The Elmina castle syndrome and the quest for African liberation, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Daily Nigerian
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Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

Africa is believed to be the cradle of human civilization. In another parlance, Africa is said to be the originator of European classical civilization.

According to Martin Bernal in his controversial masterpiece The Black Athena, Africa is not just the primordial home of humanity but the first hub in which culture and civilization started. In that work, Bernal has fundamentally advanced an argument that European classical civilization in all its dimensions and trajectories has Afro-Asiatic origin.

Of course, Cheikh Anta Diop’s The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality has predated Bernal’s publication in its recognition of Africa as the originator of humanity and civilization. However, European colonial enterprise has denied all that history with its own counter-narratives, which stripped Africa its narratives, its cultures and its civilization and its humanity. And all that is for the purpose of legitimating the illegitimate European quest for means of material gratification in Africa. The de-legitimation processes of Africa and the Orient were ideationally constructed and inscribed in the annals and paradigms of 18th century European enlightenment.

This plundering business has all started about 600 years ago with Portuguese pirate sailing ships docking at the African shores of the so-called Gold Coast in present day Ghana. The completion of the building of Elmina castle in 1487 on the bay of Gulf of Guinea has clearly marked the beginning of European meddling in African affairs. European forage in Africa has also coincided with the rise and fall of the last of the three great empires in West Africa, the Songhai Empire. The idea of gold growing like carrots in the hinterlands of West Africa has been ingrained in the psyche of European fortune hunters much earlier than 1400s. None other than that flamboyant African Emperor Mansa Musa of the ancient kingdom of Mali flaunted the inestimable fortune of Africa before the rest of the world through his famous pilgrimage to Mecca. That was indeed a journey of stupendous wealth and riches that has become the stuff of folklore in the ancient world. Officially, it was said that European traders had discovered black Africa by accident in their search for trading routes to the spicy lands of India. But that myth was obviously shattered by some other economic calculus.

European adventurers from the Iberian Peninsula have been yearning to get to the heartlands of Africa for its gold and riches since their mastery of navigational skills, which they have learnt from the Arabs. The encounter between different European groups (the Dutch, the French and the English) and Africans on the African continent has eventually resulted into a tragedy of monumental proportions with Africans themselves being turned into the main commodity of illicit slave trade. In that line of business, Africans were treated no better than beasts of burden whose value was quantified only in terms of their labor power. Thenceforth, for uninterrupted period of 400 years, human persons were carted away in large cargos from West African shores to Europe and Americas in brutally inexplicable conditions. Trans-Atlantic slave trade has devastated Africa and its humanity beyond comprehension. Apart from the invasion of African ontology through the decimation of communities, populations and values, slave trade has also destroyed sterling achievements recorded in cultural and civilizational flows.

The denigration of Africans has caused irreparable psychical injuries in which the African subject was unconsciously made to accept his or her inferiority in the kaleidoscope of differentiations of our common humanity. As the descendants of Ham, the accursed son of Noah, which is legibly inscribed in racist biblical interpretations, the African is viewed as a lesser human being, the missing link, so to say, in the evolutionary processes of Darwinian natural selection. So, if the African is existentially inferior relative to other racial species, he should be ready to stomach all forms of racial profiling, and incomprehensible inhuman indignities in the hands of the other, whether the other is Caucasian, Indo-European, Arabian, Indian, Chinese or whatever. This mode of profiling the African essence and existence has continued to define negative perceptions and relationships of the African self by others throughout modern history. Anyway, the abolishment of slave trade in the 1870s did not in any significant way assuage the perennial dehumanization of the African person.

For all intents and purposes, transatlantic slavery was not abolished because of humanitarian and religious reasons or any reverent realization of its evil by the same Europeans that enslaved other human beings in the first place, but by the mechanization of means of production with the intensification of industrialization process in the West. In fact, the African continent has since the 15th century A.D. been receiving raw deals from the different schemes of subjugation and domination relentlessly unleashed by western powers. Thus, immediately after the inhuman degradation of the transatlantic slave trade, what is called the legitimate trade was introduced as a replacement to an inhuman trade that had since outlived its usefulness. In this form of economic relations of inequality, African communities that were by that time parceled into arbitrate colonial holdings to various European empires had literally been forced to produce cash crops needed by voracious processing and manufacturing industries located in Europe and America. The motivation to produce specific cash commodities was for the Africans to earn enough money to pay various colonially imposed taxes, and to barely feed families.

Again, that has been the obnoxious conundrum in which Africa found itself in its exploitative relations with western world ever since the days of transatlantic slave trade. In other words, the master-servant relationship characteristic of the slavery period has persisted as the model of relationship between Africa and the West. Africa is only good for exploitation and appropriation of its human and natural resources. Thus, even the spate of political independence in the middle decades of the 20th century could not change the age-old objective conditions of economic exploitation of Africa. The neocolonial cultural mongrels (Fanon’s black skin white mask creatures) were carefully trained and programed by the colonizer to deepen the rootedness of colonial interests in Africa. Consequently, instead of bringing about qualitative empowerment for the toiling African masses, the independence of African countries had merely consolidated the stranglehold of western powers on Africa. Until now, African leaders are still taking dictation on how to run the affairs of the continent from their benefactors in western capitals.

Today, nothing is worsening devastating social conditions in most postcolonial African countries than the strictures of imperialism implanted through the imposition of laissez-faire social and economic policies and programs. The dominant global neoliberal order promoted by corporate capitalism is everywhere destroying environments, livelihoods, cultures, institutions and values on scales never before witnessed. All measurable indices of economic growth are palpably grim. The human factor that is supposed to be the target of social development is giving way to ruthless econometrics and meaningless equations of a voodoo system that does not translate into tangible material benefits to the generality of citizens outside clusters of few powerful individuals that have taken over our collective patrimony. This is typical of what some experts described as casino capitalism that most countries of the world, including poor African countries, were forced to implement. The outcome as you and I are experiencing is in the cataclysms engulfing both developed and developing nations all over the place.

The current intractable economic downturn in most African countries is not accentuated by corruption as naively peddled in a country like Nigeria as the argument goes. The system itself is the corruption afflicting all and sundry. The neoliberal system that is being instituted and normalized by current neocolonial leadership in most African countries is nothing but corruption incarnate. We just cannot see it clearly because of its tantalizing and befuddling entrapments. This is a system that is built on the amoral foundations of exploitation and suspicious principles that have been wholly abstracted from basest instincts and unbridled greed. Therefore, in its globalizing drive it is in its unique nature to destroy and delegitimizes all traces of social values constructed out of moral frameworks or human considerations that are antithetical to its own economic imperatives. As postcolonial Africa further entangles itself in this system of bondage, nothing good is going to come out of it other than more misery, violence, disorder, chaos and anarchy. At least, I can assure our blinded leaders and policy makers that as much.

What then is the way out for Africa? Despite the rosy picture being painted by organic intellectuals on the pros and cons of neoliberal order, that system of human exploitation on a grand scale is for sure not going to bring about any tangible African liberation from the shackles of all forms of domination weighing the continent down for centuries. It is high time for the emergence of truly visionary leaders that have the interests of African nations at heart. Africa needs leaders that are intelligent, creative, innovative, resourceful, honest, selfless and resolute in their resolve to move the continent out of its social, economic, political and cultural doldrums. Africa needs spiritual renewal anchored by quality leaders at all levels. It is therefore our collective task to fish them out and ensure they are placed in positions of authority. Such leaders can be found in all communities.