The African must face his predicament squarely without fake history or myths
Stabroek News
April 8, 2002

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Dear Editor,

I refer to Dr Kimani Nehusi's lengthy response to Prince Michael's letter captioned "Did Africans produce a written language"(SN 20/03/02). Nehusi's statement is a cri de coeur of someone who is struggling with the feeling of inferiority of the African. Nehusi would wish the African to be equal to or superior to the European and in so aspiring, he puts forward a case riddled with a large number of fallacies and contradictions, some of which I state below:-

(1) Despite referring to the white supremacists in South Africa Nehusi chose to spell Africa and Africans with a 'k' just as the architects of apartheid spell and spelt it. Indeed, no one in the African continent spells Africa with a 'k' except the Afrikaner people of South Africa, the creators and upholders of apartheid.

(2) Nehusi's whole thesis of the creativity and greatness of the African is based on the fallacy that all Africans are the same, racially and culturally, and that Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa are the same. The Egyptians were a very mixed nation as could be seen from their statuary and tomb paintings. In fact, in their tomb paintings, the blacks and browns are always differentiated and the blacks are mostly shown as slave-captives or performers of some kind of the lower grade jobs. Many of the mummies of the ruling class of ancient Egypt were certainly not of African race when you analyse their physiognomic structure and hair texture. The bone structure and face of Rameses the Great, for example, when you look at the statue, is certainly not Black.

This racially mixed Egyptian population is to be expected, as ancient Egypt had been subject to foreign conquests and invasions for almost half of its existence. These invaders came from Asia and Europe with such peoples as the Assyrians and Persians and Greeks and Romans. The famous Queen Cleopatra was a Greek descendant. The Romans were there for seven hundred years. These various invaders took from and gave much to Egyptian culture and civilization. The introduction of the Bronze Age of Egypt, for example, was the work of Asiatic invaders.

(3) Nehusi depicts Egypt as a very civilized and religious place. Like all societies, Egypt had many aspects. For example, the form of government was dictatorial in the extreme and ordinary folk had no rights. Slavery was practised on a massive scale and in the construction of the Egyptian monuments, hundreds of thousands of slaves died. Egyptian civilization seemed to have been obsessed with death and a great deal of time and resources were spent on tombs and other accoutrements of death. Egyptian society was extremely stiff and conservative in dress, in art, in food, etc. All of this contrasts with the freedom and openness of the black man who never believed in dictatorship, never liked slavery and even when it existed, it was mild and kindly. Above all the black man loved informality and humaneness and was far more concerned with life and the vibrancy of living than death. In religion too, the black man was never dogmatic but was always open to new ideas unlike in Egypt, for example, where after Akhenaton's death the monotheist sun-religion he espoused was persecuted and eradicated. In the black man's culture, we have never had such religious intolerance. Further, the black man is universally known for his sunny humour and the joy and laughter he injects everywhere. In ancient Egypt, humour was never valued. Have you ever seen an Egyptian statue or painting depicting laughter?

(4) Both Mr Michael and Dr Nehusi have the same unconscious world-view that the white man and his civilization are the measure of excellence. All that which Nehusi claims is worthwhile and is excellent are within the paradigm of white achievement and is referable to white standards. This unconscious assumption is the most insidious thing in Dr Nehusi's article for it indoctrinates the black man to bow to Europe and the West in the final analysis. This could be seen, for example, in Nehusi's remarks on the origin of medicine or his approving religious remarks. "Akhenaton introduced monotheism to the world 1500 years before Jesus Chirst". White civilization believes monotheism characterizes "advanced" religion because the white man's religion is monotheist. On the contrary, to the black man, Monotheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, etc are all equal ways of reaching the Divine Essence and none is superior to the other. Indeed, monotheism as practised by Western Christianity and Islam results in severe patriarchal attitudes and in discrimination against women. Nehusi and others always have to be conscious of the African reality so as not to be entrapped into the assumption that white civilization is the measure of excellence.

This assumption that white civilization is the measure of excellence is to be expected since all the African intellectuals like Dr Nehusi have been using Western and European books and researches as their references. If Dr Nehusi were to look back at the bibliography of his doctoral thesis, he would be reminded that the vast majority of his references were Western and European. And all that he writes about Egypt is largely derivative from the writings of Western archaeologists and historians.

(5) Finally, last contradiction. Dr Nehusi writes:- "Afrikans provided the basis and prototypes of much of what has been passed off as Greek and Western civilization." In other words, Africans are ultimately responsible for Western technology, science, art, literature, music, religion, polity etc. Yet Dr Nehusi complains that Western colonialism has been forcing its civilization and culture on Africans and Africa. If the West stole our civilization and are now giving us back, aren't we getting back our own thing? It is therefore no imposition when we receive our long-lost culture from the West. (The root of the contradiction of course lies in the fact that Dr Nehusi is operating within the paradigm of Western Civilization).

I could go on dealing with other contradictions and unfactualness but I do understand and empathise with writings claiming that Africans invented everything. The reason for this is that we wish to have self-respect and have others respect us. And then from this point we could be inspired to emerge out of our predicament into prosperity and success.

But my teacher Accabre Nkofi has taught me differently. He said the African cannot overcome his predicament unless he is utterly honest. He must face his predicament squarely and see his failings directly without any fake history, myths or apologies which bring only short-term feelings of well-being.

Secondly, he must stop blaming slavery and other persons and races for his predicament. He must realise that whatever has happened to him is his own fault and he must solve his situation by his own effort. For example, he must not say his poverty or lack of stable family life was the result of slavery. He must make effort after effort to emerge from poverty and to be disciplined in his family life.

And lastly and most important. The African does not have to operate within the context and goals of European civilization and culture. He has to create or more accurately, to articulate, his own paradigm and he has enough cultural and psychological resources to do this. Nehusi notices that the South-East Asians, Chinese, Japanese and Indians have done this. Africans can also do it. For example, African music shares the domain of the world and we should articulate this within our paradigm. And there are other attributes such as our a-racial world-view which is the antithesis of the Western racist world-view. Yet many black intellectuals have adopted the Western racist world-view and have inverted it. Such distortion will never help us to emerge from our predicament. And there are numerous other elements which could formulate our African civilizational paradigm and complete world-view. But through this medium, I shall beg my teacher, Dr Accabre Nkofi, to write more deeply and expansively than I could ever do, on the question of the solution of African predicament and the African Rennaissance.

Yours faithfully,

Accabre Atta