MUST REAAD: THE AFRICAN RENAISSANCE AND RECLAIMING THE 21st CENTURY
Sserubiri Afrika Uhuru
(Author, Poet, Africa Thisday’s Columnist from Uganda, Theorist, Political, Social, and Economic Commentator)
The Fate of the World
We are living through historic times. While the future may look bleak and uncertain, we are in our own particular way blessed to live through an era in which the very word ‘revolution’ is no longer just the abstract obsession of some fringe romantics inside the Old Left. We are living through a time in which the word capitalism no longer invokes hard work and ample reward, but the lack of work and opportunity for a growing number of people around the world. This is a time in which the very existence of revolutionary theory and practice is no longer considered just an academic or activist privilege, but a pressing global necessity and increasingly a factual reality on the ground.
We are living through a time in which the illusory sense of growth and progress that underpinned the cultural hegemony of neoliberalism and its belief that representative democracy and the self-regulating market will bring freedom and prosperity to all is dying a slow and painful death. The deceptive ideological mirror of the End of History has been shattered, and in come tumbling a whole new range of alternative futures. With the uprisings that started in the Arab world, history appears to have started anew. After a brief interlude that began with the end of the Cold War, the ongoing global financial crisis has radically shaken the foundations of the neoliberal world order. The endless struggle has recommenced, and in the process, the horizon of the possible is rapidly shifting. And the most incredible thing is that we’re watching all of it happen right in front of our very eyes.
The world has become a dangerous place and the future of humanity is threatened by the emerging world powers threatening to destroy the civilization they themselves built. We are standing at a moment in history where we are forced to agree with the Social Darwinism ideology. In all this confusion when man is threatening to destroy fellow man using the nuclear weapons which he developed through his technological advancement, Africa stands a powerless continent. The African people of the world have, therefore, come at last to destiny’s crossroads. They must make some fundamental decisions as a single people.
The African Renaissance and Regeneration
African Renaissance is a vision and mission for change and development that is premised on the understanding that the future of Africa and Africans in Africa and the Diaspora lies in fundamental process of renewal, re-invention and rebirth. These required changes need to occur in people’s mindset and world outlook, which in turn require changes in material conditions as well as in the institutions and processes of intellectual, political, economic and cultural governance. African transformation also requires a quest for fundamental changes in the historically constituted global order.
Africa and its people have been subjected to a process of disorganization, fragmentation and disintegration of their historical-cultural and civilizational achievements for the last three thousand years. These achievements, in many cases have been appropriated by other peoples and turned around their heads against the African people. In the process, the African civilization has been raped, plundered, despoiled and dehistorized.
If the expression “African Renaissance” has to mean anything all to the African masses, it has, as pointed out above, be able to mobilize African people psychologically, spiritually, and politically in order for the African continent to engage in a process of “recovery”, “re-awakening” and/or “rebirth”, that can break us out of the Eurocentric intellectual jails in which Africans find themselves caught and imprisoned.
The process of re-awakening and recovery has to be one of a historical deconstruction, “consciousness raising” and restatement not in the way the post-modernists and post-structuralist have argued, but by Africans tracing the origins and achievements of their civilizations with a view to developing new epistemologies of knowledge production based on African lived experiences in their global implications. The process must delve into the implications of this centuries old burden of domination that continues to bedevil the African personality and then on the basis of self-understanding, to organize ourselves to move forward in history. This must result from the knowledge we shall have formulated, which is based on our historical and cultural experiences throughout our history.
The African Renaissance must be suited in the cultural component, which challenges the right of Europeans to impose their cultural spiritual values on African communities. This cultural project is traced from the early 15th century when Europe sought to make Christianity a universal religion and in order to contain Islam, African religions and the Asian belief system. There is need for African people to redefine a new political and ideological agenda of Pan-Africanism in the age of globalization. The key pillars of the African renaissance are socio-cultural, political, economic regeneration and improvement of Africa’s political standing in world affairs.
The rebellion of the African masses both on the continent and in the Diaspora against enslavement and against European colonialism were in fact the reflection of the struggle for an African recovery and regeneration. This is why throughout this period; attempts were made by African intellectuals to assert African identity and achievements. These were part of the process of the struggle for an African “renaissance”. The struggle took on a Universalist approach with the aim of rehabilitating the image of the black man wherever he was an expression of black personality. Thus the essence of the call for an African renaissance is a call for a continued African resistance to western domination and exploitation of Africans, the process of Africa restating its original message and its own way that was at the same time universal.
