Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The year was 1992

The year was 1992, maybe June or July, and I was about 15 years or so. Vacation classes was the ‘in’ thing to do during vacation. Firstly, the fact that my father had agreed for me to attend a vacation class was a surprise in itself. He did not believe in any after school activity. And so every vacation for the past three years, he had refused to sanction or pay for vacation class believing that what I learnt in school during normal school time was enough. Now, I agree with him. I should have used y vacations to learn something vocational, like baking.

Secondly, as a science student, I had no business in a literature class, but my Headmistress had decreed literature as a compulsory subject for everyone in the school under the impression that it made our English better. Now, I truly agree that my incursion into literature, however cursory, did indeed make my English better. 

So I found myself sitting in a literature vacation class. The classroom was a shack, poorly lit and filled with the bodies (and smells) of adolescents on a hot dry day. The poem under discussion was ‘The Vultures’ by David Diop. 

‘In those days when civilisation kicked us in the face,
when holy water slapped our cringing brows,
The vultures built in the shadows of their claws,
The bloodstained momunents of tutelage…’

And for the first time, I was taught about the woes of colonialism. Who were the vultures? And why did David Diop say that civilisation ‘kicked’ us in the face? Wasn’t civilisation supposed to be a good thing? My teacher spoke about how the colonialists had come with the bible ‘…the monotonous rhythm of the paternoster’ and used it as a ploy to bleed our land ‘…drowned the howling on the plantations’. He spoke about what the white man had done to our women ‘…sour memories of extorted kisses’, and destroyed our lands and cities with war ‘…promises mutilated by machine gun blasts’.

As he went on and on, I felt as if I was the only one in the room. Every word he spoke felt so personal to me. I felt as I have never felt before. It was as if I was a reliving the age of slavery and colonisation all that my ancestors had gone through. I felt violated and used as an African.
Then the end of the poem leaves us with ‘…hope living in us as a citadel and ‘…spring will put on flesh under our steps of light’. 

At the end of the class, I had become an Africanist. I didn’t know what to call it then, I had no one to speak to about it, but I felt deep in me , a change, an awakening and a realisation that I had to do something in my lifetime to ensure that the prophecy in the poem is fulfilled and my continent liberated.

What struck me most was that, at that point in my life, I had no one to speak to about what I was feeling. No one understood that a poem titled ‘the vultures’ had changed my life forever. This is poignant for all the youth who have strayed into the wrong ideologies. 

Several years ago, as an adult, I attended a workshop where are the participants were complaining that the African youth do not have an ideology. There is nothing that holds them to Africa and therefore they are in a hurry to migrate, lighten their skins, straighten their hair and listen to American movies. Our education has forgotten our history, our African-ness and the future we hope for ourselves. Education only constantly bombards us with the history of the Assyrians and the Egyptians and maybe, once in a while, on Independence day, depending on which party is in power, we learn about Kwame Nkrumah. 

Even the story of the 24th February shooting is missing from our history books. What about the role of Nii Kwabena Bonne and the setting up of the Watson Commission? What about Patrice Lumumba, Empress Taitu and her role in the battle of Adwa or  Dedan Kimathi and the Mau Mau revolution?  I had to find my ideology myself and this really happened in University. This ideology is afrocentric. Believing in the power of the African to manage her own affairs and to liberate herself from the shackles of the past and to write our own story.

The vacuum of lack of ideologies for African youth to latch on to alternative ideologies such as Boko Haram and ISIS. In the eventual analysis, these are all ideologies of liberation and profess the truth but their methodologies and means are seriously unorthodox. 

In these recent times, the African union is doing a lot to make pan Africanism more real to African youth with their ‘I am African’ message and the Agenda 2063. There is a lot more to be done and I wish them all the best.