Rewriting African History

Why is it easy to believe that Africa is a land of primitives, rather than the cradle of civilization with a rich history.

Media has played a big role in perpetuating African myths, making it easy to believe that Africa is a continent with savages, unlearned peoples, and utter destitution. Watching National Geographic, one sees half naked people hunting and gathering and participating in traditional rituals, but rarely does one see Great Pyramids that are part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world, or the coral of Cairo. However, Africa is much more than the images of famine and war we often see in the international media. As Basil Davidson portrays in his documentary Africa: A Voyage of Discovery with Basil Davidson (1984), Africa has a very rich diversity in culture, traditions, languages, history, and ideas. However years of colonization destroyed any hope of Africa building their societies fully, and their history was rewritten to fit the European narrative. That hope is being gained day by day as people partake in the making of their history, as it is evidenced in the film Courting Justice. It is proof that change can happen but it will take a mobilization of the people. Therefore, Africans needs to find meaning and pride in its history if there is to be any hope in rebuilding their societies after the depredation of colonialism. There is still room for growth for Africa, as Courting Justice portrays, and irregardless of the past, Africans have a chance to remake their history drawing from their past experiences.

The past….

The names of Zulu, Mapungubwe, Nok, Carthage, Congo/Kongo and Karne-Bornu mean nothing to a lot of people. These cities and Kingdoms have been forgotten by history writers; and if these cities were mentioned in the history books, they were never given the credit to which they are due. Black history in general has been written and re-written favoring a metanarrative that is acceptable to Europeans. For example, years have been spent on trying to disprove the existence of blacks in Ancient Egypt while at the same time attributing the Ancient Nubian and southern kingdoms to the influence of foreigners.[1] However, in his documentary (1984), Davidson portrays the extensive influence that black Africans had in Ancient Egypt and the eventual convergence of blacks and the indigenous people.

Africa is a land of a people with a history that is rich, colorful, and much more advanced that it is credited for. The European narrative that was imposed on Africa is that of a people who were primitive, uncivilized, and poor; portraying the Europeans as their saviors. The truth however contradicts this view. Pre-colonial Africa boasted of thriving cultures with scholarly centers, trading cities and knights who ruled vast wealthy empires (Davidson, 1966 pg. 14). Europeans were fascinated by stories they heard from traders since the 5th century and the Portuguese traders confirmed these stories for the Europeans. The kingdoms of Mali, Karne-Bornu, Songhai, and Ghana were major trading centers. Timbuktu, situated in the middle of the Kingdom of Mali, was a sophisticated metropolis that harbored intellectuals, impressive architecture, and trading centers that catered to the locals and foreigners alike (Davidson, 1966; pg. 24). In South Africa, the Ndebele and the Zulu were resilient and built impressive kingdoms. In Ethiopia, we trace the earliest Christian History with stories of the nine monks, and the lasting impressions that King Lalibela left with his ten churches in Roha (Davidson, 1966). Moreover, the Trans-Saharan route not only enabled trading caravans to go inland, but also made it easier for European traders to have access to goods not readily available at the coastal ports.

This off course is not the popular history that is being taught in schools. Sadly, even some of the institutions in Africa prefer to teach a history that does not fully give homage to the strong background that Africans come from. This is why Africa is a land divided between two histories. There is one history that had existed before the arrival of the European and was buried. It has been termed as “pre-colonial” history. The other history is what has been written by outsiders and is generally accepted as the history of Africa.

However things are going to Change. They MUST change.

There are efforts of revitalizing Africa. There is a movement of African youth who are rising as social and economic entrepreneurs. Artists like the late Lucky Dube, Angelique Kidjo, Yossour N’dour, Salif Keita, K’naan, Corneille, just to mention a few, are raising awareness not only to what is going on in Africa, but also paying homage to the beauty and history of Africa. There are other groups that are rallying young adults all over the world, especially in the United States and parts of Europe. Most notably the Harambe Endeavor Alliance[1] is the most progressive for the people by the people initiative that is optimistic in bringing together African youth and their talents to benefit the continent of Africa. There are pockets of emerging young Africans, meeting and starting to initiate point of actions to tackle the problems faced in Africa. It is obvious that western institutions have no interest in having Africans as their equals economically or politically. Therefore, Africans will have to fight for that right.

