We must be careful not to rewrite history
Stabroek News
April 9, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Please let me add my voice to the debate on the origin of the word "Africa." Once the Romans had completed their destruction of Carthage, they looked around for a name for the swathe of new territory they had acquired. The search ended about 50km to the west, in the band of low hills running north from the Medjerda River between the towns of Membressa (modern Mejez el-Bab) and Matar (Mateur). This was the homeland of the Afri, a Berber tribe whose loyalty the Romans were keen to cultivate in their efforts to create a buffer against the Numidian Kingdom further west.

The new province of Africa occupied the north-eastern third of modern Tunisia, and was reputedly enclosed by a ditch- although no trace of any ditch has ever been found. The name spread as the boundaries of Roman control were extended east and west along the north coast, until eventually the name became synonymous with the entire continent. In Arabic Africa is called " Al Afriqia."

North Africa is very much "black" or should I say "African." Those who claim that the people of north Africa are whites should visit the region before making unfounded generalizations. I have visited Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt and they are very much a land of non-whites. A large percent of the people are black. Today it's very fashionable to rewrite history and many radical groups and movements are in the business of doing so. Why do we only see it when the Talibans are doing it? Why is it fashionable to blame Arabs/Muslims for the problems in various parts of the world. Islam is the dominant religion in Africa. We only hear about the "horrible" atrocities in the Sudan by the Black Arabic speaking north. I don't see Arab armies capturing slaves in Africa or plundering Africa nor do I see them in South Asia. If we dwell on the past forever the bloodletting will never stop. And rewriting history is the arsenal of the trouble makers. They are no different than the Taliban of the 21st century.

Slavery and the selling of children continues in Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Southern Sudan. On April 13, 2001 under the heading, "Sea ordeal of 'child slaves' the BBC writes, "A ship carrying up to 250 suspected child slaves is heading back to Benin after being refused entry to two nearby West African states." CNN's Arvil Stephens on April 17, 2001 wrote, "Children continue to be sold into the domestic, agricultural and sex industries in

Africa despite the slave trade being officially banned in the early 1880s. The forced labour is a growing widespread problem in West and Central Africa often as a result of parents' ignorance or poverty, aid agencies have said."

The United Nations children's agency UNICEF estimates 200,000 children are traded each year in the region. Some parents hope they are handing over their children to a better education or job, while others embroiled in poverty are looking to offload their children for financial gain". "Children, between the ages of seven and 18 are sold mostly from Benin and Togo, ending up in the

relatively wealthy oil-exporting neighbouring areas around Lagos in Nigeria and Libreville in Gabon. Other countries importing child slave labour are Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, and others as far afield as Bangui in the Central African Republic."

Arabs are part and parcel of Africa and no one can change or belittle their contributions to that region's civilization. No matter how Afro-centric or non Afro-centric one maybe, the credibility of the discourse is lost when emotions have consumed us all. This reinventing of history or the rewriting of history is going on in many parts of the world. Why this debate as to whose civilization was superior-Arabs/Africans?

Yours faithfully,

Raymond Chickrie