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.
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.
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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Don’t Rule Out Possibility Of Military Coups In Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Others – Panelists Warn
Want Medicines, Food Blockage In Niger Lifted
African governments have been warned of the possibility of being upset by military coups similar to the ones that have taken place in some countries on the continent.
The warning came from some panelists at a session of the Toyin Falola Interviews entitled “Coups in Africa: Geo-Politics, Legitimacies, and Resource Management” which was held on Sunday.
At the virtual session which was organised by Prof. Toyin Falola, the panelists spoke on the problems of governance in Africa and how to stop military coups from occurring in African countries that are not already being ruled by military coupists.
The panelists included King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo.
They warned that it is an illusion to think that the recent military coups in Niger, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea will be the last ones in Africa.
The panelists raised the alarm that as long as the practices of democracy in Africa are plagued by Western influences and corruption that results in the impoverishment of the citizens, the military will always find excuses to make incursions into governance.
They also warned that countries where their leaders arbitrarily change their constitutions so that they can have third or fourth terms instead of two terms are prone to military takeovers.
The panelists also expressed the need to exercise caution in unleashing sanctions on Niger Republic because of the military coup.
They urged that regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS) , the African Union (AU) and political leaders in Africa should have a common template for defining coups.
According to them, there are military coups just as there are civilian coups. Thus, to them, if military coups are sanctioned, civilian coups which are fomented through the rigging of electoral processes should also be sanctioned.
They urged that ECOWAS, AU and political leaders in Africa should have a better way of sanctioning military coupists and their governments. They urged that the blockage of medicines and food in Niger Republic should be lifted since it is the masses and vulnerable people who are the worst hit by such a sanction.
Coups In Africa: Historical Antecedents, Root Causes, And The Systemic Way Out
By Toyin Falola
Military coup — and its sister-act, usurpation — have existed for centuries. Seventeenth-century England had its fair share of attempted and successful military coups. Eighteenth-century France suffered military coups. Even the eighteenth-century Oyo Empire, despite the ingenious move of having the war generals — Are — lived in a city far away from Oyo-Ile to avoid usurpations, still suffered deposition and military coups at the hands of Basorun Gaa. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, several countries of the world faced at least one attempted or successful military coup, from Asia to Europe to Africa. However, military coups have either fully become non-existent or significantly subsided worldwide, except in Africa, where there has been a fresh batch of military takeovers.
Truly, military coups have historically served several purposes. First, they have been an integral part of the growth and evolution of several countries of the world. Humans, by design, are curious experimenters. Therefore, it is only expected that several countries would have attempted military coups and the subsequent military rule that resulted from such coups as an alternative to the type of government they were practicing.
At its basest form, the motivating factor for military coups is a simple attempt to try something new, to see if there is a better alternative to how the country is being run. For this, military coups have served as the beginning of a learning curve for several countries, many of which have adjusted to find a system that works for them and will help them thrive — China finding solace in a communist dictatorship, the United Kingdom has opted for a constitutional monarchy, and for France, it is a semi-presidential government. These countries have gone through the proverbial fire of military disruptions and rules to become what they are today.
Furthermore, military coups result from a failing or failed system of government. Historically, military coups happen in countries experiencing turbulence — whether the turbulence results from a leader clenching on to power at the country’s detriment or widespread corruption running aground. We have also seen cases of coups due to the high-handedness and excesses of those in power. For every country that has experienced a coup, there is a backstory of oppression, corruption, dictatorship, stagnancy, and the suffering of citizens.
Africa is not the only place in the world where coups have happened. But Africa is currently home to the highest number of countries with recent military coups and takeovers. When the rest of the world aims for advancement and development, Africa is battling recurrent news of military coups and takeovers. There is something fundamentally wrong on the continent. While it is not out of place to blame the role colonization — and its resultant mambo-jumbling of people of differing races, cultures, and approaches — played in the disruption of the continent, it is important to note that Africa is not the only home of former colonies. India has never for once experienced a military coup. That is not to say India is perfect, but India is growing, evolving and learning.
Military coups have registered themselves as the transitional bridge in African politics. The poor leadership, country-wrecking corruption, mass abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, constitution, and citizens contribute massively to the military’s self-justification of military coups in these African countries. Ironically, the military that has often positioned itself as the restorer of law and order and the savior of the people is also notorious for committing the same or far worse offenses and abuse of power during their regimes. In West Africa, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo experienced their first military coup less than 10 years after their independence. That speaks more to a fundamental problem or mentality that transcends political failure.
In Africa — especially with the recent military coups — there is more to it than military intervention. These coups and usurpation of power are beginning to look like the countries’ way of taking a stance devoid of the perceived cowardice of the deposed democratic leaders. There is a pattern to the military coups that have happened recently in Africa, as they have mostly been in countries that are former colonies of France.
Although it is being said that the days of colonization are far behind, there are indications of not-so-subtle neocolonialism by France within its former colonies, often aided by the French-state-backed elected leaders of those former colonies. In exchange for the pleasures of the French soil — akin to the resultant effect of the notorious model of assimilation and association — the leaders of these Francophone African states curry for the grace and favor of the French state, at the detriment of their countries and citizens.
There is also the hefty price for independence tied to the ridiculous agreements the French state has reached with its former colonies, including the enormous amount remitted to France annually for the use of the Francs CFA, the widespread exploitation of Nigeriens through mining done by French-state-backed Orano’s Somair, and the over-dependence of resources-rich Francophone African states on France are some reasons for these patterned military takeovers that have happened recently.
There is no denying that when the people are pushed to the wall, they would be left with no choice but to push back. This has been the case in Gabon, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. At this point, there is the need for introspection: are the African states that never experienced a coup better off? What systems of government do those states practice? Do they have a history of colonization? Are they multi-ethnic countries? How big are they by population? When we juxtapose the troubled countries with the ones that never had any coup using these metrics, we will then begin to see a clear path toward understanding the biggest root causes of military coups in Africa and whether they have been beneficial, and perhaps understanding the best way out.
Since the recent coups, there have been grand attempts by regional blocs like ECOWAS to resolve the issue, including opting to use a strong tone and attempting to strong-arm the putschists in Niger into returning power to the usurped president of the country. However, if historical antecedents are anything to go by, strong-arming the putschists is not the way to go, and opting for a full-blown-war or military operation can only result in a victory with two downsides: the emergence of rebels in the state or civilians becoming the victims in a case where the military intervention blows out of proportion. In both cases, the result does not spell good for the average citizen of the countries where the governments have been overthrown. What then needs to be addressed?
There is a need to address the root causes of these military coups, rechristened as interventions in African states. There is a need for holistic approaches that will result in proactive measures to mitigate the issues and usher Africa into a new era of evolution and growth that will banish military coups and regimes as relics of history.
At the Toyin Falola Interviews, our next panel session will focus on coups in Africa, drawing on the expertise of analysts invited from African states. King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo will be sharing insights and expanding on the root causes of coups in Africa, how the coups tie back to geopolitics, the legitimacies of these coups, and resource management at a time like this. Furthermore, there will be a focus on discussing the true and systemic way out of the myriad of coup-inciting problems within countries on the African continent. Join us on Sunday, September 24, as our panelists discuss this time-sensitive and vital topic.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Mauritius and Seychelles Time (UTC/GMT+4): 8 PM
East Africa Time (UTC/GMT+3): 7 PM
Central Africa Time (UTC/GMT+2): 6 PM
West Africa Time (UTC/GMT+1): 5 PM
Greenwich Mean Time (UTC/GMT): 4 PM
Cape Verde Time (UTC-1): 3 PM
Austin, Texas (CST): 11 AM
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How To Stop Military Coups In Africa – Bolaji Akinyemi
A former External Affairs Minister , Prof.Bolaji Akinyemi , has proffered an antidote to the rising spate of military coups in Africa.
Prof. Akinyemi who was a minister in the government of former Military President Ibrahim Babangida spoke against the background of a military coup that has removed a democratic government in Niger Republic.
Military coups which were a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades after independence have become resurgent recently.
The takeover in Niger, led by soldiers belonging to the presidential guard, is just the latest in a string of coups that have taken place in recent years.
There were two in Burkina Faso in 2022 as well as failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful.
Akinyemi said during a session of the Prof.Toyin Falola Interviews on Sunday that there should be a charter on democracy that would be binding on members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He said that such a charter should be endorsed by the African Union and even the United Nations.
Akinyemi said that such a charter had become necessary because democracies are not only truncated in Africa by military coups. According to him, democracies are also truncated through civilian coups. This entails elected presidents changing their nations’ constitutions in order to get more tenures beyond the terms as stipulated in their constitutions.
He explained that ECOWAS leaders are opposed to the military coup in Niger as a way of protecting their own democracies.
But he condemned a development that he referred to as the ethnicisation of foreign policy. He referred to the opposition by a region of Nigeria to the plan of President Bola Tinubu to deploy the military in Niger in order to return to democracy. He said such ethnic and religious considerations in deciding foreign policies were non-existent in the past. He said this was why he supported the then Nigerian government’s decisions as regards military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The interviewers who included Prof. Jide Osuntokun, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Ambassador Jaiyeola Joseph Lewu and Prof.Richard Joseph asked Prof.Akinyemi questions about his family background, the university system, his career and national and international developments.
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