Software Problems in the African Renaissance Process

By Biko, Femi | New African, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Software Problems in the African Renaissance Process


Biko, Femi, New African


We continue Femi Biko's essay on why the African needs new software if the Renaissance Project is to succeed. "We carry the face of Africa but (often) the mind (software) of Europe," he writes.

Viewed from whatever angle of logic, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the cumulative effect of centuries of slavery and the subsequent colonial system inflicted heavy social wounds on African societies within and without.

It is to history we must turn to explain the roots and enormous emotional and psychological consequences of Africa's cultural crisis.

Trans-Atlantic slavery was the industry that set forth the recent physical globalisation of African humanity. It also established the economic institutions and cultural technology that forged the rise of the Western powers.

The 400-year project saw the rise of Portugal in the 16th century, Spain in the 17th, France in the 18th, Britain in the 19th and America in the 20th.

The institutions established as a consequence of slavery laid the basis for the industrialisation of Europe and the colonial enterprise, which in turn secured the dismantling of African institutions and impoverishment of Africa. To this sequence of events, "pose-colonial African leaders proceeded to pauperise their respective patches.

Those intellectuals who are anxious to announce that slavery and colonialism are long over, are equally more anxious to deny the intergenerational damage due to its legacy or the resultant economic and psychic catastrophe.

Above all, it is that economic and psychic catastrophe that the African Renaissance process will have to resolve. This essay attends to the cultural element -- the pyschic dimension. The keys to the resolution of these complex problems are two golden questions. For now we shall elaborate on the first of these, namely: Is Africa ready to learn the lessons of its cultural history? For it is inescapable that those who refuse to learn the lessons of their past are condemned to repeat it.

Metaphysical force

For Western strategists, the lessons of TransAtlantic slavery were well received -- metaphysical force is superior to physical force, hence missionary education; indirect force is superior to direct force, hence identity reassignment; and economic power is superior to political power, hence neo-colonial arrangements.

Among a substantial percentage of the African elite, there exists a frail mechanism for stifling debates, which masquerades as wisdom.

The received wisdom is the taboo against the discussion of the political role of religion in Africa's cultural condition, lest it "becomes divisive". We may discuss culture but not religion. Yet, the essential pillars of culture are languages and religious systems.

This remarkable, but not unique, taboo existed in Europe of the Middle Ages. It eventually evaporated and stimulated the Inquisition and purging of the non-Christian faiths in Renaissance Europe. Similarly, in contemporary Brazil, a parallel taboo is set against discussions of racism, lest racial cleavages 'develop"!

Surely, the religious suicide that was unleashed in Kanungu, Uganda, on 20 March this year, is a reflection of Africa's cultural problems. Amidst the intensified efforts of missionaries and multinationals, the reality is that Africa is in the grip of religious fundamentalism.

Joseph Kibwetere and Karadonia Mwerinde, of the 'Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments', were as much cultural missionaries as they were spiritual guides to the desperate populace of Kanungu.

Their effort to "restore" the Ten Commandments as a constitution of the "new nation", is no different from the resurgence of Sharia movements across the African continent.

Without the lessons of history, it is impossible to make sense of the massive loss of life in Nigeria following the Sharia debacle. Nigeria was, and remains, a powder keg. …

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