African Union Day is what necessitated last week’s (and this week’s) articles and I even forgot to wish it. Better late than never, is it not? So Happy Africa Day!
The day was formerly known as Africa Freedom Day, or Africa Liberation Day. It was good—the change. I never liked that name—Africa Freedom Day, Africa Liberation Day. Because it seems that perpetually celebrating our ‘freedom’, our ‘liberation’, sets in motion some form of Groundhog Day where we are each year bound in chains, so that we may be liberated on that 25th May. It is like one Roman Father of mine once said: crucifying Christ each year so that He may be resurrected seems a bit harsh. But we do get the point: sometimes we just have to remember how hard we have had it so as to inform our present drive, decisions, and general approach to things. And ‘hard’ the African continent has indeed had it.
Last week we covered the first hardship of the continent—slavery, and its subsequent abolition. This week we begin with the second coming of the Caucasian, and the consequent oppression of the Black race—colonialism.
I never like these journeys made through history, because they always have us, Black people at very vulnerable positions—it is unnerving. But for the sake of preventing the reoccurrences of history, we must take that journey. In order to avoid the repetition of our damning past, we must scrutinize it constantly—we must learn from it consistently.
So here we have it, a trip through colonialism, and the other forms of oppressions the Black race has faced so far.
The Overthrow of Colonialism and Black Solidarity
The Caucasian addicted to the fruits of greed found new ways of pillaging and suppressing the African—there came colonialism. Africans, oblivious of the full extent of the hardships their descendants had and were still enduring in the Americas and the Caribbean, opened their coasts once again to trade with the Caucasian. By the late-18th century, Europeans had quickly morphed into their evil of a few decades past and sought more—once again applying chains to the African. During the slave trade, the European had pillaged Africa’s human resources; during the colonial era, they came after our natural resources—our human resource was not spared either. By 1914, the whole of the continent, excepting Liberia and Ethiopia, was under European colonial rule—Ethiopia was to be taken over by Italy in 1935.
Africans resisted colonial rule from its inception—time lent form to this resistance. Africa, then a continent composed of French, German, British, Portuguese, Belgian, Spanish and Italian colonies, divided by language, barriers, and religion, attained in differing timelines, an overthrow of colonial rule. Numerous African lives were, again, lost. Blacks fought endlessly to end the military colonial rule of the early 19th century, and the civilian colonial rule of the latter part of the century. Not only had African countries inspired one another with their individual independence victories, but for the first time in our history, the fight for Black liberation had gained in absolution, one voice. The fight for Africa’s independence had been sought by Blacks all over the world—and with this one voice we did again win.
Racism and Black Solidarity
After the death of colonialism, the Caucasian went back to their attic and found this ever-present tool, racism and made it all the more prominent. The Black race was then again called to take formation, to fight this common enemy—and it is a fight that still persists to this day, worldwide. Racism was not merely stumbled upon; it was a carefully crafted tool—it was an institution, a movement seeking to further break the African spirit.
During the Abolitionist Movement of 18th-century Europe, opponents of Black emancipation had responded with heightened racism. These pro-slavers used whatever tools they could find—religion, science, unfounded stereotypes to prove the inherent lowliness of the Black race. And these pro-slavers’ racist ideologies have seed to this day—to racial oppression faced by Blacks in Europe and other parts of the world.
In USA, after the emancipation of slaves, these former slaves were to face another monstrous hurdle. Blacks were, in the eyes of the Caucasian, slave in freeman’s clothes. Many still think this true—showing it either overtly or covertly. As witnessed in Europe, resistance of oppression and its successive successes led to heightened racism. Pro-slavers of USA responded to the abolition of slavery with racial terror and violence, institutional segregation, white supremacist ideologies—all these, again, still persisting to this day.
In South Africa, racism was in a ruling government’s manifesto. In a country comprising a minority Caucasian race and majority Black populace, the former had for years ruled over the latter with white iron fists. In 1948, however, with the victory of the National Party—a political party then running on the slogan: the black danger; the nigger in his place— the iron fist had morphed into tungsten. In a country already plagued by racialism, Apartheid lent an institutional form to the Black woe. The Black fight against this endures to this day.
It is with such constraint that the writer places a full-stop at this juncture, for there are more examples of the Caucasian greed/ Black resistance dynamic to explore. And this will be done in further detail in another article, perhaps. We shall explore too, in another article, this new age hurdle: neocolonialism, and the Black solidarity it is requiring.
