- To put us on the same page with you for a good start of our discussion, may you define for us the following concepts: Africanness, Thought Leaders, Cultural Influencers?
What is Africanness…hmmm… this question alone is subject enough for an extensive dissertation. Nonetheless, let me attempt my own subjective explanation however unsatisfactory. I will start from the general to the specific. Please bear in mind these might constitute my own operationalisation of the key terms and ideas under discussion. Anything that might appear factually right will be a product of my education overtime and anything wrong will be exclusively of my doing.
I believe you can describe societies through two broad approaches—the value systems and the aesthetics. The former would be the believes, prevailing ideas, norms, laws, practices etc that pertains within a society. The latter would be mostly about expression—the language, clothes, food, music, ornaments etc of a society. Whereas the value system is largely abstract and is descriptive of a society but may not be exclusive to it, aesthetics is usually more tangible and peculiar to particular societies.
For example, African societies are considered as communal societies but this value is not exclusive to Africa as many other peoples such as Asians and Latin Americans are also considered as communal societies. However, a Kente cloth is specific to a particular group of Africans which no other group anywhere else can lay claim to. What is evident here is that aesthetic qualities are much more distinguishing of societies thus providing an important measure of differentiation. The aesthetics and values taken together will very much form the identity of a people.
Now to the specific. What is Africanness? We can attempt to answer this question by looking at what African values are and what African aesthetics are. But there is no need to do that immediately. I believe the many questions below will present countless opportunities to situate the answer within the context of the preamble thus established.
Thought leaders are people whose ideas can greatly influence the way a society thinks and behaves. They can define values. Cultural Influencers, on the other hand, influences the way a society sees and expresses itself. They define aesthetics. Of course there is a lot of intersectionality between the two and one person can easily embody both.
- What is left about Africanness that we must retain and why do we have to redefine Africanness, if indeed, we need to retain Africanness? Is it because the world is evolving?
Societies anywhere anytime are a results of change. There has never and will never be a static society ad infinitum. That defies the very essence of humanity. So Africa has consistently changed and will continue to change. The question is what has changed—or must change—and in which direction?
Societies today are closer and interact faster and more with one another than any other time in human history, thanks to evolving technology in travel and communication. What this simply means is that cultures today are able to interact and influence one another faster and more deeply than ever before. The danger here being powerful nations can—subtly or overtly—easily proselytise their cultures in ways that creates hegemonies leading to the erasure of other identities.
It goes without saying that Western culture has become a strong dominating force in the world today. In Africa, both the aesthetics and the values of our identity have been seriously encroached. Our religions, language, food, values have witnessed some significant Westernisation. Some of it is, maybe, inevitable but where do we draw the line?
Just a few examples, though the issues are endless: I think we should take care not become very individualistic societies in Africa as we see elsewhere. We should be mindful to retain that communal spirit and identity that is crucial to Africanness. Our names, language, clothes, food and others must not be lost in the maze of globalisation. Of course things like clothing will change over time and languages would morph new registers but it would be suicidal if our children and their children lose their mother tongue and can only communicate in foreign languages.
As Africa is part of the world, and the world consistently changes, we too would change but we must ensure we have some degree of control of that change. I will talk more about this as we proceed
- Is Africanness or “the African identity” (as Dr Kwame Nkrumah called it) an amorphous concept or a living reality? In other words, do all Africans hold common conceptual definition (s) of the terms Africanness, African Heritage, and the African Identity?
All Africans do not have (and may not have) the same experiences but we have shared experiences. Keep in mind that the mere fact of our geographical proximity means African societies over several centuries have had the greatest influence on one another, thus engendering a commonality in both values and aesthetics that can be operationalised with the amorphous idea of an “African Identity”
- In what ways have the Africanness been mutilated and how much more damage do you think he digital technology revolution affect our quest to redefine or retain Africanness?
As earlier indicated, change is inevitable. But change becomes problematic when it operates under the assumption that one culture is better than another and thrives on the erasure of others’ identities. Eating so called continental food at a swanky high end is no better or dignified than eating local food at a “chop bar”. Dressing up in suit and speaking fine English is no better or dignified than wearing African clothes and speaking local dialects. Having a fair skin colour and straight permed hair should not be considered more beautiful and desirable than dark skin tones and kinky hair. There are countless examples of African aesthetics and values being considered inferior and, as such, must be whitewashed by western cultures and thoughts. This constitutes utter mutilation of who we are as a people. Redefining our Africanness in this context will, therefore, mean unapologetically re-asserting our identities within the collage of the human experience.