The noun “renaissance” means “rebirth and/or renewal”, which meant the awakening of Europe from its dark, trance-like period” of the Middle Ages. It was called “rebirth” because Europe in the fifteenth century, after a long period of interruption, believed it could resume the civilization of the Greco-Romans and hence the concept “middle” signified a separation between the new Europe and its Dark period. It was a renaissance in which the “fascination with Egypt” was central to the new imagination” of European renewal. Those who glorify the European renaissance less emphasize this point about the African achievement as a spur to their “birth of civilization”.Although scholars run to the Greco-Roman heritage as Europe’s heritage, few realize its sources, which the African message carried to them through its hieroglyphic writing and artwork as well as its pyramids. Michael Rice argues; “without an awareness of Egyptian architecture and many of its decorative elements, the European Renaissance is hardly thinkable”.
Inspiration from the European Renaissance?
The fifty year period from 1482 to 1536A.D has special significance for world history. During this period the European’s world was able to synthesize various economic, political and cultural forces and lay the foundation for a global system of power, centered around materialism, capitalism and imperialism at the heart of the Western hemisphere and the enslavement of Africans. As a result, two worlds collided and left us with a legacy of genocidal institutionalized white supremacy. African and Native American humanism lost out to the system of European materialism. The seeds of the European-American system of materialism were planted during this definitive period of history from 1482-1536A.D and were nurtured by the exploitation of new lands, labour and resources. The period between 1400 and 1600 was a period in human history when Europeans freed themselves from the lethargy of the Middle Ages, the aftermath of the Crusades and the famines and plagues that had taken one-third of the population of Europe. The renewal of European nationalism and the introduction of slave trade gave Europe a new economic tease on life.
By the end of the fourteenth century, Southern Europe had gained enough strength- militarily and otherwise to challenge their African and Arab masters. By the end of the fifteenth century the Africans (also called Moors, who were black people) had lost all Spain except the kingdom of Grenada. The Europeans although they also had their internal disputes were finally united. The marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella joined the formerly hostile royal houses of Aragon and Castile and together their forces blockaded the city of Grenada and after eight months of fighting the Moorish governor finally surrendered. In 1492, the Jewish community of Spain was expelled or forced to convert. Millions of Africans suffered the same fate. The fall of Granada in 1492, ending eight centuries of Moorish sovereignty, allowed the Spanish inquisition to extend its barbaric sway. The conquerors destroyed priceless books and manuscripts with their rich record of classical learning, and demolished the civilization that had flourished under the far more tolerant and cultured African rule. The stage was set for the decline of Spain, and also for the racism and savagery of the world conquest.
In the same year Christopher Columbus representing the Spanish monarchy claimed to have discovered the New World, he set in train the long and bitter international rivalry over colonial possessions for which, after five centuries, no solution has yet been found. The discovery of America and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind. The discovery of America certainly made a most essential contribution to the state of Europe, opening up a new and inexhaustible market that led to the vast expansion of productive powers and real revenue and wealth. The conquest of the New World set off two vast demographic catastrophes unparalleled in history; the virtual destruction of the indigenous population of the Western hemisphere and the devastation of Africa as the slave trade rapidly expanded to serve the needs of the conquerors, and the continent itself was subjugated.
In order for the Europeans to justify their barbaric actions upon the non-European peoples of the world, they devised a rationale to conquer the mind of their victims through a series of racist myths. Every effort was made to wipe from the memory of the victims how they ruled a state and how they related to their spirituality before the coming of the Europeans. Most of the people of the world were forced to forget that over half of human history was over before anyone knew that a European was in the world. Non-Europeans, especially in Nile Valley civilizations, had laid the basis for the spirituality that would later be converted into the major religions of the world. They had also developed the thought pattern that would later be developed into the philosophical thought of the world. All of this had happened outside of Europe before Europeans had names, durable shoes or houses with windows.
For the Western world the values and norms, which inform their daily lives, is said to be rooted in the Greco-Judea-Christian civilizations and heritage. This self-identity has its roots in the denial of their heritage to African origins of civilization. Therefore in order to falsely assert that their civilization has its origins in Greece, it became necessary to form negative views of the African continent and its peoples in order to assert their own originality and superiority over them. Martin Bernal in his book Black Athena tells of a story of how the men of the European Enlightenment tried to undermine what the European Renaissance had tried to unearth; the superiority of African religion and philosophy over those of Europe. This struggle which led to the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1601 for asserting the primacy of African ‘natural’ religion was followed by the denunciation of Egypt by Newton who had at first accepted the superiority of Egypt over Europe.
