The Living Past: History And Us
By Toyin Falola
It is a pleasure for me to be here at Basel, on June 4, 2022, after the Centre for African Studies had taken a break of two years from hosting any major public lecture because of the pandemic. And the double joy is that it is the distinguished Carl Schlettwein Lecture in honor of a remarkable man who did so much to promote Africa. Dr. Veit Arlt, whom I have appointed as the unofficial Mayor of Basel, did a wonderful job of organizing the contact and lecture with efficiency and affection that are peerless. The audience was appreciative, respectful and honorable. As someone who has traveled to close to seventy countries, it was not a surprise to see fellow Africans –one who actually headed the company that organized the reception, a poet who did a distinguished introduction, and a yet budding Ph.D. student, Tolulope Fadeyi, with an admirable demeanor.
As Africans, when we take stock of our state of affairs, there is always something to admire and despise. For one, as a people, we are proud of the richness of our culture and how many resources for development lie untapped at our disposal. At the same time, we abhor how, despite this richness in culture and resources, we are still a long way from experiencing real development, let alone being categorized as a developed continent of the 21st century. While all of these spring in us moments of ecstasy and sorrow, one thing that converges both feelings is our history and how much our encounters with foreign powers have influenced the way we row the boat of our development.
Depending on the context, when the history of Africa is being discussed, the relics of the colonial masters often take a chunk of the narration. Among African scholars and historians, the coloniality of African history appears to be most disturbing. It is not new for an average narration of African history to follow a pre-structured pattern; the pattern where everything in Africa begins to take “good shape” from the point of encounter with colonial masters, as a result of which development and civilization were introduced into the black man’s land. Although this position has become highly contentious, the concern today is not about the unsettling nature of where African history begins or is being told from but about retelling and reengineering the history of Africa. Specifically, the concern here is decolonizing what we have all come to know as African history and decolonizing the African epistemology system.
History, to many people, is past and has little or no bearing on what obtains in the world today, especially when one pays attention to how rapid technology and innovation have long projected the world. The truth, however, is that for any reasonable development to occur in a country or continent, reference has to be made to its history and, beyond this, it has to be understood how the history of a continent or a country influences its current level and pace of development. For Africa, seeing how much we have developed over the years and the pace at which we are moving towards genuine development, it becomes necessary to not just refer to our past as a people but also understand how what we might have encountered in the past is influencing the way we conceive our present idea about development.
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Understanding this means coming to terms with the fact that though our pasts might seem unappealing, they still live with us today. They are like the corpse we thought we buried but whose ghosts continue to haunt us daily. Hence, to overcome this and move past our level of development, we have to examine the living past and purge it of its effect on our present.
When considering issues such as these, it is important to first foreground the context to which it applies in order to properly comprehend the discussion. In this light, I will engage African history from the point of its encounter with the colonial master through to the point at which each country in Africa gained independence. Africa’s experience under colonialization triggered many changes in our historical lifestyle, paramount of which is the superimposition of western culture, tagged “civilization,” on our people. Beyond this, there was also the systematic colonization of our system of government, structures, institutions, and, most sadly, knowledge acquisition. All these were achieved through deliberate efforts targeted to undermine African culture and practice, create a sense of inferiority in the way we conceive our culture and, of course, elevate western culture with a different lifestyle and impose it on Africans. The truth is that the colonialists succeeded in doing this, and while we may think that the colonial masters have exited, the structural and systemic arrangement they put in place still lives with us. This is what has constituted the living past that has continued to debilitate our progress as a continent.
In some quarters, when the discussion of decolonization is brought up, it is quickly waved aside as an attempt to narrowly revisit the colonial invasion and administration in Africa. Many often equate it to an over-flogged struggle to continue to blame foreign powers for the woes we are currently facing as a continent. However, this is far from the point. The essence of decolonization is to lift the veil of colonial ideologies and Eurocentric perspectives and domination in Africa while at the same time bringing forth the true spirit of Africa and Africanism to reconstruct Africa’s history and present. Hence, engaging the past to evaluate its relics that are still living with us today is to set in motion the purging of our history and the mitigation and eradication of the influence of Eurocentric perspectives on our way of life and development in Africa. The expansion of this European ideology altered the continent’s knowledge system, recreated knowledge acquisition and re-enacted colonial and Eurocentric dominance in research and educational resources.
