Africa(ns) in the new worldBy Kwame Appiah
2/27/2009 10:46:40 PM -
All indices point to the fact that although European explorers found a budding civilisation on the African continent, it is no secret that even at that time European civilisation was centuries ahead of the one they saw on the continent. There was an already existing social structure with its laws and institutions which saw to the preservation of order in the African society. The encounter with a superior civilisation has always - as history shows - meant the fall of the inferior or at least an irreversible change of the latter. The civilisation of our colonial masters, therefore, forced us to rethink our own and nothing was more shocking than the defeat they dealt us in the various wars that ensued. Most of us know of some heroic accounts of some of our warriors, but we cannot deny the fact that no matter how brave or how well trained, there was no way that spears, bows and arrows were going to defeat gun power. And so not just ancient African fighters were overran by the fire power of the European powers, but also the evolving civilisation of Africa at that time was given no chance to unfold; it was overran by a comparatively far more powerful one and things like Christianity, media presence, literature, academia etc. evolved in an environment that had no social medium or social need for these breakneck rapid developments. These developments demanded a clean break from the hitherto and an uncompromising adoption of new phenomena like Christianity, new culture, new social structure, in which the Chiefs and Clan heads have no important role. The African social structure and all the institutions that it depended on were made obsolete. The wars that were fought on the battlefields were not necessarily for the preservation of sovereignty but of the then civilisation. And those wars were lost!
As a result, the old one was dropped. It was a big fall with a great thud that echoes through recent centuries. There ensued what I call a "civilisation hole". A people was made to question the efficiency of their own way of life and adopt another that was obviously superior in efficiency and philosophy, but one of which they had no idea. As a result, the old, was replaced by the new. The new, however, we had no idea of. We had no idea how to be creative in the new way of life, because it's impulses are not born of an African environment. It's driving force was foreign to the African way of thinking. Therefore, not only was a foreign culture adopted, but also innovation in this new culture had to be imported. Africa was no longer in a position to make change; change came to Africa - when it chose to. Africa was made less innovative, less inventive, less able to help itself. The very process of thought in the new environment had to be learnt and so an intelligent people was made unintelligent. Their own language lost its significance. This meant and still means that the Africa that resulted thereof was centuries and centuries not only behind the European culture that defeated it, but even behind the Africa that was defeated.
With time, Africa had to grow, but grow at a neck breaking pace such that in human terms, I would say that Africa was forced to marry and have children at the age of ten or even younger. Meaning this Africa had to learn to walk, talk, read and right, learn to do maths, etc. as a month old baby. And as if that was not crushing enough, many modern countries in Africa were born at an age of global idealogical polarisation: the Cold War. They were not given a chance to develop their own ideas but they had to choose from one of two being Communism and Capitalism. Choosing any of the two assured an attack from the opponents and remaining in the middle was not an option. And so this Africa that could not even talk was made to go through yet another adoption of foreign values, but ones that assured an attack from the outside world. Instead of investment in infrastructure, they were forced to invest in armoury, which was even more irrelevant that a zero before a significant number.
The Africa that emerged from colonialism can only participate on the global stage, when it has gone through several stages of development like the establishment not just of a civil society that can read, can write and can debate, but of one that is reading, writing and debating; which is actually the prerequisites for a media corps, a functioning democracy and an innovative academia. If our world is spared another polarisation of ideologies, this could actually happen. But until then, Africa will have to accept the imposition of foreign opinions. Africa must, however grow to become its own master of thought in the new way of life. It has thus the task of liberating itself from foreign dictation of ideas: It has to be enlightened. I entreat all to read Emanuel Kant's definition of Enlightenment, which can be found on this page: http://eserver.org/philosophy/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt
"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!"
In the case of Africa, I observe that our immaturity is in most cases not self-incurred, but also not seldom a result of the laziness to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another.
There are some people who claim that going back to our roots is necessary for a successful Africa. I must disappoint them that those so called roots only exist in the academic realm, where they play the important role of research into ancient civilisations. The Africa our great Grandfathers knew is no more! Those roots that these people want to return to do not exist. The African community has mutated to the extent that only a maturity in the new environment is an option. Going back to those roots, even if they existed, would set us centuries and centuries back. I propose, therefore, that we make every effort to attain that required level of maturity, instead. As a matter of fact, most of the practices of that time, have no justification nor do they have any significance in our time. It is our inability to mature and survive in the new culture that present us with a challenge. Out of the many, I choose to discuss here the impact of nurture and early education regarding the sad failure of many parents to fulfil their responsibilities in this respect.
Raising a child in the new environment is a big puzzle for many parents. I claim this can also be attributed to the fact that Africa is still a child in the new environment. So if I were to find an answer to the failure of many parents in nurturing their children with love and care, I would say:"well, a child can't raise a child". Most parents are utterly frustrated and overwhelmed by the demands of bringing up their children in this new way of life, so that they easily result to threats and beatings and anger or - as is pretty often the case - fail to guide their children through the various steps in life and leave these children quite too often to make choices on their own. The failure in parenthood is a failure in the maturity of our young society and must be corrected. Of course the details of that topic require a whole new blog. But I hope to start a discourse on the topic through this medium and I would oblige everyone to read Emanuel Kant's definition of Enlightenment on this page: http://eserver.org/philosophy/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt