Metamorphous Agents in the African Universe

The indegenous non-westernised African cares not much for the significance of celestial bodies. It’s clear from where the sun rises every morning and where it sets. It’s clear whether it’s a full moon or it’s half or a crescent. But he makes no clear connection between these objects and an evolving universe. There was never a sun god or a moon god in any African tribal theological constructs. Instead, concerntration was on immediate surroundings – the trees, the rivers, the sea, the animals and rocks etc. In fact they believed in something which could be immedietely experienced such as peace, love, success, fertility, health and they had gods of such attributes. We could say that everything in African world at the time was a social construct. Objectivity was still subject to interpretations.

Mythologies, fables and fairy tales involving animal characters informs us that our ancestors sensed a connection between humans and animals long before genetics descovered that. Their actions guided by animalistic totems implied that they viewed the animal society as an extension of the human society. All organisms are possessed by a life force called ‘spirit’. Spirits could take possesion of anything they desired. Even today the typical indegenous African considers certain animals as an embodiment of spirits or higher ancestral beings. A bird standing at the window could be an anamorphous spirit agent visiting the family and carrying a message. Ofcourse this notion is completely fallacious to the scientific mind but there are interesting observations similar to those supplied by the theory of evolution. This concerns the metamorphosis of organisms. Whereas Darwin’s theory claims that phylogenesis is gradual and takes millions of years, our ancestors believed such transformations are instantaneous. But bottom line is transformations do occur.

These ideas extend even to what we call the world of ancestors, the netherworld or hades or the grave which we all dread. To the African the world of the dead is not far. It’s like a basement or an area below the deck of the ship of existence which one could shuffle anytime in a spiritual sense. Therefore our dead ancestors are not believed to be really dead, they have just changed form from physical to spiritual. The spiritual forms the substructure for the physical. The interesting thing is that these ancestors do not wait to rise in the future and save the living. Instead, they rise everyday, they metamorphose into other creatures everyday, they aid and guide the living everyday. A cat, a bird or a lizard or even a beetle etc. are not just animals one could disregard and exterminate. They are all metamorphous agents having a connection to humans. As someone who likes nature I find this concept more inspiring.

Why do African universities teach Kant as a “moral philosopher?”

Immanuel Kant as a moral philosopher? Please tell me this is a joke. What moral precepts did he contribute to the molding of the African personality, consciousness and existence? Would you label someone who called you an ox, who said you should be driven apart with thrashings a moral philosopher?  Yet this is what Kant said of Black Africans.

Worst still, would you take someone seriously if he wrote voluminously about how married couples should relate to each other when in fact he himself never had the courage to marry? Kant may be a giant in European philosophy, fair enough why shouldn’t he be, but to teach one concept and live the other is unethical.

One enters the department of philosophy in a typical African university and they are teaching Kant, Hegel, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Descartes etc. The irony in all this epistemological blunders is that there are probably more sages in Africa than there are elsewhere. Why not primarily teach the aphorisms of African sages as African philosophy. Wouldn’t that be more plausible and logical and even meritorious to Africa?

Cleptocracy, Kakistocracy and Elite Capture in Africa

Although this post is specifically about Ghana, most African nations share same problems associated with governance and economic development. The term elite capture simply describes a situation where resources designated for the benefit of the larger population are usurped by a few individuals of superior status –be it economic, political, educational, ethnic, or otherwise. Typically, individuals or groups take advantage of government programs aimed at distributing resources or funds to the general public by using their elite influence to direct such assistance in such a way that it primarily benefits the elite group. In some cases it benefits their own associates, family members or friends. Cleptocracy on the other hand, is a rule by thieves and Kakistocracy is a rule by the most unqualified or the morally corrupt in society.

Ghana is a country of make-believe. Even little kids acquire this instinct of crafting lies for no apparent reason. The entire society is organised around  speculations, superstitions and farcical ideas. Facts and truths have no grip on the Ghanaian mind. The quickest and most effective way of influencing the Ghanaian is through music, the least effective is through the written word. Books influence only a thin stratum of intellectuals. The politicians know the people so well that during every election all the major political parties compose music that plays countless times on the airwaves. They know that the average man or woman on the street is not really interested in lengthy manifestos. Just give them music and entertainment. Added to this is the problem of ethnocentrism. You can visit a typical Ghanaian organisation and notice that almost everyone in a particular office, unit or department belong to one tribe. And when tribal affiliations set in there is absolutely no room for reason.