If we consider it, the rationale for the decolonization of African history lies in the necessity for self-reliance and a deep desire to look within and seek a different approach toward development in the continent. There is no doubt that Africa has solutions to its problems. The difficulty, however, lies in the unwillingness to leverage local approaches and theories in understanding and solving our problems and redefining the distorted image of Africa told over the years from biased Eurocentric perspectives.
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Undoubtedly, the past still lives with us as a people, and the first step to purging it is to pinpoint areas in which they exist. How many African agencies, structures, and written accounts might be claimed to be entirely Afrocentric, free of infusions of imperial chauvinism which have suffused the society throughout its historical past? Is it possible for a nation to develop beyond the scope of its knowledge, research and education, knowledge? Undoubtedly, the current degree of advancement in Africa is primarily concerned with the applicability of a given entity’s knowledge system. This implies that somehow the prospects of African development will always be constrained by European conceptions of development, thereby slowing Africa’s growth. However, the liberation of African history empowers the continent to reconstruct its unique knowledge base and system of education, which are peculiar to the continent’s development.
The essential goal of the emancipation of African history has remained constant, and that has been to redeem effective learning and knowledge creation in Africa by looking inward at African knowledge creation processes. The Africanization of history embraces all of Africa’s distinctive characteristics, quirks, and traditional exceptionalism to free the continent from imperial and Euro-American narratives. Academic philosophies must be reconditioned away from excessive dependence on the western perspective and processes of viewpoint that place Africans in the rear and therefore only perceive the continent’s challenges through the prism of western cultural notions. Decolonizing academic and educational structures and institutions would be a key step toward recirculating authentic and Africanized knowledge of African history.
One point we can make is that the Africanization of African history can be accomplished now or afterward, but for this to be realized, we must recognize that we need to put efforts above words because it is only through conscious efforts that we can leverage strategic approaches towards our decolonization efforts. Only an African civilization that supports and produces institutions that strategize ways to impact the continent’s knowledge cultures can achieve decolonization of these endeavors. Besides, it elucidates African answers and provides access to them to solve African challenges, as well as serves as a knowledge and resource bank for African leaders to use in formulating policies and choices. The actual way to grasp the true essence of African people using African lenses and apply suitable approaches and interactions is to decolonize African history.
If African reality does not evolve, the Africanization of African history will be impossible. Hence, political structures must be free of nonlinearities that draw attention away from pragmatic initiatives, the African economic system must be galvanized towards autonomy and stability, education must be widely disseminated so that more people understand these ideas, and society must be put in a situation to speak with an unbiased perspective for history’s sake. Because history defines people, decolonizing African history will provide for a clear re-emergence of African identity, allowing us to successfully situate ourselves in the world arena.
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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Death At Dawn, Rebirth At Dusk
By Toyin Falola
Twilight-zone, Afterlife, What-Mays, and Whatnots;
Questions that transcend mortal thoughts.
Uncertainties plucked by the hands of certainty
pondering life beyond the galaxy.
Philosophies, religions, and sciences;
Ancient lenses to dissect and ponder.
Beliefs, opinions, and standpoints in their multiplicities;
Scalpels that open the heart of certain death
Blazing free the skins of uncertainty.
Science, a nobility I revere,
But it stammers answering to the afterlife.
For science is knowledge and knowledge from experience
But the dead neither speak, nor take records.
Their journeys, ordeals, triumphs or woes?
No one bears witness.
But as dead, we must all be witnesses;
witnesses that testify not.
So, for now, we survive the knowledge of death.
On my Agbàlàgbà head lies my Ọ́kpụ́ Ágwụ́
With eagle feathers, rare and honorable
Adorning it for three scores, a decade, and some more days.
