Globalization Not New; Look at Slave Trade (2)

Africans who have made contributions in Australia, in Russia, and in Europe must be acknowledged so our children can have heroes with African roots – so they can know their own roots and be proud of them.

The enormous contributions of Africans to the development and progress of other nations has gone unacknowledged.

We have yet to acknowledge, for example, that St. Augustine, who wrote the greatest spiritual autobiography of all time, called “Confessions of St. Augustine,” was an African; that three Africans became pope; that Africans have lived in Europe since the time of the Roman Empire; that Septimus Severus, an Emperor of Rome, was an African; and that the reason Beethoven was called “The Black Spaniard” was because he was a mulatto of African descent.

Why are we reluctant to acknowledge the contributions and legacies of our African ancestors?

We cannot inspire our children to look toward the future without first reminding them of their ancestors’ contributions.

Look at the long struggle of African Australians, who recently became citizens with rights on their native continent.

Africans have been living in Australia for 50,000 years. Yet, African Australians were granted Australian citizenship just 37 years ago, in 1967.

According to CNN, African Australians were not recognized as human beings prior to 1967. They “were governed under flora and fauna laws.” African Australians were, in essence, governed by plant and animal laws.

For many years, African Australians were described as the “invisible people.” In fact, the first whites to settle in Australia named it the “land empty of people.”

The contributions of Africans to Russia must be reclaimed. Russia’s most celebrated author, A.S.(Aleksandr Sergeyevich) Pushkin, told us he was of African descent. Pushkin’s great-grandfather was brought to Russia as a slave.

Russians proclaim Pushkin as their “national poet,” the “patriarch of Russian literature” and the “Father of the Russian language.”

In essence, Pushkin is to Russia what Shakespeare is to Britain. Yet Africans who have read the complete works of Shakespeare are not likely to have read a single book by Pushkin.

I was asked to share today the story behind my supercomputer discovery. It would require several books to tell the whole story, but I will share a short one that I have never told anyone.

The journey of discovery to my supercomputer was a titanic, one-man struggle. It was like climbing Mount Everest. On many occasions I felt like giving up.

Because I was traumatized by the racism I had encountered in science, I maintained a self-imposed silence on the supercomputer discovery that is my claim to fame.

I will share with you a supercomputing insight that even the experts in my field did not know then and do not know now.

In the 1980s, supercomputers could perform only millions of calculations per second and, therefore, their timers were designed to measure only millions of calculations per second.

But I was performing billions of calculations per second and unknowingly attempting to time it with a supercomputer timer, which was designed to measure millions of calculations per second.

I assumed my timer could measure one-billionth of a second. It took me two years to realize my timer was off a thousandfold.

I was operating beyond a supercomputer’s limitations, but I did not know it. The supercomputer designers did not expect their timers to be used to measure calculations at that rate.

I almost gave up because I could not time and reproduce my calculations which, in turn, meant I could not share them, two years earlier, with the world.

After years of research, my supercomputer’s timer was the only thing stopping me from getting the recognition I deserved.

I realized the timer was wrong, but I could not explain why. I spent two years mulling over why the timer was wrong.

It took two long and lonely years to discover why I could not time my calculations.

My 3.1 billion calculations per second, which were then the world’s fastest, were simply too fast for the supercomputer’s timer.

What I learned from that experience was not to quit when faced with an insurmountable obstacle – and that believing in yourself makes all the difference.

I learned to take a step backward and evaluate the options: Should I go through, above, under, or around the obstacle?

Quitting, I decided, was not an option. Indeed, the old saying is true: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Looking back, I learned that most limitations in life are self-imposed. You have to make things happen, not just watch things happen.

To succeed, you must constantly reject complacency.

I learned I could set high objectives and goals and achieve them.

The secret to my success is that I am constantly striving for continuous improvements in my life and that I am never satisfied with my achievements.

The myth that a genius must have above-average intelligence is just that, a myth.

Geniuses are people who learn to create their own positive reinforcements when their experiments yield negative results. Perseverance is the key.

My goal was to go beyond the known, to a territory no one had ever reached.

I learned that if you want success badly enough and believe in yourself, then you can attain your goals and become anything you want in life.

The greatest challenge in your life is to look deep within yourself to see the greatness that is inside you, and those around you.

The history books may deprive African children of the heroes with whom they can identify, but in striving for your own goals, you can become that hero for them – and your own hero, too.

I once believed my supercomputer discovery was more important than the journey that got me there.

I now understand the journey to discovery is more important than the discovery itself; that the journey also requires a belief in your own abilities.

I learned that no matter how often you fall down, or how hard you fall down, what is most important is that you rise up and continue until you reach your goal.

It’s true, some heroes are never recognized, but what’s important is that they recognize themselves.

It is that belief in yourself, that focus, and that inner conviction that you are on the right path, that will get you through life’s obstacles.

If we can give our children pride in their past, then we can show them what they can be and give them the self-respect that will make them succeed.

Keynote speech by Emeagwali [] delivered on September 18, 2004, at the Pan-African Conference on Globalization, Washington DC USA

20 thoughts on “Globalization Not New; Look at Slave Trade (2)

  • i'm awed. i read through everything in one fell swoop. Nigeria is toying with her best brains by not making sure they provide enabling environment for these icons, among whom is the eminent emegweali, to come back home to. Our leaders are busy disgracing us everytime with their morbid penchant for unalloyed greed. what a shame! Well i'm inspired to move on and believe more than i do in myself.


