Magazine article New African

Africa: This Is How Far We Have Come

Magazine article New African

Africa: This Is How Far We Have Come

Article excerpt

A quick look at how Africans were seen in the past through the eyes of European historians, philosophers and writers and how we are seen today proves a huge point: the world (outside Africa) is making progress.

* Homer (c.700 BC): "Ethiopia [or Africa] is a remote place at the extreme of the universe where the people worshipped and sacrificed to the gods."

* Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): "Africa is a timeless place in which there are no art, letters or social organisation, but instead, only fear and violent death."

* Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831): "Africa is an ahistoric continent even though it has a geographical location. The people live in a condition of mindlessness barbering without laws and morality."

* Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778): "The black people are unable to think in any reflexive manner. Their engagement in arts is, therefore, a thoughtless activity which is the antithesis of the intellect."

* Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) third president of the USA who coined the phrase "All men are created equal", yet wrote in his one and only published book, Notes on Virginia: "It would be impossible for a black person to understand the mathematical formula in Euclid's famous book, The Elements." This, to Jefferson, is proof of the intellectual inferiority of black people.

* John Hanning Speke, British explorer, in a speech delivered in the 1860s, described the African thus: "As his father did, so does he. He works his wife, sells his children, enslaves all he can lay his hands upon, and unless fighting for the lands of others, contents himself with drinking, singing, and dancing like a baboon, to drive dull care away."


* Comte Joseph-Arthur Gobineau (1816-1882): "Africans are people who lack the sophisticated linguistic skills, the scientific and political faculties of the European and are best suited to dancing, dressing up and singing."

* Henry Maurier: "Do we have an African Philosophy? The answer must be: No! Not yet."

If the tired old cliches above are bad enough, wait and see what some Western-trained Africans have said about their own people and continent:

* Leopold Sedar Senghor (1806-2001): "The vital force of the African negro, that is, his surrender to the other, is thus inspired by reason. But reason is not, in this case, the visualising reason of the European white, but a kind of embracing reason which has more in common with logos than with ratio ... The reason of classical Europe is analytic through utilisation, the reason of the African Negro, intuitive through participation."

* Bolaji Idowu: "The religion of the Yoruba permeates their lives so much that it expresses itself in multifarious ways. It forms the theme of songs, makes topics more minstrelsy, finds vehicles in myths, folktales, proverbs and sayings; and is the basis of philosophy." (Idowu, 1962: p5)

* John Mbiti: "African ideas of time concern mainly the present and the past, and have little to say about the future, which in any case is expected to go on without end." (Mbiti, 1975: p34)

* Kwasi Wiredu: "Our traditional mode of understanding, utilising and controlling external nature and of interpreting the place of man within it, [a] mode common to the African race ... is intuitive; essentially ... unscientific mode. [This] unanalytical, unscientific attitude of mind (is) probably the most basic and pervasive anachronism affecting our society." (Wiredu, 1976: p11)

* Paulin J. Hountondji: "The absence of a transcription certainly does not intrinsically devalue a philosophical discourse, but it prevents it from integrating itself into a collective theoretical tradition ... So thousands of philosophers without written work could never have given birth to an African philosophy. African philosophy can exist only in the same mode as European philosophy, ie, through what is called literature. …

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