The most corrupt people in Ghana and Africa for that matter, also happen to be the elite class, most with doctorates. They form the core of the cleptocrats. Their luxurious lifestyles often cost the state more than necessary but nobody takes any action to stop this lunacy. Let me explain that a PhD in Ghana does not necessarily mean the holder has contributed anything to the field of knowledge. Here, a certificate simply designates a title. The worst mistake one can ever make as a subordinate is to try to report an allegedly corrupt official to one’s overall boss. One will be reporting to the ‘thief executive officer’ and thereby identifying oneself as a traitor in the organisation. This can cost you a promotion or salary increment etc considering that firing a public servant in Ghana is not a straight forward procedure. The thieves, supported by the ignorant masses, continue to rule in Africa.

Intellectualism and Pseudo-Intellectualism

I looked up the definition of ‘intellectual’ after I was labelled by some co-bloggers as indulging in ‘false intellectualism.’ I didn’t know what that phrase meant, neither did I think anyone could successfully pretended to be intelligent or clever without ultimately making a fool out of himself. Intelligence is inborn – arising from the genes, so it’s either one knows something based one’s experience or one simply does not know. Moreover, I don’t blog to prove anything to anyone, truth is self evident. I just blog because I love to share my thoughts and ideas.

The dictionary came up with the following definitions:

Intellectual: Of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind. 

Intellectual: Possessing or showing intellect or mental capacity, especially to a high degree.

Intellectual: Appealing to or using the intellect or a person who uses the mind creatively.

Intellectualism (philosophy): The doctrine that knowledge is acquired by reason alone without resort to experience

Of the last definition which could easily pass for truth, I nonetheless disagree with that philosophical doctrine. I believe all knowledge is derived from sensory perception and therefore from experience. But it is the intellect that discloses the true meaning of an experience and sends the message to the individual. Without the experience or stimuli, there will be no message. Even with much experience, the message could be weak.

If someone writes a good essay or a poem or an article, is he not using his or her  mind creatively? Is that not an intellectual activity. So what at all do they mean by pseudo-intellectualism? Do we need to acquire PhDs in order to confer intellectualism on ourselves, because I know people who have acquired doctorates but apart from their dissertation, they have not written even a pamphlet. They simply sit in lousy offices and enforce unexplainable rules. Being an intellectual is not something that is inherited through degrees. One is born with it and it’s exhibited from childhood and probably only validated through high academic qualifications. Even then the biggest problems of this world were solved and are continuously being solved by people who did not even have any definitive education. That’s probably why the Academia is now, more than ever, admittable of people who can demonstrate practical knowledge of a field but without necessary certification. Misdirected education is a waste of time but it also doesn’t mean dropping out of college and putting the cart before the horse. That is regrettable.

Maybe my critics will label me differently once I complete my masters degree and inform them to that effect. But…wait a minute! maybe it’s not about my education. People who call me pseud-intellectual may actually be doing so because I am a black African living in the jungles of Africa – I am not supposed to discern much or speak with an intellectual or rational voice. Is that right? Well, here is the good thing: I am quite impervious to criticisms – in fact I welcome them.

“Beasts of No Nation”

“Beasts of No Nation” is a 2015 feature film co-produced by and starring Idris Elba. It was shot mainly in Ghana. It seems to me in this modern times, that for a movie to be critically acclaimed it must have at least one of these three ingredients – sex, drugs or violence. Apart from the violence it portrays, the film together with many other similar ones like “Blood Diamonds” further damages Africa’s image by reinforcing the negative perception that people have about Africa.

The supposed beasts which the movie talks about turned out to be black Africans – child soldiers chanting, shooting civilians, throwing bombs and making a mockery of their own culture and traditions. This is what the average outsider already believes about Africa – a continent filled with bullets and bombs flying about in all directions – a dark continent where travelers and investors enter at their own risk. But is this really the whole story? Do people who have actually been to Africa give such accounts?

