Africa, named or not by Africans, exists and must be defended

26 Nov, 2023 - 00:11 0 Views
Africa, named or not by Africans, exists and must be defended decoloniality

The Sunday News

THE other way of asking the question that concerns this article is to inquire if the African continent has agency within the modern world system. In 1986, after an extensive investigation into “the African condition”, Ali Mazrui produced his now famous documentary, The Africans: A Triple Heritage.

In the documentary Mazrui built a picture of Africa as a glorious continent that is built out of three civilisations, the African traditional civilisation, the Asian civilisation that came with the Arabs and western civilisation that came with conquerors, Empire builders, merchants and missionaries from Europe. Mazrui believed that the three civilisations that made Africa and shaped the African condition were a cultural, political, and economic opportunity that the continent could exploit for its development and progress.  Mazrui held the most times troubling view that conquest and colonisation in Africa were a catastrophe as much as they were also an opportunity for the continent. Looked at as a meeting of civilisations, colonialism meant that the continent could use the arrival of colonialists and their civilisation as an opportunity for the continent to expand its culture and economies to make an impressive leap forward into the future.

Over and above the glorious picture of Africa that Mazrui painted, the truth could not be hidden that Africa was an object that had largely been constructed and produced by other continents. Africa as an artefact of colonialism and imperialism is a reality. Some Euro-American historians have even made the cynical argument that there is no African history but the history of Europe and America in Africa.
Africa as absence

In 2001, on 1 July, one Dr Michael Radu wrote the article: Does Africa Exist? for the Foreign Policy Institute. In the article, Radu mobilised the information from his disciplines of International Relations and Journalism to argue that Africa actually does not exist. There might be Africans here and there but Africa itself remains an idea and a fiction. It was all Afrocentric fantasy and idealism that there could be an Africa and a United States of Africa for that matter: “To the superficial observer, all of this may be seen as a step forward. After all, who could be against African unity? What the continent needs is not another fictional show of unity or layer of bureaucracy. So, the continent exists but is it not Africa? For African unity to exist and become a reality what is needed is Africa first. Africa does not exist because of the many countries that are called African countries, “a handful have functional democratic systems, and all but a few are among the poorest in the world. Simply put, beyond accidents of geography, there is no such thing as “Africa”— except vis-a-vis the rest of the world.” Radu pushed the discourse of Africa as an absence and an imagined continent that exists only as far as it is an artefact of “the rest of the world,” meaning Europe, America and Asia. To Radu and many others Africa is to blame for all its problems including the problem that Africa actually does not exist.

Africana existential philosophy

Led by Frank Wilderson is a group of philosophers that advance what is called Afropessimism. This current of philosophy is based on the dystopian experiences of Africans in the world. The starting point of this philosophy is that things have been bad for African existence, and they continue to be bad in a way that does not inspire optimism as far as the African future is concerned. Thinking frankly about Africa begins with being honest about the dark condition of the continent and its people. As such, Afropessimism is a realist philosophy of Africa as real but a dark reality and a bloody experience.

Afropessimism emerged after the development of African Existential Philosophy whose face and voice is Lewis Ricardo Gordon. African Existential Philosophy argues that Africa and Africans exist in the diaspora and the African mainland. That Africans have been questioned and doubted as human beings is acknowledged. The insistence is that Africa is real and Africans are true. This is even as the African experience in the world has been dystopian. The fact that there has to be a philosophy that defends the existence of Africa and Africans is on its own telling. Africa has to defend its very existence before existing in the world. The Black Consciousness Movement and the philosophy behind it was also based on the reality of blacks and Africans as “questionable beings of questionable belonging in the world, including in Africa itself.” Black Consciousness philosophy and activism arose from the apartheid context in South Africa where black South Africans were being discriminated against by white Europeans in Africa.  The paradox of apartheid and colonialism was exactly in that act of conquering and oppressing Africans in Africa by foreigners. Colonialism and imperialism were foundationally based on the assumption that Africa was vacant, and that Africans were not complete in their humanity.
Africa exists

There is no way there was going to be Africans without Africa. Africa exists both as an idea and an ideal.

An ideal in that it should exist even if did not exist before. True, the name Africa is not African. Afrika is an Arabic, and or semitic term that means the hot place. Even Europe was named by non-Europeans, and it came from the name of a beautiful princess of some kingdom, Europa. It is the Greeks that imported the name Europa into Europe and used their philosophical and political influence at the time to make it the name of the continent. Afrika was named by the Arabs, and the name was corrupted into English, Africa, by the Europeans. I always laugh when my fellow academics in South Africa radically argue that the country should be named Azania to escape the Eurocentric descriptor of South Africa, which is a geographic and directional attribution. Azania is an Arabic term which the Arabs first gave to Tanzania which was a great sphere of influence of the Arabs in their incursion into the continent. Africa might be that construct that was thus named but it is real because Africans are true. Africa, named or not by Africans, exists and it must be defended.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in South Africa. Contacts: [email protected].

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