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.

History of African civilizations in

the Nile Valley by Bethwell Ogot, a review.

In my view, this book is not meant for a scholarly audience but beginners in the study of African civilizations. It is quite thin on citations though the gives a selected biography for those who would want to carry out further reading on the subject.

Having said that, we can talk about the few portions of the book I liked.

In chapter 5 on contributions of the Pharaonic Egypt to Human history- cultural contributions he mentions The Dialogue of a pessimist with his soul which I thought is an interesting read and is true today as when it was written. Consider this portion

Spoke to my soul that I might answer what it said:

To whom shall I speak today?

Brothers and sisters are evil and friends today are not worth loving.

Hearts are great with greed and everyone seizes his or her neigh­bor’s goods.

Kindness has passed away and violence is imposed on everyone.

To whom shall I speak today?

People willingly accept evil and goodness is cast to the ground everywhere.

Those who should enrage people by their wrongdoing

make them laugh at their evil deeds.

People plunder and everyone seizes _his or her neighbor’s goods.

To whom shall I speak today?

The one doing wrong is an intimate friend and the brother with whom one used to deal is an enemy.

No one remembers the past and none return the good deed that is done.

Brothers and sisters are evil

and people turn to strangers for righteousness or affection.

To whom shall I speak today?

Faces are empty and all turn their faces from their brothers and sisters.

Chapter 6 where he treats of the Egyptian religious beliefs and the Judeo- Christian heritage. The conclusion one arrives at, though not explicitly stated by the author, is that what is original in the Judeo- Christian religion, if any, is quite minute. That these religions built on the conceptions of the early Egyptians. Parallels abound between what the Egyptians believed and what the followers of the Abrahamic religions believe. He argues that the origins of modern secular must be sought in the beginnings of the Bible’s ancient faith in a radically transcendent god. He writes

Only a religious faith that was radically polemic to the ancient culture of magic and indwelling spirits could have initiated the cultural and psychological and spiritual revolution necessary to cause entire civilizations to reject the gods and spirits men had revered from time immemorial. Only god can overturn the gods for the masses. Without faith in the new god it would have been impossible to dethrone the old gods. Thus secularization is the paradoxical, unintended, long-term consequence of a distinctive kind of religious faith. By privatizing religion, secularization multiplies the number of value systems that can co-exist within a common public realm. Instead of serving as the common inheritance of an entire community, religion becomes a matter of personal choice.

In the next chapter he introduces models that have been employed in the study of ancient Greek philosophy: The Ancient model which acknowledges Egypt as the source/ parent and the Aryan model which seeks to downplay the role of Egypt and thus Africa in Greek civilization.

In chapter 8 where he writes of the transmission of Egyptian philosophy, science, religion and so on by the Greeks and Romans, he mentions Giordano Bruno, he asks could he have been burned at the stake for among other things his belief that Egyptian religion not just as foreshadowing Christianity but as the true religion? Bruno wrote

Do not suppose that the sufficiency of the Chaldaic magic derived from the Kabbalah of the Jews; for the Jews are without doubt the excrement of Egypt, and no one could ever pretend with any degree of probability that the Egyptians borrowed any principle, good or bad, from the Hebrews. Whence we Greeks [by which he seems to mean Gentiles] own Egypt, the grand monarchy of letters and nobility, to be the parent of our fables, metaphors and doctrines.

In the same chapter, there is a quote from Newton’s Principia Mathematica thus

It was the most ancient opinion of those who applied themselves to philosophy, that the fixed stars stood immovable in the highest parts of the world; that under them the planets revolved about the sun; and that the earth, as one of the planets, described an annual course about the Sun … The Egyptians were the earliest observers of the ( heavens and from them, probably, this philosophy was spread abroad. For from them it was, and from the nations about them, that the Greeks, a people more addicted to the study of philology than of nature, derived their first as well as their soundest notions of philosophy; and in the Vestal ceremonies we can recognize the spirit of the Egyptians, who concealed mysteries that were above the capacity of the common herd under the veil of religious rites and hieroglyphic symbols.

This book just like the others I have read on the subject till now, which are few, do not answer my question: Who were the Egyptians and why did Africa turn out black?

​Does an African philosophy exist?

This is the second last chapter in Diop’s Civilization or Barabarism. This is one of the chapters I liked the most in the book. 
He writes

 in the classical sense of the term, a philosophical thought must bear at least two fundamental criteria:

1. It must be conscious of itself, of its own existence as a thought;

2. It must have accomplished, to a sufficient degree, the separation of myth from concept. 

He limits his enquiry to Pharaonic Egypt and the rest of Black Africa. 

What these philosophies are/ were are not the interest of this particular post. 

