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Where Art Thou Africa: Africa Day

When we celebrate Africa Day, it is prudent to make connections to the past to see where Africa stands today. Africa Day has been celebrated annually on 25th of May to signify African independence, promote African Unity and recommit Africa to a common destiny. This reminds that our long journey for freedom and the political trajectory has been intertwined and inseparable, hence the need for peace and development that considers the African Reality.


Africa as a continent is diverse in terms of history, politics, international relations, anthropology, culture and society. At the same time nations in Africa passed through long history of formation as well as the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms. In retrospect, the earlier contact of Africa with the outside world resulted in both positive and negative socio-political inheritance that became challenges for the present generation. This understanding has made much of African native social and political set up to give way for the Western system to embed in the culture, so much so that it has now become almost part and parcel of African lives. Rodee in his scholarly work saw African social problems which emanated from Western influence as one-crop economies, pervasive corruption, spiraling inflation, massive unemployment, over-crowded cities and destitute villages (Rodee, C. C. et al. (1983)).


In fact Africa had well established earlier socio-political and economic activities prior to its fall by Westernization. That is why I think commemoration of the African Day should not be considered as an event just to diplomatically decorate the independence day and to talk about decolonization. Rather, it should be a motivational factor for the young Africans to undertake research beyond academics and to appreciate the past and ask questions like where did all those civilizations go? What do we as Africans lack to grow incrementally rather than making revolutionary moves? Finally, to enocourage them to recommend ideas and strategies on how Africa could bridge the civilization disconnect using the past as an input to devise a new 'African consensus' (Ludger Kuhnhardt, 2014).

Although written sources are limited, studies confirm that most of the original civilizations were weakened from evolving to the next generation or in some cases replaced by foreign cultures. The Timbuktu civilization, the Ashanti and the Kingdom of Mali, the Axum civilization are some of the African heritages that today's Africa should cherish and try to build the bridge to connect with. The manuscript of Timbuktu is a living testimony on how Islamic written culture was brilliant. According to Bloom, it was incomparable than anything known in 15th century contemporary Europe (J. Bloom, 2001). According to S. Abdi, the subjects in those scripts cover every topic of human endeavors and are indicative of the high level of civilization attained by West Africans during the middle ages and early modern period. (Shuriye, Abdi & et al. (2013)).


A research by the Yale University in 2009 revealed that there were expansive settlement patterns with hierarchical powers existing in Timbuktu. This confirms that the original urban civilization, without the influence or stimulation from the Mediterranean or Egypt, had existed in Africa (McIntosh, R. et al 2009). Nonetheless, the early day Muslim expansion to Northern Africa ended up with spread of Islam in Western Africa over the traditional African religions. According UNESCO records, the Axum civilizations of 2nd and 3rd centuries AD had its own written scripts, Christian belief system and international trading with the rest of the world. The arrival of Arabian immigrants influenced the religion and tradition of the Empire, though the Orthodox Christianity in Ethiopia outlasted its parent civilization to date.


Africa's narratives are always crafted around the two great global movements: The trans-Atlantic slave trade that moved millions of Africans to the Americas to contribute to the development of England and Europe, and the Berlin Conference of 1884 that brought colonial capitalism to Africa and exportation of the African resources to Europe at lower values.


Although these two major events seem like things of the past, the process tripped the people of Africa from their own developmental paths and to adapt to cultures and values that do not belong to Africa. The present instability, erosion of culture and civilization as well as political and economic fragmentation have their roots in those long years of political and social processes and dynamics. Atrocities and ethnic clashes, dictatorships, unconstitutional changes, genocides, mass displacements, migration, collapse of states etc... are not new in Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mali, Cote D'Ivoire, Angola, Libya etc...


When we memorialize Africa Day, our resolve for African consolidation should be highlighted. The question here is that will the struggle to return to original identities and pride of civilization consolidate Africa? It is obvious that African states decolonized from the 1950s -1975, the colonial legacy left Africa to poverty and loss of indigenous institutions, values, religion and anthropological set up. The artificial boundaries that were built just by connecting grids on the map disregarded the original settlement patterns of the people, leading to the current territorial conflicts in various parts of the continent, for example, The Ethio-Eritrean war of 1991, Ethio-Somalian War of 1973, the Algeria and Morocco war in 1963 and the long war in Sudan.


The concepts of claiming the past or confining our ideas to define humanity around ethnic identity will retract states from development. We should embrace the idea that consolidation of states is important in Africa, considering the social fabrics of the people, their culture and aspirations based on an Afrocentric approach to development. Long live Africa.

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