ACCRA–This is the third of a series of essays started with the aim of setting a tone for a paradigm shift towards an abstract and casual inward reassessment of how best to defeat internalized colonialisms right from the metaphysical level.
The subject of freedom in the anti-colonial struggle is important. It was meant to be the second of the series. But important questions came up from the discussion of the first one and warranted a revisit, making this the third of the series.
We use the same idea of the synthesis of language and vocabulary as in the past installments, to treat the topic of freedom and liberty, which are valuable assets for all human freedom. The theoretical considerations colonized people make is necessitated by the fact that their intellectual endeavors, as I have consistently noted, are commonly inundated with reacting to, reaffirming or critiquing long standing systemic clichés about themselves.
The system, as part of its containment policy has come to expect reaction towards Eurocentric biases and hence created a space for reaction by African intellectualism within the neocolonial cultural imperialist realm. Its acceptance and propagation makes those who seek genuine freedom look like troublemakers.
Freedom, as the power and right to act, speak, or think as one wants, must be seen beyond the cultural context. Traditional African understanding, European schools of thought, Confucianism, etc. may differ in wording but their fundamental themes of freedom remain strikingly similar.
Are colonized people free?
If we accept our understanding of freedom, then those whose cultures feel the hegemonic nature of the neocolonial cultural imperialist are far from free. Although colonized people often claim to be free and successful. What they actually mean is a certain level of freedom and success maintained within certain perimeters within which others have and retain total control over colonized peoples.
Consider an African woman who is successful because she is the first African to dance ballet on a stage that was built for and by Europeans. This is a reductionist approach to the idea of freedom and success. The African woman is reduced to simply struggling and achieving certain ends within the neocolonial integrationist milieu.
But if one considers the alternative where a free African woman, a ballet dancer, becomes successful dancing on a stage controlled and dominated by Africans, or that was set up and controlled by everyone (or a group representative of everyone), one perceives the achievement of the dancer in a different light. Freedom and success then can be curbed, capped, curtailed and contained by others.
To gain a deeper definition of freedom and liberty beyond one particular cultural context, we need to look at the general philosophy underpinning various cultures’ and their depiction of human reality.
Most cultures of the Global South see the world as a kind of cosmos, of which they are just a part. Thus, they are elements within a natural process. This is captured well in some of Plato’s works and many Greek philosophers’ view of reality, which reaffirms the notion that Greek philosophy is nothing but a philosophy acquired from its more superior African counterpart in Kemet.
In the Global North, the Nordic European imagination on the other hand is the Kantian world-view, which considers that reality is the creation of the human. It does not deny environmental circumstances and their effects but it sees primarily those effects as secondary to human actions.
After colonialism, one would expect the schooled African to have inherited the Kantian model, for after all “modern schooling” was and continues to be dominated by western thought. However, colonized peoples ascribe to the Greco-African understanding rather than the Nordic-European. Most colonized people employ this Platonic view of reality.
The Nordic European perspective, ala Kant, is closer to European rational interpretation of free will than the Platonic view, which is seemingly more considerate and projects a more complex and intricate understanding of freedom and man’s relationship with his environment.
Whether espousing a more intricate understanding of freedom—seeing the human as part of an existing reality—or portraying the human as the creator of that reality makes it easier for one’s freedom to be curtailed or not, remains to be seen.
Logically, the Platonic mode of thinking then certainly makes it still easier for colonized peoples who either recognize the competing paradigms between Europe and Africa, or not, to accept themselves as part of the world. With this comes the easy acceptance too of an imposed reality, hewn say from a foreign country, in contradistinction to the Nordic European view, which cannot accept the reality of others.
Nonetheless, in combination with religious and moral convictions linguistic synthesis as well as some cultural practices may make it easier for the freedom of the believer in the Platonic sense to be easily curbed, capped, curtailed and contained. While research is needed in this regard logic dictates that if the Kantian has hegemonic intentions, it becomes completely dangerous for the Platonic possessor to engage him. In addition, the position of the Platonic possessor aids his succumbing to the will of the other.
Linguistic synthesis and tradition can aid the curtailment of freedom.
Many African ethnic groups may use the term “fear” in place of “respect.” The word “fear” is also used in the English Bible—one would speak of the fear of God. This is not to mean one must run away from God or feel threatened but rather as a form of respect. With a proliferation of Christianity and other such religions in Africa, where the substitution of fear for respect persist, it can create confusion and blur understanding over time.
The interchangeable use of such words and other cultural practices such as the intimate connection between old age and respect, and those two in connection with fear, create problems for a consolidated pursuit of freedom. Indeed where fighting for freedom involves the breaking away from the status quo.
Furthermore, serious abstract thinking in African languages is missing. How many Africans can reflect with their mother language with well-structured methodological processes? How can the elite of any people claim to be independent when they have to express their natural intuitive feelings and intellectual abilities in foreign languages? The sad aspect of the matter is that colonization teaches them to also view their own languages as vernaculars.
In this instance, it is then difficult to classify ambitions and actions within such capped colonized perimeters as original. They are in essence, reactions. Thus colonized people essentially fight to improve their position within those perimeters. This exemplifies intellectualism in Africa.
Most intellectuals in Africa, especially the elders, do not endeavor to dream beyond a set of perimeters either because they are pleased with the status quo or are afraid of change. They often take advantage of “fear” meant as respect, and take advantage of traditions with inherent connections between old age and respect to stop younger intellectuals from advancing beyond their colonized boundaries.
For this reason, colonized youth accept what is conventional and normal—while youth of colonizer states dream and aspire outside all boundaries, colonized youth fail to aspire beyond their boundaries. The latter’s attempts beyond the perimeter are met with disdain. Young people of colonized states cannot pursue their dreams, at all costs, say through meaningful conflict even when their human rights are at stake, since such actions are branded by the colonizer as “violent.”
To understand this phenomenon one might ask: Why are Africans so ready to use violence at home, for instance in inter-ethnic conflict, and so scared of entertaining the idea of violence in self-defense or for achieving ultimate freedom from the colonizer?
The petty thinker whose perceived enemy is the next village, must not be forced to understand geopolitics alone, but must be made to understand that intra-Africa harmony is his biggest asset for his freedom. He must be made to understand and define his enemy correctly as the colonizer. He must cease and retain the right to study and understand violence without venturing into philosophical arguments of its moral plausibility.
Clausewitz once said that “war is [simply] a continuation of politics.” From Thucydides through Machiavelli to Colin Gray, Europeans have studied and understood war and violence. From Sun Tzu to Mao Tse-tung, Chinese studied and understood violence. The Japanese have their Samurai tradition, which helped them defeat big China.
But Africans have an adage that says: “If someone will hurt you, it will be from your own family.” Though it means an enemy from within hits harder because it knows your routine, most Africans have sadly take this to mean their fellow Africans or own families. This misinterpretation allows them to use violence among themselves. With such a distorted view on the definition and use of violence, it is no surprise that proper freedom continues to elude colonized people while making them more and more vulnerable.