Africa’s Future Through the Lens of Its Past, By Toyin Falola
The African past is a competent prologue in this agenda — especially, if we make it ours — to unite under one umbrella as one indivisible force of change for the progress of the African cause: Our people! We will have to reach back and adopt such (original) ideology of citizenship embedded in the collective, as demonstrated in ‘omoluwabi’ and ‘ubuntu’, both virtues of hard work and humanity.
With a history of human presence, dating back to 2.3 million years, Africa has been dubbed both as the ‘cradle of humankind’ (i.e. the Horn of Africa), and also as one of the ‘cradles of human civilisation’ (i.e. Egypt). These are distinguishing titles and epitomes with which one would agree. For a continent that has a long history of human activity and a corresponding early start in social evolution, which achieved such breakthroughs as to be credited with the title of ‘one of the cradles of human civilisation’, has Africa lived up to its full potentials? With successive eras of conquests and subjugation by the Romans, Arabs, and Europeans, there are some individuals who believe that Africa’s golden years are in the past.
Here lies a most pertinent question: Whose opinion of Africa matters most, Africans in whose hands its destiny truly lies, or those who seek to redirect its vast wealth and potential for their own personal gratification?
It is, indeed, no secret that Africa, in the twenty-first century, does not enjoy an enviable position in world indices of development. Be it in its economies, politics and social relations, this resource-rich continent has struggled with problems, as well as machinations, of which are mostly the product of foreign interests at play and its greedy and corrupt leaders. The said interests have existed in Africa, even before the days of the Boer colonising settlers (1700), the Berlin Conference (1884/85) and now in a rebranded, reorganised form, globalisation. It is also no secret that Africa’s efforts at self-determination have continuously been undermined by its colonial legacies and post-independent globalisation polices. These have led to existing lopsided trade arrangements, the strategic threat of capital flight, as well as direct and indirect interference in political processes, all in a bid to have Africa play a predetermined role as source of raw materials and consumer of finished goods in a state of perpetual dependence.
Africa should be regarded as one entity, so argued its strategic thinkers. Therefore, there exists a Black World, and Africa is its heritage. Thus, Africans, both in Africa and around the world, must develop ideas for its unity and progress. This is in the interest of the citizenry, but whether or not we accept it, the world sees us as Africans, African-Americans, persons of African descent, and other such categorisations. Africa certainly trails us everywhere we go; as a result, it is left to us to work towards making it as worthy a title (and prefix) as we know it is capable of being. Furthermore, it is such lofty aspirations as our visionary forebears, the likes of who were Edward Blyden, W. E. B. Du Bois, George Padmore, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyata, C. L. R. James and Aimé Céesaire. In fact, had our generation seen to the development of the principle of Pan-Africanism, the idea of one Africa uniting the thought and ideals of all native peoples of a blessed continent, which the enemies called the ‘Dark Continent’, would have been fulfilled.
Africa must look into its own mythologies: Ancestors, cosmos, and rituals, thereby emulating such ideals as identity building for peace, creativity and collective survival, leadership for public good, citizenship for collective survival and religion, for both economic and environmental balance, all on a continental scale.
The African past is a competent prologue in this agenda — especially, if we make it ours — to unite under one umbrella as one indivisible force of change for the progress of the African cause: Our people! We will have to reach back and adopt such (original) ideology of citizenship embedded in the collective, as demonstrated in omoluwabi and ubuntu, both virtues of hard work and humanity. We must subsequently revive and espouse the traditional African values of family, kinship, and community: bedrocks of society which existed to take care of a variety of needs that modern capitalism cannot take care of. Also, key, in the success of the one-Africa agenda, is a construction of ideas for the acculturation and assimilation of others into society, with a conscious effort towards self-sufficiency in areas of great importance, notably in food production, community organising, and health care delivery.
The world, as it exists at present, coupled with the unequal power relations, set international laws that govern global relations, including the notion of who gets what — which came into existence, partly through a conscious attempt — initially by the West and more recently the East (minimally) — by successive leaderships of these regions to ensure the survival and prosperity of their people. And in these calculations, the interests of the African people (the geographical south) were not much considered except where they exist to ensure the success of the latter. Therefore, it goes without saying that, breaking out of this predetermined role set for Africa, the continent must first determine its own identity and development options. That would require a complete overhaul of previous capitalist-sponsored indoctrinations designed to divide and conquer. To achieve the foregoing, Africa must look into its own mythologies: Ancestors, cosmos, and rituals, thereby emulating such ideals as identity building for peace, creativity and collective survival, leadership for public good, citizenship for collective survival and religion, for both economic and environmental balance, all on a continental scale.
The Yoruba people, for example, say in their proverb: Alatise ni m’atise ara e (Human beings determine their own fate). This statement does not only buttress the above points, but it also goes on to hint at the importance of a self-determined path to life. One of the negative impacts of a Western ideology-dominated world is that, it informs a unilateral approach to world developments and, therefore, its originator dictates the manner and pace of progress. In Asia, for example as well, China knew this when it shook off its colonial appendages and developed an indigenous path to its socio-economic future. Other Asian countries, like India and, to some extent, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the Middle East, adjusted accordingly and are reaping the benefits.
Recently, with the coronavirus in vogue at pandemic levels, the powerlessness of Western military and nuclear weapons emphasises the need for Africa to look inwards and, in the process, to redirect its energies. The West, with its ongoing insular politics, is obviously not disposed to jump to Africa’s rescue at every instance. Africans, therefore, must give utmost regard to indigenous African ideas, especially in medicine and technology, in order to resolve our challenges. Above all, we must set aside xenophobia, nativism, and Afrophobia and, in the end, focus our energies on the positive use of our resources, both human and material, for the collective good of our continent, whereby we can once again espouse the lofty principles of Pan-Africanism. We must remember what the Yoruba have told us, as our guiding principle:
Alatise ni m’atise ara e!
Toyin Falola is University Distinguished Teaching Professor, The University of Texas at Austin, and President, Consortium of Pan-African University Press.