Many countries in Africa have never experienced civil war and are very peaceful yet rarely will a foreign film portray anything akin to that. Although living conditions in Africa, like anywhere else are not perfect, most African communities are very united and peaceful and typical African youths rarely do drugs. Suppose it was a movie portraying any city life in Africa, then of course we know every city in this world has its fair share of thuggery and violence – which is even something localized not continent wide.

Most people speak well of the artistic direction of “Beasts of No Nation” and I also think it’s really good, even better than “Blood Diamonds” but those who researched and wrote the story did not dig deep. There was violence and hooliganism in almost every scene. I guess it was all about commercial appeal and the box office, but not to correct any misconceptions about Africa although Idris Elba is a Sierra Leonean – Ghanaian by ancestry. I do perfectly understand the commercial appeal part of the whole project because the biggest challenge to filmmaking now is funding.

 

 

A Visit To The Past

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A recent visit to a local antiquity shop has changed my perspective about the human existence. I mean it’s one thing to see ancient art and antiquity in magazines, newspapers, on television or even on the web and it’s quite another to stand in the same room with objects purported to have been used by our ancestors over half a millennia. This is simply overwhelming – bronze masks, wooden pestles, bowls and spoons, fertility dolls, tables, chains used to bind slaves, statuettes in the form of animals – these are not only expensive art pieces but also the crudest of their kind. The most compelling stories are often imprinted on domestic objects, such as wooden spoons or ladles or beds which, from looks, were obviously hand fashioned.

Anyone of African descent or anyone with an interest in Africa should have the time to visit Africa and see these things. Sometimes an artifact can tell a thousand tales at once. These objects that I saw have both historical and sentimental value; tears well up when an attendant showed me the chains in which slaves were shackled and sent to the land of doom. The slave trade has such great lessons for the black race. If only we knew what went on in the dungeon in Cape Coast, if only we knew how many slaves were thrown overboard either because they were ill or attempted a rebellion, we would read and read and employ ourselves to learning how the world works. But sadly these things are not even taught in African schools today. It is very unfortunate that I couldn’t take any photographs because notices were clearly affixed to the walls that said photography was not allowed inside.

One of the questions which has repeatedly been raised by art critics in the western world is that indigenous African art is not understandable or rather difficult to understand. I first heard of this as an art student attending a colloquium hosted locally by a delegation from New York University, in I think, 2007. The main point of my discourse is this: One fails to understand art unless one can look at it from the perspective of the artist or unless one shares a common archetype or experience with the artist. Art gives clues to some basic truths about life although it itself doesn’t lead to the truth.

When you look at a wooden fertility doll of any of the tribes of Africa, you will not see anything realistic. The proportions are unreal, the figures themselves look stiff and highly symbolic and most body parts are not fully designated except those which the carver wants to draw attention to. This is because the artist is not interested in simply replicating nature. He is creating the doll for a purpose, not simply for decoration. Consider the following dolls from different parts of the world and you will notice similarities in anatomy- they all emphasize feminine features. These crude figurines tell the observer that different ideas about life developed in different places at the same time.

“Venus or woman of Willendorf” (Named after the site in Austria where it was unearthed)

Steatopygous Idol from ancient Greece

Steatopygous Idol from ancient Greece. Also probably a fertility doll.

Fertility statue of the Akan tribe of Africa

Wooden fertility statue of the Akan tribe of Africa

African fertility dolls are mostly used for performance of  rituals usually for young girls when they reach puberty. The doll usually has feminine qualities such as breasts, hips and buttocks emphasized, like all three images above and of course this creates what the western critic will call distortion or irrationalism to which I completely agree. But art expresses the inner significance of things not the outer (Aristotle, 384-322 BC). Unlike the Corinthian statues of Zeus or Aphrodite which are realistic and life size, African art is highly symbolic and symbolism is the end product of imagination. Look at the Akuaba fertility doll and you get to know how the artist was feeling and thinking the whole time and the purpose to which the doll will be put. Moreover the doll itself was considered a good luck charm for barren women desirous of children, so it solves an emotional problem in the larger cultural context. In conclusion, the art forms of Africa are a tool, an aid to everyday living. The purpose or use is of higher priority than mere beauty and this why they appear symbolic or even bizarre. There is no logic but there is truth – emotional truth.

