Micah Stephen: Africa and Knowledge Production

“for a mind that knows is a mind that is free………” Unibadan Anthem

Writing is such a costly and exerting endeavour. Out of the abundance of the mind, the hand writeth. The writer at crucial times faces the challenges of paucity of events that rightly catch his fancy or a ridiculous surplusage or torrents of issues to battle. He either sets at dawn or he gets smacked down. Cerebral Achebe felt that it is the job of a writer to engage in a bit of activism, not to just be there, to partake in his own little way as his nation battles with the crisis of self-actualization or self-immolation. He must be the gauge of a collective conscience. The writer must engage his reality head on, not just drag the audience along the road of fantastic presentation and representations, but he must address and redress the immediate concern of his environment. Writing is “righting”. In Africa, there are too many wrongs to right. This is why writing is writhing to the African writer.

Something is inherently different about Africa. If evolution were true, it is either the black man evolved prematurely or evolved differently. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution deserves a revisit. What is referred to as Africa must be recognized as a tapestry of European settlements. It is hardly an apt description of a group of people as they had always been. Africa is a product of alien bargaining not native consensus. It was first alienated, emasculated, mutilated and then delineated over bottles of scotch at the Berlin |Conference of 1885. Licenses and assignments were created in favour of interested merchants, hardly by any beneficial owner. It was the first classic case of giving what one does not have; mortgages were granted colonial slave holders to ingratiate economic rewards. Hitherto, the African had been a master of himself far before Europe’s incursion into its body polity, up till Arab incursion at least. The Kingdom of Songhai was established in 1350 Years AD and lasted until 1600 AD when the kingdom was invaded and ransacked by forces from Morocco with substantial financial and military support from the English Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth 1st.  There were two hundred English artillery mercenaries in the invading force. Arabs had rattled and decimated much of old Mali, Gao, Djenne and Timbuktu by the 12th century. Universities were established at Timbuktu and Sankore. After Arabian hegemony was toppled around the 14th century by transatlantic trade, the resulting carcass was to be the object of the frenetic carnivorous appetite of the marauding Europeans from the beginning of 14th century. The image Africa presently bears is the image of Europe. It may change tomorrow. There was no Nigeria, at the beginning of the 20th century. It can cease to exist before the end of the 21st century. States are made not divinely created. Humans nurture states; they hardly have the imprimatur of gods.

After the departure of the European imperialists from its colonial plantations, it has been a disaster for the infantile states to assume a different shade from what was its original design; a European banana plantation. Europeans did not owe their settlements the duty to look after their political wellbeing, once their economic interests were safe. After a night of amorous torrid passion, Frederick Luggard foisted more than 200 polities together to form Nigeria. He learned from the Bismark chaired conference in 1885. One of the participants even stated that they knew not what they were doing; they only drew straight lines across the map. Over 20, 000 different empires and tribes were coupled that day. What was birthed was a leprosed continent constantly battling with itself, a collage of ethnic chauvinism, acute human depravity, extreme corruption, animalistic pogroms of unimaginable scale and scope, exceptional level of bad governance, biting unemployment rate , all scattered and shattered along primordial ethnic  lines, combining to form human suffering of epic proportion.

The transformation of Africa from colonial serfs into post-colonial modern states have been nigh improbable, if not impossible. The primordialism, archaism, obsoleteness of the mode of organization in most African states in the 21st century is befuddling, if not graphic. The challenge with Africa is knowledge. This is the reason for the adoption of the epigraph at the beginning of the article. It is the last verse of the University of Ibadan’s anthem. The challenge with Africa as a continent sequestered along alienating nation states is that of knowledge production i.e a continent midwifed by intellectual and philosophical exertion. I must state that most nations are hardly consummated with amicable resolutions. But they are ceaselessly and meticulously nurtured by deep philosophies that make them look immutable. To be precise, I do not mean that no form of knowledge has ever come out Africa. In fact, to the contrary, this piece is written to ensure that African states emphasize the need for production of autochthonous knowledge. Knowledge production sits at the base of any human advancement. By knowledge, we talk first about the mental agility by which the environment is explored, exploited by human reasoning. We are not talking about the collection of wise sayings, idioms; all strung together into a coherent cosmogony. To be exact we are talking about the need to build thoughts and philosophies as we engage our environment, battle savagery and barbarism in the production of a “native” civilization. After God created man, He left re-creation to him. Man therefore can only dominate his environment with the knowledge of his environment. The most advanced states are those who use knowledge of their world to better their lots. Civilization is simply the state in which a society is able to solve its problems with knowledge and scientific certitude. Civilization therefore has nothing to do with westernization. In Tataalo Alamu’s words, “we are talking of the capacity for conceptual formulation and rigorous abstractions; the ability for sustained intellection and paradigmatic speculation”. We are not talking about the echoing or regurgitation of knowledge from other centres of civilization. While that itself is not avoidable, it should not be the only consumable.

Nations with the greatest advancements are also the ones with the most developed means of knowledge production. There is nothing divinely orchestrated in western ascension to world dominance and its current and ongoing displacement by the Asians, it is conditioned by knowledge production. Japan negotiated its way to the top after Meiji Restoration of 1868 through a radical reform of its educational system and her political institutions. Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore by transforming the mind. You must know before you are known. Africa is still largely crude, absolutely unrefined. Recently, as the Fulani marauders unleashed mayhem on hapless compatriots across the nation, the reaction of the government to it showed a stark clarity regarding the dominant mode of mind-set that powers our polity. The orgy of bloodletting notwithstanding, the government opted to continue funding programmes that encourage herding as against the urbane method of ranching. A state government decided to pay thirsty murderers to placate them. At play was the interplay of ethnic loyalty, religious sentiments and intoxicating ignorance. Knowledge was entirely displaced in arriving at the conclusion. This was when Americans, having conquered the earth are conquering mars. Modern societies with pre modern mode of existence are ravaged by the conflict between knowledge and myth. The infestation and manifestation of myth and its superior logic is evident in Africa’s mode of grappling with realities. Subsistence mode of agriculture, evasive form of democratic bargaining, tired and wearied political institutions, crippled madrasahs, mangled understanding of religion, a total and shambled organization of geographical space. These are exactly what to expect from societies with the mind-set to dominate nature and reality with myth not knowledge. The current mode of reasoning is that of voracious consumption powered by myth. Reliance on brawn not brain, mediocrity is ahead of meritocracy. We feed on all, we produce nothing. Africa is Africans’ greatest inhibition. Indeed, our people perish because of lack of knowledge…

to be continued.

Micah Stephen, combines his love for law with a deep appreciation of history and classical studies. He considers himself to be an admixture of a lawyer, classicist, historian and entrepreneur.