Technology is a tool we can use to deepen our oppression or to assert our identity. We must choose which part of the knife to use
- Aside common skin colour, proverbs and folktales, natural resource endowment, common experiences of slave trade, colonialism, and perhaps neo-colonialism and perpetual struggle for liberation from western imperialism, what more do Africans have in common that is/are worthy to preserve?
What is worthy to preserve may or may not be common to every African. Different African societies will have their own unique identities worthy of preserving. That said, if we did an audit on various aspects of our lives we would realise that we have lost and are still losing a lot of African indigenous knowledge.
For example, growing up I heard a lot of stories about my paternal grandfather and how great a herbalist he was. They say there was nothing he couldn’t cure and people came from far and near to consult him. Sadly, he died with most of his knowledge. We should be investing a lot of human and material resources into the research and development of modern medicinal interventions steeped in indigenous African solutions. Chinese medicine is a big deal these days and they’ve set up shops around the world. We can do same with “African medicine”.
Sector by sector, our thought leaders must innovate on our indigenous knowledge systems to evolve interventions for our modern times so we don’t become wholesale consumers of what others produce.
- If the world is evolving, why should we, Africans, stop on the way by trying to redefine or retain Africanness?
The thrust of all the points I’ve been making so far is that, yes we must EVOLVE but not ‘TRANSVOVLE’. Let me explain. To evolve suggests growing from what you are into what you are becoming. There is a certain foundation you proceed from. To transvalue here means you are completely growing into something you are from something you have never been. You are mutilating your foundation and transplanting completely new systems.
Let me practicelike this. The western model of industrialisation has been one of hyper insatiable consumption of natural resources that has bred many conflicts in different parts of the world. That model is also heavily dependent on the burning of fossil fuels that has led to global warming. In another instance, fast foods—saturated with sugar, salt and fat—has become emblematic of modernity and led to crisis in obesity and other health complications.
Are we to follow these same models with the disastrous consequences they portend of which these western societies are now trying to address? In which case we would only be transvolving and not evolving. To evolve means understanding that our indigenous African experience very much valued environment preservation, reason why we couldn’t farm or fish on certain days and the lands and waterbodies were deified to engender the necessary reverence. To evolve means understanding that eating at KFC doesn’t—or shouldn’t—confer any desirable social status.
The question then is how do we industrialise and modernise in such a way that we are truly evolving and not transvolving? A question for our thought leaders and cultural influencers across all sectors.
- Almost all African countries always prone to conflicts and corruption. Are conflicts, xenophobia and corruption part of the attributes or descriptors of Africanness?
Those are just problematic human behaviour that is not exclusive to, and as such descriptive of, any group of people. All human societies then and now exhibit these traits just that some have managed them better than others.
- Do you envisage a future (near or far) when Africans would abandon colonial labels such as Francophone, Anglophone, and Lusophone, among others, and all other legacies of colonialism and slave trade and foster a politically united, economically robust, and culturally harmonized Africa?
No. It would be a waste of energy and counterproductive. Our focus now should be to evolving and not transvolving. We must take care to re-assert our identities on the global collage so that our mark is also felt.
- The African Union (AU) schematized an ambitious African Agenda with the theme “Agenda 2063: the African We Want” and with the Pan African Vision of attaining “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena” within 50 years starting from 2013. Do you think this Agenda and vision is attainable, taking into consideration, the current state of Africans and the African Union?
Yes, it is. We have seen in our lifetime how societies have completely transformed within a matter of decades. China, Malaysia and Singapore are all good examples. We can also do it with the right mindset and leadership.
- Why is that Europe, America and some other regions of the world have undergone several industrial and technological revolutions, but Africa is yet to realize its first industrial revolution? Could it be that scientific, inventive and systematic thinking are part and parcel of Africanness?
Civilisation started in Africa and may very well end here. We once held the baton and must very well prepare to receive it again. Our relative underdevelopment maybe be a problem but therein also lies a great opportunity. Africa is the mother continent of the world—it is our last stronghold against human extermination. If Africa were to undergo—at the same time—the same kind of industrial and technological revolution witnessed in Europe, America and now Asia, I’m not sure what the fate of our would have been.
I believe in the grand scheme of things, there is a reason to the way our development trajectory has been. I am not romanticising our problems. I only seek to serve caution that we must evolve and not transvovle. Africa, in spite of the extensive exploitation, is still relatively unspoiled. As the rest of the world is aging, our youthful population is expanding. It may very well be that we are the ones to lead the world into a more sustainable future. But we must be alive to that reality so we don’t miss the train when it stops, because it would stop.
