What Were We Capable Of?

A student once shared an interesting anecdote about his travel to Rwanda where he noted that the word “genocide” existed only in French translation and none in Kinyarwanda. By this, he surmised that genocide was not an African concept.

Once again, here’s a fallacy of assuming that just because something has no definitive word in an African language, it proves that concept did not exist. This is usually an argument a lot of fundamentalist Africanists like to make. And we know fundamentalism is hugely problematic when it comes to facts.

We who wish to redeem our history from its falsification and devaluation have a hard time accepting that pre-intervention Africans could be just as cruel as any other race. Mfecane was an African genocide that killed a reported 1 to 2 million. It was carried out by an African war general, one of the greatest that ever lived on the face of the earth. Shaka of Zulu.

We were great, yes. Before the Arabs and the Europeans depleted our people, invaded our lands, and crushed our memory, we had institutions, kingdoms and chieftaincies that had grown and flourished for thousands of years. This is a historical fact, not a feel-good baseless assertion.

White archeologists who have excavated ancient fallen cities in Africa will tell you Africans were technologically way ahead, their work with metallurgy and terracotta art giving evidence of an advanced technology at least 2000 years BCE. The now acknowledged Swahili (Wangozi) architecture shows advanced creativity and calculation that still stands thousands of years later.

We were there. We were once indomitable. We had a headstart in great achievements and institutional structuring of life. We were also human, susceptible to greed and power and earthly glitters. Kings who became human deities and made cruelty a governing policy helped weaken our own advanced societies.

We became easy pickins for foreign invasion with whom we were already trading. Yes, European guns and gunpowder helped take us out too. In spite of Africa’s advances in metallurgy, it seems gunpowder eluded us, barring any evidence to the contrary. If I hold your life at the crook of my trigger finger, I rule.

Early European invaders were awed by Africa, took what we had and later stashed it in their museums, destroyed most institutions, and stole the very soul of Africans. But it took hundreds of years for the center to finally cave in. It didn’t all happen in one swoop during colonization, which happens to be the point we tend to start teaching the history of Africa for those of us who grew up on the Continent; or slavery which is the point where African history tends to start for those stolen away.

Slowly however, more scholarship on pre-intervention African civilization going back 3000 to 5000 BCE is coming to the mainstream study. It is not too popular with those who control the industry of world education because it upsets the idea of European supremacy.

We built our territories to awesome heights and significantly contributed to our own eventual downfall. All empires fall mainly from self-inflicted wounds. We have to figure out our own rising. By no means will it look like pre-invasion Africa. It will have a blend of new cultures that have become Us. There is no escaping the integration of human societies, whether willingly or forcefully achieved. Strategic transition into new identities is where a people’s empowerment lies.

If we should rise again, we must be acutely aware of our greatest weapon – our humanity. The ability to value each other as Africans is the weapon that will lead us to a necessary continental power structuring, whatever that will look like.

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