How Europe underdeveloped Africa

The last time I wrote about this, I referred to the work of Walter Rodney.

Albert Schweitzer, in his autobiography, writes and I am compelled to agree

Thus it becomes very difficult to pursue a program of colonization that would lead toward a real civilization. These people could achieve true wealth if they could develop their agriculture and trade to meet their own needs. Instead they are only interested in producing what the world market requires, and for which it pays well. With the money thus obtained they procure from it manufactured goods and processed food, thereby making home industry unnecessary, and often even endangering the stability of their own agriculture. This is the condition in which all primitive and semiprimitive peoples who can offer to world trade rice, cotton, coffee, cocoa, minerals, timber, and other products find themselves

and when he writes this

We should never force the African to work by demanding ever-increasing taxes. He will, of course, have to work in order to pay taxes, but hidden forced labor will no more change him from an idle into an industrious man than open demands. Injustice cannot produce a moral result.
In every colony in the world today the taxes are already so high that they can be paid by the population only with difficulty. Without much thought, colonies everywhere have been burdened with loans the interest on which can hardly be raised.

the hut tax, poll tax and many such taxes that were introduced here come to mind. These taxes were introduced not because the colonial government badly needed the revenue but it was to force Africans to work on white owned farms.

Their existence is threatened by alcohol, which commerce provides, by diseases we have taken to them, and by diseases that had already existed among them but which, like sleeping sickness, were first spread by the traffic that colonization brought with it. Today that disease is a peril to millions

which reminds me of this time some fellow came pontificating on this blog that the problem of Africa is too much disease forgetting that while some of the diseases that burden us have their origin in Europe and the Americas.

Some of the issues stated above, unfortunately haven’t changed much. We still grow tea, cotton and many others for export while our industries are either dead, dying or non existent. It will be many years before Africa is industrialized and with globalization, even much longer.


In unrelated news, Albert S felt we had lost reverence for life. And i think writing sometime before, during and after the war, he must have felt this so deeply. He writes in his autobiography that our material progress has not been matched by moral progress. Hermann Hesse echoes the same thought when he writes

the neuroses of the poets today may be a form of health, the only possible response of soulful people to an age which recognizes only money and numbers and has lost its soul

Hermann Hesse, The seasons of the soul

Thoughts out of season

But are they really?

I try to not comment on the black lives matter protests around the world not because they don’t concern me but the simply because the African American is far removed from my immediate environment and while I have read a bit on the matter, I wouldn’t claim to know enough to speak authoritatively on it. But I can comment on my fellow countrymen and women staging a BLM protest.

Now, if you are a visitor to this blog, just know I live somewhere in Africa and for those whose education isn’t good enough, africa can as well be a country but that is not important. What bothers me about these protests done in solidarity with AAs is that we need them daily in almost all African countries. Most governments treat us like dirt. And I can mention the many ways this happens but I don’t want to bore you.

So then to what I keep asking myself, what do my brothers intend to achieve? Could we first protest our governments failure to treat us with dignity? I mean given that we are all black and all plus we are not trying to drown ourselves in the Mediterranean? I think it is only when our governments treat us do we have some space to demonstrate with dignity about the case of the AAs or any other oppressed group like NAs.

Or maybe i miss the whole point?

Racism in the times of Covid19

There are reports coming out of China that there is xenophobia against Africans in many of its cities. The Chinese ambassador to Kenya claims those who were discriminated against were not observing social distancing rules & no Kenyan was involved. I am wondering if these racist officials were walking around determining who were Kenyans so they could treat them differently.

It’s not like the virus originated from our shores! With so many Chinese nationals everywhere in Africa, I think it is really stupid for states or provinces to allow racial profiling to go on, especially now.

The AU must demand that the Chinese government addresses this matter. African nations should also evacuate their nationals from China.

Such a strange world we live in!

In more interesting news, I have seen an article about a zonkey being birthed somewhere in Kenya. I think a zebra and a donkey decided to try it out.

I am an African and I am deeply insulted by this.

While reading the Unbelievable? by Justin, there was a reference to an article by Matthew Parris that appeared in the London Times of 27th December, 2008 titled as As_an_atheist_I_truly_believe_Africa_needs_God–Matthew_Parris(pdf). The colonisers when they first came to Africa felt the African needed to be civilized. They called it the white man’s burden. The first anthropologists wrote back home to say the African has no religion. Reason was made to belong to the whites and the African was a creature of emotion and it is this same source that this piece by Matthew grows.

He tells us

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

yeah. Africa does not need fair trade. It needs more religion. The same Christianity that smoothed the way for colonialism. If you needed the goodies, you became a Christian. In many African countries, the children of the chiefs were the first to join the missionaries. These became, with independence, the rulers. That Africa is where it is can be traced to these leaders who were first taught only basic education, again because the African was not a person of reason.

In Europe, the state is being pushed to provide healthcare because people are paying taxes. In Africa, we pay taxes and instead we should welcome more missionaries. So to Matthew, government action should not be demanded because the missionaries are already healing people. I am reminded that every time I see a place with more churches per capita than schools, there you will find dysfunction.

He says of his friends and missionaries he met

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work were unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

which would imply that had they not been Christian, they would be dishonest, lazy and pessimistic. What does this say of him? Or of other secularists and Muslims and Hindoos, heck and voo dooists?

To him, the African is tribal. He writes

I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe.

but the European is just a member of the white race or a tribeless individual. The white man is just that. White! But the African he is tribal.

He tells us

Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought.

because the Christian does not have hell anxieties? Or temptation by the devil and evil spirit. Only the rural African is daunted by such thoughts. I am amazed at how many disciples Hegel has even without knowing it. To Matthew, the rural African lacks initiative. He just exists. He is not curious. And only the Christian missionary can arouse this curiosity. How novel!

He wrote

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and insubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

In short, the rural African without Christianity is enslaved. He is only subject to group-think. There is no individuality. This, according to Matthew, is only possible for the white man and his Christian religion.

He concludes

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the know how that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

and adds

And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Which implies that Africa does not fair trade, fair intellectual property agreements, technology transfer. Nothing. Just good old Christianity.

First, I wonder, with Okot p’Bitek

How could a religion that has little practical value and also seems in some ways to encourage asceticism provide a philosophy of life for living in the African world?

And secondly, Christianity & Islam already violently supplanted traditional African systems of belief and practice that had served the continent for hundreds of years before the christian missionary dreamed of African travel leaving the African confused and lost; not white, not black. He has a Sunday religion but nothing else. To Matthew, he needs no religion but with a condescending attitude things this what Africa needs. I am tired of these Hegelian disciples who can always find news ways to show their racism.

I am African and I am pissed off!

In Africa

I mean traditional African societies, a good man/ woman knows no rest even in death. The dead person’s spirit is expected to watch over the community and protect it from calamity.

And the bad man dies completely. Children don’t get their names. They don’t get invoked in times of calamity or joy. They die to the community.

In short, if you want to live long, be good. A good person is one who is useful to the community.

The climate of fear

By Wole Soyinka

Is such book that leaves one with tears, even those hard hearted fellows. I have read the first essay only to discover the French detonated an A bomb in Algeria in 1960!

And of UTA flight 772 bombing that was treated as a footnote compared to the Lockerbie bombing a year earlier.

If you add to this, the almost nuclear war during the Angolan self liberation struggle. There is really nothing to say. And that is a scary place. It is fear untold.

One should read this book. It’s a collection of five essays by the renown author on fear, human dignity- search for it- and all.

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.