A French Egyptologist, Amelineau, quoted by Diop, wrote

One was right to admire the speculating genius of the Greek philosophers in general, and of Plato in particular, but this admiration that the Greeks deserve without any doubt, the Egyptian priests deserve even more, and if we give them credit for the paternity of what they invented, we would only be committing an act of justice.

Egypt had inaugurated, from the first Egyptian dynasties onward and probably before that, a system of cosmogony that the first Greek philosophers, Ionian or Eleatic, reproduced in its essential lines, and from which Plato himself was not loath to borrow the basis for his vast speculations, which Gnostics, Christians, Platonists, Aristotelians and Pythagoreans all did only decorate with more or less pretentious names and concepts, whose prototypes are found in Egyptian works, word for word in the case of both the ennead and the ogdoad and almost that of the hebdomad.

Between (Aristotle’s) doctrine, Plato’s doctrine and that of the Heliopolitan priests, I could see no difference other than a difference of expression.

Elsewhere, our author quotes Strabo (58BC to 25CE), a Greek scholar, who wrote

We saw over there [in Heliopolis] the hallowed halls that were used in the past for the lodging of the priests; but that is not all; we were also shown Plato’s and Eudoxus’s dwelling, for Eudoxus had accompanied Plato here; after arriving at Heliopolis, they stayed there for thirteen years among the priests: this fact is affirmed by several authors. These priests, so profoundly knowledgeable about celestial phenomena, were at the same time mysterious people, who did not talk much, and it is only after a long time and with skillful maneuvering that Eudoxus and Plato were able to be initiated into some of their theoretical speculations. But these Barbarians kept the best part to themselves. And if today the world owes them the knowledge of what fraction of a day ( of a whole day) has to be added to 365 whole days in order to have a complete year, the Greeks did not know the true duration of the year and many other facts of the same nature until translators of the Egyptian priests’ papers into the Greek language popularized these notions among modern astronomers, who have continued, up to present time, to draw heavily from this same source as they have from the Chaldeans’ writings and observations. 

Towards the end of the chapter, Diop reflects on the death of classical philosophy and offers hope for a new philosophy. He writes

[..]All of the above shows that classical philosophy, as promoted by men of letters, is dead. A new philosophy will rise from these ashes only of the modern scientist, whether a physicist, a mathematician, a biologist or anything else, ascribes to a “a new philosophy”; in the history of thought, the scientist up to now, has almost always had the status of a brute, of a technician, unable to extract the philosophical importance from his discoveries and his inventions, while this task always fell to the classical philosopher.

Philosophy’s present misery corresponds to the time interval that separates the death of the classical philosopher and the birth of the philosopher; the latter undoubtedly will integrate in his thought all of the above-signaled premises, which barely point to the scientific horizon, in order to help man reconcile man with himself. 

Concerning reason or the ability to reason, he writes

Thus there is reason and its content of the moment, or more correctly, the aptitude, the ability to reason, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the more or less consistent, provisional materials brought to light by the sciences which are affected by this ability to reason; there is reason’s permanent structure and its always outmoded content, directly caused by scientific progress and which condition the operating rules of the logic of the moment. Only, reasoning reason is permanent, its content becomes modified with time. 

Writing on the bahaviour of modern man, he writes, in part, that

Ecology, defending the environment, tends to become the foundation of a new ethnic of species, based on knowledge: the time is not far off when the pollution of nature will become a sacrilege, a criminal act, even and mainly for the atheist, because of the one fact that the future of humanity is at stake; what knowledge or “the science of the epoch” decrees as harmful to the whole group thus becomes progressively a moral prohibition. 

As I have written elsewhere, this book is a good read. It, in my view forms the basis for further research on African anthropology for the interested scholar and maybe through such study, a work will be produced that will paint Africa not as the dark continent, as we have been made to believe, but as a pinnacle if not as civilization worthy of respect just as we have been taught of other world civilizations now dead.

On Africa continued

Galen, a 2nd century Greek philosopher, reduced the traits of the black person to two

  1. Inordinate length of his penis
  2. Hilarity,  strong propensity for laughter

And since then every racist has worked hard to make these the only or main characteristics of the black person.

It has been said Diop in his writings came out strongly in his defense of the black African. I don’t know how one would respond to this passage from Count Arthur J. Gobineau, who wrote

Whence this rigorous conclusion that the source from which the arts have sprung is alien to the civilizing instincts. It is hidden in the blood of the Blacks. 

[..]thus the Black possesses to the highest degree the sensual faculty without which art is not possible ;and, on the other hand,  the absence of intellectual aptitudes renders him completely unfit for the culture of the arts, even for the appreciation of what this noble application of the human intelligence can produce of significance. In order to develop his faculties, he must ally himself with a differently gifted race..

The artistic genius, equally foreign to three great types, has manifested itself only after the marriage of Blacks and Whites.

That, my friends is part of the literature written about the Black African not so long ago. I think it will take a long time to correct such a view.