Black Africa: This Earth, My People!

“My people, I have been somewhere
If I turn here, the rain beats me
If I turn there, the sun burns me
The firewood of this world
Is for only those who can take heart
That is why not all can gather it.” ~

Song of Sorrow, Kofi Awoonor (1935 – 2013)

Africa has been the perfect laboratory for every evil ideology; this is the earth where slavery had its worst results, where colonialism too had its worst, where several sociological experiments were, and are still being, designed to confuse and test the intelligence of a people whose history, perhaps for lack of verifiable documents, is an inverse of achievement.

Our disquieting absence in the history of great discoveries and inventions, and the lack of wisdom to challenge corrupting impositions, has set in us a riot we may never be able to end anytime soon. This is a riot of identities, this is a riot initiated by our ignorance of who we were. It’s thus strange that despite our exploits in arts and humanities, our people still allow themselves to be used against one another, in pursuits of religious and political ideologies designed overseas. And all the evil things we have done to one another in the name of politics and religion are simply due to this ignorance – and that nothing is ever universal unless it’s accepted by all.

While it’s applaudable that we accept influences that ought to redeem us, it’s really baffling that such are being used to destroy our polities. Islam is increasingly being used by many groups of perverts to hurt the conscience of humanity. And the ongoing sparks of terrorism around us are justifications of Blackman’s folly. It’s understandable to see a lining of religion when the Arabs who are largely Muslim wage a war against a country in the west, which is either secular or Christian-dominated. But having the same race torn apart by religious or political ideologies introduced by foreigners is a strange example of tragi-comedy!

Africa is a in a deep mess right now, and the sooner we realise the danger ahead, the more the chances of forestalling an eclipse of our existence as a sane people. What the children of Black Africa needs now is immediate orientation and regulations of hatred-rousing religious activities; not just more arms to fight terrorism. Terrorism is one monster we can never ever fight with arms alone; it’s too strong for a continent that can’t even feed its people; it’s too smart for a continent whose people lack the brains to understand that we are humans first, before any other label; it’s too elusive for a continent whose security operatives rely on foreign interventions to fight a group of barely schooled extremists.

Africa is already losing the fight; even though we have lost significant figures of our human capitals to Brain Drain, the few home-based may be no more if these killings of “infidels” and “apostates” by God’s “litigators” on this earth continue. We’re already used to headlines announcing the killings of “hundreds”, already used to the killings of those we consider social nonentities among us; the indefensible peasants, artisans and herdsmen dying of the bullets of the terrorists or the soldiers sent to protect those poor citizens. Theirs are no longer news. What makes the headlines now are the killings of Africa’s intellectual and political ambassadors and, well, scientists – that’s if we really can call those memorisers of ancient theories, trained in our academic abattoirs, “scientists!”

Last Saturday the world woke up to a defeat; we have lost one of Africa’s renowned poets. To terrorism, yes. At a mall in Kenya. His name roused nostalgias, because he defined the worldview of many with his verses. Inspired by the traditions of his people, Ghana’s Kofi Awoonor explored and symbolised the miseries of Black Africa with imageries derived from the practices of his ethnic group. His verses are memorable, and were also models for some of my early poems which were abandoned when I realised that I was not really created for ethnic profiling, never fancy being an ethnic ambassador in my writings. This earth, my people, is going to be too slippery if this rain beats us any longer. And if we flee overseas, the racist sun of the west is not any merciful. But we can’t “take heart”; I hope we find the wisdom to understand the danger of terrorism in a continent of armed circuses!

While I have always empathise with every Solomon and Suleiman killed by the folly of our ideologically confused brothers, the death of Awoonor portends a certain doom for Black Africa. Our unimpressive human capitals will definitely lose key figures in this despicable insurgency. We have seen, sorry watched, the ruins of several nations in the Middle East, studied how religion is being manipulated to serve a group’s interests, so protecting this earth from such sociological erosions is a task upon us. It’s really sad that all we mutter is the “Islam is a religion of peace” cliche anytime our estranged brothers kill the “kuffar” in the name of our faith; we’re a powerful majority unless we begin to react to religious deviancy detected in our communities; the mullahs who have risen against these tides of anti-religious activities must be supported by all means. Not every bearded person who has his named prefixed with “Sheikh” or “Ustaz” must be allowed to preach in our mosques, to our children – or anywhere! While we’re busy in our offices, there are a few whose words can trigger a confusion in the minds of the unenlightened believers. Let’s stop deceiving ourselves. Islam is not a secret cult; it’s a beautiful and open religion for those whose minds are open!

