Molefi Asante: On Reimagining Africa And Africans
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH MOLEFI ASANTE, PART 4
What is Africa? Who are Africans? What is African history? What do you make of Africa in tracing its history? What should be the focus and center of African history? Have these questions ever crossed your mind as an African scholar or a scholar of African history?
Here is one answer: Africa is a culturally and historically rich continent—of brave, creative, and intelligent people. However, there was the curse of plenty for Africa. Africans were content, and nature handed them virtually everything they needed to survive. Here is another: there was little to no need for exploration among Africans. Africans’ drive to explore did not go beyond seeing neighboring African cities and war-incited travels and conquests. There was also the large absence of written history and traditions in the more significant part of precolonial Africa. Asante has his own answer.
In the latest edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, Molefi Asante, a celebrated philosopher and promoter of Afrocentricity, made his reservations about the focus of the study and scholarship of African history. He has a problem with Europe being the center of African history—from the precolonial to the colonial and the post-colonial. Drawing on Asante’s reservations, it does not speak well of a culturally rich and diverse people as Africans to center their history on their colonizers’ civilizations, cultures, and beliefs. Africa was there before the first visit of the Europeans to the continent. And even if it were true that the people might not have fully seen themselves as one continent, there were enough inter-ethnic relations to prove that they saw themselves as having certain things in common. If that were the case, why should Africa wrap its story around the Europeans and their countries? That comes across as off—a case of in-built dependency and self-inflicted inferiority to the cultures, civilizations, and peoples of Europe.
If appropriately traced, the concept of centering Africa’s history on Europe stems from the ease of blaming the colonizers. This makes it easy to promote the concept of decoloniality, a somewhat surface-level concept that asks Africans to save themselves from the European and colonial mentality without proposing what to replace such a mentality with. In asking people to decolonize themselves, the focus is not on the people, their continent, or what they could become, but on what decoloniality, as a concept, wants them to be free from. However, Afrocentricity goes beyond the surface level of asking people to get decolonized to suggest replacing the colonial mentality. Afrocentricity takes the spotlight away from Europe and colonialism and totally gives it to Africa. As a concept, Afrocentricity focuses on making Africans think in an African manner, value African beliefs and cultures, and live in an African way till their love for all things Africa consumes them, so much that the love burns out colonialism and colonial mentality from their minds.
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There is no gainsaying that the biblical maxim that “a prophet is not welcome in his hometown” is true of Africa and how it treats its academics. Africa is richly blessed with human resources, yet these human resources are either relocating to European and American countries for a greener pasture or are severely underappreciated back home. Prof. Molefi Asante lamented the gap in African-scholars-centered study among African universities. How many African universities have a department of Africana Studies? When we ask these questions, we will find out that we have given attention to the less important things for so long.
Molefi Asante disclosed that the theory and practice of Afrocentrism are not centered on deconstructing the Africans but reconstructing them. This is indeed true and needed, as a deconstruction without a reconstruction only leaves pillaged rubble . Afrocentrism is a state of mind; one does not just happen upon it suddenly. It comes from the consciousness awakened when the African comes into contact with Africa, African scholarly writings, African arts, or African cultures and religions. This is true of every Afrocentrist, and it is likewise true of the celebrated scholar and full-blooded African man, Molefi Asante.
In responding to the question on when he first realized that he is African and must think Africa, Asante said the African writers and historians who had an early influence on him were Essien Essien-Udom, Chinua Achebe, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, among others. Asante fondly recalled that he developed the affinity to Africa through Essien-Udom’s writings and his meeting with the African scholar. The same should be said of every well-meaning African-American and other Africans in the diaspora. Asante pleaded that it was high time we all found a link back to Africa, one that would complement our ancestral link. Beyond doing a DNA test to know our ancestry, we must awaken our consciousness and identify ourselves with Africa, its people, and its culture.
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It is also expedient to touch on the raising of African children and how that impacts cultural consciousness and identity among African-Americans. The average African American is trained to join the National Basketball Association or any other money-making sport from childhood. For the average African American family, especially in the United States, child upbringing is an investment that must yield significant returns. This is a not-so-explored concept discussed by Professor Reiland Rabaka and the special guest on the Toyin Falola Interviews, Asante. Asante did have his share of the African-American dream, and becoming an academic was never his first choice. He tried his hands on basketball. He was, at a time, a preacher and also tried all the often-suggested options. However, the defining point surfaced for him as he sought answers and read books to add to his wealth of knowledge.
Professor Asante passed through that phase of his life with the consciousness that he must be, which moulded and shaped him into who he is today. This also tells us so much about what the intellectual Asante considers Afrocentricity as. According to him, Afrocentricity is the quality of thoughts that allows anybody to look at and examine the African phenomena from the perspective of African people, cultures, and values as the centrality of our narratives. Afrocentricity is not Africanity, and it is not anti-people too. The concept of Afrocentricity is more concerned about the people’s mentality and how they see things than how they dress up or what they wear.
Is there a relationship between Afrocentricity and Pan-Africanism? For the Afrocentric scholar, the concept of Pan-Africanism as a philosophy is impossible or almost impossible without having Afrocentricity at its core. In essence, Asante considers Pan-Africanism and Afrocentrism as two intertwined concepts. According to him, a careful consideration of the concept of Pan-Africanism would reveal that it is not as deep-seated as it appears on the surface. We must ask what people need to be pan-African. Pan-Africanism calls for and promotes the unity of Africans and cannot stand on itself without an underlying consciousness, awakening, and identity. This is where Afrocentricity comes in. Afrocentrism can serve as the foundation for Pan-Africanism. In that case, you ask people to be united because they all view African phenomena from the African perspective.
Additionally, the interview touched on other important issues, such as African scholarship. Asante qualified the bulk of African scholarship as imitative. It is difficult to find an interconnectedness between the past, the present, and the future of Africa in African scholarship. And that is very necessary, seeing as the present will one day be the past, and the future will one day be the present. Asante lamented the absence of this interconnectedness, even among Africa’s greatest intellectuals and their scholarly works in diverse fields.
Professor Niyi Coker took us back in time to when Asante proposed grouping Africa into six large countries as a solution to Africa’s problems. The question was whether the Afrocentricity vanguard still believes in this mass grouping as a solution to an Africa that has failed to develop and take its pride of place among other developed continents of the world. In response, Asante said he proposed six federations as the United States of Africa, basing his theory on Pan-Africanism and the riches of African nations, which would make these six states some of the wealthiest countries in the world. He recounted the story behind his proposal to create the United States of Africa and how then African presidents, including Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, kicked against the creation of the six states during their tenure. Asante further stated that the United States of Africa would be achieved only if the people actively get involved, and on a wide scale at that.
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Consequently, the onus lies on us—on you, on the average African—to become African in your thinking and mentality. Asante calls on you to become Afrocentric so that a reveille of our collective consciousness would lead us to create fortified and formidable African states.
(This is the final report on the interview with Molefi Asante on September 19, 2021. For the transcript, see YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNMT3q-Psqc
and on Facebook. https://fb.watch/87kf9tlYA5/)
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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