JAMAICA OBSERVER, FRIDAY, JULY 29, 2016
Africa has been much maligned. As I track a discussion across three countries, I am amazed at the illogic of educated agnostics. Europe says the Zika virus is from Africa and blacks think this a racist slur. Whites identified the virus in Uganda monkeys in 1947; humans in Nigeria in 1954 and Cameroon in 1975. Our people must learn to face reality with optimism. Where are Africa’s scientists? Africa has not distinguished itself for 3,000 years, and bad things in Africa — witchcraft, face and body scarring, FGM, and other evil had a place back then, so do not apologise or feel bad for Africa. It is the birthplace of humans, still evolving; diamonds like tennis balls, rare ores as Coltan for computers; fauna, flora. Dessicating winds cross the Atlantic with disease — Zika, ChikV, Lassa, Aids, Ebola; what else lies beneath? Conspiracy theorists aver these were created by the white man — maybe so, but we still know little about Africa from Africans.
Since 1000 BCE it is behind other continents — Asia, Europe, Americas, Australasia — and we disrespected our well-adapted hair, face, derriÃ¨res; our levity ridiculed; it has no critical mass of experts to align our human evolution with history. Is there a rule that all peoples should be on the same page at the same time? Could Africa be on a different trajectory with reason? Song and dance move us, not toil or production. Should we accept that our pleasure trumps national goals and be allowed to live? It’s not on as we still want the fruits of hard work. Colonialism was good as it upset the trajectory of Africa’s languid secular evolution and forced interface with fast-paced capitalism. But bad as the master class in military, commercial, person power from its returning diaspora had a price. Africa had no curiosity for far horizons or stars, but guns, tools, consumer goods seduced them to trade their most prolific commodity — black bodies. Accidents may lead to change. Diaspora convergence on Africa — Arab from east, north and Europe from the west upset their comfort level. Darwin (
Origin of the Species) found plants adapt fast in extremes and animals become hirsute or smooth with pores as the iron rule of DNA is survive, reproduce, live! Arabs came with swords in the 7th century; Africa compromised and lived. Europeans came seven centuries later with capitalism; Africa joined for profit, military and consumer goods.
Africa is extraordinarily diverse and beautiful but lacks a portable faith, military might or resolve when faced with white men who left family and sailed unknown seas to get rich. The role of Indians and Arabs in Africa’s prehistory was a leisurely trade in blacks for domestic servitude over millennia; Atlantic slavery was intense, brutal over two centuries to provide labour for cutting-edge sugar works in the West Indies. More Africans were sold via trans-Sahara and the Indian Ocean than Atlantic slave trade, but who cares? In Africa, life was cheap in 1000 BCE, in 1600 CE and still is today. Millions of kids have been orphaned by Aids, Ebola and Lassa. Tribal wars are now raised by teens and supported by transactional sex, but who cares? Yet Africa should not be disrespected as there are reasons; it was not ready when the ancient diaspora returned to make deals. The real Roots is not yet written. The volumes of McIlwaine’s Africa Bibliography shows Africans are not writing history, so we may never know their side.
Humans of red, brown, white skins, originated in Africa — the world is African. Over millennia they trekked to icy lands; pigmentation adapted, they innovated and those remaining stagnated. Indians and Arabs did not go far and returned to Africa centuries later to buy people. Those who went far north to Europe adapted to punishing environments and went back to Africa in the 16th century seeking labour to make sugar in the West Indies. They had no recall of ancestors. Evolution is slow, and those who remained had no pressure to change as Sahara slave trades were unhurried and fitted the culture. The Atlantic trade was revolutionary as with greed for guns, beads, and mirrors, a devilish pact between Europeans and Africans was struck with native leaders. Pressured by shareholders for profit, bankers for interest, insurers for premiums on ships and mutinous seamen for pay, the returnees had a purpose. Africa was clueless. Trade meant Africa had modernity without effort. Sounds familiar? Export slavery was revolutionary in the 17th century. It ripped young and old, men and women into a capitalist vortex by the greed of their leaders. Might it have been different? Yes! But in life we play the cards dealt. Would it have spawned modern science, a global religion and defined nation states? There is no sign of curiosity or desire. Romantic West Indians like to conflate Egypt with sub-Sahara Africa. The insecure seek warmth in another’s sun, but nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and progress moves inexorably over the unready. Modern African diasporas can’t claim American progress as black just because Obama is president — the root is not of Africa.
In pre-history, Africa was well-off compared to ice-bound continents, which had only three months to produce food to last the entire year. African trekkers up north became visionary, innovative and productive. Those who remained had no such energy and became stagnant. Africa is not a caring, diligent fatherland to its modern diasporas, but how can we help? There is wealth, conspicuous consumption; hurt, mass disease, wars and death. A modern western sector is emerging and though not as resourced, we have a burnished profile; we punch above our weight and so we can help. We must disaggregate Africa and begin to market individual nations on their strengths and flaws. The world must discuss Ghana, Nigeria as they do France, England, Spain — bespoke personalities and not mindless, disrespectful aggregation. A name denotes identity, selfhood. If someone knows your name he respects you. We must fight to make African nations differentiated and memorable. We are not rich, but we are well-branded, and African nations need a champion. As for the West, we see them as they can’t see themselves. Our duty is to put Africa on the map, one nation at a time. Africa is rising! Stay conscious!
Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon) is a strategist and project manager.