A Letter to the African Patriot

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A Letter to the African Patriot

By Femi Akomolafe <femi@xs4all.nl>, 1994

[Note: Written in 1994 when the Internet was in its infancy, this is one of my earliest posts]

I do not intend to start a war (flame or smoke) here. This letter is addressed to the African Patriot. Europeans and other foreigners are welcome to read it, what they think of it, however, is their business. I shall take no notice of it.

My intention here is to start a dialogue with other Africans, to see what we, individually, can do to help our motherland. Instead of wasting our energies and our breath assailing unreformed (un-reformable) white-supremacists, let’s channel use our energies to better things. This is my humble contribution. As you shall soon find out, I have more questions than answers, I believe, however, that, together we can find our own answers to our own problems.

I need not remind any of you that we are the most trampled-upon people on earth. We are easily the most despised. Historically, Africa gave so much to the world. How did we started so high and ended up so low? That is the soul-searching we all need to do.

Since the idea is to get an honest dialogue going, I should stress that in all our communications, we should be truthful and sincere. Occasionally, egos might get in the way, but the higher purpose, for which we all hope to come together, should be enough to set us straight. At the latest count there are over 80,000 European ‘aid- workers’ trampling around Africa, purporting to be developing us. Europe continues to ship her unemployable people to us labeled as ‘consultants,’ and ‘miracle-workers.’

These busy-bodies are doing their utmost to perform the miracles of turning Africa into Europe. They are busy lecturing us on how to make failed European ideas work in our land. Take what they call democracy, for instance, the more apathetic Europeans become about their splendid democracy, the more energetic the Europeans scholars become in drumming it into our ears, as the panacea to our problems.

In the meantime, thousands, if not millions, of us are contributing to societies which didn’t pay for our education. How can we remedy this? I do not know if any society in history had been developed by foreigners, however benevolent. Will Africa be different? I have my doubt.

An African Patriot, to attempt a definition, is an African who is loyal to Africa. Please, anyone of you is welcome to submit a better definition.

What I write hereunder should in no way be misconstrued as a romantic nonsense from an avowed Pan-Africanist – the usual charges from European ‘dis-passionate analysts.’ Anyone with even a crude knowledge of African history would know that the people who are now artificially divided into nation-states are really one people. Cheikh Anta Diop’s ‘The Cultural Unity of Africa’ is an excellent book to consider by those who would like to know more about this.

Also, as Baaba Maal eloquently put it:

“The agouyadji* is sounding
Able-bodied men rise up
In today’s world, honor is becoming rare
So let us examine our consciences
And seek to refine our race
Our language is not the least important factor
In our dignity
So let us learn it
And let us teach it
That will pay

From here to the Fouta, Poular is spoken
From Somalia to Mali
From Benin to Guinea
From Cameroon to the Gambia
From Egypt to Ethiopia
From Nigeria to Niger, they speak Poular
If all these peoples came together
They’d know we have the same mother
Whatever the differences in our dialect
We have the same father
I called Coumba
And Coumba replied
I called Samba, Samba replied likewise
I used to believe
Those of us who speak Halpulaar
Were inferior
But I realized I was wrong.”

* Agouyadji = is a gong used by the Peuls to call a meeting.

Baaba Maal – from the album ‘BAAYO’ (The Orphan)

Let me give some specific examples: The Fulanis came from the Futa Jallon area of Senegal. They are found all over West Africa. Should Nigerians continue to regard the Senegalese as ‘foreigners’, when their kin constituted a large group in what we call our country? The Ewe people found in Ghana and Togo are originally from Oyo, In Nigeria. Anyone who has listened to them speak will know how closely related the Yoruba and the Ewe languages are. Should Nigerians continue to regard them as ‘aliens?’ More specifics are given towards the end of this article.

Greater minds than mine have already reasoned that lack of unity is the greatest obstacle to our social, economic and political development. For Africa, I will say that disunity is like cancer eating away our cells; it will slowly kill us. That is the analysis. What can we all and, individually, do to solve this centuries-old problem?

Since most of the men we call leaders are more interested in their bank accounts than in their people, how do we, as concerned patriots, create the structures and the institutions to unite Africa, that will by-pass the colonial and neo-colonial entities dotting our land? I have no answers. I am neither a legal expert nor a political guru; computers are my department. But I am willing to share ideas with like-minded persons.

This idea may not be as formidable as it sounds. The ‘ordinary folks’ are already doing it. Custom barriers and passports are no hindrance to them, in the pursuit of their activities. How could we, as intellectuals, climb down from our ivory towers and learn from our own people? You can already see that I have more question than answers, please indulge me.

