Africa Writes 2016: Nawal el Saadawi

I don’t listen to podcasts usually but I enjoyed this one too much. It is great. Saadawi is awesomeness personified.

I like her comments on middle east, on identity politics, on academia, on post modernism, on being a doctor and an author. In short, I am, for lack of a better word, in love. I am going to look for her work.

This podcast comes highly recommended.

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On African time

Many times I have heard visitors to Africa and even educated Africans complain about our seeming inability to keep time. All these complaints are born of ignorance of the African and their conception of time. It should be understood, as Mbiti writes in African Religions and Philosophy (1969), that time is simply a composition of events which have occurred, those which are taking place now and those which will immediately occur. In our conception, the future is virtually absent because events which lie in it have not taken place, they have not taken place and cannot, therefore, constitute time.

For us, then, time has to be experienced in order to make sense or to become real.

How, then, do we reckon time? We reckon time for a concrete and specific purpose, in connection with events but not just for the sake of mathematics. It is for this reason we had phenomenal calendars, in which events or phenomena which constitute time are reckoned in their relation with one another and as they take place writes Mbiti.

It is for this reason, therefore, it doesn’t what time the sun rises- whether at 5am or at 7am- as long as it rises.

For the technological mind, time is a commodity which must be utilised, sold and bought; but in traditional African life, time has to be created or produced. Man is not a slave of time, instead, he makes as much time as he wants.

As I said in the beginning of this post, many foreigners when they say Africans are always late or wasting time, they are talking from ignorance of what time is in Africa. We are not wasting time, we are either waiting for time or are in the process of producing time.

Next time you are visiting Africa or scheduling an appointment with one, don’t depend too much on your wrist watch, relax. We are never late. Morning is any time between sunrise and midday so be sure we will honour that appointment.

Here is a case of educated African reckoning time linearly 🙂

why the Medu-Netchher- Hieroglyphics have never been deciphered

I am no student of ancient writings or symbols of Egypt.

Walter Williams makes the above claim and gives the following as his reasons

  • in order for the Medu-Netcher or hieroglyphs to have been deciphered, one would have had to ask the ancient Egyptians who drew the symbols what he/she meant for them to be
  • no one can put a phonetic alphabetical value to symbols
  • you cannot apply a language or languages to symbols that one does not know the meaning of
  • it is impossible to reduce the 400 or more symbols of the hieroglyphs to 26 letters of the alphabetical system

HE argues further that pioneers in Egyptology (sic) as Barthelemy, Count Silvestre de Sacy and Champillion arbitrarily assigned letters to symbols and these were then accepted by Western academia.

Quoting Carol Andrews writing for the British Museum on the Rosetta Stone who wrote

it is not possible, strictly speaking, to compile an alphabet of hieroglyphic signs. For practical purposes, however, certain unilateral hieroglyphics have been selected to form a kind of alphabet which is universally used for the organization of dictionaries, word lists, index and for general reference purposes,

he makes the point that one can not use the Rosetta Stone to decipher the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Historians and linguists, what say you?

Atheist experience in Africa(?)

It is while reading this post that the question occurred to me of what is the atheist experience in Kenya. First, works such as those by Mbiti add credence to the claim

that Africans are deeply religious and theistic.

I also think the main thesis of the piece, that

The way and manner that atheists in Africa are treated have largely been overlooked. What atheists encounter in the course of their lives has not been adequately highlighted.

Is largely true. Unlike the author, I have not had the opportunity to attend a large gathering of freethinkers or agnostics and atheists. Well, I have attended a beer drinking session organised by my godless friends but never a conference.

Those who have followed this blog long enough recall the furore over registration of an atheist society in Kenya that wound up being decided by the high court in the favour of atheists. Generally, however, it can be argued almost convincingly that atheists are invisible. It is however hard to tell if it is by design or whether it is as a result of mistreatment or a fear of atheists to speak up.