History shows that Africans are capable of development. It is in this history that Africans should find solace and courage. Basil Davidson  is optimistic for Africa’s potential to change. According to him, Africans will keep moving and will establish itself again as a force to be reckoned with. It can only be hoped that he is right in his assessment. While the change might be slow, Africa is showing signs that it might emerge from the oppression of colonization and neo-colonization. There are also a group of promising-emerging leaders. The era of Moi, Mugabe, Mobutu Nguema etc, is ending. Instead, we see leaders such as John Evans Atta Mills of Ghana, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf[3] of Liberia among other emerging leaders who are leaders who have learned that one man cannot rule a country. The Bandung Conference failed in its attempts to equalize the unfavorable terms on trade. Samir Amin has often made a depression assumption in the many of his writings  displaying the depressive nature of any efforts made by African states to form lasting relationships with Asian or Latin countries.  Africa will have to stand-alone and fight to rid itself of its problems. This is a monumental task and will not be easily achievable. However, it is not an impossible endeavor.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Rewriting African History

  1. Job

    You all get it wrong,Mentioning people like Davidson makes you just like the rest of them…African history is written by africans,Forget about the bible,the hamites ,semites and all this crap.You as all of them brain washed…

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    • Davidson was able to bring Africa’s history to the map. So until Africans can write their own history, study from their own books, Davidson will be quoted for his work on the continent.
      Does it make it right- no. But you have to work from the ground up. – Look at it as the challenge, and not the problem.

      I wonder how you would define brain washed?

      and then again, being able to determine people’s religious beliefs and asking them to “Forget” about them- where does it get you?
      Will it really make you sleep easier if more Africans did not adhere to the Bible? Would it make Africa better?

      And if Africa is written by Africans- then where is it? and why isn’t it being taught in Schools.
      Agreed- Africa history should be writen by Africans—- So why not start now? because we are way behind.

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  2. Raymond Chibuku

    All this leaders you talk about are great leaders because the white man wants them to be….Mention Mugabe a man ready to sacrifice everything for his people…You in America and brain washed…Come to africa and listen to real africans.Viva Mugabe with him we will sacrifice everything for a better tomorrow

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    • yes, and that is the point isn’t?-
      Even as you praise Mugabe, he is a “white man Product”. As for being brainwashed, I don’t have to be in Africa to know the reality of what Africans are facing everyday. I have spent an incredible amount of time in Africa- but the struggles are still real, and needing of strategic plans to address them.- Unlike Mugabe’s madman rant, it is not and should not be acceptable for Zimbabweans to live in utter poverty, and being massacred everyday. Have you looked at the education system there? Watch Zimbabwe’s forgotten Children, and see just how much Mugabe has done to his people- However, if that is the kind of Africa you want- then more power to you.

      But I think I am in the majority in saying that Killing your citizens, and robbing them of their land, and riches so that you can run a family business does not make you a hero- I doubt there are many Africans in your camp who think that Africa should have these kinds of norms.

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  3. Job

    Well you should go to Zimbabwe and see for yourself,I hated Mugabe when all this started,when i moved to south africa,when he demolished our shacks.After living midst the white dogs,i have leant to love our leader and his action,,,90 % of zimbabweans in south africa work and send money home knowing we are doing the same sacrifice to our country as our great leader..Yes a white product as you put it..He learnt from the best,he learnt from the enemy and never again shall zimbabwe be in the hands of the zionist.Our economy was in tatters but now look at the growth.
    Think of Rwanda..the history you talk about written by the same zionist seperated them,there was never a hutu and a tutsi yet the same people categorised the tutsis as foreigners result a bloodbath

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  4. That is 90% of those who are OUT of the country! What about those who are in the country? How about those who do not have the choice of remittances? Are you speaking for them too?

    And Rwanda is still suffering. Or would you rather another war errupted. I was in this country a month ago- you should listen to the stories the people tell. As for this whole idealogy that Hutu and Tutsi did not exist before colonization- that is completely untrue. Hutus, Tutsis and Twas- those distinctive groups existed in both pre-colonial Rwanda and Burundi. They had their differences, in cultural practices. What the Belgians did was make it pointedly obvious and gave them and ID card- and made one group more superior to the other.
    Not every war is the “white man’s” fault in Africa. Africans, we might want to start owning up to our own mistakes and the roles we play in the problems we have.

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    • Job

      I actually realise am wasting time reasoning with some brain washed African.Or maybe you are trying to process a green card. African critics are are the africans trying to get green cards in the name of a better life (Chris Achola)

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  5. Critic is an important part of every society. For every growth of a society depends on its citizens examining realistically where they stand in order to move forward.

    Now if you can stop with the name calling as part of your argument, you can tell me what exactly what a green card can do for me that I don’t have already. On the other hand, what do you call an African critic who already has a green card? – just asking. But then I digress.

    On the other hand, I am interested in knowing how your quoting popular rhetoric, and propaganda makes Africa better. If you love your country (I am assuming you are from Zimbabwe)- Why are you working in South Africa?

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