My own idea is that since continental unity will look rather daunting at this present moment, I suggest that we begin with subregional organizations and institutions. The West-Africa sub-region is already making a good stride in this direction with ECOWAS; it is not perfect yet, but I think that it is a good beginning. East and Southern Africa should also revive their own regional organizations. I think the North Africans have the Mahgreb organization, this can also be built upon. The benefits of these regional institutions far outweigh any drawback – bigger market, free movement of people and goods could only result in more understanding. These regional institutions will also find it easier to come to an agreement than fifty or so states haggling.

I personally believe that there is simply no alternative to a continental unity. The reasons I say this are numerous. The problems we face internationally are no longer ‘NATIONAL’ in character, but ‘CONTINENTAL’ or ‘BLOCs’. The treaties African countries signed with Holland, Belgium or France decade ago, count for nothing today, when these nations are taking foreign-policy decisions JOINTLY with their colleagues at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. The EU, which started life as an economic community of three nations has graduated into political\social\economic UNION of twelve states, and more European nations are still signing on.

What all these means is that today, the Portuguese can go to England, France or Italy and take up residence. He is permitted to vote and he is entitled to all the rights of the citizens of those countries. In fact, all citizens of the EU now carry what they call European passport!

Africa does not face more problem than Europe in terms of diversity, and we should remember that fifty years ago some of the member-nations of the EU were killing each other with Biblical fury during WWII.

The United States Congress has just ratified the treaty tying the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico in an Economic Union. In the same week that the treaty was ratified, American President Clinton called a meeting of Pacific leaders at Seattle, on the agenda was how to create an Asian-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) between the US and the fast-growing economies in Asia.

Whither thou Africa! West Africans can stay in one another’s country for ninety days, why not permanently?

As Gabriel d’Arboussier (President of the Grand Conseil of a French West Africa) declared in 1958, “The time of small and jealous nationalism is past and done with. Africa history has often been the history of large units. All the great African states of the past were large or very large and included many peoples. This was true of Mali as of Songhai, or of others elsewhere on our continent. But what the organizers of those feudal states did by conquest, we in our day will do by federalism and by free consent.” (quoted in ‘Which Way Africa’, by Basil Davidson p.132)

Why do I believe that the Union of African states is such a desirable thing? Enough had been written by great Pan-Africanists like Marcus Garvey, WEB DuBois, Nkrumah and Azikwe that I do not think that I should belabor it here.

I can only illustrate with my experience during my travels through West Africa in December 1992 through February 1993. Crossing from Nigeria to the Republic of Niger, there was no noticeable difference from either the landscape or the people. The people were interacting with each other as one people. They eat the same type of food, speak the same language and share the same jokes. Aside from the Nigeriene police, there was no way one could know for certain that one was in a foreign land.

Between the Niger\Burkina Faso border was a small border town, where we had to stop for some hours for what they called customs inspection. We trooped to the food-kiosks for victuals. To my amazement, the women were speaking Yoruba, my language!

“What are you people doing here?” I asked their leader.

She beamed a smile in my direction, revealing a set of even, well-maintained dental-work. The smile illuminated not only her pretty face but also the whole of the Sahel region. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she replied in Yoruba, “Omo mi, ibi aye ba gbe ni de, ni a npe ni Aiyede.”

Roughly translated it means, ‘My son, it is where the world led you, that we called ‘Aiyede’ – ‘Here the world led.’

That sums up her, and her colleague’s philosophy. It was simple as well as eloquent. Such was the beauty of the Yoruba language, that a lot of complicated things can be summarized in a short sentence. I had a good meal with them and, shaken my head at the astonishment of it all, left them.

That I believe sums up the Africans view of the world. It also reminds me of Kwame Nkrumah’s observation about Africans, “… Yet in spite of this, I am convinced that the forces making for unity far outweigh those which divide us. In meeting fellow Africans from all parts of the continent I am constantly impressed by how much we have in common. It is not just our colonial past or the fact that we have aims in common, it is something which goes far deeper. I can best describe it as a sense of oneness in that we are Africans.” Kwame Nkrumah, ‘Africa Must Unite,’ p.132.

Historically, a migratory group, Africans are always on the move, and they would settle wherever the conditions permitted their staying. This was the trend until Europeans came and made a forcible stop to this natural movement of peoples and ideas. These rapacious aliens forcibly, in order to steal the wealth, carved up the continent, and things have never been the same ever since. To keep the people perpetually divided, their theorists and anthropologists started propounding the myths of the differences between the Africans. So successful were these specialists in violence and division that the Akans, forgetting that nationalism was a colonial import, are prepared to eliminate one another in the name of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

As Chancellor Williams puts it, “White Africanists writers always concentrate on the Ethnic differences among Africans, the tribal antagonism, the hopeless language barriers, the cultural varieties, etc. They even make a separate Ethnic group of their own mulatto offsprings from black women by classifying them as White in some areas and Colored in others. Hence, a system of thought and practices was developed and superimposed on an already divided race to keep it permanently divided. No one can deny that in this effort, too, the white has been most successful.” – Dr. Chancellor Williams, The Destruction of Black Civilization. p.21)

In the Grand Marche (Big Market) in Ouagadougou, many of the market-women were also speaking Yoruba. I also got to ask them what they were doing in Burkina Faso, they replied in almost exactly the same way the women at the border-town replied me. The same scene was re-enacted at Koudougou, a Burkinabe town, about three-hundred kilometers from Ouagadougou.