 

Only Africans Can Help Africa

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What is all this noise I hear about Ebola eventually wiping out half of Sub-Saharan Africans? Has bribery, corruption and negligence not already done that? The hypocrisy is just unbearable for me. I was born in Africa, I have seen the evil effects of corruption, in fact I have lived the consequence and I tell you that corruption and bribery has killed more people in Africa than Ebola and HIV combined. Only that Ebola takes, about 21 days whereas corrupting takes a longer time and often death counts are not documented.

The higher animals lie in Jacuzzis and drink champagne every morning. But they are trying to tell us not to eat bush meat, not to have sex and even to avoid getting close with friends. These are the only things left for the enjoyment of the rural masses. Now fear nothing my brothers and sisters. We shall soon find a cure for Ebola – I have already sensed it.

But what of our other brothers of the human family who are dying slowly in prisons, in mines, in war zones, in stuffy factories etc because of circumstances beyond their control. Is that also not about the same death? what about the little children who suffer malnutrition, mothers who die of childbirth complications and fathers who not only die this day but every other day out of penury. Why are we ignoring that? Corruption and bribery is as much an emergency as Ebola. The 3000 troops of the United States Africa Command to be sent to Liberia is not only good for controlling and possibly eliminating the Ebola virus but also good for treating corrupt politicians who more or less are like viruses.

Every minute, perhaps second, some greedy-son-of-a-bitch somewhere is pocketing funds meant for the development of rural communities. But alas! There is hope in reality, in as much as everything – good or bad – happens for a reason. An aid to African people can only penetrate through local self-help projects and recognized non-governmental organisations. A frontal assistance through central governments will fail utterly in reaching the masses.

Monies will always disappear into deep strange pockets and no one will be arrested, even in the face of documented evidence. I always wonder why International aid agencies are not trying other strategies to help solve African problems at the roots. Moreover, let a son or a daughter of a politician be infected with the Ebola virus and you will see how swift actions will be taken without any international assistance. Honestly speaking, all these prove that either we are not capable, or we are capable but lack the willpower of handling our own affairs.

The vast majority of people – ordinary citizens of most west African countries are only as good as cattle to their governments. The “cattle farmer” saves them from Ebola, Cholera, Malaria, HIV, whatever, only to reattach the yoke and resume his ride. Indeed, these people  need not only be freed completely from diseases but also bad policies and African vampire-politicians. Bottom line is that only Africans can truly help Africa.

Conflicts, Moral Judgments and The African Situation

As long as men need food, wine and women there will always be wars. Since ancient times, bloody wars are always fought to eliminate the children of the devil and save the children of god and as I said earlier, these wars are fought by men – men with flesh and blood, not gods. The genocides that rocked the African continent in the past are well known throughout the world – that of the Hutus and the Tutsis of Rwanda, the two Sudans, the Ivorian and Kenyan electoral massacres, the Congo, Somalia and many others, you name them. International news agencies, like hungry vultures, are always scavenging for something about Africa – something horrific that they can publish to console themselves that they are better off.

This destruction of the African image has an intellectual start point. It begun with writers such as Lord F.W.D. Lugard, Joseph Conrad and many others who in their books and sermons implied that the African was merely an animal. But thanks to Darwin, at least we know now, that we all share a common ancestor. Never has any African made a big show of taking human life with the sole aim of sending a message to those he considers his enemies. Africans in the past have fought for economic and political reasons, but never for religious reasons (W. Soyinka, 2006). Indeed, in as much as I would like to avoid Africa’s colonial past, there is a story which I wish to narrate to illustrate my point. It is a story of how the purported animals fought alongside the gods and in the end realised that their colonial masters are not gods at all. And that they are capable of sustaining fractures should they be punched in the rib or chest or even on the nose.