I had flipped my Kente given by the Gaa
And danced to crescendos from Gàngàn drums
I have been celebrated and celebrating
For the miracles, I have worked with pen, paper, keyboard, and brain
I have taken the tales we tell in my village square beyond the Atlantic
Changed the songs that disdain us into appraisals
I have called my brothers not to point to our fathers’ house with their left hands
I have honed Africa and beyond
To answer the calls of the people’s need
I have reached the thinkable and done the unthinkable
So, I danced and keep dancing.
Suddenly, I felt a touch on my host?
Electrifying my hand, leg, brain, and my whole
Telling me that my jur from the Dinka people awaits me.
That my hourglass tells of crossing the bar.
I thought I knew what it was like,
But my grasping convictions of approaching jur were perceptions
Just surviving the death of the knowledge of death
So, arms wide open ready to abound
What was there to fear?
No catacomb of secrets
No palm oil-drenched white garments
I have taken many to my gourmet
To feast and to see.
What was there not to fear?
With medicine men and women,
Syringes, lights, water, ECG, Oximeters, voices, and touches
Hovering around me like a sacred etutu
Making conversations with me and beyond
I was thrown into a pool of reminiscence
one leg and a part of me were already in the boat
It beckoned but I heard another.
A loud voice like my mother’s.
Who takes a journey without locking his home?
Who takes the jur with unpatched palm fronds on his hut?
While the thunder rages up the sky?
The walls are broken and Balogun journeys?
So, I left the sea to clear the cobwebs and light up the night lamb.
The past few weeks have opened new lights of understanding to me. I now see the world from different hills and have helped to reach new resolutions. I know I have written about “transitioning to nothingness,” but my emphasis was on the “nothingness” with lesser attention on “transitioning.” I think we need to continue to ask questions. Philosophies, religion, sociology, psychology, science, and other ramifications are mere perceptions and we are uncertain. The transitioning occurs when death becomes an angel to hug not a beast to fear. We do not know what it entails but one must always endeavor to go with clean hands.
My recovery from an illness may have offered me a fresh opportunity to shout some more, point to societal needs, and settle unfinished businesses. No, not those caused by my personal undoing, but rather those of the people who would be left unguided, and for matters untold about life, society, and individuals. I can say I have passed through the lessons of tantra transfiguration, to use an elegant phrase that I recently came across, to move from secular to sacred activism. No one survives death because of its finality, but when it seems that you did, it is a renewed quest, offering a new purpose.
Professors On INEC’s Will (3)
By Tony Afejuku
The debate has progressed well so far. Our professors, whose strokes have centred on their fellow professor’s manned INEC have tried as best as they could not to confine their impressions solely to the prism of subjectivity. Even when their impressions seem to be subjective, they still make allowance for contrary views, for opposing views. This obviously gives clarity, objectivity and logic to the subject at hand. Is the will of INEC of a professor minder and mincer of words’ control the will of the people or of the masses? On whose side are the Professors who are as concerned as almost everybody is with what is going – or with what has gone on – primarily about our Presidential 2023 elections? Our Professors who are debating the subject constitute the courageous and prophetic Nigerian voices of our day. Their authentic and responsible thoughts are not restricted to the local or regional. They are also not confined to electoral duties and responsibilities expected of the umpire and the will that belongs elsewhere. The truth about the quality of leadership about our country and elsewhere is also told in the debate of the literati.
Professor (Mrs.) Razinatu Mohamed in her submission, in her salvo-cum-explosion actually, drew attention to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s explosive explosion in the presidency. If Professor Osinbajo had provided the right vice-presidential leadership there would not have been the need for him to explode as he did as per a viral video Professor Razinatu Mohamed referred her fellow debaters to. “What has he been doing in the eight years of their administration? Irritated my foot; he is complicit.” Not done, Professor Razinatu drew attention to the kind of leaders that Nigeria and Africa need: “Leaders that understand the rudiments of modern socio-economic development and systems; Leaders that understand the crux of requirements for economic growth. Leaders that could demonstrate to the rest of the world that just as the world needs Africa, African countries need the world in a symbiotic relationship and partnership context where assistance becomes a dual role…..”
