of plastic but done shit on the part of solid waste management. In many urban centres in Africa, close to 50% of all generated solid waste is not disposed of properly. There is a lot to do at home instead of wasting time telling our stories, flawed as they might be to an audience that may really not give a rat ass about what we do. Or how we do it.

Europe or the Americas are not trying to defend themselves to anyone. We know most of it is racist and some of them wear their racism on their sleeves. We know there is a homelessness problem in NYC and other cities across the US. But it seems their elite take these for granted. It is, for lack of a better way, taken for granted that to be white is to be.

Africa must work for us first. The western press, for all I care, can say all the shit they want. Our governments must do all the must to make the African proud of his place in the world. No amount of story telling will do this if we still die from preventable ailments, have no access to sanitation, weak financial markets and all.

But for those who want to tell stories, or as they set the record straight, it’s a free world.

why is Africa poor

Or better still, how did/ does Europe underdevelop Africa?

Before some of you start throwing stones, I have only reframed this question from quora

Why are some former British colonies like Canada and Australia well off while former colonies in Africa are poor?

Well, they are white and Africa is black/ brown. Look at India & North America. Same thing. They are brown.

Africa did not industrialize but remained a next importer of produced goods, whose prices fluctuate depending on the weather and this is bad in the long term.

Africa’s produce is exported as raw material and sold back at very high prices.

When many African countries got independence 50-60 years ago, thieves, idiots and collaborators took the reigns of power and then their sons. Where anti-imperialists took over, they were summarily killed with help from the West.

Did I already say trade agreements that are unfavourable to Africa. Now I have said it.

Then there is that World Bank program of the 1980s- Structural Adjustment Programs that did finally mess a struggling continent.

The education the first generation of African leaders received was as clerks or worse- i mean clergy, for example. No philosopher kings, no science degrees and this coupled with European admins who were misfits at home or had failed at anything they tried to do.

Well, there are many other reasons that have been put forth but these are the ones that come to me easily.

How Europe/America underdeveloped Africa

Is a book by the late Walter Rodney. It’s one of those books that everyone should read. It’s not written, for lack of a better term, to seek sympathy but as things stood then( maybe even now). And it is in this respect that I find it quite powerful.

The liberation of the European or American workers is tied to the liberation of the black body. And the same argument has been made about feminism. The American and European worker however has been bamboozled by the capitalist who has made some luxury goods available to them at a small price or accessible loans and has therefore co-opted them in maintaining a border regime that is antithetical to their interests and liberation from a system of exploitation.

In fact, the case of the American worker is worse. They celebrate Labour Day in September! A plot by the capitalists to fight an international workers movement.

But I digress.

You must be asking how the current border regime is antithetical to the interests of the American or European worker. Your capitalists have somehow convinced you brown people are taking your jobs, creating insecurity and so the government is justified in militarizing your societies. What this does is to force other workers elsewhere, whom you should be in solidarity with, to work in less than inhumane environments. It means Amazon can be valued at a trillion dollars but have workers who can’t take health breaks. If workers can move freely, no one will take a shitty job. Capitalists everywhere will be forced to pay a decent wage or shut down. Everyone benefits.

You must be wondering what this has to do with the title of the post. Well, Rodney wrote, and I quote at length

European workers have paid a great price for the few material benefits which accrued to them as crumbs from the colonial table. The class in power controls the dissemination of information. The capitalists misinformed and miseducated workers in the metropoles to the point where they became allies in colonial exploitation. In accepting to be led like sheep, European workers were perpetuating their own enslavement to the capitalists. They ceased to seek political power and contented themselves with bargaining for small wage increases, which were usually counterbalanced by increased cost of living. They ceased to be creative and allowed bourgeois cultural decadence to overtake them all. They failed to exercise any independent judgement on the great issues of war and peace, and therefore ended up by slaughtering not only colonial peoples but also themselves.

And this my friends, is the reason why those who have been more articulate than yours truly have argued that the liberation of the world depends on the liberation of the black body, but especially of women and children wherever they are to be found.

How Europe underdeveloped Africa

By Walter Rodney

I just started reading this book and it is one of those that need to be read with others, in community. It is not enough to read it alone.

Elsewhere on this blog, I have said education is the chief way we will address the challenges facing us in this century, in Africa and the world as a whole. What type of education? A problem posing, as Paulo Freire put it in the pedagogy of the oppressed. This, problem posing education, is, I aver, what has been lacking in our curriculum.

I digress.

This book first published 46 years ago today is still so relevant it makes me want to cry.

For example, Rodney writes

The incomes given to civil servants, professionals, merchants, come from the store of wealth produced by the community. Quite apart from the injustices in the distribution of wealth, one has to dismiss the argument that ‘the taxpayers’ money is what develops a country. In pursuing the goal of development, one must start with the producers and move on from there to see whether the products of their labour are being rationally utilised to bring greater independence and well being to the nation.

Elsewhere he writes, and it is true, painfully so,

It has been noted with irony that the principal ” industry” of many underdeveloped countries is administration. [……]the salaries given to the elected politicians are higher than those given to British MPs

And this, my friends, is just the beginning of the book and I am already annoyed.

#couldhavebeenatweet