During the Second World War many brave African soldiers voluntarily enrolled in the British army. The English-speaking African colonies automatically became British allies. The African soldiers were also promised better wages, benefits and general improvement in living conditions. This encouraged them and alas! As the bombs flew in – whew! BOOM! Black men fought ferociously alongside white men, if not to the astonishment of the whites. Flesh and bones of black and white alike were scattered everywhere on the battle field and in the end the enemy forces were driven back. This was how we came to know that the colonial masters were not gods at all and that was the beginning of the demand for equality, justice and self-governance. Lord Lugard himself admitted in his book, that, he (the African) is not naturally cruel but has the courage of the fighting animal.

But after the war, the promises were not honored and this led to riots and the subsequent shooting and killing of three Black army officers. This happened in I think 1949, but let’s not dwell too much on race and the African past. The big question is: why is Africa the way it is today and what is the way forward. By all means our leaders have failed us. I cannot blame the woes of Africa on any individual, nation or international organization but the lame leaders, whom we the people have ignorantly elected. These politicians always expect to be spoon-fed by IMF and World Bank.

I am convinced that the political process cannot produce any remarkable leader. Most African politicians lack a clear vision and their philosophy is that of Carpe Diem. In other words, enjoy the moment. Individuals can enjoy the moment but communities and nations have perpetual existence and therefore they cannot settle solely for the enjoyment of the moment. African leaders sign long-term loan agreements without taking interest rates into consideration. Many do not thoroughly read the contracts themselves. And then many years later, the poor peasant and market woman is made to labour hard and pay back those loans in the form of taxes. Until we begin to elect businessmen as leaders, we will continue to suffer.

A few weeks ago there were reports that Ebola patients in Sierra Leone or rather Liberia, I cannot recall correctly, have been forcefully freed by their relatives. I am sure many westerners will yawn again and say “O, these Africans, what the hell is going on with them? Don’t they want to be cured? Well let me tell you something my friend. The fact that people are sick and possibly going die doesn’t mean they must be held hostage and treated like a herd of cattle. I am not at all defending the irrational behavior of those relatives but humans as we are, we are social beings and an irrational or unreasonable policy along one arc of the circle of life produces an equally irrational response at the opposite end. Yes, people suffering from any deadly disease must be quarantined but under humane conditions until the last day of their breath.

International news stories are just summaries – black and white, you never get to know about the grey areas. It is possible that these patients were simply barricaded in a corner somewhere, waiting to die. If my parents or spouse or a close friend had been put in a confinement, without any further explanation as to what the next line of action is, and on top that, many of those confined continue to die day in day out. Did you think the right thing to do is just sit there and support your chin with palms? It was a case of helplessness. Doctors and medical practitioners can sometimes be stingy with information. And where there is scanty information assumptions rule.

Africa has not always been treated fairly. If five people die of HIV, Cholera or Ebola, the researchers simply extrapolate and conclude that thousands will die in the next two or five years. They don’t even have the courtesy to prefix their figures with the word “approximately”. Very funny statistics and research findings you know. When I was in high school thereabout, there were reports in the international media, of HIV infections that implied (considering the statistics they provided) that the disease will wipe out entire generations of Africans in the next decade or so. Are we dead? At that time we were all asked to wear condoms even if we had no intention of having sex and I was a celibate then (honestly) – saving myself for that special person.

You will be shocked to know that only few people were accurately diagnosed because back then, there were no reliable tests for the disease – the kit available tested only for high levels of antibodies in the patient’s bloodstream which they thought was indicative of HIV. One tested positive if one had large antibodies count, which could also be as a result of prolonged malaria which many mistook to be HIV; until a more reliable testing method was invented many years later. It is possible to go through all the meticulous scientific processes and at the end, still make a mistake. Mankind is a spiritual being.

The fact remains though, that, Africa has been used and desolated by all humanity. But should we Africans break down in tears? I say no. We cannot blame history, we cannot blame evolution. Why I am saying all this? It is because Africans, as retarded and uncivilized as we are branded, we cannot, “tufia kwa!”, – even the least educated or evolved African cannot behead another human in such a crude manner and afterwards, make a big show of it. I am obviously not an American but a murderer in one corner of the world is a murderer everywhere.

And they stopped their ears and ran upon him with one accord and cast him out of the city and stoned him: And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

                                                                                                         – RIP James Foley.

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The stoning of Stephen in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”