Comparing and Sharing notes…
Black solidarity is not skin-deep. Our history, post-slavery has been similar. No matter where the Black soul has found itself, it has been subject to the same treatments: slavery, colonialism, racism, neocolonialism. Our pain has been same; thus our resistances, same. We have as a result, had to share heroes, ideologies, music, cultures, hopes. All over the world, a new African culture emerged in myriad forms—in music: reggae and calypso of the Caribbean; in USA: hip-pop, jazz and the black power movement, etc.—all asserting Black dignity and safeguarding against history repeating itself; seeking to undo the psychological and sociological damage done by the slave trade.
Cultural and political icons: Kwame Nkrumah, Mandela, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Sam Sharpe, W.E.B Du Bios, etc.—all these heroes though of specific and differing nationalities are shared by the African people and her descendants. In art, in literature, the African spirit has been uniformised and shared.
With these shared Black experiences emerged new vocabularies and ideologies entering the African consciousness: Pan-Africanism, African Solidarity, and our topic today—the Diaspora.
The card that history dealt the African called for Black comradery—for it was only in togetherness that so many shared battles were won, shackles broken. After a people have spent so much time working together—strategising together and winning together, it only makes sense that they will want to continue in their solidarity. In that sense mother Africa will always call on her children. And it is in this calling-on, this holding-on-to that we get the conception of Diaspora.
This event in African history—the Atlantic Slave Trade and the fight towards its defeat—birthed the notion of an African Diaspora. This, the writer, asserts was to have a retroactive effect, rendering all these other African emigrants, prior to the slave trade, too, Diaspora. Should the nature and records of ‘The Early Migration’ trend be found, they too arguably may form the Diaspora. The conclusion then becomes that for the African, migration does not happen in a vacuum. Does that seem right? We will explore this under the subheading The Diaspora and Modern Voluntary Movement
The Arab Slave Trade
“Lightning never strikes the same place twice”—that is a lightning myth. The empirical truth is lightning does whatever it likes—it can visit upon a place again and again—it is quite inevitable really—sometimes within minutes, other times, hundred or thousand years later. Around the 8th century, centuries prior to the Atlantic Slave Trade, the Arab world had been actively engaged in the trading of Africans as slaves. They pillaged men and women from Central and Eastern Africa selling them to the Middle East, the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, and North Africa. This event preceding the Atlantic Slave Trade was to proceed it in cessation. It was not until the 20th century that the Arab Slave Trade halted, and there are records of it still persisting to this day. Though the exact number of Africans sold in this trade is not easily agreed on, it is estimated to be around twenty-two million. A comparison in trauma between this and the Atlantic Slave Trade would be pointless. The popularity of the Atlantic over the Arab Slave Trade does not point to the former being more monstrous than the latter—and this is a point we shall seek to delineate in another article.
Products of this monstrous Arab Slave Trade too, undoubtedly constitute the Diaspora.
The Diaspora and Modern Voluntary Movement.
It had not been a century since the demise of slavery, nor several decades after that of colonialism before Africans began trooping in, voluntarily, to North America and Europe chiefly. This has certain implications which will require another article on its own. But the fact remains that the slave trade(s) has not killed, in the African, this deep-rooted human nature—the need to migrate. So willingly, the modern-day African has, since the latter part of the 19th century, been migrating to these former slave holds.
The writer had concluded under “Comparing and sharing notes” that the involuntary African emigrant of the past and the voluntary emigrant of today both are Diaspora. But under the latter, complications ensue: does all modern-day voluntary migration really result in the creation of Diaspora? A hasty “yes” response brings the continent close to the verge of being rendered a large mass of land containing Diasporas—all of us citizens, Diaspora! For the prospect of travel to the developed world especially, for the African, becomes common as the years go by.
How do we reconcile this: is there a baseline—number- of-years-spent criteria to help us decide on what qualifies as Diaspora? Where does the expanse of the word extend to—where does it end? Should it be made to go so far that it renders the African continent itself a home of returnees?—the individual who spent a year abroad pursuing his master’s Degree, or she who spent four years pursuing a PhD, too, a Diaspora?
These inquiries can only be answered when the true nature of Diaspora is found. And toward this end, we must go back in our history—as done in this article—sift through our experiences, so as to arrive at Diaspora's distinguishing features. We, in so doing, will find that some portion of the modern-day voluntary migrants share these peculiar traits with their ancestors, others do not.
You guessed it—‘to be continued.’
I never like these trips through history. But most times they are necessary. So ‘to be continued’ it is. We are not done just yet.
[Published in the Business & Financial Times - 2 June, 2021]