Razinata’s concern is clear. Nothing in Nigeria will climb out of its hollow hole. In fact, the will of the people will remain hollow so long as a hollow mincer and minder is in charge of its electoral affairs.
Professor Da Sylva perhaps responds better to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s algebraic stroke. “Unfortunately, Nigeria’s democracy is trapped in its primordial self-made ethnic and religious sentiments and so, standards, merit, competence and pedigrees are measured by their curious divides of religion and ethnic inclinations. Until we all come to realize that heavens help those who help themselves, Nigeria ain’t going no-where – meeen!”
But below is Professor Da Sylva’s sledge hammer response to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s Osinbajo hammer blow:
“Prof Osinbajo’s office demands he does what he did. Besides, it shows maturity and spirit of sportsmanship on his part. Every loser in a game “healthily” contested, is naturally expected to do the same. The only difference which again shows Osinbajo’s magnanimity is that in this context, the contest under reference was neither healthy nor just. The umpire seemed compromised and merely worked to a prepared answer. Yet the gentleman did the needful. I guess, brothers and sisters, that we should put all that behind us, and work for our common good, and the wellbeing of the country, provided the mythical Aso cabal will let the President-elect be, and let the masses be, and as such, they should not create any cause for us to think otherwise, lest they provoke our sense of patriotism to take appropriate action! I guess that those were the reading or feelings of the dirty-minded Aso Villa cabal. People that kill with sword never wish that any folk should pass a sword over their heads, a wise saying goes in Yoruba. The human principalities simply suspected that should they allow PMB to give the VP the intended latitude, they might not be able to control him. I remember on his return from London, he commended the efforts of his VP while he was away. He said he would still continue acting while he would still have some more rest at home. The following day everything changed, PMB decided to take charge as the President. I suspected some back door politics was playing out. My co-debaters, quite naturally, you’ll agree with me that, it is not over-ambition or sheer opportunism as you might insinuate for any deputy in an office to aspire to the next higher office, in a legitimate manner, there is nothing really unusual about it, and it would amount to killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer, should Oshinbajo be crucified for that, if at all. And as for his wishing Buhari’s non-recovery, I think that, again, like my Sister R, is a little unkind and not fair to the gentleman who I know to be a servant of God. He knows as much as I do, by our true Christian orientation and Biblical injunctions that, should he ever wish Buhari’s death or wish him any form of misfortune in those trying periods of the President, God Almighty who we serve would deal mercilessly and ruthlessly with him. That is what Psalm 41:1-13 is all about. So rule that out, because it is not, and could never be in his character. I can vouch for him. Rather, I saw him in those times that he acted for his principal, as someone zealous and appreciative of the trust his principal invested in him, and as such he tried to do his very best to merit the trust and the opportunity! I know and I am also sure that this is what an IBK, or a Razinat, would have done too had they found themselves in a similar situation! It does not amount to wishing one’s principal any evil, not at all. Not everyone can be like Chief Obafemi Awolowo who resigned his position under Gowon when the regime became financially reckless shortly after the civil war. Awolowo also gave very profound argumentation to justify convincingly his actions. He also turned down some other appointments including the “49 Wise Men of the Constitution Drafting Committee.” Oshinbajo couldn’t have resigned, normally, and naturally his principal, PMB should have supported him as a capable successor, but again, the President’s ethnic and religious bigotry took the better part of the President. Besides, PMB’s mind was long poisoned against his VP, a clean job by the Aso Villa cabal. IBK, Lady R, until the faceless cabal is permanently silenced the wheel of Nigeria might continue to go round in a circle, and to nowhere in particular”.
