Book Review by The Vanguard Book Club, January 2019.
The book is the summary of a scholarly research published in 1971, and has become a treatise on Black History. To function effectively as policy makers able to find African solutions to African problems, it’s necessary to first understand the African story, particularly one told by an African. According to the author, “we study the past for the express purpose of learning what things made the race great in the past, what explains subsequent failures and weakness, and what, in the light of that history, we can do now – if we have the will. This is what the study of history should mean for African people in particular.”
However, the history that’s taught in schools in Africa is basically the stories of the earliest foreigners on the continent. A typical African child first learns to be proud to know “Mungo Park discovered River Niger”; but later finds it, if ever, preposterous to say as s/he grows older. But that was how the story was, and is still being told! Considering distortions and concoctions like this being inexorably perpetuated, it becomes necessary for Africans to learn their true history, and not what foreigners decide they need to know. This is exactly the point where this book finds its essence.
Historical problems of the race are discussed extensively, and sadly enough, a repeat of history is still observed today. This makes the whole story relatable and equally disagreeable. When the nation was disunited and too weak to resist foreign incursions, the Black race began migrating from their ancestral home (Egypt) in a bid to find better conditions for the sustenance of life and escape slave-hunting, taking their civilization with them. The author claims these migrations from “conflict zones” fostered the creation of splinter ethnic and language groups which Western writers present to aver ancestral disconnection among member groups of the race, and further their disunity.
It is easy to mistake the author’s passion for anger: particularly his fervidness for the development of African nations, and in some instances, his desire to have the written history the other way round. Far from this, the reader is convinced from the second chapter that until Black nations can be built into economic power houses without foreign influence, Africans might not be able to escape the negative stereotypes they’ve been locked into for ages. With this, the Black man is made to understand that accepting to be more French than a Frenchman or more English than a Briton is to agree to the position of an inferior.
In discussing the fall and rise of strong pre-colonial African states, the author presents a blueprint for reverse engineering of the status quo and resuscitation of the historically vibrant and enterprising African spirit. According to the author, “when, if ever, Black people actually organize as a race in their various population centers, they will find that basic and guiding ideology they now seek and so much need is embedded in their own traditional philosophy and constitutional system – simply waiting to be extracted and set forth.”
Besides the evils of climate change in ancient empires built around the Sahara, the reader arrives at the conviction that the Black man cannot be absolved of any blame connected with the downfall of his race and civilization. Disunity, disloyalty, egocentricity that knows no bounds, and backstabbing fellow countrymen in a bid to ingratiate themselves with the self-proclaimed “master” isn’t a new development. As a contemporary example, Thomas Sankara embarked on the task of nation building without foreign aid, but was eliminated in a coup masterminded by a “kinsman” on behalf his “master”. Although globalization now calls for cooperation among nations, this disheartening lack of vision for future generations meant a deliberate setback in the development of Burkina Faso.
The author’s message is clear. He argues that the inspiring parts of Black history can still be repeated if Africans believe in themselves and determine to walk the process. Martin Luther King (Jr.) said an individual hasn’t started living until s/he “can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concern of all humanity.” This applies if Africans desire their nations’ growth and peoples’ prosperity. If they work together to promote equality, social justice and welfare of the people, group solidarity which is a necessary condition for progress will follow a natural course. The author passionately nurtures this idea in the reader’s mind.
Chancellor Williams posited that the concentration of slavery on Blacks was reinforced by the ruling class’ insatiable desire for riches and consolidation of power. This is a bitter truth yet manifest in today’s realities. Despite being the richest continent in terms of mineral resources, the poorest people on earth are found in Africa, as they are still being “enslaved” by the political class for pecuniary gains. This is observed across the continent, and hints of an inherent leadership problem. However, times of peace, security and prosperity were only experienced during periods of strong leadership throughout Black history. To attain those heights again, Africans in their respective nations need to unite, banish self-preservation and timidity, speak and take actions against bad leadership.
The typical “King and Council of Chiefs” traditional institutions which are based on principles of consultation and fairness in representation was the system of government generally practiced in Africa centuries before “democracy” was coined in the West. Clearly, conformation to Western standards isn’t a condition for development: in the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist!” Considering the magnitude of the systemic rot, the reader then realizes that there is no quick fix to the issues at hand and pro-people leaders might need long periods in government to spearhead the restructuring of the foundations of Black nations. It’s unlikely that any administration will fix it in four years using patented Western methods. But who can be trusted?
Furthermore, it’s hard to come to terms with the truth that religion, which birthed the earliest civilization, eventually became a bane of its builders. It formed a tool employed by predators and opportunists to subjugate entire Black communities. But shouldn’t it be appalling that religious officers still wield great influences in African communities today? This shows that the deliberate destruction of the true story, and retelling it in a form that fits imperialists’ agenda deprives Africans the opportunity to understand the problems of their societies and take decisive actions able to lift their nations and continent out of the present quagmire.
Consequently, it is pertinent that governments of African nations review what history, and how it is being taught in their schools. The story of Caucasians in Africa only supports the prevalent idea that neither Africa nor do Africans have any significant history or civilization before their incursions. The proliferation of such stories, at best, will only make an African child feel inferior in identity and intellectual capacity. While stories might carry different connotations depending on who the narrator is, everyone still deserves to be properly educated on the history of his or her ancestors whether good or not. In the words of Tara Westover, “the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, is at the heart of what it means to self-create.” Self-discovery is the goal of this kind of education. Africans must act contrary to blame instincts, and it also behooves them to know, as Viktor Frankl puts it, that “no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.” The best revenge is to unite in building Africa, and prove oppressors wrong!
The importance of mass education of Africans on their “African-ness” is emphasized. However, more important is the fact that the stories the next generations are told must be different. Africa has had enough politicians, those who don’t seem to be having enough of their “profession of talking”, swaying the populace with their “gift of gab.” The current need is for a new generation of “doers”, those who understand the dynamics of leadership and are prepared to work for the good of the exploited common man. Since the current “democracy” practiced in African nations only furthers the enrichment of a select few, these new crop of leaders cannot be mentally lazy. They must be able to work out an economic program, which might draw upon positive aspects of other systems but must be Africa-oriented.
There’s so much to learn from the book on issues that put African nations in precarious situations and at the mercy of scavengers, both home and abroad. It’s recommended for young Africans preparing for leadership and policy work across the continent. The first two chapters are quite hard to comprehend as they contain esoteric discourses on the methods employed in the study. However, they also set the background upon which later chapters were developed, and the efforts of the author is more appreciated as progress is made. The many misspellings that paint the pages do not befit a seminal work as this, but they do not detract from the central message of the book.
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