The Western dogma which contends that Greeks gave the world rationalism effectively marginalizes those who are not European. The dogma that the Greeks gave the world rational thought is historically inaccurate and the construction of the Western notions of knowledge based on the Greek model is a relatively recent construction beginning with the European Renaissance when Cosimo de Medici of Florence asked Marsillio Ficcino to translate the Corpus Hermeticum and Plato’s Republic in that order.
The European Renaissance was not simply the freedom of Spirit and body for European men but a new freedom to destroy freedom for the rest of humanity. It was the freedom for the mercantile bourgeoisie to loot, plunder and steal from the rest of the world. In the process, the African people were “down-graded” as well not human beings, but chattels valued as so much horsepower. Thus post-renaissance Europe saw the African as a chattel for sale in an age they called “Age of Enlightenment”. The development of European philosophy centered on the hiding and obscuring of European criminality against humanity and cannot be referred to as a humanist achievement in the annals of human history.
How can Africa be inspired by a renaissance that was partly inspired by ancient Africa and turned into a robbers’ paradise? How can we, in the contest of the same paradigm call it a “renewal” and a “reawakening” unless we do not know what this historical injustice has done to us?
Unlike the European Renaissance that drew on borrowed Greco-Roman classicism that itself had drawn from an African heritage in order to get out of their darkness, Africa must foremost recover the memory of its own heritage and message. It is this “African Regeneration” that we must follow.
A regeneration of Africa lies in the tracement of human knowledge as built up by Africans from the Cradle of Humankind, interrogating the way it was interpreted in other societies and expunging it of Eurocentric prejudices and racist notions so that we can have true and usable knowledge that can emancipate Africa from the clutches of European encirclement and enslavement.
The Need for a New Global Order
The main thrust of civilization, like religion itself, was toward a more humane society, piloted and guided by the upward march of the human spirit as man slowly advanced from beast hood to a higher and higher level of mankind. Blessed with a mind that enabled him to think, analyze, discover and invent, he could now evolve education and promote the development of science and technology to further the advance of the whole human species. The medium of exchange, which in relatively recent times became money, was expanded to facilitate the spread of necessities of life for the common welfare. But somewhere back through the years the whole upward trend was reversed as aggression inspired by greed led to the easy acquisition of both wealth and political power by the daring few at the expense of the many.
Mass poverty, and the ignorance and disease which are its inseparable companions, spread as the wealth belonging to all the people came to be owned or controlled by the few in every country, no matter what system or ideology it claimed. This is not the direction civilization is supposed to take. We have what should be its reflection: advances in science, technology, great skyscraper cities, and skies filled with aircraft, moon flights improvements in everything but man himself, his murderous, greedy soul being still ages back there in the caves of his ancestors.
Africans and other non-European people must plan and strategize for a New World Order distinctly their own that will be developed by them for them. Our mission should be not to conquer Europe, but to contain Europe within its borders and let it be known that anything Europe wants from other parts of the world can be had through honorable trade. If we understand our mission, I think we will become aware of the fact that we are in a position to give the world a new humanity that will bring into being a new world of safety and respect for all people.
We have a special responsibility to ourselves to build a kind of humanity and partnership with all African people of the world that could serve as a role model for all of the people in the world. Once you put African people, their energy and their imagination together, and once they begin to feed into each other and support each other there is no need for them to conquer anybody, or threaten anybody, and they, above all other people can offer the world a whole new humanity and a new way of life. African people will improve not only the economy of the world, but the spirit of the world and the humanity of the world and the dignity of the world. But they will have to get some illusions out of their mind first. They have to develop an entirely different concept of education.
For the Africans, who are most victimized everywhere; their own situation can be radically changed in a program that regards money only as the means by which they can do the things that must be done through cooperation. The concept here is Cooperation as the humane law of life, total and actual unity, brotherhood and sisterhood throughout the organization, and not just economic cooperatives, such as stores, markets, housing, farms, etc., important as these will be. And we say this united movement toward a more humane economic system in the midst of a dog-eat-dog, money-mad, competitive society will be a movement in the direction of real civilization. The challenging question is whether Africans of the 21th century can recover enough of the vision, strength and will of their forefathers who built the great pyramids to undertake the tasks of this present.
The Renaissance of the African continent is the need to empower African peoples to deliver themselves from the legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism and to situate themselves on the global stage as equal and respected contributors to as well as beneficiaries of all the achievements of human civilizations. Just as the continent was once a cradle of humanity and an important contributor to civilization, this renaissance should empower it to help the world rediscover the oneness of the human race.
Sserubiri Afrika Uhuru is Africa Thisday’s columnist from Uganda. Forward your reviews of this article to email@example.com.