The Great Rift Valley
Ellen Sirleaf (Liberia)
Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana)
Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
Patrice Lumumba (The Congo)
Winnie Mandela (South Africa)
Gamal Nasser (Egypt)
*** Legends ***
by Yussuf J. Simmonds
AFRICA and AFRICANS
The GOOD (Before Colonialism) and the BAD (Colonialism/Imperialism/Apartheid/ Corruption/ Wars/Pestilence/Neo-colonialism, etc.)
Africa’s misery and its turmoil(s) can easily be traced directly to centuries of exploitation, colonialism, imperialism, oppression, repression, murder and theft primarily by Europe, Britain, and America (the West). The conditions that exist today on the continent are the direct and indirect effects derived from causes that were put in place by the raping, pillaging, colonialism and the imperialistic ravages committed by Europe, Britain and America. Africa is aptly described the world’s richest continents in natural resources, yet the conditions and the poverty of its people are staggering–beyond the imagination–riddled with disease, deprivation, wars, hunger and killings. And that raises the questions: why and how? History shines a light on the genesis and the continuation of the causes so that some of the devastating effects might be curtailed and may eventually be eradicated. (The term “African” used here refers to the Black African because a White person born in Africa is, by definition, an African also).
THE CRADLE OF MANKIND
African Americans are not the only ones that came from Africa, everyone else did–the whole of mankind. Discoveries around Kenya found that the Black man was there millions of years ago. One such finding was called Zinjanthropus, remains that evidenced the forerunner of modern man which archaeologists/scientists believed to be three million years old …. and that person had a father and a mother.
The Great Rift Valley was the source of some of these findings and to date no other material has been found any other place in the world to contradict these findings. Though the valley runs from Central Africa north to Syria, the location of the Zinjanthropus findings was East Central Africa nestled between Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, around Lake Turkana and along to Omo River in Southern Ethiopia.
There is a great need to place Africa and Black Africans correctly on the map of human accomplishments. Not only would it inspire an entire people, it would correct the misconceptions and inaccuracies of history that have placed the Black man role as a footnote of history. Evidence exists that establishes ship propellers, automatic hammers, gas engines, meat cleavers and other modern conveniences have their roots in Africa.
When Athens was laying down the foundation of the modern European civilization, Ethiopian culture had already been flourishing for over four centuries. About half a century, a ship was excavated in Egypt. It was in such a fragile condition that rather than moving it, it was left at the site and a museum was built around. The king who owned it reportedly used a process that allowed water from the Nile River to flow through a layer of matting similar to the filtering process used by Westinghouse in its air-condition units.
Boats, canoes, ships and other forms of transportation made it possible for men from the African continent to travel farther and farther away from his original home, and ultimately populated different parts of the world.
HOME BUT NOT ALONE
Between 1450 and 1850, the greatest migration of Black human beings took place. Men, women and children were uprooted from all over Africa and shipped as slaves to Europe, North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Those who were left became the fodder for colonialism and imperialism. There was a high level meeting among Europe’s leading countries and they carved out sections of the African continent so that by the end of the nineteenth century, the continent looked like the United States of Europe.
The continent was divided between Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The northern region was dominated by Arab influence mainly through Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Since the Sahara Desert stretched across the northern section of Africa, much of the rest of the continent was referred to sub-Sahara. But those countries were colonized too–the Europeans exercised equal opportunity colonization–their struggles tended to be separated from the sub-Sahara region struggles.
With an area of approximately 11,708,000 square miles and about 732 million people, the only independent country at that time was Liberia–43,000 square miles and about 3 million people); and Ethiopia–426,000 square miles and about 85 million people [the country was briefly ruled by Italy during World War II].
Though Britain had abolished slavery around 1811 and had freed all the slaves in its colonies in 1834, and other colonial powers had done similar gestures, the enormous brutality they had wrought had become so ingrained in the fabric of their societies, at home and on the continent, their gestures were more symbolic than real. Massive damage had been irretrievably done.
Europeans were conducting expeditions and establishing cultural protocols for their own benefits, while totally disregarding the culture mores of the Africans. These actions were foreign to the Africans in their own land. Through education and intimidation, culture and fear, and religion and even murder, the indigenous way of life was replaced and passed down to the next generation. The further the foreign way of life is passed down the more ingrained and acceptable it became since there was no other way with which to compare it.
