The Changing Face Of 'Resources' And The Place Of Religion In The Contemporary World
Scholars have rightly or wrongly split hairs over what constitutes resources. There are those who argue that resources are made. There are others, mostly 'religious' people who believe resources are created. I take the middle path: arguing that resources are both made and created. At best we have potential resources. Everything in effect is a resource (depending on our level of knowledge). I, therefore, take the middle path that resources are both made and created.
Over the centuries, what we call resources have gone through different levels and phases in history. At some point, what was needed was land. The whole issue over enclosure in England and dispossession of the poor was because land was gold at the time. John Stuart Mill's notion of trusteeship was partly meant to rationalise English dispossession of other people's land. In our own country, Gold Coast (Ghana), the Aborigines Right Protection Society was formed in 1897 to challenge British land dispossession Act, which was in the offing. Elsewhere in South Africa, Apartheid defended the Bantustan system because they wanted to take land from the 'natives'. Ngugi's 'Weep Not Child' has a question 'Where did our land go?'
It was the quest for land that led to what became known as territorial aggrandisement among other cultures. In our own backyard, the Asante embarked on wars of expansion beyond their territorial space because they wanted land. In fact, before the British colonised us in the later part of the nineteenth century (after Berlin Conference of 1884-5), the Asante colonised their neighbours from the eighteenth century. The Baganda of Uganda also colonised the Busoga. All was because of land! It was these domestic colonialism that partly informed some African societies to establish alliances with the colonisers.
After land, the next resource was labour. Nations acquired tracts of lands. What was needed next was labour to work the land. This partly gave birth to slavery in the sixteenth century. The 'discovery' of the Americas by Europeans made the need for human labour a necessity. The means of production was so crude and basic that human labour was needed to do production. In Gold Coast, the Asante went around enslaving others, long before the Europeans emerged. Scholars always want to pacify the conscience of pre-modern slavers in Africa by arguing that it was more benign than so-called modern slavery introduced by the Arabs and Europeans. Notwithstanding the force of this debate, a slave is a slave. And no one would want to be enslaved by either by his own people or by another people. In the end, more labour was needed, and more people were enslaved.
After centuries of slavery and enjoying the fruit of it, some people started campaigning against slavery. Scholars are divided over what actually started the protest against slavery. Was it religion? Was it on humanitarian grounds? Was a matter of the law of diminishing returns? Was the case of technological improvement? Whatever it is the use of slaves became redundant, and those who were enslaved were either shipped back to their ancestral lands or became marginalised in their host country.
After the abolition of slavery, technology became the catchword. The industrial revolution in England in the mid of the eighteenth was a catalyst in birthing another type of resources - technology. Other European nations felt the flames of industrialisation. It got to America and now Asia. The Asian case is referred to as late industrialised countries. Technology partially replaced human labour. Did Africa industrialise? In the search of land and slaves, we had that at our own level as Africans. But in terms of industrialisation, too, we were not doing badly. At least, histories say there were nascent industries - light industries to be specific in many African societies. Among the Akan, we had weaving, cloth making leatherwork, building, and so on.
It is clear that there is a thread that could be detected in my narrative. First, land led to labour (slavery) and after abundance, people could relax and think, leading to technology. After technology, we have moved to the information age. Any nation that is able to manage, control and distribute information rules the world. It is no longer land, slaves, or even trite technology. It is more about INFORMATION. The hue over Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is in recognition of the salience of information as a mark of our 'civilisation'. We live in information revolution age. Here is where I think most African countries are lacking. And here is where I locate our challenge.
Information is so important that without it, the world will come to a halt. Before Martin Luther, there were pockets of reformers here and there, but Martin Luther hit the mark, because of printing press (information technology). Through the press, he was quickly able to publicise his 96 theses! The reformation changed the history of the world forever. It changed how politics, economics and religion were structured. The breaking of ecclesiastical power in the sixteenth century, following the reformation, was a watershed in the history of the world. The world is indebted to information technology. We are told that to be informed is to be armed. The Bible puts it this way, "How would they know, unless someone tells them."
Since it was religion that changed the history of the world (referring to the reformation of the sixteenth century), religion has a cardinal role to play in birthing information revolution in Africa. We can get there. Soon after finishing Senior High School in 2001, I realised that as a Zongo boy in Maamobi, my redemption against the unfortunate and unwarranted stigma tagged at Zongo people was reading to acquire knowledge. I made it a point to read at least a book a week. I spent my money I got through labouring in buying books. I spent time at the Du Bois Centre, Accra, studying under the Egyptologist, Dr. Maulana. I was also a student of the Third Universal Theory of Gaddafi and became an excellent student to the point of being offered a scholarship to study in Libya (unfortunately, I turned it down). I mustered the Green Book and other related ones. Based on my knowledge, I became the deputy secretary of Mohammed Amin Lamptey he was campaigning and later became Assemblyman of Maamobi East. I read at the then uncompleted structure of the National Bureau of Languages (near Ruga). My older siblings were appalled by my infatuation with books that they told me radio would be use for my funeral someday, since I was banking on books! But I prefer books to radio, of course!
Africa can be part of the information revolution age. Reading, researching, and publishing will take us there. There is a Hausa proverb that says that 'Ignorance is darker than the darkest night'. The Bible also says that, 'We perish because of ignorance, and commands us to learn to show ourselves approved.' The command given to Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, was 'Read!' The Qur'an is, therefore, to be recited, read, reasoned through to keep Muslims in balance. In one of the Hadith, Mohammed told Muslims to seek knowledge, even if it meant going to China (you can imagine the distance from Arabia to China, and the crude means of transportation at the time). What the Prophet meant was that Muslims should not spare any effort in their search for knowledge. He is also reported to have said that the search for knowledge begins from the cradle and ends in the grave! The darkest part of man is therefore not religion, but the frontal attack on religion. Information, we must get, and religion we should promote!
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra
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