This post follows on from my pieces on the way in which Africa is perceived as inherently problematic and spoken of as inherently negative. Many discussions of Africa are full of stereotypes and so very trope- heavy. And we often ignore the impact this has had on African people. We must never forget Africa’s people.
The focus of this post is really on the complicity of the academe, both in Africa and outside it, in the misrepresentation of Africa. As academics, we are often unaware, or we discount the vile uses and abuses to which our disciplines have been put. By failing to account for these uses, we allow abuses to evolve, reform, morph and exist in plain sight, apparently benign but inherently malicious. This means that we study Africa without accounting for how the image and idea of Africa as a dark continent was created as a justification for large scale robbery. Thus a lot of current study of Africa examines the states of Africa only as they are now. We examine the states as if they were organic and not violently created. As if their existence is not a scar of perpetual and persistent violence. We study African states in isolation. Not examining how they came to be. And how the forces that caused the coming about have not been overwhelmed or dispersed or unveiled or even acknowledged. How the coming about is still about. So we look at the puppet and not the puppeteer. We study the ripples and not the stones, not the water itself. We study the ripples. Not the water. Under which the bodies lie. Of Africa’s lost people. We must never forget Africa’s people.
Any study of Africa that only studies the failure of African states is not a study of Africa. Any study of Africa that only studies lines on the ground is a study of the ripples. Just the ripples. Not the water. Not the people. It is a study of the pestilence without naming the pestilence, a study of scars on the soul and on the ground without questioning what put them there. And who is affected by them. It is a study of the aftershocks of the earthquake. Not the earthquake or its effect on people. It ignores the context of the catastrophe. We do not question what came before. We do not question how we came to be here. So we cannot move on. We are trapped in an ideological moment. We are trapped by ripples. We are trapped by a declaration of statehood that does not create statehood. We study the confinement without studying confinement. Immutably trapped by fluidity.
I think the real question here is, does ‘Africa’ survive colonization? To put it more succinctly, what part of Africa survives the trauma of colonization? What Africa continues to survive the morphing forms of invasion? Is there enough left of Africa for an actual study of Africa? Can Africa be studied without the effects of colonisation? And, if there are any, can these post-traumatic dregs of Africa survive much longer? I think the term ‘survive’ is important here. The scars of the past cannot be rewritten. They are. We survive them. But do the scars overwhelm us? What can be in the present? Transcending the past, transcending the boundaries of modern day plantations? Can Africa yet be reclaimed? I fear that there is a swiftly closing window of opportunity to survive… and then we will be left with ghosts. We will be ghosts. A remnant. A spectral reminder of what was and what could have been but will never be again. An Africa untroubled, unfettered. An Africa free. Free. At last.