  • Dr. Ambrose Okpokpo · Edit

    I read about Dr. Philip Emeagwali around 2001 in Black news paper. I was surprised not to have heard of him until then. This shows the depth to which African creativities has been widely ignored by both blacks, whites, and other races. The race for discoveries is that you are all for yourselves and it is a great competition for finders keepers. I am very happy for Dr. Philip for conquering the barriers that has held blacks back from progress for the 400 and more years that whites have colonized and transferred their ideas into oour minds. It is also these ideas from whites and African never dying nor denying me spirit to progress after so much ignorance of us-blacks that has spurred and giving birth to such a notable African as Dr. Philip Emeagwali in becoming one of the greatest inventors and discoverer of the 20th century. Thank Dr. Philip Emeagwali for giving us hope when it seamed lost for blacks, whites, and others whom have learned to love mankind. This is and would remain a perfect comeback when the last descendant of King Solomon said, "After his death, Africa is on a downward trend in progress." Today, Africa is on an upward trend. Perfect! Perfect!! Perfect!!! We(Africans now gained a proud ground) into the future of humanity.

  • About 1400 years ago Christians came to my ancestors (the western Europeans) who were primitive violent and had a superstitious pagan religion. The Christians taught my ancestors the ways of Christ they taught them Latin and gave them the great classical literature of the Greco-Roman world and they gave them civilization. What if my ancestors had said "we can't accept this — this is not German or Anglo-Saxon or Gallican! These ideas originated somewhere else so we must reject them!" I will tell you where my people would be today — exactly where so many Africans are especially Africans who agree with the irrational thinking expressed in your article.

    Truth has no color. Those who reject truth because of the skin color of people who bring it are the ultimate bigots.

  • I live in Trinidad Tobago in the Caribbean.

    I only recently discovered the genius that is Mr. Emegawali.

    I intend to introduce this knowledge to all my friends in a personal way and via the internet.

    If we don't spread knowledge of Mr.Emeagwali's work by making it known to the international black community then he may well be relegated to the dump heap of scientific history-makers as has been done to many people of African descent.

    Our children need heros and role models. Mr. Emeagwali is certainly one.

  • You Hypocrite! You blame Mary Slessor for her stopping the restraints on women. You complain about learning Latin and yet you quote it in your arguments. You blame the Americans for taking credit for your good works and yet you quote an American twice!! Have you ever wondered why Africa is in such a bad way Have you ever believed that what Mary said may have been true Maybe if you dropped your witchcraft you could find the love of God. Does it matter who built the white house You treated your women as slaves in your own country yet you complain about the way the Americans treated you! You need to find the truth before pointing the finger everywhere else. Science doesn't have the answer for everything. Mary Slessor didn't come to bind you but to set you free. Slavery is un-Godly and not what Mary wanted to spread. She was not racist she loved her dark coloured friends and family and wanted only what was best for them.

  • This article is so very profound and thought provoking. I thought I had been the only person to wonder why it is that we Nigerians have decided to COMPLETELY abandon ourselves in some quest to become more "European". Lord help us all. Thank you so very much Chukwurah Emeagwali.

  • Philip O. Adetiloye · Edit

    You are appreciated as a pride to humanity, Africa and Nigeria. We have some information to share. What is your e-mail. Thank you

    P. O. Adetiloye

    Director, Future World Center Project, Nigeria

  • This is a well thoughtout article. As most previous comments had already acknowledge, one of our major problems as Nigerians/Africans is that there are vitually no complete story of what African has contributed to human developments. Thus, to rewrite the wrongs, one of the major challenges among African scholars would be for us to dig deep into the archieves and rootout these major contributions for the benefit of our children and children yet unborn.

  • We should not allow a romantic view of the past to hold us back. English is good because speakers can learn inexpensively from books and the Internet. Our culture prior to colonization was indeed backward, albeit not much worse than the colonists’. We didn’t share knowledge; there is really no collective ‘African/Nigerian culture’. We just need to understand the times we are in and position ourselves appropriately. Other nations are not ‘going back to old times’, so why should we?

  • Cletus Nelson Nwadike · Edit

    I am sure that the colonial masters did not wished us well. But look, what we are doing to ourselves. Africans must librate africa, we have to teach others how to treat us and fight to get there.

  • Excellent article. I was beginning to wonder if anyone had a repsect and interest in discussing matters so basic and fundamental as promotion positive cultural elements. Prof. Emeagwali, happy New Year and keep up the excellent work.

  • this article is very intereting, we african need to emancipate our mind from white people ways.most african today value the western values than african values. we need to maintain our african heritage.

  • Mr.E,

    The most serious issues facing not just africans but nigerians in diaspora is addressed simply by your article. I’m impressed that people out there are thinking because my greatest nightmare is that when i have kids there will be little left of my heritage to share. Thanks for this awesome article.

  • Abena Agyeman-Fisher · Edit

    Mr. E,

    you have nailed it on the head. I read an earlier article by another nigerian that contested the idea that the continent of Africa is sleeping while Europe and America are progressing. I believe, due to many of the facts you raised in your article, that we are, indeed asleep. How can we ever go forward if we do not know our particular past. We have much work to do.

  • Dear Phillip,

    Thank you for sharing that inspiring article. We, Africans need to take pride in our achievements and be promoting ourselves instead of “pulling down” ourselves. I am proud of you.

  • Exceptionally research, exceptionally written from the soul and heart. This is what it is all about – putting the facts up front in a clean, well written manner that only a foul can dispute. AWESOME!! GREAT WORK MY FELLOW IGBO MAN!!


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