The Removal of Agency from Africa

Published on 26th October 2009

The ‘will of power’ and the ‘impulse to dominate’ have been dominant trends in much of the European thought, behavior and culture over the past 2500 years.”- David Comissong, Politician. 

A healthy group of people are able to impose their reality on the world. They control their image and create stories about themselves to place the things they cherish at the forefront of their expression. It is through agency that people practice self-determination and are therefore free to cultural contribution to humanity. The fate of Africa is that after slavery, colonialization, apartheid and neo-liberal globalization, Africans are not agents of their lives. Definitions and perspectives are still imposed by Europeans who dominate all aspects of the African reality. Thus the image and concepts of Africa that are imposed on the world are those created and controlled by European and other non-African forces. 

To understand the entire discourse on Africa and African people is to indulge in a vivid exercise in the removal of agency. The primary purpose of this study, new and old is the continuous reassertion of Conrad's “Heart of Darkness.” This is the Eurocentric tradition in anti-African scholarship that provides the moral-academic justification for the slave trade: the most successful commercial venture in the history of humanity. In Europe's bid to protect their trade interest, the marriage between racist academia and the exploitation of Africa had to be made. The need for the continuation of this tradition is not lost in today's markets, which are heavily dependant on sustaining the impoverishment of Africa. 

Africa today is the primary testing bed for new drugs, social experiments, cheap labor and raw materials. A wealthy Africa would create stronger corruption-free governments, which in turn would be an antigen to Western imperialist designs. These designs are in the form of the new slave masters—the multinational conglomerates. The reality of Africa on-the-ground is a continent locked into a blind subservient orbit; the junk-yard of the Western World. The function of Africa is thus not for the native Africans, but for the harvesting of materials to construct Western civilizations. 

"Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world" - Dictionary 

People speak from their cultural perspective. This in itself is not a problem; it is a natural aspect of human behavior. When Americans speak of tragedy, they reference the destruction of the world trade center, their 9/11. However, 9/11 is just a date and may have another significance to another culture. In Iraq they have much reason to identify with other dates in their recent history to reference tragedy, like 11/23. However, the dominant culture exports its local perspective as the common world view. This is the crisis with cultural and political dominance where people's experiences (if they are outside spheres of Western interest) are marginalized. In the event of another dominant culture, this effect is neutralized. But where agency is lacking, the "weak" fall prey to absorbing other people's realities as their own. Eurocentricity is a specific aspect of racial supremacy expressed along the cultural lines of Europe. This definition means that the agent of Eurocentrism doesn’t have to be racially European. The celebration of European culture in itself is healthy and natural, for Europeans, but when the line is crossed and other cultures are footnoted and denied agency, then it becomes racism. 

Making a slave 

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." - Heart of Darkness 

In the analysis of the paradigm “the making of a slave,” the removal of agency from Africa was the first instruction needed in the creation of a “cooperative work-force.” Africans taken to the New World had no authority over their life; they were not even allowed to commit suicide. The reason for adversity to African suicide was neither religious nor commercially motivated. It was not the fear of losing “merchandise” but the mental domination and removal of all forms of self-ownership from the psyche of the African captives. The re-labeling and amalgamation of the Mandika, Fulani, Igbo and Asante into one bland color label- black, was part of the greater process of absolute reduction of African identity: A color epithet that Europe believed to be the lowest color on Earth, thus reflecting the social designation of African people in European psyche. But for slavery to work, this reality had to be transferred from the European mind to the African mind. Africans had to believe what Europe believed about Africa and Africans. Cultures, ethnicity, legacy, royalty, lineage were melted down to a single entity—slave. The slave had no past and certainly no future, save for after death when they were allowed to service a white god in an abstract heaven. 

When we traverse the globe today and look at oppressed people, we see that despite their oppression, they are fully conscious of self and have religion and culture which they proudly use to distinguish themselves from their oppressors. The Jews in Hitler's death camps knew they were Jewish. They had their Torah, the Talmud and their history, which was reinforced by a Jewish culture. No amount of “special treatment” could alter the Jewish religion or their historical legacy. However, Africans by a process of the most hideous system in humanity were removed and later denied access to their history.  

Africans could not be attached to greatness as this would then beg the question, if these people were capable of science, engineering, social structure and kingdoms, how can their function be as beast-of-burden? How can a people who forged Timbuktu , Axsum , Kanem- Bornu , Egypt , Nubia , Great Zimbabwe, Ancient Ghana, Songhay, Sokoto Caliphate, Monomotapa be now mere labor units, movable chattel, branded like cattle, confined, de-robed, whipped, and reduced? It was absolutely essential to institutionalize the myth of a dark and savage Africa occupied by heathen cannibals who were saved by Europeans from absolute misery at the hands of their countrymen and marauding Arabs. History narrates that the European in their mercy did Africans a tremendous favor by bringing them to work in well-nurtured plantations in the West, allowing their lives to be touched by a white god, delivering them from savagery to culture, civilization and industrialization. 

Denial of agency 

When history is reduced from all the pages to the underlining conclusion, we find regardless of if the author is British liberal, American conservative, or Australian the conclusion is the same. Africa has fostered nothing the Western World considers artifacts of civilization. With few exceptions, this is the underlying summarization on Africa, the pathology of discrediting and take-away. Eurocentric scholarship would rather credit Arabs, Indians, Chinese and even aliens for the pyramids rather than native Africans. 

Ethiopia – Not of African Origin

Egypt – Not of African origin

Sudan – Not of African origin

Mali – Not of African origin

The Moorish Empire – Not African

Ancient Zimbabwe – Not of African origin 

There is nothing glorious in Africa that has not been reassigned to “White” ownership. And some are confused about terms like Arab, but Arabs from the perspective of Eurocentric history are a “Middle-Eastern Caucasoid,” so quite happily will they reassign Ancient Egypt or Islamic Spain to Arab people. The question for the discerning student of history is; why do all the conclusions always serve to empower Europeans and disempower Africans? It does not matter if they use archeology or genetics, linguistics or reasoning, the conclusions always make a deposit towards the greatness of Europe, and a deduction from the glory of Africa.   

* Who ended the slave trade? - Europe

* Who stopped the Arab trade? – Europe

* Who was the greatest Abolitionist? – A European

* The greatest scientist, thinker, architect, composers, inventors – Europe

* Who invented modern civilization? – Europe

* Who invented everything good? – Europe

* Who is the most civilized? – Europe

* Who knows what is best for Africans? - Europeans 

The question that should be put to these historians is “What has indigenous Africa contributed to the world?” The history of take-away has reduced Africa to nothing, thus implying the old statement “Africa is of no historical significance.” How are today’s scholars any different from David Hume and Kant if all their conclusions reduce all the nobility of Africa to ‘given,’ ‘borrowed’ or ‘stolen’? 

To be continued.

By Owen 'Alik Shahadah 

Owen 'Alik Shahadah, is an African Cultural writer and a multi-award winning Filmmaker who documents African history and culture. Published with kind permission from African Holocaust

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