Because I am not a social scientist, nor am I going to do a longitudinal study of atheist experience in Kenya any time soon, the sample for this post is yours truly and the conclusions drawn from it cannot be said to apply to the general population.

In many instances when I have spoken of my godlessness, others have claimed it is a phase, while others think I am confused or worse still others think I am pretending. They convince themselves that I am a believer in their god, maybe even more devoutly so, especially since to some of them, my knowledge of the bible is superior to theirs. The explanation that I read it every so often just to be able to respond to their claims doesn’t cut it with many people.

My workplace is the best. I love my colleagues. While majority are christian only divided by the cult they have opted to associate with, religious discussions hardly feature in our interactions except when I am in my cheerful self and making fun of a thing or two about their beliefs.

While I have read of people who have been disowned by their families, especially America or whose relationships have broken down, I have no such fear. My immediate family is resolved to my godlessness. It bothers no one. My extended family has no such say in how I live my life, so there is no chance they would do something so drastic. Besides, how would they achieve their ends? Block me from going to my house?

What I would however hope for is to get more writings by African scholars on atheism from an African perspective. The Judeo-Christian and Muslim conceptions though interesting, are no longer attractive to me. I am interested in whether in the traditional African societies, atheism existed and how was it articulated? How did society respond to the claims of atheism or is it a western thing in the continent finding its foundation in the rejection of both the missionary and colonial overlord.

I am aware that some of the Kenyans who were at the forefront in the fight for independence, who had at first converted to christianity either quit or only appeared to believe while in public. It is also the case that some of the Independent African Churches were a repudiation of some of the teachings of Jesus, some to the extent of claiming divine revelation without the need for Jesus. These aspects should interest a cultural anthropologist which I am not. My interest would extend only as far as how they treated of houses of worship, if they had such or whether worship took place under sacred trees, stones or in caves. The rest lies in the province of social and cultural anthropologists.

In the next month or two I will read Nkrumah’s Consciencism (if I can find it) and his exposition of materialism as a philosophy. Two books by Okot p’Bitek Decolonizing African Religion and African Religion in Western Scholarship will also be looked at.

I think the thesis of the article attached above has some truth in it, considering for example the experience of atheists in Egypt, Nigeria and so on. But since a study or poll covering Africa hasn’t been done, we can agree there is much more work to be done. Asking atheists of their experience would not be enough. To be meaningful for our purposes, I do think it would be useful to also find out how the rest of society views us.

As a starting point, any atheist, especially of African descent and living in the continent should weigh in. Ark you are not counted :0

The Kingdom of Bananaland by TT

but known here as Veracious poet

A review

But first a story. Many of you know my complains about poetry. It is not that I couldn’t understand poetry, I think it was my teacher of literature who maybe did not try to make poetry interesting. It felt much harder than plays or novels. Or maybe, I was the problem it could be an attitude thing and I have not been able to cure myself of that attitude. I tell you this because it is important for this post.

I hope my friend will make the anthology available for sale soon or if he decides to be generous to make it available to all and sundry.

The Bananaland is an anthology of poems. I want to start with the epilogue

Man is indeed capable of great feats
But he is an animal, a political animal.
And all the wrestling is with himself

I find this a great ending to an anthology of poems that in the main make me quite sad. Sad because how accurately they describe the situation in Africa and sometimes the world in general.

Having said that, and this I will only say once, I understand the artist can take poetic liberties in his choice of characters and the names he or she gives them, but the choice of ape and banana ring too close to me of a history of racial disrespect, if such exists, where although all humans are great apes, the colonizer, the racist has always seen the African person as more ape than they. There was, I think, in a football match somewhere in Europe where a banana was thrown at an African player for one of the teams which was interpreted as a racial attack. To that extent and that alone, do I have a problem with the choice of apes and bananas in this great anthology, for great it truly is.

