Could Africa reclaim her royal history, her glory?

2015-04-23 17:00

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It’s almost as if you need never ask about the origins of Africa; there never was a time when Africa was not here.

There is always a sense that whatever story about Africa is told, there is one story before it. And even when that story is told, there never is a sense that it is a story of origin. Africa was always here.

Every time this African story is told, you are left feeling that there must have been, at whatever point in this perpetual story with no beginning, a story of glory, a story of triumph, a story of kings and queens who were considered all under heaven, capable of shaping the whole world into their own image.

But that story does not seem to exist, not in any story that is ever told, and when it is even claimed, it does not belong: Africa could never be Rome; Africa could never be Greece. It always seems, Africa can never truly claim glory from history.

This African story feels like a story of a rise and fall with the tale of the rise wiped out of history so that all Africans could ever be conscious of is a state of perpetual fall that itself feels like a permanent phenomenon that always was.

While typically a fall is from grace, for Africa it feels as if the fall itself is both the beginning and the continuum.

To be born in Africa – more precisely, to be born African – for the longest of times felt like a life sentence to struggle. Is there any good thing that can come out Africa, the God-forsaken continent?

Africans themselves, at least before their lives were interrupted by the crusaders, took no part in creating this perception of themselves, of their continent.

The confusing phenomenon occurred of a visitor who comes to your home and forms a view about your home that becomes so entrenched that you actually lose control of not only a perception of yourself or your continent, you lose the continent itself; you lose your home.

It pains me to think that when I want to upgrade my education, I don’t think of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University or the University of Cairo, institutions that for more than 1000 years have stood as beacons of learning and African advancement.

It pains me to think that, subconsciously, I still look to the West as the better part of the world; that Africa, the space that I now occupy, remains aspirational in what it could give me.

What happened to you, Africa, what happened to your vigour, what happened to your promise?

I know this to be true: that before the Chinese had their own world adventure, before the cities of Greece were even formed, Rome was still a millennium away, ancient Egypt was already the beacon of the world’s civilisation.

Not only Egypt. Many African cities were already part of the world civilisation.

We have to regain our pride and who we are.

It is true that empires don’t last forever. Even Rome fell; such is the nature of empires. But the destruction is never such that its glory cannot be recognised so that history itself is recreated anew, leaving a people’s heritage scattered and irretrievable from the reservoirs of history

The story of Africa, at least today, feels incapable of going back beyond colonialism.

The level of damage of colonialism is so deep that it has crippled us to the point of it becoming our beginning. Colonialism scarred Africa for all time and denied rights and opportunities to her children. The cold war, which treated Africa as a proxy, a playground of settling European scores without regard for Africa’s own aspirations, destroyed the African fibre.

When I think of Africa, I think of a people who have been forced to take their circumstance, their struggle, the dwindling towns and faded villages, the urban slums, and repackage it as what is unique about them, so that tourists flock our shores in search for this that they call African authenticity.

They want to go to Soweto and not Sandton, they want to go to Gugulethu, not Camps Bay, for that is Africa to them.

Africa is almost forced to embrace her shame, to clothe herself in her wretchedness. It is what the world wants to see. It is what the world wants to pay to behold and marvel.

Can Africa reclaim an unknown glory? Can Africans see themselves as a royal priesthood, princes and princesses; cast away the shame of being dominated; the struggle, poverty, pain. Are we able to rise above the drama and believe in who we once were? Where is the African mythology – Shaka Zulu, Nefertiti, – that can help us treat ourselves, treat each other, with the royal hand of kings and queens?

What then becomes the value of an African life? What can Africa give to her children to restore faith in her, to restore pride in themselves? How can Africa restore its glory, a glory that is today almost imaginary in its form: Africa my beginning, Africa my end.

Can Africa compete with the mighty elephant in the room, Eurocentrism, which still looms large in her shores.

What of African mothers who will pay anything to ensure that their children are admitted to European-orientated schools? What of the invisible high premium placed on high levels of assimilation, the speech, the dress code, the demeanour that – depending on your levels of assimilation – may guarantee you a certain rise up the food chain.

Would a young, unemployed man in the townships believe me when I tell him he is an heir to a weighty legacy, that on his shoulders lies the responsibility of an African kingdom?

What can I say to a young cocoa-skinned girl who claims to be an individual with a right to shape her life as she pleases, even as that shape takes a deep European tone? What can I tell her about an Africa that was once the envy of the world? Will she believe me?

I know this to be true. Our inability to rescue Africa out of history is the reason we cannot see each other in the light that once shined upon us. It is the reason for Rwanda. It’s the reason for Sudan. It is the reason for the Democratic Republic of Congo, the loss of Sierra Leone. And, I dare say, it is the reason for South Africa and its ability to inflict pain to other fellow Africans.

We are like prodigal sons living wretched lives, having lost any sense of who they once were.

We were kings once.

And yet, maybe that African story is lost to us forever. Maybe all we can ever remember is who we became: the wretched of the earth, slaves, prisoners, gardeners and domestic workers; people whose humanity has never been fully embraced; people who could never be given their full humanity.

Sometimes you feel like going around the country – from faded villages to big cities with bright lights, – asking every black person you meet: “How do you really feel about yourself, about other black people?”

There will unlikely be a feeling of kings and queens, of princes and princesses, the royal priesthood that we once were. Most likely there will be those who have reduced their sense of worth to the size of their material wealth, and those who have broken themselves down in the name of poverty.

Africa, what happened to your vigour, what happened to your promise?

And here, maybe Africa is at a crossroads. If we cannot retrieve our glorious past from the books of history, if we are so broken we are incapable of believing whatever little we are able to find, are we capable of making a new future? Are we capable of creating an African dream.

Nelson Mandela once said: “I dream of an Africa which is at peace with itself.” I dare say Madiba went on to spend every inch of his God-given talent to make that dream a reality.

What is the Africa of your dreams? How would you define your African dream?

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