Storytelling is the preservation of memory. It explains why this column elicited strong emotions last week: a people’s memory was at stake. I argued that Africa has no story to tell. I didn’t expect that anyone would take lightly such a proposition. Collective memory was at stake, after all. But whose memory is it anyways? Is Africa occupying her memory or is she fending for someone else’s memory?
I piggybacked President Kagame’s argument that said that the European conquest of Africa had disrupted Africa’s trajectory. As a result of the rigid borders, Kagame observed, Africa’s trajectory of integration was disrupted and that this explains why prosperity has eluded Africa – at least to the extent that would have been possible without conquest. By implication, the softening of borders, integration, would bring prosperity to Africa. Kagame called it an essential prerequisite. Said differently, if integration is the return to Africa’s trajectory of prosperity, then it is the interruption of the trajectory of European prosperity that was embedded in the logic of conquest.
Few disagree that the European conquest of Africa disrupted the African story. Moreover, it was essential to disrupt the African story in order to effectively conquer Africa. By conquering the African story the erasure of African memory began. Once the African story surrendered, the body was too weak to protect against the plunder of mineral wealth. And where the African story would protect the plunder, the story that replaced it justified it, and conditioned the victim to justify his own plunder.
The Egyptologist, and protégé Cheikh Anta Diop, Theophile Obenga, observes that Western historiography, building on the works of the influential German Philosopher Hegel, established academic disciplines on the view of Africans as a ‘primitive, savage, and uncivilised.’ Moreover, it erected upon them ideologies of “humiliation and destruction of African people,” until, he writes, “It became criminal to read Africa positively into history as in Antiquity.” Since a primitive people could not have a civilisation, Hegel insisted that, “Egypt does not belong to the African Spirit.”
This is what is at stake. Africa has two reservoirs for storytelling: before and after the Hegelian interruption. Both claim to be African stories. But because they represent contending versions of the same story, they both cannot be true. Thus, I suppose one is a story of Africa; the other, a story about Africa. The difference is not unimportant. The moral difference between the two has implications for the quest for freedom and liberation for the African.
An “African story” that is based on the Hegelian premise necessarily ends up – wittingly or unwittingly – prolonging the subjugation, humiliation, and destruction of the African people. Which is why the quest to decolonise the mind is about building consciousness and awareness around this possibility.
It is also why a disruption of Hegel is an essential prerequisite to telling the African story. The African story, just like the stories of other liberated peoples of the world, must be anchored on some history, culture and civilisation. Moreover, if the intention of Hegel, and his disciples then and now, is to pathologise the African people and their way of life, it follows that the intention of the African story is a detox against that pathology. Indeed, the exoticist urge for justifying conquer and plunder is replaced by a view of people capable of a wide range of human emotions including the ability to think, to feel pain.
Thus, the African story must be wrestled from Hegel and returned to its rightful owners. But no one expects his disciples, some of us included, to give up this memory without putting up a fierce fight. So much is at stake. Consequently, the African story is free to be told but everywhere in Hegelian chains.
Africa’s mooted stories
The African story is not being told because Africa is yet to formulate a Hegelian interruption in the opposite direction – an equal and opposite reaction.
The conquest of Africa was erected on a system of thought. Its freedom and liberation must similarly be erected on a system of thought. A knowledge system that was relied upon to humiliate, subjugate, and traumatise the African people cannot be expected to deliver freedom and liberation for them.
It is no coincidence that the Hegelian interruption placed much emphasis on the destruction of memory around African systems of knowledge. This is the true fountain of African stories, unmolested by the Hegelian tradition. Only there shall Africa recover its stories.
There shall Africans recover their stories in medicine, mathematics, architecture, human rights, state administration. In their griots and Abasizi shall Africans find their stories of the arts and the humanities.
This is the prerequisite for telling the African story. It must be what Patrice Lumumba had in mind when he said that someday “Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.”
It’s really Hegel we should all be angry with.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.Follow https://twitter.com/LonzenRugira