- Why is it difficult for African leaders to develop African talents and African solutions to resolve African problems? Is it because our thought leaders are not thinking critically enough or external powers have completely and perpetually usurped their minds?
Maybe, maybe not. As for the potential, it is latent. We have, and have had thinkers. But we may not have created the space for our thought leaders and cultural influencers to seize and drive the narrative. Maybe, because of hunger and poverty, and its accompanying mind-sets, our immediate instinct has been to feed our bellies. So most people may be trying to take as much as they can get from the system and not what they can add to the system.
People with wealth in Africa must begin to make bold investments in new ideas from African thinkers, innovators and cultural practitioners. They can afford the risk. Every invention and notion that has driven human progress was once an idea until someone with influence and resources decided to take a chance on.
We need money to oxygenate our latent potential. Literally. Our idea of wealth has been to accumulate material possessions and not disperse resources to change and transform societies in deeply fundamental ways. That’s poverty mentality. And that must change if we are to make any good progress in Africa.
And we must also create meritocratic systems to enable our best and brightest to lead change.
- Do you think the western-styled democracy is appropriate for the social, economic and political transformation of Africa and do we (Africans) need to reinstate our pre-colonial traditional systems of governance such as the chieftaincy, empire, kingdom, customary law and taboo based systems before can accomplish our longstanding anticipated social and economic aspirations?
My simple answer will be that here too our governance systems must evolve and not transvovle. That said, let me add that we don’t need to waste our time or energies to reinstate any precolonial institutions. That period is long gone. In any case, almost all societies evolved from some kind of chieftaincy feudal systems. And beyond the mode of how leaders are chosen and how decisions are made in so called western-styled democracy, really the values of justice, fairness, development and others are prevalent in other systems too. The democratic ethos is a shared universal principal.
Lawyer Abdul Shakur Saeed (Lawyer Hammer) 🔨 What can we do about ethnicity/tribalism? Don’t you think it’s one of the debilitating ills of the continent?
Chief Moomen: Certainly. It is one of the major roadblocks to creating truly meritocratic systems. We must attempt to detoxify tribal sentiments as much as possible. In fact, this is a very serious issue our thinkers must really ponder on. Our ethnic diversity is a very important aspect of our identity. We lose that and I dare say we lose our Africanness. But then again it is one of the major things holding us back. So what to be done? Million-cedi question. Maybe we should simply encourage more intermarriages so we blend more with one another😀
I believe Nkrumah may have also shown us the way by how he deemphasised ethnicity on the national level and focused on his Ghanaian and African agenda. Also, the boarding school system helped to create familiarity among ethnicities in Ghana. Whatever strategy we adopt should aim for greater integration and more ethnically ambiguous citizens. We must create national identities that are stronger than our small ethnicities
- So many African freedom fighters, from Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, William Du Bios through to Dr Kwame Nkrumah and recently Muhammar Gaddafi, among other prolific advocates such as Pro PLO Lumumba, have sacrificed or are sacrificing their lives for Africa’s emancipation and transformation but Africans have remained heedless to their warnings. Besides, Africa’s terrible experience from slave trade and colonialism should have been enough to wake Africans up from slumber to take full control over our own political and economic affairs. Is it part of Africanness for Africans of all generations to be docile to foreign imperialist powers or to be remissive of manipulative behaviour from non-Africans?
It cannot be so. There is ample evidence of all kinds of resistance in our history even till now. Even this conversation is an act of resistance. We need to however get to a point where the resistance is enough to spark real and true transformation.
- You had the opportunity to advice the current African Union Commission and African Leaders on optimal pathways to deepen Africanness in a culturally, socially, politically and economically converging world, what would your recommendations be?
The Acupuncture Solution.
Create meritocracies that will enable our best and brightest to lead change. How do you do so within our current systems where we do what is politically expedient and not, necessarily, what is the best for all? Well, create safe spaces.
It is not every project you must “chop” from. Create projects that are completely above board, where you uphold the highest levels of integrity and meritocracy. If we can create such spaces across several sectors of our society, then slowly but surely you are creating focal points within your system that can catalyse change throughout the system. That is the Acupuncture approach.
If you can’t do everything right, at least do somethings right. So, as a direct answer to your question, I will simply say they should get the right thought leaders and cultural influences on the matter to lead the change we so desire.