At panel discussion, academics, artistes task African leaders on development, unity
As a way of keeping the African narrative in the front burner, highlighting some of the issues plaguing the continent and sensitising the younger generation of the need to think Africa, United Bank for Africa on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, held its African Day, where issues concerning the continent were handled headlong by a panel made up of Tony Elumelu as chairman, Ayo Obe (moderator), Samia Nkurmah from Ghana, Femi Kuti (Nigeria), Profs. Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) and Djibril Tamsir Niane (Guinea).
The panel, which interrogated the theme, ‘Africa’s History Redefined: Our Past, A Path To The Future,’ said the 500 years of slave trade in the continent changed the African social system and created divisions — It turned the people that once lived like brothers and sisters into enemies.
Talking on the unity and future of Africa, Prof. Soyinka said African leaders must not make the mistake of ignoring issues that cause disunity in their countries and in the continent, adding that unity is possible even with the plethora of languages.
He said: “We just have to understand what the purpose of that unity is. Priorities exist, the picture of Africa together is one we must keep in view, but not forget the issues militating against it. I wish to plead that we particularise the sense of unity. Let’s prioritise the material condition of our people. Right now, we are being recolonised by some internal forces.”
According to the Nobel Laureate, history comes in two forms — negative and positive — which makes it a burden for most people, and also, the reason they try to avoid it.
He revealed that he was shocked to hear that history, as a subject, was removed from primary and secondary schoolcurriculum, saying those who removed it should equally be removed from history. Be that as it may, history, as a subject, has been reintroduced into Nigerian schools.
The poet expressed disappointment at the current state of the country, stressing that Nigeria is descending into an horrendous abyss, the like of which have not been witnessed before and that Nigerians should act fast to safe the situation.
He said: “This country is undergoing a horrendous descent into abyss, spiritually, morally, ideally even in the thought system. We are watching a huge mass of people descend into a state of brutality in the like of which we have never experienced before. If you go into the streets and say Africa must unite, what a man on the street would say is Mr. leader first get my people from kidnappers den, then come back to talk about unity.
“If we look back to history and see how we can reintroduce our existence without external help, we might find solutions to these horrendous issues whether its starvation, health, psychological sanity or liberation in the real sense of the word, because right now, we are, in many instances, recolonised internally by a number of forces,” Soyinka said.
Speaking on whether Africa should continue to look on to its history, Prof. Niane noted that the continuous denial of the history of Africa as a subject in schools, is a problem that must be tackled, adding that even after independence, African schools were taught European history, which was a way to make Africans attached to the colonial masters.
He noted that there is no people without a history, adding that Africans have been denied their histories, making the people to lose the knowledge of who they are. “After independence, African teachers did not know what to teach about the African history in schools, because we were denied our history, so, we had to teach European history instead.”
He disclosed that Africans have approached UNESCO to set up a committee, which will look into why African history is not taught in African schools, and that UNESCO has constituted a committee to do so.
He called on the various research institutes in African countries not to rest on their oars, as they could as well take up the responsibility to add to what the UNESCO is doing.
According to the don, 1963 and 1999 are both important dates in the continent because they led us to unity.
He said: “The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), founded on May 25, 1963, was a vengeance on the date of partitioning Africa. It reminded Africans of their past and moved us forward, because on that day, Africa became united, and in 1999, when OAU became African Union, the day brought us the desired unity.”
The historian noted that the continent’s focus now is on development, as the colonialists did not develop infrastructure, adding even if there should be a coup d’état peace will still reign in the continent.
While saying that Europe is expanding it’s history, Niane disclosed Africans are drifting away from theirs. He added that Africans are now talking about economic development and empowerment without talking about their history, which incorporate all forms of development needed.
For the saxophonist, Femi Kuti, the absence of footages for the 500 years slave trade in Africa has made it almost impossible for Africans to appreciate the horrors of the inhumane trade, adding that colonisation made Africans to fight themselves and to believe in Europeans.
He said: “We do not appreciate the 500 years of slave trade as the Jewish appreciate the Holocaust, because there are no footages. You dare not make a joke about the Jewish Holocaust; the whole nation will descend on you, but the world makes joke of the African slave trade and nothing happens. We are lost and this is what the West wants.
“If we had leaders that understood the history of Africa, they would put things in place to move the continent forward. As far as I am concerned, history is everything. Our youths look towards Europe and not inward. We send our children to schools in Europe; make them stay long there without considering the damage we are doing to our culture and nation.”
The Afrobeat musician noted that colonisation and westernisation introduced most of the gender inequalities experienced today in the continent.
He said: “Feminism is un-African, because in the African history, in Yorubaland where I come from, there is no title to distinguish a female king (Oba) from her male counterpart; an Oba is an Oba. Our whole essence as African men was to better the lives of our women, we had powerful goddesses. It was colonisation and its religion that made the male folk more powerful and their words always emphasising on the ‘He’ with no room for the ‘She’.”
Kuti also reiterated the earlier view that one of the greatest tragedies that befell the nation was the removal of history in primary and secondary school curriculum, saying history helps an individual to know where he/she is coming from and where he/she is going.
He noted that he was able to know some of African past historical figures, because his father, the Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, sang about them and that those things he sang about are still in the system.
He observed that the dearth of infrastructure and other things that have not made the “society to function as expected are all in our history.”
He noted that the different languages colonialism brought to the continent is the major cause of the confusion it is facing, adding this has made it difficult for its people to appreciate the 5OO years of the slave trade it passed through.
For the Chairperson, Convention People’s Party (CCP), Samia Nkrumah, this century should be known for the unification of Africa, adding that last century was famous for liberation. She called on Africans in the Diaspora and within the continent to unite, go beyond their borders and be free.
According to her, it will be easier to meet the people’s needs “if we work together, liberated,” as complete liberation will bring unification.
She said: “When I say Africans, I mean Africans at home and in the Diaspora, totaling 1.5 billion people. That is how strong we can become if we think and act together. I believe we should unite for our liberation.
“The last 500 years have been about defeat and liberation, but we had a history before then. We need to look at our contribution to civilisation, religion, culture and this would give us the courage to move forward. We were defeated in the 500 years of slavery, because we were not united . There is neo-colonialisation, because we are still not united and we are not going to go anywhere until we see unity as a political project. We cannot have economic development without political unity,” she said.
Nkrumah urged all African leaders both at home and in the Diaspora and within the continent to stand up for the total liberation and unification of Africa, saying, “until we are united, we cannot do the impossible.”
The lady looks forward to seeing a very strong economic bloc that will dominate the world, a strong bank that would dictate the pace of global economy.
Tony Elumelu, Chairman of the panel, called on Africans to move from blaming others of their woes to taking a proactive actions that reposition the continent for development and progress.
He noted that 1.5billion people is huge to make a change in the world, adding that history should prepare African for the future.
The UBA chairman urged historians to get government and the private sector to work together, leverage on the different opportunities around and move the continenet forward.
He said: “We need to move on from blaming others for our history and come out on how to make things work. We need to make our infrastructure and develop the people. We cannot keep giving our children this history.
“Let us tell a history of our economic renaissance and development. I see a continent with all the potentials to be great. We need to move to the future with optimism leveraging on the resources we have; a continent of 1.5billion people is a continent to reckon with. As we talk about our history, we need to think of the type of history our children will tell.”