Black Africans were speaking European languages, giving their children European names, their countries, cities and towns were named after Europeans–and many still are–almost a century after independence. By and large, many are still dependent on their former colonial masters.
THE 20TH CENTURY
At the dawn of the 20th century, a great movement began and it escalated into freedom movements. But those who had “set the Black man free” were not about to let him go for himself; they hung on. The British in South Africa formed the Union of South Africa which later on established the apartheid system–separation of the races.
Egypt gained its independence in 1922 and was aligned with the other Arab countries in the Middle East. Libya got its independence in 1951, Morocco and Tunisia in 1956, and Algeria in 1962–after fighting a war for its independence. But those countries still experienced turmoil and unrest which gave rise to Gamal Abdel Nasser who led a revolution in Egypt against King Farouk, inspired similar movements in Algeria and Libya, and was instrumental in founding the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Later on Ahmed Ben Bella and Colonel Muammar Quadaffi, like Nasser, would come to power in Algeria and Libya respectively.
In those days, many Africans had to travel to Europe to earn academic degrees and while there they formed relationships with other colonial subjects and realized their common predicament–colonialism. It was primarily at the Fifth Pan African Congress held in Manchester, England, in 1945 that many future independent leaders of colonized countries–including Blacks from the United States–sharpened their independent skills
There were 90 delegates, 26 from Africa. Among them were Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and George Padmore (Trinidad), the organizers; others included Jomo Kenyatta and Obafemi Awolowo (Kenya), Jaja Wachuku (Nigeria), W.E.B. Du Bois (U.S.), Hastings Banda (Ghana) and many others who were less prominent and preferred not to be noticed.
The aim of Pan-Africanism was to unify African countries economically, intellectually and politically, and to demand that their natural resources be used for the upliftment of African people. That Manchester meeting reportedly escalated the decolonialization movement of Africa.
After Manchester came the Bandung Conference (held in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955) though largely symbolic, it forced the great powers to take a “second look” at the rising tide of nationalism among their colonial holdings. It also gave Africans in many sub-Sahara countries the vision to recognize their potential power, and the voice and the inspiration to demand independence.
INDEPENDENCE AND PAN-AFRICANISM
After the Bandung Conference, the fever pitch thrust for independence began to produce dividends mostly in the sub-Sahara region, beginning with Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) which achieved its independence in 1957. But many difficulties lay ahead for most of colonial Africa; the European powers were not giving up their “golden goose” easily without a fight. And the Africans, who had been totally dependent, were thrust into leadership roles with little help and experience, and those who helped had sinister agendas that were not in the best interests of the continent.
Several counties followed Ghana including Guinea (1958), Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo (1960), Sierra Leone (1961), Tanzania (1961), Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda (1962), and Kenya (1963).
The departure of the Europeans signaled the arrival of a more sinister form of colonialism–a thorn by a different name–Western imperialism or neo-colonialism.
There were numerous ugly incidents which took place that shook the hopes and aspirations of the masses. Two such incidents were the internal unrest in the Congo that resulted in the murder of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and the eventual ascension of Sese Mobutu to the presidency; and the conviction and life sentence of Nelson Mandela and his comrades in apartheid South Africa in 1964. Both incidents were made possible with the assistance of the United States.
In 1963, the independent countries and freedom fighters from others struggling for independence met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and formed the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
The road to independence was often rough and bumpy. Many leaders were imprisoned, killed and/or exiled prior to leading their countries including Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Lumumba, Haile Selassie, Joseph Kasavubu, Nasser, Ben Bella, Kenneth Kaunda, Tom Mboya, Robert Mugabe, Moise Tshombe and Mandela.
Much of what has been demonstrated through the sometime orderly transfer of power was learned mostly from Western institutions. However, the way that some African leaders preside over their countries was/is a direct reflection of the teachings/learning from the Europe and the West. They sometimes became slave-masters by proxy.
POST-INDEPENDENCE STRUGGLES–GAINS & LOSSES
Sometimes independence followed a natural growth curve and other times by civil war, which was often instigated by dissatisfied parties who do not understand the rule of law or are unable to disagree without becoming violently disagreeable. And direct outside interference sometimes fuel the process. There were also many Africans–men and women–who made tremendous contributions to the struggles but were not political leaders; some of them were from the African Diaspora.