In the Northern Ghana town of Bolga Tanga, the provision store in front of the motor park belongs to a Yoruba woman. I asked her what her name was, and she replied, ‘Alhaja,’ and introduced herself. She’s from Ogbomoso, a town in Oyo-State of Nigeria. She enquired where I learned my Yoruba since, according to her, I didn’t look like one. After establishing my bona-fidelity, she allowed me to take her pictures. I promised to send them back to her, a promise I kept. The Alhaja’s daughter was the owner of the tailoring shop next to her mother’s provision store. They mingled and interacted with their Ghanaian counterparts easily. To my European companion, there was absolutely no difference between the Nigerians and the Ghanaians. They wondered how a people with so much similarity could continue to think of themselves as strangers. I told them that it was all thanks to colonialism. At the big Accra motor park, Igbo motor spare-parts dealers own shops alongside their Ghanaian counterparts. They were bantering and pulling each other’s legs, while Senegalese music was blasting away on the huge ghetto- blasters. I was the one they all considered a ‘foreigner.’

In no part of the countries I traveled did I feel any sense of alienation. In Ouagadougou, Tamale, Kumasi, Koudougou, Niamey, I drank thee on the side streets the same way I did in Kano, Nigeria. I ate EBA in Cotonou, just as I did in Ibadan.

Africans are one people. That much could be ascertained by anyone who has taken the trouble to travel through these so-called countries. The expulsion of Nigerians from Ghana in the 60s, and of Ghanaians from Nigeria by Shagari in the 80s are retrogressive, unconscionable actions that should be condemned. Neither country gained anything from the short-sighted actions of their governments – too corrupt and too inept, to seriously tackle the problems facing their countries.

I also believe that regional language will help to smooth things. I do not believe that it is too late to introduce regional languages. West Africans could try and learn Hausa; which is already the most widely spoken language and is quite easy to learn – I am not fluent in it myself, but I’ll learn it, definitely. East Africans could easily adopt Swahili since most of them already speak it. Southern and North Africa are a bit problematic for me, but whatever languages the groups choose should be acceptable to the others. I know that these suggestions will upset a lot of people, but since these are mere ideas and suggestions, I hope that they will be criticized intellectually, not emotionally.

When I said that nationalism in Africa was the creation of colonialism, I speak with the authority of history, to borrow Malcolm X’s phrase.

When the colonialists and empire-builders sat in Berlin 1884-1885 to draw the fine geometric lines we see on the maps of Africa today, no consideration was given to the people whose lives and fates were been discussed and destroyed. There was no African present at the conference at which Africa was partitioned. Europeans then, as now, thought they knew best what is good for ‘under-developed’ inhabitants of the vast continent.

The founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity thought best to respect this artificially-created borders to forestall the disintegration of their states. Anyone who had taken a trip around these ‘geographic-expressions’ called countries, would know that these borders are recognized only by the bureaucrats and International jurist. The ordinary Africans continue to live the way their forefathers did; with utter disregard for these artificial boundaries which split their cultural, political and socio-economic interests.

Below is an insightful analysis of the problems wrought by the Partition:

The other side of the African perspective relates to the attitude in particular African culture areas or ethnic groups which were more immediately affected by the political surgery by being split into two or more colonies and, later, independent African successor-states.. .: the Somali whose essentially continuous culture area was severed into the separate colonies of British Somaliland, French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and the Ogaden province of Imperial Ethiopia; the Masai, cut nearly in half by the Kenya-Tanzania border; the Bakongo across the Gabon-Congo, Congo-Zaire and Zaire-Angola boundaries; the Lunda astride the Zaire-Angola and Zaire-Zambia frontiers; the Zande or the Azande cut by boundaries into different parts in Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic and Zaire; the Yoruba and the Aja, each divided between Nigeria, Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Togo; the Gourma truncated into parts located in Upper Volta, Togo and Benin; the Wolof and the Serers of Senegal and the Gambia; the Sounike and the Tukulor across the Senegal-Mauritania boundary; the Tubu mutilated by the Libyan-Chad and Chad-Niger borders; the Nubians across the Egypt-Sudan boundary; the Tswana on both sides of the Botswana-South Africa boundary and the cattle-keeping Ova Herero as well as the game-seeking Khoisan Basarwa (the so-called ‘Bushmen’) astride the Botswana-Namibia border.

