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.

what do we expect of the African thinkers, intellectuals and leaders?

Bethwell Ogot, in Who, if anyone, owns the past? writes

African scholars, thinkers and leaders have a moral responsibility, therefore to create a New Africa, an Africa they want and that they have to decide to help shape. Such a new Africa will have to exist in the minds of all its inhabitants and become part of their every day life-a life that is full, vital, open and in which dialogue, co-existence, and mutual aid are taken for granted.

The collective identity of this New Africa in the making which will include peoples with different cultures, languages and histories, will be found in a shared set of values: the primacy of individual human rights, democracy, a balance between freedom and solidarity and between efficiency and equity, as well as openness to the world.

The new Africa must recognize the complementarity between its values, and the knowledge and understanding of the values of others.

Most African intellectuals have helped prop up dictatorships. They serve in the cabinets. They see no evil and say no evil. They contribute no thought in knowledge acquisition or development. They have PhDs but just for show or to get to the positions from where they can stifle thought.

The other group of intellectuals and scholars lock themselves comfortably in the academy earning meager salaries and because of fear of their employer, they see no evil. They, too, are no different from their partners who get into government and become one with the oppressive state.

I find it beyond belief in the face of human rights abuses by the state in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa, scholars and intellectuals cannot find a single voice to condemn it. The academy has not issued a statement condemning state brutality at University of Nairobi or at Daystar or any other university for that matter? What role models are you? Are you cowards? Are you so fearful of university admins or the government that you can’t issue a statement in defense of your charges? You are a disappointment. You should all feel ashamed.

For the few independent scholars, Keguro, I can see you, thank you for asking the questions you do. For expanding the fields of thought in how we are showing care.

While I am no scholar, I find the attitude of the African populace towards their suffering sometimes perplexing. Are we so afraid of our oppressors to stand up to them? To mock them in our poetry? To show them our displeasure as a people and demand for better? Did the Christianization and Islamizations projects leave us as submissive and subservient to authority no matter who represents it, whether a god or a leader who claims to be from god?

Rise Africa and claim your humanity and dignity. Make the despots afraid, send them away, but save lives, if you must employ violence. But chase them away. They have caused enough misery already. They are the reasons our brothers and sisters die in the Med trying to get to Europe to be anything except poor and dirty African in Africa!

Many Africans, especially those brainwashed in the Abrahamic religions think Israel favourably as the holy[sic] land. These same people are blind to the injustices Africans suffer in that country or to the forced deportations. Fools all of you!

who owns the past?

Is the title of my current read.

The author, in writing on why history of Africa and the relationship with the developed world is presented in the manner it is, notes

[….]I attribute the want of proper acknowledgement to a collective desire- conscious and unconscious- to conceal a very shameful and horrific past. To acknowledge the past would necessarily be to acknowledge the present, and the developed world is largely incapable of that. To acknowledge culpability in the historical and contemporary abuse of Africa and its peoples would force a revision of all righteous claims of European civilizing mission, modernity, enlightenment and white moral supremacy. Notions of aid and development would have to be re-framed as acts of reparation and restitution for the plunder of gold, uranium, diamonds, cocoa, rubber, coffee, copper and people. And so the dark secrets of empires must be repressed, and in that way, control the past.