Published on Pambazuka, by Dani W. Nabudere, Sept. 23, 2010.
If we are to create and provide space and platform for African autonomous thinking on issues of the future of the continent, we have to begin by liberating ourselves from Western ways of thinking and draw knowledge and inspiration from our own heritages, argues Dani Nabudere, in a two-part article based on his inaugural address to the newly formed Nile Heritage Forum on political economy … //
… ‘The peculiar situation here is that knowledge of the principles and patterns of African civilisation (have) remained with ordinary, uncertificated men and women, especially of those in rural areas. The tragedy of African civilisation is that Western-educated Africans became lost and irrelevant as intellectuals who could develop African civilisation further. Historically, intellectuals of any civilisation are the voices of that civilisation to the rest of the world; they are the instruments of the development of the higher culture of that civilisation. The tragedy of Africa, after conquest by the West, is that her intellectuals, by and large, absconded and abdicated their role as developers, minstrels and trumpeters of African civilisation.
African civilisation then stagnated; what remained alive in the minds of languages of the overwhelming majority of Africans remained undeveloped. Uncertificated Africans are denied respect and opportunities for development; they could not sing out, articulate and develop the unique patterns of African civilisation.’
Professor Vilakazi adds that Africa therefore finds herself in an awkward situation because it needs to develop an educational system founded upon and building on the civilisation of the overwhelming majority of its people, yet her intellectuals are strangers to that civilisation. They have no spiritual or intellectual sympathetic relationship with the culture and civilisation embracing the masses of African people. Yet the biggest spiritual and mental challenge the African intellectuals face of their massive re-education process can only be provided by the African ‘uncertificated’ African men and women who live largely in rural areas. He concludes:
‘We are talking here about a massive cultural revolution consisting, first, of our intellectuals going back to ordinary African men and women to receive education of African culture and civilisation. Second, [this] shall break new ground in that those un-certificated men and women shall be incorporated as full participants in the construction of the high culture of Africa. This shall be the first instance in history where certificated intellectuals alone shall not be the sole builders and determinants of high culture, but shall be working side by side with ordinary men and women in rural and urban life. Intellectuals must become anthropologists doing fieldwork, like Frobenius. But unlike academic Western anthropologists, African intellectuals shall be doing field work among their own people as part of a truly great effort aimed at reconstructing Africa and preparing all of humanity for conquering the world for humanism.’
Professor Vilakazi is quoted here at length to demonstrate that the exercise we are trying to set in motion here has occupied the sharpest minds of ‘organic intellectuals’ on the African continent. He is also quoted at length because of the relevance of his ideas to what we are trying to say of the need to link the rural communities to African intellectuals and centres of high learning. Professor Vilakazi challenges all of us to wake up to this reality and create a new relationship between ourselves and the African masses who are our bearers. Such a new relationship shall imply a process of unlearning and relearning on our part. This is the only way we can resurrect the deep values of African humanism (‘Ubuntu’) that is so badly needed in today’s gadgetised and digitised world without the human touch and spirit.
While the problem Vilakazi poses is a real one, there exists nevertheless a link between the two components of African society. A non-African cannot play the role the African elite are required to play in the transformation of their society. Therefore, the new approach seeks to build on the unity of the two social forces as necessary for the reconstruction of Africa from ruins inflicted by Europe. Just like Vilakazi, who would like to see the African intelligentsia, being tutored by their ‘uncerticificated’ men and women to jointly produce a new African high culture that would be at the base of the African Renaissance, Y. V. Mudimbe too would like to see the emergence of a ‘wider authority’ of a ‘critical library’ of the westernised African intellectual’s discourses developed together with ‘the experience of rejected forms of wisdom, which are not part of the structures of political power and scientific knowledge.’
This is a useful reminder despite the fact that Mudimbe himself, according to the African philosopher D. A. Masolo: ‘lamentably fails to emancipate himself from the vicious circle inherent in the deconstructionist stance’ of how this ‘usable past’ should be used by African ‘experts’ to construct an ‘authentic’ African episteme. In short, if we are to join the African masses in transforming the continent, we must move towards establishing a truly Pan-African University. The object of the Pan-African University is indeed to overcome this epistemological divide between the ‘uncertificated Africans’ and the African intelligentsia.
Afrikan languages must therefore have to be at the centre of developing the university at all African community sites of knowledge. Language, as Cabral rightly pointed out, is at the centre of articulating a people’s culture. Cabral pointed out that the African revolution would have been impossible without African people resorting to their cultures to resist domination. Culture, according to him, is therefore a revolutionary force in society. It is because language has remained an ‘unresolved issue’ in Africa’s development that present day education has remained an alien system. Mucere Mugo quotes Franz Fanon who wrote: ‘to speak a language is to assume its world and carry the weight of its civilisation’. Professor Kwesi K. Prah has argued consistently over many years that the absence of Afrikan languages has been the ‘key missing link’ in Afrikan development. (full long text).