In these specifically divided African culture areas, the boundaries have been drawn across well-established lines of communication including, in every case, a dormant or active sense of community based on traditions concerning common ancestry, usually very strong kinship ties, shared socio-political institutions and economic resources, common customs and practices, and sometimes acceptance of a common political control. In many instances, such as the Uganda-Sudan frontier through the Kakwa territory, the boundaries have separated communities of worshippers from age-old sacred groves and shrines. In other instances, well exemplified by the Somali, the water resources in a predominantly pastoral and nomadic culture area were located in one state while the pastures were in another.

Apart from the division which arises routinely from the mere location of boundaries, partitioned groups were further pulled apart in consequence of the opposing integrative processes set in motion by the different states. Such processes have tended to make the divided groups look in different political, economic and social directions. This has generally been the effect on the partitioned culture areas of the distinct policies which the various states pursue in matters of trade and currency, transport and communication, politics and administration, ideology and education. Different symbols of formal status, above all citizenship, are imposed on the same people.

At the local levels, a manifestation of the effort to emphasize separatism has been the systematic application of different cover-names for the same people to distinguish between those on different sides of particular inter-state boundaries. This phenomenon often dates back to the establishment of boundaries themselves. It is especially manifest in regions like West Africa where the two sides of a boundary might fall respectively under the control of different colonial powers, each imposing its own metropolitan culture and particularly its language and orthographic tradition.

Thus for the people who were called Yoruba in British Nigeria, the name in French Dahomey (now Benin) is ‘Nago’, which sometimes assumes the characteristic masculine and feminine forms of ‘Nagots’ and ‘Nagottes’. Other examples, again in relation to Nigeria, are the Gude, the Higis and the Matakam who on the Cameroonian side of the common border in the area of the ancient state of Mandara came to be called respectively the ‘Djimi’, the ‘Kapsiki’ and the ‘Wula’. Other examples include Kpelle and the Loma in Liberia, referred to respectively as the ‘Guerze’ and the ‘Toma’ in French Guinea; the Baydyaranke in French Guinea or Guinea-Conakry, called the ‘Bambaraca’ in Portuguese Guinea or Guinea-Bissau; the Fulani in the former British colonies of Nigeria and Sierra Leone, whose kinsmen in the adjacent former French colonies of Niger, Mali, and Guinea are often referred to as the ‘Peuls’; and the Tubu in French Niger, called the ‘Goranes’ in Chad.

Despite all these divisive influences, partitioned Africans have nevertheless tended in their normal activities to ignore the boundaries as dividing lines and to carry on social relations across them more or less as in the days before the partition. The studies of cross-border trade and migrations, which have been undertaken especially in the West African sub-region, show that these activities are on a considerable scale. Judged, therefore, from the viewpoint of border society life in many parts of Africa, the Partition can hardly be said to have taken place.

(Partitioned Africans, edited by A.I. Asiwaju, University of Lagos Press, 1985. pp2-3)

I have said so in most of my posting that only the ignorant Africans are awed by things European. The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor, Steve Biko said, is the mind of the oppressed. A lot of us have our minds polluted by the junks Europeans are touting as scholarship. Some of us adored the glorification we received from these master-flatterers when we parrot the lies they tell us. Taking pride in their estimation of us, we strive tenaciously to get BAs, MAs and PhDs, so that we can call ourselves educated. While we can quote from Western writers, we learned nothing from ourselves. We learn nothing from what I believe is the most important: OUR HISTORY. Again, how could we change this? How could we begin to teach our own history, not the ‘Mungo Park discovered the Niger, Livingstone discovered this and that type of trash?’

I believe that we will start to have more respect for ourselves once we know more about our history. Our forebears bequeathed to us a rich legacy which colonialism all but wiped out. There are still salvageable things we could adapt in place of the expensive abstractions we are borrowing from Europe. Take political institutions, for example, Nigerians wasted a large chunk of their income to organized elections that almost tore the country apart. Is there nothing they could learn from the Igbo, the Yoruba, the Kikuyu traditional system of governments? can we not get rid of the military dictators by adapting some of the old traditional systems?

As a guideline, I urge that we all read the Destruction of Black Civilization. There are excellent suggestions in that book on how we could proceed to rebuild our land. If you also have titles which might help in our education, kindly pass it along.

Thank you for your time. I sincerely hope that there will be more ideas and suggestions.

Please kindly pass this along to your friends (and foes), let everyone participate in the deliberations. I wish you all a careful reflection.

brotherly greetings,

Femi Akomolafe.

About the Author  

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organization that specializes in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

His highly-acclaimed books (“Africa: Destroyed by the gods,” “Africa: It shall be well,” “18 African Fables & Moonlight Stories” and “Ghana: Basic Facts + More”) are available for sales at the following bookshops/offices:

  1. Freedom Bookshop, near Apollo Theatre, Accra.
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