11 August 2016

Africa: A Journey to Harness African Wisdom

Photo: allafrica.com
Some of the ethnic peoples of Ethiopia.
opinion

One of Addis Ababa University's halls, dedicated to former South African freedom fighter and president Nelson Mandela, hosted the creation of African Dignity Forum last July. Seasoned scholars from various African academia participated in the creation of this essential institution. The forum which aimed at restoring African Dignity through African Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) passed important declarations in its concluding session.

Africa is a hub of diversity with life tasted knowledge systems, and it is important to exploit this wealth appropriately. Some call it traditional wisdom, others call it indigenous or local knowledge. Anyone may agree with the fact that expressions which appear in dichotomy, such as indigenous/exotic, traditional/modern..., are problematic in their nature. These expressions are usually applied to black culture in general and African culture in particular. For decades, Africa has suffered from the gruelling burdens and the prejudices stuffed in the baggage of such expressions. And the only way of relieving the burdens and prejudices always appears to be coming from substituting African culture with that of Western under the pretext of modernity. Most people, if not all, would think that expressions such as "indigenous", "local", "ancient" or "traditional" are not functioning well. For them, expressions such as modern and exotic have been put at the top of the ladder as they are universally functioning. This writer prefers to substitute IKS with African knowledge systems. But it has to be noted that its scope of application is only limited to this piece.

Restoring African dignity through African Knowledge systems needs to be different from eyeing to sit and dine on the master's table as Frantz Fanon said it in one of his seminal books, Black Skin, White Masks. For him dignity is "about being oneself with all the multiplicities, systems and contradictions of one's own ways of being, doing and knowing". From this it follows that when we say African knowledge systems it refers to a way of doing things according to the context of the place.

The claim above seems to cry out for justification. Let's see it in the following example. A moderator on one event requested participants to come to the event wearing formal clothes for the next day as a Very Important Person (VIP) was to visit them. It was in a hot season in May when the temperature of the place peaks to forty degree centigrade particularly in the afternoons. Please excuse this writer for shying away from naming the place. The next day, almost all participants came with a suit and a tie. This is arguably a fact that speaks for itself as "formal" way of doing things may not be appropriate in particular contexts. However, when that scorching temperature started to wave, people had to throw away their ties, coats and even their shirts. And Mr. Hot temperature forced them to be in what the moderator might have called it "informal" dressing. The example carries truth pertaining to the laden force of the exotic culture.

Present day Africa and Africans are still long miles away from the cultural fabric which the forefathers woven. The education system, healthcare, reckoning time, language, religion and similar knowledge systems have been left only for people who are fascinated by antiquity studies. African institutions that were on a natural metamorphosis had been aborted before they become full-fledged instruments. Africans thus have to depend on Western epistemology and ontology which colonial regimes loaded on their back. This long annihilation from African knowledge systems, which is aggravated by many other factors, has created a greasy pole making improvements so sluggish.

The Forum, if it stands firm on its feet with the right support of African governments, can continue being an intellectual hub which unload the burdens and ultimately harness African knowledge systems. One giant monster that scare African institutions to death is finance. It is finance that builds the tooth and arm of this African institution to help it stand stronger in the battle against the prevailing hegemony. Otherwise, it will obviously be only a roaring lion. It is clear that "Self-reliance" and "Africa financing its own development" are crucial components of Agenda 2063 of the AU as well.

Let us hope that the institution would tighten every loose ends and would come to fruit. Let us hope that Addis Ababa will once again register its fame in golden inks in history for hosting the creation of the Forum. The metaphoric aspect of the creation of this institution in Addis Ababa seems to be immense. It was here that a black freedom torchbearer decision, to fight Italian colonial army, had been reached hence enabled to defeat imperialism at the battle of Adwa. Again, about fifty years ago, most African independent leaders convened here to form the OAU (Organization of African Unity) which is the precursor of the African Union (AU). Would it be too hyperbolic if we state Addis is at the heart of what the great Homer described Ethiopia 800BC in his epic poem Iliad "Zeus is at Ocean's river with Ethiopians, feasting, he and all the Heaven-dwellers"? May be not! And these things not only describe Ethiopia and its capital but Africa and its diplomatic heart.

The Forum has, therefore, taken enough energy from a firm launching pad. Indeed, there are hopes and challenges ahead of it.

All people deserve dignity. But Africans are still deprived of their dignity. There are also some people who look Africans down their noses. This is not fictitious. And this is not the misconceptions of ordinary people. The US 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump's understanding about Africa and Africans is one case in point. Prof. Samuel Kale Ewusi, Africa regional programme- United Nations mandated University for Peace (UPEACE) on the opening of Forum quoted Trump's misinformed sentences and criticized him for what Trump said "Africans are lazy fools only good at eating, lovemaking and thuggery. These are the people America doesn't need". It is misinformed derogation on many accounts.

When one sees such derogation, he/she clearly sees how challenging the journey would become. Thus, doing this toughest job requires unity; it reminds us one African proverb: "Cross the river in crowd, the crocodiles won't eat you". Hence, we Africans need to harness our African Knowledge Systems for peace, unity and to do the best for this and future generations. More practical actions are expected in the next course of the Forum, practical actions which changes the lives of people at a grass-root level, actions need not to remain on papers and with the academic circles--as this writer believes.

It is time for Africans to position themselves on the right place in international institutions. Africa, which is home for a billion of people, is not still on the permanent table of UN Security Council. Can the world speak of fairness while such discrimination is happening in the 21st century? This speaks for itself as the world is still away from valuing human species at an equal level. Consequently, Africans and their continental institutions including AU have to work round the clock to give a final blow for discrimination.

In his inspiring speech Prof. Samual Kale mentioned this metaphor about African women: "The African slave carried on her shoulders, producing in her and the rest a condition which, in itself, contests any assertion that she is capable of initiative, creativity, individuality, and entrepreneurship. Its weight dictates that she will never straighten her back and thus discover that she is as tall as the slave master." And he concluded saying, "an essential and necessary element of the African Dignity is that we all must take it as our task to encourage she, who carries this leaden weight, to rebel, to assert the principality of her humanity and her dignity and we do today- the fact that she, in the first instance, is not a beast of burden, but a human and African being."

The Forum also moved to action honouring Ethiopia's Prime Minister Haile-Mariam with award of Champion of "African solutions for African Problems". As cited on the event the political commitment of Ethiopia to host this important forum is among the top reasons for the award. Sudanese President Omar Hassen Al-Bashir was also awarded with Champion of African Dignity for resisting international hegemony.

Ethiopia

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