Chief Luthuli was the leader of 10 million Black Africans, and a proponent of non-violence as a means to achieve civil rights for his people. He was the first African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize when it was awarded to him in 1961. He was a man of noble ancestry, charitable and had a deep intolerance for hatred and inequality, wherever hatred reared its ugly head among men. Not only was he a tribal chief, he was also a teacher, a religious leader and the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1952 to 1967 in South Africa.
Joseph Ki-Zerbo of Upper Volta, West Africa wrote “Histoire de l’Afrique Noir” (the History of Black Africa) which became a reference text of the African history and struggle. He said, “It’s high time Africans liberate themselves from cultural asphyxiation; it’s high time they went in search of what it is to be African, to draw the necessary lessons from their own traditional history in order to apprehend the future with confidence. The approach will consist, for Africa, in re-conquering its confiscated identity for without identity, we are just a mere object of history, a prop in the play of globalization, an instrument used by the others–a utensil.”
Frantz Fanon was born in Martinque in the West Indies, but his four major literary works were called the “Bibles of the Decolonization Movement:”
The Wretched of the Earth,” “Black Skin, White Masks,” “A Dying Colonialism” and “Toward the African Revolution.”
Others who have made lasting contributions were Shaka Zulu and Steve Biko (of whom movies were made), and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of South Africa, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea, and Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello of Nigeria. Mobutu of the Congo (Zaire) was one of those proxies who contributed to the misery of Africa. (It was reported that he was one of the richest men in the world and his country was one of the poorest. Much of his wealth came from the United States). Along with Rhodesia and South Africa, they were the scourges of everything that was evil in Africa.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once commented when the White man came we had the land and he brought the Bible; before long he had the land and we had the Bible. It is no accident that three Nobel Peace Prize winners hailed from South Africa: Chief Luthuli, Tutu and Mandela. The release of Mandela from prison in 1990 and his subsequent election to become the president of South Africa was hailed as a milestone. No one would disagree with that however, it would take more the Mandela presidency for Blacks to recover from colonialism, imperialism, tribalism, neo-colonialism, apartheid and corruption. It will take decades, if not centuries, to undo white domination, the collateral damage it has wrought and its latent, lasting effects.
THE 21ST CENTURY
The most well known African woman was Winnie Mandela. She has withstood the barbs and indignity of apartheid while her husband was in prison and survived. In 2007, Ellen Sirleaf was rated among the 100 most powerful women in the world. She was the first woman to be “elected” president of an African country–Liberia. Returning to the world stage is vital to the way Africans are depicted and as they see themselves.
Thus far, two Africans have been secretary-general of the United Nations, the world body which all independent nations belong: Boutros-Boutros Ghali of Egypt (1992–1997) and Kofi Annan of Ghana (1997–2006) who was also a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The connection of African Americans and Blacks in the Diaspora play a critical role in the progress of Africa, especially the sub-Sahara region. Generally when African Americans visit the motherland, they are encouraged to invest in Africa and to tell family and friends in the Diaspora come to Africa for their vacations rather than visiting other places.
(As far back as the days of the Honorable Marcus Garvey, there was a focus of re-connecting Blacks in America with their ancestors in Africa. On the front of the Nation of Islam’s publication, “Muhammad Speaks,” the Honorable Elijah Muhammad displayed hands reaching across from Africa to America and vice versa. Minister Malcolm X named his organization the Organization of Afro American Unity after the OAU).
Many African Americans use Africa as a base to re-connect the past with the present. At a conference years ago, the late Rev. Leon Sullivan who engineered the Sullivan principles to hasten the downfall of apartheid, referred to the slave trade as the brain drain in an effort to compare the past human slave trade with the present exploitation of Africa’s natural resources. In reference to Africa’s massive economic debt to the West and Europe, he said, “They owe us.”
Television mogul and talk show host Oprah Winfrey has opened a school for girls in South Africa to develop and train them to become productive members of the world community.
Last Saturday, President Barack Obama visited Ghana–his second trip as president to the continent–and he spoke to its parliament. “Knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world,” Obama told a riveted Ghanaian Parliament. “I have the blood of Africa within me. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
That coincided with the words of the former African statesman, Ki-Zerbo who said, “The Africa which the world needs is a continent able to stand up, to walk on its own feet… it is an Africa conscious of its own past and able to keep on reinvesting this past into its present and future.”