From the Editor’s Keyboard

Can African People Save Themselves?

By  | 3 December 2009 at 02:02 | 827 views

In the first of his many part article on the links between Continental Africa and the African Diaspora, Dr. Charles Quist-Adade argued that while the situation of people of African descent seem desperate and hopeless, increasing numbers of black activists, philanthropists, scholars, and ordinary people are doing their share to improve the lives of their brethren on both sides of the Atlantic. What is need is a more organized, and planetary plan and action to make the disjointed efforts meaningful and fruitful.

In this part two, Dr. Quist-Adade reviews the works of late Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the great African American pan-Africanist historian and intellectual, with particular emphasis on his pamphlet entitled Can African People Save Themselves?


Africa and the Diaspora Part II

By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD

Dr. Clarke was an historian with a sense of mission. That mission was the liberation of the African race from oppression, racism and subjugation. A master narrator, a griot par excellence, he was also an intellectual giant with an astute sense of purpose. That purpose was to fuse theory with practice. For, as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah put it, ideas without action were blind and action without ideas was empty. Thus throughout his works, Dr. Clarke emphasized the marriage of ideas and action. His pamphlet Can African People Save Themselves is no exception.

While he was, one would dare say, obsessed with the idealistic dream of unity of the African race, he planted his feet firmly in reality, on earth. Thus, it is his sense of optimism and total trust in the potential of his people to save themselves from the trilogy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism that impelled him to answer the question: Can Africans Save Themselves? in the affirmative.

He wrote: “The question can be answered in many ways, both negative and positive. I have chosen to answer it positive, because I am an African person and I hope for a commitment to every African on the face of the earth. My commitment to mankind comes first through my commitment to African people. If African people are to save themselves, they must first know themselves. They may first know where they have been and what they have been, where they are and the significance of what they are….Mainly because I believe in African people and have worked toward their salvation and their definition in the world most of my adult years of my life.”

But he was pragmatic enough to realize how difficult African unity could be. That is why he attacked the retrogressive and defeatist tendencies of some of our people, the greed, selfishness, pompousness of some African leaders.

In his incisive rendition of the “African story,” Dr. Clarke traced Africa’s predicament to European activities in Africa and prescribed roadmaps out of Africa’s physical and mental slavery.

He wrote: “In the last 500 years, African people and most Asian people have been reacting to the European presence in the world and responding to Europeans’ desire to control most of the land and resources in the world.”
Europeans, he said, came out of the Middle Ages “people-poor, land-poor and resource-poor.” One-third of the population of Europe had been lost through famines and plagues. Europeans were “angry and hungry.” When they rediscovered the skill of longitude and latitude and became to explore the lands beyond their shores, they were searching for a way to rebuild their economy and strengthen their power in the world.

Europeans, he charged, created the slave trade, the colonial system and, began to change the world dramatically and forever. They declared war on the cultures of all the people in the world, except Europeans, making the rest of the world their servants’ quarters.

The African independence explosion which was ignited by Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957, the anti-colonial wars in Asia, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1960s and the fight for a Caribbean federation around the same time, was a collective revolt in their servants’ quarters. This revolt challenged the world as designed by Europeans.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans not only colonized most of the world, they colonized most of the information regarding the world. Part of the war on the cultures of non-European people was the colonization of imagery, especially the image of God. Most of the people in Asia and in Africa under European domination dared to address God in a language of their own creation or look at God in the image created by their own imagination.

Colonialism and the Conquest of the Mind
Dr. Clarke therefore called on Africans to pay proper academic attention and serious attention, in general to the impact of the rise of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries on the mind of the non-European world. Europe’s greatest achievement during this period, acknowledged, was not enslavement and the military conquest of most of the world, the conquest of the minds of most of the people of the world.

European conquest of the non-European world was achieved not by mere brute force or “brawn power” but largely by “brain power.” He wrote: “By the end of the 19th century, Europe effectively controlled or influenced most of the geography and people of the earth. In spite of the military advantage, the Europeans mainly having guns and their victims mainly without guns, there still were not enough Europeans in the world to have effectively taken over most of the world. What they did not achieve militarily, they achieved through propaganda. He called this achievement the manifestation of the “evil genius of Europe.”

When Europe found itself and shook off the lethargy of the Middle Age, after the disaster of the Crusades, they began to propagate certain concepts that reverberate to this day that are basically untrue. The most damaging of these concepts are:

1. That the world was waiting in darkness for the Europeans to bring the light of culture and civilization. As a matter of fact, in most cases, the truth was the contrary. The Europeans put out more light and destroyed more civilizations and cultures than they built.

2. Another European concept that is still with us, doing its maximum damage, is that the European concept of god is the only concept worthy of serous religious attention. In most of the world where the Europeans expanded, especially in Africa, they deprived the people of the right to call on God in a language of their creation and to look at God through their own imagination. They inferred or said outright that no figure that did not resemble a European could by god or the representative of god.

3. The European concept that the invader and conqueror is a civilizer. Conquerors are never benevolent. In nearly all cases they spread their way of life at the expense of the conquered people.

4. The myth of the European as discoverer is still with us 500-years after Christopher Columbus’ alleged discovery of America. This is one of the most prevailing myths in history, because Christopher Columbus discovered absolutely nothing. Conversely, he did help to set in motion a pattern of European expansion, slavery and exploitation that left its scar on most of mankind.

Dr. Clarke emphatically called on Africans to “regain their self-confidence and image of God that they had originally conceived him or her to be.”
To be continued.

About the author: Dr. Charles Quist-Adade is a Sociology professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He specializes in race and ethnic relations, globalization, and social justice.