Series of Writings on Decolonization I.I.
Revisit of the First Installment: Power Differentials in Our Anti-Colonial Struggle
This is the second of a series of essays, started with the aim of setting a tone for a paradigm shift towards an inward abstract and causal reassessment of how best to defeat internalized colonialisms right from the metaphysical level. It is meant to, if not able to stop it completely, at least take a break from the usual reactionary, quite often resentful and status quo driven intellectualism many African writers are engaged in. It started with a revisit of the will to power, power differentials and power dynamics between colonized people and beneficiaries of various forms of colonialisms.
It was important to start in the realm of power of rhetoric and the importance of language. Two concrete examples were used. On the practical issue of how quick power and control is handed to foreign entities by allowing them into the most intimate spaces in Africa without any restriction. The first piece discussed how right from the abstract level, many Africans do not (or cannot) differentiate between a stranger, a guest and a visitor, as well as how strangers can be crowned chiefs for good gestures as common as saving a stray dog. It looked at many African languages lack of or lost of the idea of the difference between a guest and a stranger, surveying few African languages as examples.
Reorganizing thoughts is important here. Thus, re-evaluating Africa’s approach towards the outside world, albeit its view of the world outside it is a good one. With several invasions and destructions on both physical and mental levels, the warm reception given to foreign entities still lack a token of skepticism and scrutiny. The intentions of strangers are still taken as well meaning.
The need to change this behavior in Africa is borne out of the logic of how too much openness towards strangers and foreign entities in the past have resulted in brutal incursions leaving marks that have not healed after centuries.
Furthermore, a renewed conversation in this regard is necessary because while global inter-mingling is encouraged, there is no end in sight for the accumulation of privileges for some at the expense of others, mostly colonized people.
Often, colonized people’s resentful and contingent reactionary responses have contributed to the difficulties and this was visible in many of the comments the first installment attracted. With the discussion that ensued, I had to pause to ask whether to get deeper in responding to them or continuing with the next topic as initially planned.
Analyzing the comments, the same intuitive reactionary attitude seems to have drawn many people, including myself the author, to an empiricist discussion on the subject, with just few of the many comments dedicated to a renewed understanding of will to power, power differentials, power dynamics and their role in anti colonial struggles.
However, I still found it was a challenge worth engaging in. I therefore shelved the originally planned installment, which is an abstract discussion on the meaning and use of freedom within colonized societies, which I believe, if it should be understood and properly utilized depends on how aware are of the will to power in Africa. This, I also believe, has the potential to cascade into politics of resistance as claimed in the first piece.
The discussions may have heavily concentrated on the empirical examples given but they have also necessitated a change in direction. It has now emerged that African people’s embrace of strangers and complete disregard for the idea of strangeness as potentially dangerous, is after all, an issue that may have started somewhere along the line in recent history.
All informants of the first research were stunned to think that such linguistic technicalities as lack of or lost of a word like stranger in their vocabulary could be an important reason why African people act the way they do towards strangers. Through the discussions, it was established that in Ga for example, a word for stranger exists but both guest and stranger are colloquially called with the Ga word for guest. This obviously led to the question of what caused Africa to lose such an important word.
One of the theories put forth is Narmer Ameniti’s proposition in “Our Historic Fall” which deals with what he called “our plunge into nothingness”. He said:
It didn’t begin with the coming of the Pale People. It didn’t start with a single invasion. No, it didn’t suddenly become a problem during colonial rule. Africa’s historic plunge to nothingness did not commence when she stooped low and declined into crass senselessness, colluding with a Colorless People and selling her own children into slavery. Don’t be surprised. Our geometric retrogression did not pick up steam with the onset of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade – although that still remains the single most devastating blow to the continent yet.
He thought it may have been lost the moment Africans stopped recording their histories in written format.
The first abstract item he attributes the loss to is another version of the same linguistic problem I attended to in the first of this series. While his proposition leaned towards the linguistic variations, I looked at the vulnerabilities created within the synthesis of vocabulary. But Narmer touched on a bigger issue along the same lines when he claimed that retaining our will to power was always going to be difficult because we needed to maneuver between several different languages.
Narmer’s argument went towards the fact that the African lingual Franca has become the same languages of their colonizers: thus questioning why serious intellectual exchanges are only possible with foreign languages. In a way, it is again connected to the same issue I proposed in the first of this series because if one has become comfortable with strangeness to the extent of losing the word in their own vocabulary, why would they not feel comfortable using a foreign language to discuss their secrets, abstract and intuitive issues?
With mental strength and keenness, it becomes a question of which language should be prioritized: should they continue recording their written history in colonial languages or is there a need for them to agree on one particular African language or is the time ripe for a collective experimental language?
Numerous languages in which Africans could write their own histories and ponder on secrets and intellectual issues exist, including letters for writing them. The Amharic speaking Ethiopians for instance have their own set of alphabets, the Ge’ez script lacks nothing in terms of what a language requires for comprehension, both for written and in spoken purposes. The Coptic Egyptians have their own letters, the Somali, similar to that of the Amharic, and in West Africa, the Vai languages of the Mande found mostly in today’s Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as Berber Tifinay (Tifinagh) in the Sahel/Sahara.
Though some have lost a lot through missionary impact, reviving the scripts should not be difficult. Languages such as the Ga, Hausa, the various Akan groups, Bambara, Dzula, etc., utilizing Roman and Arabic lettering, have created additional own special letters within the Arabic and Roman context to suit their local linguistic needs.
The challenge in recovering some of the lost words such as “stranger” and conjugating them into contextual usages is enormous but Africa can undo some of these vulnerabilities by simply refraining from reactionary and resentful approaches and preferring a building-up types. A useful caution that is always necessary is that Africa must understand Real Politik; thus knowing that outside forces that benefit from it state of disarray would vie to disallow such efforts. It must as well as, find a way to deal with internal forces that cannot see beyond their immediate personal interests and hence connive with various nemeses.
As discussed in the first installment, the issue is not limited to linguistics. The vulnerabilities lying within cultural practices such as embracing strangers to the extent of surrendering thrones to them cannot be overstated. Concentrating on such issues is certainly a better option than continuing the resentful reactionary realm of today’s African intellectualism. It is important to note that those reactionary intellectual approaches will not yield any results simply because much of Eurocentric African intellectuals who are engaged and paid within it cannot see beyond the comfortable positions they are in. They are not ready to defend those positions by any means necessary, including efforts meant to benefit them in the long run. In fact neo-colonial approaches trivialize long-term-benefit-based internal Africa-focused ideas.
Recently, the reactionary intellectualism has begun to point fingers at current neo-colonial approach to African trade with China. The approach is to fight it head-on, often even enticed by the same Western entities who laid that foundation of the colonial footprints on which Sino-African trade is based. Fighting this head-on is the same reactionary and resentful approaches Africa is accustomed to.
It is important to stay focused on reviewing the causalities and formulating new approaches. It is important to look for the best ways to do this without colonized people falling back into the rapprochement based emotional and sometimes resentful approaches to solution seeking.
The solutions surely lie in researching causalities because beside having over-explored the effects realm, causal approaches, of which peer dynamics is one, are rational epistemological inquiries affected less by practical examples from other cultures. They open doors to new possibilities. Effect based approaches on the other hand remain contaminated with resentful and emotional appeal characterized by a strong sense of rapprochement amid traumas of the past.