And Professor IBK takes the floor: “Prof. DAO, yours is a powerfully convincing submission, at least in a large measure. Now I am willing to hold a slightly different opinion about Osinbajo. Yet, I cannot fathom why he chose to run against Tinubu, days or weeks after the latter had begun his campaign in the party primaries. There’s much we don’t know about why OSBJ decided to run against BAT. Nothing is wrong with that politically but a little problematic from an Ethical or, at least Moral, point of view. Osinbajo did a poor job of it and came out a distant 4th in the primaries. I think he didn’t read the situation correctly and was probably misled by some cabal of sorts. Either way Osinbajo made a politically fatal error in this regard. Perhaps he must have sensed, or was told, that BAT was not the anointed candidate, or that BAT would be crippled by some ill-health or a medical condition. I remember the party’s screening committee publicly recommending that only younger contestants would be recommended to the NWC or such. Clearly there was an attempt to sideline BAT. Whatever the explanation, Osinbajo make the error in his campaign of promising to be more Buhari than Buhari. A man despised by whole sections of the northern population, a man whose reputation for laziness and incompetence was on the ascendant. Anyway, all is now history and Osinbajo has not given a good account of himself in this particular case. Prof DAO, I think your concept of the Trickster should account for Osinbajo’s situation here. FULL DISCLOSURE: a very close family member of mine was drafted to head Osinbajo’s campaign effort in Kano. We discussed extensively about Osinbajo’s pledge to carry on with Buhari’s policies. There was bewilderment and shock within the members. A week later half of the membership resigned on account of Osinbajo’s increasing identification with Buhari’s policies. Many mistakenly thought that Osinbajo was Buhari’s anointed one! I could go on…”
Interestingly interesting and intriguingly intriguing, dear, dearly dear readers: this debate.
To be terminated by the columnist-terminator and terminator-columnist next week after Professor Olu Obafemi’s summation of the debate he presided over.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
With Us, Not For US
By Ijeoma Fynecountry
The 21st of March of every year is international day for the celebration of persons living with down syndrome. The advocacy and push for communal and political recognition of the basic fundamental rights for persons living with various types of disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, just as enjoyed by their peers who do not have any form of challenge – physical or intellectual has recorded a substantial success around the globe, especially in more developed climes.
While the same cannot be said of the situation in Africa and Nigeria in particular, scanty breakthroughs have also been seen over the years, with the consistent and dogged efforts by some specialized organizations such as Down syndrome Foundation, Nigeria (DSFN).
The theme for this year’s celebration is “With us, Not for us”. This theme is apt particularly in the current era where the push for inclusion has taken a center stage in the campaign worldwide. While it is comforting to know that people, government and communities alike are now becoming more empathetic to the plight of persons living with disability, it is also necessary and most important that their rights as human beings deserving of not just empathy but actual concrete benefits accruable to other citizens without disability, is massively taken into consideration and actually provided for.
Therefore, it is not enough for the government to map out and create as in Lagos state and few other states, sections in the public schools to admit children or persons with intellectual disability, it is necessary to adequately equip these special schools with the needed “specialized” manpower, infrastructural and educational aids to attain the targeted educational goals for these persons. Likewise in the provision of better healthcare, economic, social needs of persons with disability etc.
Persons with intellectual disability do not just need to be specifically educated in accordance with his or her type of disability, but MUST also necessarily be able to aspire to or expect to be employed according to his or her learned ability. That way, a full right, befitting of a person, be him a person with disability or not, is assured. For what is the need of going through a learning process, acquiring a specialized knowledge about a craft or handiwork and eventually still not being given the opportunity of gaining employment as supposed, not due to lack of knowledge but for having a disability? No human being should be subjected to such. Our government should do better. The society at large should do better.
The theme for this year is enjoining all stakeholders – the government, communities, corporate organizations, religious bodies/organizations, individuals to open up their hearts, and recognize the very urgent and important need to help in the actualization of these basic human needs, rights of persons living with intellectual disability as we are all human. No human rights or needs should be prioritized over the other no matter the state of their health, mental and physical capacity. Stand with us by taking actual intentional steps towards uplifting and elevating the humanness of persons living with disability. It is not enough to say that you are for persons living with disability, your specific, intentional, targeted actions toward ensuring the practical applicability of these rights matters.
Fynecontryis a Lagos-based legal practitioner and the legal resource person for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria.
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