The radicalised Muslims are students of a closed society, as found in Nigeria, and politicised Islam, as found in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Even the killers of Awoonor are foot-soldiers of politicised Islam – which is a brand of Islam we must never allow to interfere with what they consider “secular”. Politicised, not political, Islam is the distortion and application of selective decrees by an individual or a group to pursue selfish interests in the name of Islamic advocacy. It’s a fraud, a criminally designed ideology whose unprogressive proponents are on a blind rush to make the ideal believers unfair victims of negative profiling. Their mission is to create divisions along the lines of religion, which may be exploited to campaign for an impossible homogenous entity. Sadly, Africa is too complex for a successful segregation. They can only destroy the efforts of our years of labour, like the animals they actually are, while the other world moves on with their exploits in technological inventions to build a civilisation which the terrorists too enjoy. The world is not waiting for you, Africa! Today, we no longer want to go see the adobe mosques of Timbuktu – Mali only evokes pity now. We no longer want to go visit our friends in north-central Nigeria – that’s seen as a suicide mission. And, just last week, my dream of a vacation in Nairobi was closed in parentheses. May God save us from us!

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By Gimba Kakanda
Blueprint Newspapers (27/ 09/ 2013)

The Hypocrisy Called Imperialism

Real-Wax-Print-African-Cloth

In the midst of the debates roused by last week’s column in cyberspace, I confessed that English is my best medium of communication and a scholar of an African language with whom I have had unhealthy debates on what qualifies for the African labels, has taken that up as an academic engagement; that such declarations are not only effects of Western imperialism but a sort of profanity by a Blackman.

The worse is, he even recommended Hausa as a better medium to take up. At first, being a Hausa-man himself, I considered his position a spark of his ethnic pride, but on realising that Hausa is not just a language of an ethnic group, that came to me as another of an African scholar’s intellectual amnesias. Hausa and English are both alien to me; both are from foreigners!

My language belongs in Niger-Congo family and Hausa is from Afroasiatic, and my people even speak Hausa with a terrible accent because, linguistically, we’re even closer to the Zulu of South Africa than Hausa. So accepting Hausa too is no less a form of “cultural imperialism” – if we must define imperialism from the scholar’s skewed understanding. Well, I’m open to remedial influences, even though my people’s accents rhyme with Zulu’s more than Hausa’s. See? It’s a riddle of commonsense. And it’s lazy and dishonest to portray Africa as a monolithic entity; every village in Africa hosts a chaos of identities. So if we want to resist influences, and preserve our ethnic values in the confine of our gated localities, this place called Africa is finished!

In the prequel to this piece (The Meaning of African Culture, 13/09/2013), I highlight the dynamism of culture and how certain concepts we flaunt as indigenous are actually influenced or introduced through intercourses of ideas with foreigners whose beliefs or values turned out to be easier to practise or more significant. Here is why History is relevant, to understand our evolutions from loin clothes-wearing peasants to clerics in cassocks and caftans and technocrats in suits. Civillisation is not achieved through preservations of our past, but simply by being inspired by others to improve on our way of living.

But we’re still a people struggling to break through the wall that separates our primordial sentiments from our actual brains. We refuse to demolish the wall in our ignorant pursuits of unprogressive sentiments, which is the reason anyone would find acquiring English for one’s academic or scientific ventures a gain of imperialism. Ignorance and hypocrisy are also why a morally wounded conservative who takes pride in listening to the lewd songs of, say, Sa’adu Bori or Barmani Coge would emphasise on morality in condemning the “vulgar” lyrics of American hip-hop which are just as lascivious as those of our singers’. And if the scholar himself isn’t a hypocrite, has he championed conversions of scientific symbols into Hausa? Hausa Language is even more fortunate than my mother-tongue,  because it’s progressive and has borrowed heavily from Arabic which is why its relevance to the vogue is indisputable.

I came from a minority ethnic group, speaking a  language that lacks every chance, from number of speakers to degree of influences, of becoming a Language of scholarship. And thus it’s untrue to say that settling down for English makes one a specimen in the study of imperialism.

Imperialism, in my honest perception, is adopting the values of foreigners when you have a similar concept. I see imperialism as a sophisticated form of inferiority complex, when indeed you have a concept as relevant as the one acquired. But abandoning a cultural drawback either by modernising existing concepts or acquiring those considered superior or advanced is an opposite of imperialism. You have to check your thesaurus for an apt term!

We are humans because we evolve, not just morphologically. Our cultural evolution is simply as a result of years of keen observations and criticisms of our concepts and traditions, so it’s misplaced to argue that culture is simply a group’s identity. If identity is the main essence of culture, then we must have been the same peasants in loin-clothes.

