Africa has had very tragic intercourse with the world outside its borders. The continent was, for instance, besieged from the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and from several other corners of the globe by certain species of humanity who believed that the God-given resources of the continent were theirs for the taking, and its inhabitants were subhuman beings who could be justifiably hunted, captured, tamed and put into personalised and beneficial commercial uses. Though the motivations and modus operandi of the marauders were diverse, they were unified in the overarching goal of tilling the continent for the benefits of their home economies and social lives.
Some of the marauders had etched themselves in their home governance and social systems with their respective slants of monotheism. In the imagination of these people, Africa presented an opportunity for them to spread their conceptualisation and philosophies of the God who created and owned the entire universe. To them, the dark and irreligious African continent needed to be manumitted from the grip of its heathen ways and be gifted with the light of God; and its subhuman population needed to be humanised with the morals and ethics of their religions. The sub-humanness of Africans was as a result of the pause placed on their physical, mental and spiritual development by their sinful ways. So, from Southwest Asia and across the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabs arrived Africa in the seventh century, coming with Islam to save the Kafirs; and, as of today,one-third of the world’s Muslim population resides on the continent.Islam is particularly acknowledged to have manifested in Africa in a way that shows it to be much more than a religion. African Muslims see their religion as the guide for every aspect of their existence, including their social, material and moral, economic and political, legal and cultural lives.
From across the oceans and the air, westerners came with Christianity to save and civilize the savage heathens. If recorded history about Christianity in Alexandria in Egypt and the hints of early Christian affinities in Ethiopia,Eritrea, Sudan and the Maghreb matters, a plausible argument can be made that Christianity is nearly as old on the African continent as it is in Palestine, from where the religion was established, packaged and exported to the rest of the world. Some try to make the case that early Christianity that came to Africa through Alexandria was devoid of any political or commercial interest and that it was the Roman Empire that developed the “political Christianity” that was exported to Africa and South America. That argument does not matter. What matters to our discussion is the fact that as at today, Like Islam, Christianity has succeeded in brainwashing the African and denying them the opportunity to develop with their respective cultures, traditions, moral and ethical beliefs.
For the mercantile marauders, besides the easy access to the continent’s natural resources, its subhuman population were sellable slave tools for the greatly needed labour for their plantation and industrial owners. This savagery on the continent lasted for hundreds of years until the home Governments of the marauders decided to take over the plundering of the continent by establishing Colonial Administrations. I had explored this historical background in an article I titled ‘God, Gold and Glory’.
What I, however, need to add to that historical backdrop is that besides the superimposition of the two dominant foreign religions on the traditional religions of the continent’s over 2,500 ethnic nationalities, many of the countries of the continent were effectively cleaved along those foreign religions. One other point, which should not be missed because of its materiality to this discussion, is that the continent was exceedingly weakened by its clannish gregariousness and governance system. In addition to the divisiveness of the foreign religions, the slave trade exacerbated clannish conflicts and mutual ethnic suspicions that made it difficult for the nationalists who fought for the independence of the respective countries of the continent to promote national ideals or forge collective strategies required to build nation-states out of the post-independent countries. With no understanding or cooperation among the independent agitators, and with no convergence around such issues as governance, legal, political and social systems or the economic structure and ethnic and regional relationships, the colonialists simply escaped close contact scrutiny and bequeathed the continent socio-political-cum-economic placebos in the form of Independent national territories.
With no autochthonous inputs, Africans were left with wholesale western governance and constitutional democratic systems that cynically and hypocritically ignore the continent’s expansive diversities and clannish DNA. Get me right. Nationalism, as expressed in the agitation for independence, was a demonstration of the fact that Africans subscribe to the core democratic idea that members of political communities should not only govern themselves but that its citizens should decide how and who to govern them. My point is that some of the core principles that are deepening western democracies are hard to realize on the continent because of the ascendancy of ethnic and religious loyalties over national loyalty.
At the foundation of democracy are collective decisions and voted actions. That’s the idea behind elections and the vote. But, the universal suffrage in use for the recruitment of political office-holders who preside over both the resources and the sovereignty of the respective African countries has not had much of a positive influence on the struggle for deepening democracy on the continent. The fallacy of the vote, which is central to post-independent democracies, is that it empowers the citizenries of the various countries of the continent to constitute Governments and public institutions with people of integrity who are capable of delivering honest, selfless, accountable, transparent, effective and inclusive leadership. Tragically, post-colonial public institutions, including Governments, have turned out to be nothing more than aggregated schemes for the usurpation of public resources and public space by a class of smart rogues.
Instead of being accountable and honest promoters of public interest, public institutions and officials are the new marauders and slave masters. What is worse, is the fact that it is near impossible to acquire the necessary numbers with the capacity and willingness to influence change and restore power to the people. Public officials are de facto representatives of their ethnic nationalities and religions that never see any wrong in what they do. The African leader would be more popular and hero-worshipped if he serves as a punisher of the other nationalities or religious groups than when he is progressive and development driven.
It may therefore be cumbrous to periodise the modern history of the continent into colonial and independent Africa. It is still a continent on the chopping block.