In this short anthology, of about 60 poems that can stand on their own, or can be read as a story, one truly sees the African nation state as it is currently. The nation buys weapons in the guise of protecting the citizens from external aggression but the moment there is dissent, these guns are trained on the citizens, whose taxes were used to buy them. I agree with his constant refrain that the ape is truly stupid.

He is right on the mark when he writes elections mean nothing in Bananaland. The elections, are for him, nightmares. And I agree with him. Look at us, we have gown through two farces of elections to have the same thieves in office, whose only goal, as he says is the case in Bananaland is personal enrichment. The citizens be damned.

In Bananaland, they say we have fertile soils, a big workforce but we import bananas. Kenya imports maize from Mexico. That’s not the tragedy. The tragedy is that when farmers have harvested their crop, the national cereals board, the same idiots who will be importing maize, will do almost zilch. The farmers will sell their output at throw away prices. Because they are not in the business to keep making losses, they stop growing maize, then the idiots in government turn around and tell us some percentage of the population is not food secure. You would expect that these idiots would invest in agriculture, encourage people in rural areas to till their farms, provide necessary extension services to improve production, but nah, they steal and as for our country, they steal by borrowing loans which future generations will pay.

The current regime employs fools generally. I can say this without fear of contradiction. I can also say it hates thinkers. As in Bananaland where the author says the thinker is disdained, so it is in many African countries. Moi’s regime exiled, imprisoned, tortured intellectuals. Muigai’s regime has excelled that instead of doing that, it employed school dropouts to be at the helm of driving policy. Even our ancestors would disapprove this. They were not literate but they were knowledgeable. You cannot have an ignoramus lead. Our communities would not have long survived had they been led by idiots. This regime has made idiocy its greatest motto: in stupidity we rule. Somebody should say that in Latin. Mottoes sound almost sexy in Latin.

Two issues VP treats exceptionally well is reason and its place in human progress, and here before Brian asks, I mean with progress a society where freedoms are guaranteed, access to healthcare and decent housing are guaranteed and where the standard of life is acceptable. People are not starving because of poor planning and such like. His treatment of how Christianity has made the African subservient waiting for a heaven, suppressing his reason and initiative speaks to my heart.

He writes, and I almost want to shout with him, on the mountaintops

If one doesn’t like his or her living condition here on
Earth he ought to change it before death knocks
On his door and drags him away into hades.
One needs courage to change one’s circumstances.

That Christianity promises a heaven where there is gold, milk and honey, things which my lecturer would call goods of ostentation means the poor person is contented with their miserable existence here as long as a heaven is guaranteed. I would even propose that miserable fellow hastens their departure by killing themselves. At least they will have done one act of courage in their existence.

I wasn’t sure whom the ants were, but either way, I liked the analogies. And I think, with Mark Twain, we can all say, man while descending from all the higher animals lost all that was great. Only saving grace for humanity is it retained the capacities to do that which the higher animals are capable of but no more.

On taxes, the less said the better!

Corruption, nepotism and all social ills that bedevils us do not need much attention. All I will say is they are well dispensed of by our author.

Equality, justice and truth especially their absence is common in Bananaland. The meaning of these words change depending on what side of the political divide one finds themselves. This is a law in all Bananalands.

I laughed at the requirements of kingship and then I looked at the Kenyan situation and laughed much more. A section of the population believes and strongly so, that for one to be fit to lead, they must be circumcised. One would think this would be the concern of those they choose to have sex with, but no, in Kenya, the prepuce is more important in determining one’s ability to lead. I am sure, the ancestor are proud.

Our politics, he calls

Apemocracy means a rule by political apes.

And he hasn’t been more right.

Since, I took liberties while doing this review to start with the epilogue, I will end with the beginning. He writes

Between ape and banana
There cannot be morality,
Ethics, law or constitution.
There is only one thing and
That is desire or instincts.

I hope, VP, that I have done justice to your great work. I also hope that I have kept my word and as such, the word honour can be applied between us.

Thank you for sending me the book.

It was hilarious, poignant and at the same time easy to read.

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.