Before we begin to label anything an act of imperialism, let’s at least acknowledge that we have the brains and power to reject  impositions. Let’s acknowledge that unless we have a concept better than the imposed one, it’s not imperialism. And while I beg the counter-imperialism experts among us to stop using anything developed overseas, I task them with giving the imperialists a run for their money; let’s indigenise science! Science is all about symbols, and if a people are too lazy to develop or convert the symbols into their language, screaming imperialism is a condition better understood by psychiatrists. May God save us from us!

Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspaper (20/09/2013)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

The Meaning of African Culture

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Ignorance has always been a variable in interpreting contexts and concepts. We rely on flawed and often hypocritical analyses in defining “African culture” and dismissing any label we consider as “foreign” or “alien to us”. Backhanded defences of Africa by those who like to think of themselves as “conservatives” romanticise obvious inelegancies as “the beauty of Africa”. To these conservatives, Africa is literally a civilisation of unrefined people dressed in caftan, adire or kampala and living in, perhaps, mud-built huts of various exotic shapes.

In their conservativist defences, they pander to obvious contradictions. First, what these African culturalists label fixedly as “African” are a developing or evolving facet of a human civilisation. It’s actually an unprogressive mind that would in this day and age consider riding on donkeys to farm African and not what it really is – backwardness! But among them too, there is a conflict: in their clamour for what qualifies for the African, certain traditions of the foreigners who introduced Abrahamic religions are assimilated. Thus, they betray their touted aversions to influences. The main ignorance here is the inability to tell the Western apart from the Modern. Though the West leads modern civilisation, it’s inaccurate to lay all claim to ownership of this world of machines to it. What we call western civilisation is an evolution of the collective efforts of renowned scientists, explorers, inventors and scholars from different races and continents. The Whiteman, for instance, didn’t know what paper was until the Chinese invented it.

So I’m a child of the modern civilisation, a civilisation that replaced the ink-pot with fountain pen. A civilisation whose people are an unprogressive collective that cannot manufacture an ordinary car has automatically lost my membership. Culture is the way we live, which is why anything that eases the way I live must be embraced. Which is why I abandon hoes for tractors to feed a larger number of people. Which is why camels and donkeys are abandoned for cars and aeroplanes to make living easy. I wear clothes in the style that the billions of people on earth, having criticised and eventually found practical, endorsed. This is what culture is all about, a continuous intercourse of ideas, concepts and creativities!

My culture is anything that redeems my identity, not the primitive emblems that reduce and mock my intellectual and artistic abilities. I’m open to influences that can redeem my humanity. I accept the education introduced by the Whiteman just as I accept the religion introduced to Africa by the Arabs. I accept to learn English Language to ease my academic pursuits in this anglophone entity just as I study Arabic Language to understand my Islamic faith. Doing so does not mean that I have lost pride in my African being, it doesn’t mean I have lost my pride in being a black man. It just means that they are valuable for assimilating the evolving culture. It doesn’t make Englishmen and Arabs more important than the black race. It doesn’t make English and Arabic more important than my mother-tongue. Our culture is now defined by all the things we domesticated from the zoos of alien creations!

It is however unfortunate to see heavily influenced Africans screaming “this is not African!” in a market-square of foreign concepts. You lack the moral rights to decide what is or is not African unless you renounce your “foreign” religion-channelled worldviews.

The other day a non-Muslim friend of mine saw a Muslim lady dressed in hijab, and asked to know why she would be so dressed in that hot afternoon. Ironically he was a clear definition of what puzzled him, being also dressed in three-piece suit which was way thicker! “Why are you dressed in suit in this heat?” I asked. “I’m just returning from the office!” He said. I replied, “You wear yours in fear of your boss, she wears hers in fear of her God. And she has her brains to choose a culture or life that comforts her.” The worse contradictions were the reactions of some Igbo Christians to the recent conversion of an Igbo monarch to Islam, which to them was  against the culture of the Igbo – when did Christianity become the culture of the Igbo? Amadioha must not hear this!

Civilisation is not built by our nostalgias and histories alone, but in our criticisms of identified drawbacks and letting go of them. Modern African culture must not be a romancisation of the simply old and dated. Certain things are more useful in museums and history books. The irony is, even our fabrics which we wear like testimonials of accomplishments to international events or foreign trips were either produced in the countries – or with machines manufactured in the countries – we seek to intimidate with what we mistake for our inventions. The last time I checked, even what we refer to as African wax was actually started in Indonesia by English and Dutch merchants. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

Blueprint Newspapers (13/09/13)

@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)