Redefining Africa for Africans: Journey to an African Africa By James Ogunjimi
“European (colonial) memory sprouts on the graveyard of African memory.” – Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (Re-membering Visions)
“…the question of memory not only explains what ails contemporary Africa but also contains the seeds of communal renewal and self-confidence.” – Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (Something Torn and New: an African Renaissance)
Black market. Blacklist. Blackmail. Black magic. Black sheep.
These are terms that colonialism forced on the African people in its ruthless determination to completely conquer us, obliterate our history, paint our most cherished ideals in an evil light and redefine bad things with African representations. But the African people did not just roll over and die; they mounted a conscious resistance by using their own indigenous languages to paint their terms and ideals in good light when it became impossible for those terms and ideals to be seen in good light using the colonialists’ languages.
But there was little that could be done when the post-colonial African governments, continuing to tow the path cleared by the colonial invaders and in conjunction with their foreign counterparts, sacked the remaining genuine history of the African people from the classrooms and replaced it with the history of the colonialists. The indigenous languages that had ensured the survival of our terms and ideals and their painting in good light was criminalised and tagged “vernacular”.
As a pupil in primary school and later a student in the secondary school, I was a witness to the ruthlessness with which African puppets, their strings being tugged by their foreign masters, attempted to crush the speaking of our languages in our schools. The class captains and prefects were charged with the task of writing the names of vernacular speakers. Those found guilty were dealt with the next morning on the assembly ground.
Not only that, they took it further. Students who performed well in English and French languages examinations and competitions were rewarded with big gifts and made poster pupils and students for the government-approved textbooks, while their counterparts who excelled in Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and other indigenous African languages were given derogatory names and made to feel ashamed of having a mastery of their own languages.
Now, whatever movement the African people create to reclaim Africa for Africans, abolishing the terms that colonialism forced on the people must be a priority. It is not enough to claim that we have gained independence from the colonial invaders. It is not enough to celebrate a clownish form of independence from a “master” and yet that “master” is still celebrated as hero in our history books. It comes to seeing that, as a prelude to the total reclamation of Africa from the colonial hijackers and their definition of Africa, our history books must change, the history of the colonialists and their definition of us must be yanked out permanently and burned in the fire of our own radiant history.
Our terms, our ideals, the definitions of us, must emanate from us. We are not on a revenge mission and as such it would be ridiculous that while we are taking off the robe of “mis-definition” of us by the colonial hijackers, we change blacklist to “whitelist” or blackmail to “whitemail”. That in itself will be counterproductive. While we are trying to rid ourselves of oppression and “mis-definition”, we are not trying to force a definition on people that they are not willing to take on. While we are asserting our freedom to be, we are not trying to take away other people’s freedom to be, no matter what roles they played and still play in the “mis-definition” of us and our people.
As an initial act and a first step to announce the determination of a movement or government towards the complete reclamation of Africa for Africans, the movement or government must insist on a redefinition of terms and an elevation of home-grown ideals and definitions of African people to the forefront of education of our children.
When the colonialists painted our languages and cultures in an evil light, they consciously made their own culture and languages appealing to our people and stripped them of whatever pride they used to have for their land. When I tell you that your culture and tradition is backward and “demonic”, the onus lies on me to tell you a “forward” and “godly” culture and tradition to embrace and proudly identify with. And like that, Africans were tricked into throwing away their own things and hankering after cultures and traditions that pale in comparison to the radiance of their own. To bring back a pride of being African and an appreciation of our culture, ideals and definitions, the movements and governments need to repaint our languages in good light and emphasize the richness of our culture.
Students who have a mastery of their own languages must be encouraged and appreciated as much as those with an understanding of the colonialists’ languages, if not more. African publishing houses should be encouraged to invest in the publishing of writings written in indigenous languages and hype them in international press the same way the ones written in the colonialists’ languages are hyped.
Our history, that predates the conquest of the colonialists must be taught as not just wars for clan domination, as the colonialists painted it, but as necessary battle for survival against a ruthless force that was consuming everything in sight and that was bent on consuming the African people no matter the resistance they put up. Our history, must be taught, that as against the tales pushed forward by the colonialists’ propaganda machines, of African people betraying their people because of a mirror and gift items, that the colonialists came with their Bibles in one hand and guns in the other hand, and waged a war for domination on the African people using religion as smokescreen. Our history must be taught that, as against what the colonialists said that Africa was a dark continent, that Africans had been building houses, erecting structures and had been writing before the colonial invasion. Our history must return to our classrooms.
It is not enough to throw tantrums and shake angry fists at those who rewrote our history to suit their purposes; the total redefinition and eventual reclamation must be carried out by clear-headed thinkers who know how arduous the journey to an African Africa will be and are determined to go all the way in spite of whatever is thrown their way.
Finally, in my poetry collection, Voice of the Whirlwind, from the poem titled, For Africa and Her historians, I wrote of the one-faced story told by the colonial invaders:
“You tell my story
and paint it in details so gory.
You pick up your pen
and write of a once-upon-a-time glory.
You sit back and then
you tell the world that it is my history….”
Conclusively, and as a message to Africans who are interested in having an African Africa, I wrote that:
“…Until I tell my story,
It will always be mistold.
Until my pen bleeds my history,
My truths will remain untold.”
The colonialists wrote us out of history and told a single-faced story of us, we must rewrite ourselves back into that history and insist on those histories being taught to our children.
Afrika, I have spoken!
© James Ogunjimi