Tulkarem. North of West Bank ( Occupied Territories), Palestine. A part of the wall shows a graffiti saying 'To Exist is to Resist', an important resistance motto in Palestine. Tulkarem, West Bank, Palestine. 2006.
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?

Another of his emphasis, which is on most African people’s inability to read and write their own languages is also not an isolated problem from this issue but it does not stem from a lack of a writing tradition. It is rather a matter of having conceded defeat in terms of use of native languages for intellectual endeavors. This defeat internalized mental defeat is inherent to the idea of having given up on will to power.

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.

18 COMMENTS

  1. This is Audu Salisu’s second iterative analysis of power differentials and power dynamics between colonized peoples and beneficiaries of various forms of colonialisms. It is an astute and erudite synthesis of prevailing paradigms of thought and explanations, some of which are on Grandmother Africa and others contributed by various useful commentary on his first article.

    What lies at the heart of a persistent and unrelenting vestige of (neo-)colonialism that is still pervasive in Africa today, decades after independence movements? This is the question. And he makes an enticing attempt. Again, it invites your chromatic commentary.

    Enjoy.

  2. Audu Salisu, so the root cause is the abandonment of our written culture in favor of an oral tradition which Narmer claims has failed us. You posit that this has led to our inability to define self, and in tandem, the other (stranger). This seems fair since Kemet, with an advanced writing culture clearly defined who they were and where they came from (Nubia) in opposition to “others.”

    But isn’t this counter to the xenophilic characteristics of our cultures? Or do you think African culture became overly xenophilic with Oral Tradition? Men no longer needed documentation in order to trust. Men no longer needed signatures in order to trust friends and “others.” Africa in general, as opposed to the Africa before her, became barely capable of defining the “others.” This seems to me a fair implication of Narmer’s position which you buttress with further logical augmentation that Africa couldn’t separate herself from the rest of the world and hence allowed colonial ideas to replace African thinking at the roots, and perhaps that it continues to spur on colonial paradigms of thought still in Africa, decades after independence.

    Taken together, it also seems that more to the issue, Africa has not, or has forgotten Her role in world affairs. For some time, and for the better part of our civilizational millenia, we had viewed our role in the world as that of the insurers of Ma’at, maintainers of the ideal world order. We did it with a firm writing culture though.

    But in colonial Africa, without writing and without careful analysis of competing paradigms of thought, it was impossible to critique western ideologies and forms of thought in any meaningful way, whether they were regarded as strange or not according to the prevailing oral traditions of the time. Like you showed in the example of Gas in Ghana, there are specific vocabularies for Strangers and “others” and “guests” but these seem to have merged together with time causing a real systemic issue. This ties in well with the thesis that Oral tradition removed the tools of careful analyses in Africa, which was not the case with a Written Culture.

    So it seems to me that you have made an important contribution to the staple cause of the problem that is the lack or wiping away, or the total neglect of African writing forms, which Narmer proposed, and that it became impossible to critique (self) in any meaningful way let alone critique foreign thinking, as well as equally impossible to lay foundational philosophies for characterizing the “other” (Audu). Right? Correct me if I am wrong. I am trying to gather the gist of the issue since this is getting very exciting.

  3. But, could it also be argued that Oral Traditions have a place in African culture? After all couldn’t one say that even Kemet had some level of Oral Tradition, when you look at the spells and libations they poured?

  4. I don’t think they have a place, foko! They are inimical to civilization. I think it is important to separate Oral Tradition from a Poetic Tradition based on a Written Culture. Those spells and libations you read about from Kemet, were written and studied. The performance of written text is different from an Oral Tradition, which has no textual basis! The difference is not insignificant.

  5. Fair enough! The difference is certainly not insignificant seeing how “others” have come to destroy all we had.

  6. Oral tradition is dangerous and makes Africa vulnerable because Human comprehension requires all sense: vision, sound and imagination (mostly for the future) and memory costly for the past). Oral tradition uses only one, or at most, two. So over time, sack, purse and bag for example, become the same thing. And Solomon Azumah-Gomez that is exactly right. It is emotion laden, especially when put is rhythmic and lyrical format and unlike written text, difficult to promote rationality with; hence promoting emotions and xenophile; I.e by making the listener emotionally positively attracted to far away places that are unknown to them. The roots of the love for strangeness may take shape from there.

  7. “By making the listener emotionally positively attracted to… [speech], the roots of the love for strangeness may take shape from there.” That is powerful Audu Salisu. You have said something oh. You have said something! Oral tradition, become a laborious avenue for advancing emotions and cadence rather than reason and logic. This is where our fall occurred. This is very clear, now.

