Beyond Africanism: A Critique of Joshua Ngoma’s Book “The Rise of the Africans”
Munshya wa Munshya
“Unless the lions learn how to write”, asserts author Joshua Ngoma, “the hunters will always write their stories.” With this Kenyan proverb, Ngoma begins his 138-page book The Rise of the Africans (2012, Seaburn Publishing). This book, among other things, explains the four principles that Africans should coalesce around to ensure the inevitable and imminent rise of their continent. These pillars are not new. Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah was among the first to espouse them. These ideals formed the basis for what would later become the rallying cry of Pan-Africanism. Other African leaders and academicians parroted these ideals as well. It is, therefore, quite interesting that half a century later, Ngoma would still find these ideas relevant.
Ngoma is telling a story from his own perspective and the perspective of many Africans. We must all find this positively praiseworthy as a way to begin a conversation on important issues affecting our continent. The author explains African history in a clear and concise manner. He also attempts to explain difficulties Africa faces. Ngoma also deals with the hopes and dreams of Africa’s one billion people. In this book, we see the important imprint of his father, his friends and his brief involved in Zambian politics. He has also done well to do some comparative analysis of both Africa and Asia. His research is impeccable. Certainly, Ngoma’s passion for Africa is unquestionably sizzling.
However, we must join a conversation he has started. For the most part, the four pillars he is espousing as the foundation to direct Africa’s rise have now been discredited. Nkrumahism is no longer defensible. The basic foundation of Pan-Africanism, the perspective from which Ngoma writes, is no longer relevant to 21st century Africa. Africa does not need ideals predicated by futile Pan-Africanist doctrines. Africa needs newer and fresher outlook on its role in the global village. Having been frustrated with pan-Africanism, we must go beyond it and perhaps coalesce around post-Africanism (see Denis Ekpo). Post-Africanism seeks to redeem the African from the illusion of comparison. It interrogates the cracks in the shaky foundations of pan-Africanism. It sees no reason why Africa’s development should be predicated upon definitions imposed by the very people she claims to be free from.
The fear of Imperialism?
The first of the four pillars is predicated on the idea that there should be “a new Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism, organized on a continental scale”. This does sound very good and attractive. However, it is rhetoric loaded with no practical value. As an ideological pillar it flops very miserably. In modern Africa, the Africanists and the Pan-Africanists would like us to believe that European imperialism is Africa’s number one enemy. This might have been the case in 1960 but it is certainly no longer the case. Africa must bury an incessant obsession with the fear of imperialists. Modern Africa cannot claim to be free while at the same time being possessed by an irrational paranoia of the motives of the White skin. I see no connection, whatsoever, between Mugabe’s fear of Europe with his desire to assault his political enemy Tsvangarai using state police. I just do not see the connection between imperialism and the senseless killing going on in Juba, South Sudan today. It would be ridiculous to claim that all the problems in Africa are as a result of the imperialists. Is it the imperialists spending on Zuma’s Nkandla estate? What about the arbitrary arrests of Zambians for possessing Vermox? Is it an imperialist move too?
A modern African is not going to tolerate the nonsense of the fear of imperialism as a way for African leaders to deny basic liberties to the people of Africa. The blame game should end, and Africa should take responsibility.
One and United Africa?
This then should bring me to my next objection to Ngoma’s Africanism: the idea that Africa must be organized on a continental scale, founded upon the “conception of a One and United Africa”. The idea that Africa must be one and united is perhaps the greatest falsehood Africa has inherited from the colonialist. The Africans, themselves, never conceived a united Africa and they never needed to. It was a zygote of European imperialism. It is Cecil Rhodes and King Leopold II who hallucinated of a united Africa “from Cape to Cairo.” For one thing, a united Africa was and still is, far easier to exploit than independent states. Africa as discovered by the colonialist was too volatile to colonize. It had to take some form of “unity” to easily exploit African resources and the Africans themselves. Before Africa jumps on this united Africa bandwagon, we need to ask ourselves how we came to believe that we must be one and united. Africa is not a country and should never be one. We were never meant to be a country. As stated by Ngoma himself, Africa is a complex continent with different cultures and countries. How then did he come to conclude that a united Africa is in Africans’ best interest?
An African science and technology?
The third, pillar is indeed powerful. Africa must draw its strength from modern science and technology. It is quite interesting though that the first casualty of African independence was science and technology. Ngoma highlights the importance of science to the development of Africa. But what he needed to stress even more is the fact that personal apprenticeship is the only way we can actualize the strength of science and technology. To have this strength, Africans do not need to reinvent the wheels of science. Africans must learn from those with strengths in science and technology. This is what Africa needed. But instead of keeping the European innovators in Africa, most of these so called founding fathers of Africa, hounded away Europeans and claimed that they would instead grow their own indigenous “science and technology”. This was disaster, and it showed. Within the decade of independence Kaunda “Zambianized” and “Africanized” by giving crucial science and technology positions to our people who had no clue about science and technology. That is not the way to grow innovation. In a globalized world, innovation in science and technology belongs to everybody. No one country should regard themselves as inferior simply because they have borrowed or stolen technology from others. As noted by Ngoma himself, South Korea is what it is today due to its liberal use of Western technology and patents. Africans must admit that the 1970s and 1980s folly of chasing Whites out of Africa was unreasonable and was a direct attack on Africa’s own opportunity for innovation. Africa needs to be freed from this belief that in order for us to have value, we must make better and newer discoveries than Westerners. Borrowing from Denis Ekpo (2005), there is no need for an African formula for making cement if a Germany has already discovered one. And copying this cement formula from Germany is not a sign that Africa is weak!
The individual and the Community
The fourth pillar should be challenged as well. How did Africa come to believe the idea that “the free development of each individual is conditioned by the free development of all”? What does this even mean? Post-Africanism challenges the misunderstood idea that to the African the individual is not as important as the community. Africans must come to an understanding that they are a “person” first before they become a community of “persons”.
Africa has been misunderstood as loving community so much as to obliterate the personal value of an individual. The idea that a human being, as a single African being, is important and has personal value should be the bedrock of African development. It is individuals that form a community and not a community the individual. People should not be used as sacrifices at the altar of an abstract nation-state or community; rather it is the individuals whose value should predicate community vision and value. A Post-African society takes the view that Africa must respect the person in order to sustain the community.
Ngoma has started a worthy conversation. I have joined in it. And I hope that many Zambians and other Africans will buy his book and read for themselves why Africa should rise. For me, however, Post-Africanism is newer and fresher to help Africa’s rise. The era of pan-Africanism is over.