Advancing Our Proud Continent

by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante

Published 10/1/2004

(First Published in City Press, October, 2004)

IN Dakar, Senegal five hundred intellectuals from Africa and the diaspora participated in the AU meeting.The African heads of state and intellectuals referring to the legacies of heroes such as Zumbi of Brazil, Yanga of Mexico, Nat Turner of the US and Nanny of Jamaica, spoke with vigour and enthusiasm about the possibilities of an African renaissance. We had come together to see how African intellectuals could envision the future.

We wanted to know how Africa could embrace the courageous efforts of African Venezuelans, African Brazilians, African Colombians, African Peruvians, and others from South and Central America and the Caribbean - in addition to those in North America and Europe.

The word "diaspora" comes from the Greek word "diaspeirein" and it means a dispersion.During the past five hundred years many Africans were scattered all over the world and settled in foreign lands.

The past five hundred years have tested our wills and brought us into contact with avaricious and aggressive cultures that sought to undermine the very basis of our humanity.

It has been our resilience on the continent and in the diaspora that has kept us strong. Like the palm that sways in the storm but does not break, we have taken the blows, the awful, brutal blows of colonialism, enslavement, apartheid - and survived.

Yes, it is true that some of us have been broken, shocked , injured and stunted in our growth by the assaults , but for the most part our resilience has been noble.

While I am on this subject, let me be clear that Africa was not responsible for its own devastation. The enslavement of Africans was not an African initiative. No African state built ships to transport Africans across the oceans. No African state or kingdom ever insured fleets of ships for the slave trade. No African people ever used slavery as a principal mode of production. So we must not allow Europe to set the agenda for the discourse on the enslavement of our people by trying to minimise Europe's role and maximise the role of Africans.

Indeed, there were some Africans that collaborated with the Europeans but they were never the majority nor the initiators of this evil . There were some Jews in the Second World War that collaborated with the Nazis and there were some Africans that collaborated with the South African white regime , but in neither case can we blame the collaborators . They were in many ways victims themselves. Too often, the West has come to dictate the terms of our research, the content of what we study and how we report that content. It must be reported to the West, as they say, the mainstream journals, meaning white European journals. This is a trap our best intellectuals must avoid . If there must be material advantage to scholarship , let Africa set the terms, let the governments of Africa establish the awards that will attract the best minds to work in the interest of Africa.

We must assume an Afrocentric stance on everything that affects Africa. I ask you to question all ideas that are non-African, not to dismiss them for being foreign but to see if they are consistent with our goals and aims. We must all learn to be the people of our ancestors, not the servants of international imperialist masters. This is the source of our victory and the revival of the glory that brings us together with each other. We must talk and we must act. We must harmonise and we must be ready to create chaos in the lives of those who will seek to retain control over African people.

Our intellectuals and politicians must not be allowed to abandon us to the nightmare of the imperialists who seek, even while we sleep, to regain control of Africa through the fundamentalism of anti-African religions.

What we need and I am not the first to suggest this, is an ideology that centres our thinking on Africa itself. Afrocentricity is a quality of thought or action that allows the African person to view himself or herself as an agent and actor in human history, not simply as someone who is acted upon. It gives us a perspective as a subject , not from the margins of being victims or being an object in someone else's world. We are creators, originators and sustainers of our ethics, values and customs. We seek to replace no one, we seek only to be for ourselves as a way of being for the world. Just a simple matter like when we say classical music we must mean our own classical music. European concert music must not assume the principal place in our pantheon of music. We must act like we are owners of ourselves before we can claim our birthright as Africans in the traditions of our ancestors. We must not allow others to define us as outside of history or the world. We must put ourselves firmly into our own experiences. Our political leaders must have good, strong, bold, and loyal intellectual guidance. Loyalty does not imply rubber stamping, but rather an intelligentsia that understands the threat to Africa and is committed to Africa.

We must have a Pan African solidarity with the African world community, a desire for the revitalisation of Africa, a consciousness of victory and some accountability to the objectives of African renaissance if we are to realise African advancement. In l980 the brilliant Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop told me something that I have never forgotten when, in my youthful exuberance, I announced to him that I wanted to devote my career to the defence of Africa. He said, "Africa needs no defence, it only needs to be advanced. Go out and advance Africa."

Schools in Africa must include in their curricula information from the diaspora. There is no reason why every African child should not know Mae Jemison, the first black woman to fly into space or Guion Bluford and Arnaldo Tamayo, the first African men to fly into space. The hegemony of the West in all its forms, whether capitalist, marxist, christian, secular, socialist or globalist has been to the advantage of Europe at the expense of Africa.

We do not have to destroy the environment, to ruin human lives, or pollute the earth to advance. That is why I am suggesting a new, more powerful model, based on the idea of comparative examinations of African cultures. We will not be saved by grants and we cannot develop on handouts and restricted gifts. There will be no saviours from outside of Africa.

I am ready to see us establish ourselves at the centre of the world stage. I am ready to see us create an integrated African world where the ideas, energies and concepts that have made us creative, resilient, and capable, are used for moral and political leadership. I am ready to see us cast aside all neuroses that are associated with the legacy of colonialism, enslavement and apartheid.

I am ready to see us accept our culture as a heritage to be shaped and moulded, rather than baggage to be thrown to the side. I am ready to see us seize the intellectual initiatives for our own destiny.

Molefi Kete Asante is one of the most published contemporary scholars, having written more than sixty books and three hundred articles.

African symbol