  8. I have been much engaged for the past 2 days, so took me a little time to respond to your essay my brother Audu Salisu

    1. You know I am part of the scholars that trumpet against most of the intellectual reactionary debate on this continent: such never solve anything but exhibit our lack of emotional maturity and logical acceptance to the white supremacy theory of Africa being of inferior to human kind, to the extent that a choice of word like we as a continent is a “scare” to the world, by a popular European figure, is very disheartening

    2. The issue of one medium language to be universal adopted by the continent were one of the major axiom in setting up OAU, which has developed in “material” to become AU, lacking it spirit of union.

    Scholars then had proposed a language which by their thinking, it has a wide coverage like Hausa, Bantu and the likes, which you have already listed above but it implementation has failed because, the AU as a mouth piece of African unity has a skeleton that owes to European but it flesh an African.

    This is another cause roots of our under development. This argument is never a reaction but emphatically the reality.

  9. @tweneboa Senzu, on your points, the second one is not really reactionary. It is part of the debates we should be having; it’s a causal issue that we should debate.

  10. Can someone explain what they mean when they say, and approach is reactionary? I beg, if you have a disease, you need to diagnose it! Correctly at that. That involves naming the disease. Without naming the disease, without a careful study of the root causes, the pathogens that cause the disease, without understanding the ways of these pathogens, how can one understand the disease and how this disease might metastasize?

    Without the full account and knowledge of the disease, and what devastation that disease can wreak, how can one fight it? From then on aren’t all disease-fighting approaches involve cures that kill the disease? I’m afraid, this reactionary labeling of Africans trying to understand the disease seems a tad bit hasty. Unless there’s another definition of reactionary that I do not know of. So please explain reactionary.

    • The term “reaction” in my understanding through this context is to always sing the chorus of why we continue to find ourselves as a continent driving on a path of diminishing value and blaming people for our woes as kind of sympathetic response to psychologically defend our failures.

  11. Audu Salisu if you want us to debate on it….. Very much ready.

    Ask yourself, why has it been that easy, this time for AU to establish African Passport but not a common language.

    Such similar referendum or consensus, could have cascaded down to establish the continental language long time ago.

    On it inception as an OAU, which Dr. Nkrumah known to be part of it founders, observed after the gaining of independence, with this remarks, there is a natural umbilical cord that connect all the African state, which need continental institution of that nature like AU, which was then OAU to engineer it direction.

    So I find it difficult to believe sometime whether “AU” is really working for African or against it Unity, because this kind of challenges suppose to be microly addressed, yet it has become like an unconquered mountain.

  12. @Tweneboa Senzu I’m not going to debate you on the AU’s inability to do anything. That’s something we all know. However, I don’t believe at this moment, should be saying something is difficult to pursue. The idea of “difficult”, to my mind, becomes an excuse because at this moment in time, passports should not be what we pursue. We should be seriously thinking of this language issues and discussing how to get rid of borders and not passports for crossing them.

  13. @dade afre akufo; there is a comment that Tweneboa once contributed to discussion which perfectly defines reactionary intellectualism in Africa. I looked for it and could not find it. But let attempt a deifinition here. It is the endeavor to have intellectual debates of the nature of trying to rebuke, explain or justify (thus to react to) claims that western intelleual thinking has put forth on or about Africa and it’s people. A current example, African intellectuals who join western intellectual debates of criticizing Chinese human right records and their actions in Africa.

  14. Audu Salisu Aug 21, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    @Tweneboa Senzu I’m not going to debate you on the AU’s inability to do anything. That’s something we all know. However, I don’t believe at this moment, should be saying something is difficult to pursue. The idea of “difficult”, to my mind, becomes an excuse because at this moment in time, passports should not be what we pursue. We should be seriously thinking of this language issues and discussing how to get rid of borders and not passports for crossing them.
    Reply
    ABDALLAH AUDU SALISU Audu Salisu Aug 21, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    @dade afre akufo; there is a comment that Tweneboa once contributed to discussion which perfectly defines reactionary intellectualism in Africa. I looked for it and could not find it. But let attempt a definition here. It is the endeavor to have intellectual debates of the nature of trying to rebuke, explain or justify (thus to react to) claims that western intelleual thinking has put forth on or about Africa and it’s people. A current example, African intellectuals who join western intellectual debates of criticizing Chinese human right records and their actions in Africa.

    Awesome thought-provoking article by Brother Abdallah Audu Salisu, with the usual succulent introduction by Sister Akosua Abeka and mind-and-heart-blazing comments by my favourite team of “Nunyansafo”! Something to read over and over and over again as I am now doing for a lot of richly nourishing food for critical thought to grasp, including the brilliance of its Pan-Afrikan revolutionary audacity! Thanks for more than words can say, Brother Audu Salisu and all at Grandmother Afrika!

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