Africa’s Rebirth and the Place of Cultures
Western Philosophy of the 18th and 19th century concluded that Negroes belonged to a different race; one that is inherently inferior. Thinkers argued that Negroes had no civilization, no system of governance, no religion. In short, they were barbarians. This assertion was not only false but also one of the forerunners to colonization. The ostensible argument was the white man’s burden. The burden to civilise the barbarians, but it was a mission to exploit.
Why are we revisiting this old episode? The colonizers conducted what they called transfer of power. Africans understand this as Independence. The myth of inferiority that had permeated both Western and African society has been deconstructed only in academic circles. The vast majority of Caucasians and Africans still believe this horrible myth. Hence, it is important that we revisit the debate.
Immanuel Kant, in my opinion, was not ignorant of the past of the Negroes when he claimed they were an inferior race that one could only train to become servants for the Europeans by flogging them mercilessly. Frederick Hegel was also affected by that disease that infected Europeans right from the beginning of their hegemony in the world. That disease is called Eurocentrism, the world could only be perceived from the European perspective. I believe they were quite aware of the Black Roots of Western Civilization. Yes! The Black Roots of Greek Civilization!
The Senegalese historian and polymath, Cheikh Anta Diop, argued convincingly in his seminal work ‘’African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality’’ that the Pharaohs who built the Pyramids were Negroes. Accompanied by Theophile Obenga to the 1974 UNESCO symposium in Cairo, they posited further that Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal, is related to Ancient Egyptian language, the language of the Egyptians who built the Pyramids. Because of raising such a controversial point, only Europeans have the right to theorize and establish ‘’fact’’, Diop was labelled a racialist and an Afrocentric.
His argument are too watertight to be refuted, hence they looked for minor points to rubbish his claims. The word ‘’race’’ is highly controversial. Contemporary scholars have censored the word, they claim there is only one race, which is the human race. But one must understand the zeitgeist of the era in which Anta Diop and W.E.B Dubois lived. There were ‘’scientific proofs’’ to justify that there were races and the Negro race was at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder. That Diop argued that the Negroes were a different race does not nullify his claim that the earliest Pharaohs were Negroes. But the arrogant western scholars would not accept Diop’s argument.
If Diop was afrocentric, was Martin Bernal the British Historian also afrocentric? Bernal pushed the debate forward in his three-volume work ‘’Black Athena’’ by exposing the African roots of Greek Civilization, the heritage of what we call Western Civilization today.
We should ask ourselves again how is the African origin of civilization relevant to contemporary Africans? I believe it has a psychological effect. It can stop the inherent feeling of being inferior to an average European. Till today, some Africans still believe that Caucasians are specially created beings whom they are inferior to. This believe is tempting that one might think it is valid if we compare the level of Western technology with what contemporary Africans are doing. I think the contemporary Caucasians are not out of space, they are human beings of the same race as Negroes, but they have maintained their tradition and at the same time learned from other cultures. Gun powder and paper came to the West from China. For the Africans, it is the opposite. They have agreed that their own cosmology of the world is evil. The artistic inspiration that they can derive from Ogun, the god of creativity and war, has been demonised. The Western tradition they struggle to adopt is not working for them, because they have destroyed their own roots.
I have not argued that African culture is superior nor that Africans should reject Western idea. I only propose that Africans should go back to the root, but not restrict themselves to those cosmologies, because all human beings are only trying to understand the world. No single society understands the world in its entirety. Western civilization is a blend of Afro and Semitic influences with that of ancient Greeks. If my proposition can be accepted, the result would be something like what we call Afro-beat. The musical instruments used in making this beat are not purely African nor European. They are what we can call intercultural ensemble. That beat is quite unique and can compete with any other genre of music in the world.
The artistic ability of artists of Ife, the ancestral home of the Yorubas, to cast cooper in the 12th Century, a fit that Greek and Chinese artistes didn’t achieve, is still in each and every one of us. Each society must pass through a rough part. The democracy, social benefits and human rights being enjoyed in some European countries today are products of struggles. The Frenchs had their revolution, the Germans had their own. American fought wars for Independence. The monarchs in Europe in the 18th and 19th century are rulers that we can compare to current African leaders. They are not in power to serve the nation but to enjoy their lives.
We must deconstruct that belief that Africa is cursed and Europe is blessed. The level of corruption in Italy is mind-boggling. Romania and Bulgaria are poor. Hence, Europe is not blessed nor cursed. People in certain countries have only decided to make life better for themselves. Those who allow themselves to be kicked around are bearing the brunt of their choice today; Ukraine is an example.
Western philosophy is a product of Western culture and it cannot proffer solutions to all African problems. If I sound too odd, the question of the existence of witches is an example. Westerners would simply think that Africans are only obsessed with superstitions, but those who have experienced or felt the existence of these forces would agree with me that we need African philosophy, because we have some problems that are specific to that continent. Our culture, I mean our traditional religion, belief system, world view and most importantly language, is our power house. If we are going to discover another planet different from the one we occupy now, we are going to need our culture. Different cultures see the world differently and that is why they come up with different innovations which they can share with one another. If we neglect our own, the secrets of the world that are hidden in our culture would be lost forever while at the same time, we won’t beat the Caucasian at his game. I only hope the renaissance would come soon.