Africa Happening! Bits & Pieces

The paper below was written on October 1, 2010

 It is an attempt to conceptualize African Independence, its challenges, breakthroughs, contemplation on the future, particularly for Nigeria and the 16 other countries that were 50 in 2010.  Artisticexplorations of these questions were done by three young Nigerian artistsStephen Adéyemí Folárànmí, Gbóládé Omidìran and Elohor Urhiafe-Bobson, all graduates of the Fine Arts Programme, Obafemi Awolowo University, in the City of Ile-Ife, Nigeria.  

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science, African and Women's Studies
Brooklyn College, CUNY

 “Africa is Happening! Africa has been Happening! Africa will continue to Happen!” (Steering Committee, Modern Africa Group 2010)


This exhibition kicks off the Africa Happening! series of events this fall.  It features the work of Stephen Adéyemí Folárànmí and Gbóládé Omidìran, both graduates of the Fine Arts Programme, Obafemi Awolowo University, in the City of Ile-Ife, Nigeria.  Africa Happening! was born out of an effort to envision and plan a multi-university event around the theme of “Africa at 50: Looking Back, Looking Forward”.  At the time, the idea was to bring as many New York City metropolitan area colleges/universities and institutions together to plan joint events that would foreground celebrating 50 years of 17  African countries’ independence, as well as consider challenges and breakthroughs experienced and ongoing issues.  The discussion in this essay reflects the discussion at the first meeting as well as my own observations. It embellishes on our objective of re-theorizing  and re-conceptualizing the continent (Allan 2010). 
The first meeting of the Modern Africa Group was in the Summer of 2010 at Baruch College, CUNY.  It included faculty from Baruch College, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, all part of CUNY, as well as Seton Hall University and Metropolitan College; alumni from the Graduate Program in Political Science at Brooklyn College, and newly minted Ph.D. from the History Program at St. John’s University.  There were also a film-maker, a retired ambassador, independent scholars and activists.  After much discussion about the theme, we agreed on the title: “Modern Africa:  Turning Points, Promises, Challenges.”  Subsequently, Columbia University’s African Studies Institute expressed interest in participation, as did faculty from Adelphi University, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, and new Ph.D.s from University of Connecticut at Storrs. The members of the group also include faculty from Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville.

The 17 African Countries at the 50-year mark of Independence

Particularly important in thinking about Africa at this historical juncture is the record of the seventeen African countries that gained their independence from colonial rule in 1960.  Below is a list of the 17 African countries for whom this year is the 50th year of independence, with their dates of independence, and the metropolitan country from which they gained independence, as well as their Human Development Index (HDI) rankings.  HDI draws on the idea that "Human development is about putting people at the centre of development. It is about people realizing their potential, increasing their choices and enjoying the freedom to lead lives they value" (UNDP 2010).  When considered in light of what ought to constitute development, and why we should question orthodox/conventional understandings, the African predicament evokes a determination to contribute to envisioning a better future for succeeding generations, and ought not to generate despair. 

1.    Republic of Cameroon, 1 January 1960 France HDI:  #149,  Score--.497
2.    Republic of Togo, 27 April 1960 France  HDI:  #142,  Score--.512
3.    Republic of Mali, 20 June 1960 France  HDI:  #175,  Score--.333
4.    Republic of Senegal, 20 June 1960 France  HDI:  #158,  Score--.458
5.    Democratic Republic of Madagascar, 26 June 1960 France HDI:  #147,  Score--.499
6.    Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa), 30 June 1960 Belgium  HDI:  #168,  Score--.385
7.    Democratic Republic of Somalia, 1 July 1960 Britain  (NO HDI figures)
8.    Republic of Benin, 1 August 1960 France  HDI:  #163,  Score--.431
9.    Republic of Niger, 3 August 1960 France  HDI:  #178,  Score--.281
10.  Popular Democratic Republic of Burkina Faso, 5 August 1960 France  HDI:  #176,  Score--.317
11.  Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, (Ivory Coast) 7 August 1960 France:  HDI:  #164,  Score--.42
12.  Republic of Chad, 11 August 1960 France  HDI:  #174,  Score--.341
13.  Central African Republic 13 August 1960 France  HDI:  #172,  Score--.355
14.  Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), 15 August 1960 France  HDI:  #142,  Score--.512
15.  Republic of Gabon, 17 August 1960 France  HDI:  #124,  Score--.635
16.  Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1 October 1960 Britain  HDI:  #159,  Score--.453
17.  Islamic Republic of Mauritania, 28 November 1960 France  HDI:  #153,  Score--.477 (UNDP 2010) ( n.d.)

Development and Structural Violence

In the Social Sciences and Humanities, one of the measures useful for evaluating change is development, and I would like to contemplate the question of the extent to which Africa has developed in the last 50 years.  There are very complex and complicated statistical indicators devised to present this information, and considering the Human Development Index for example, one finds that Africa lags behind other world regions.  But as I see it, development cannot be conceptualized in a vacuum.  The emergence of the concept: “development” is also indicative of a determination of terms of engagement with formerly colonized countries by their former colonizers.  Essentially, shifting the discourse blithely from domination and exploitation to development ignores structural violence—the overwhelming military power and exploitative economic hold of the Global North on the Global South as the basis of the Global North’s dominance and the Global South’s marginalization (Galtung 1971, Rajagopal 1999).  Any talk of development without structural change on a worldwide scale then seems to be an exercise in futility.  However, conventional development discourse refuses to entertain structural systemic change and focuses on phenomena produced by warped structural relations.  Also, development goes beyond figures that record and document Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but is more in line with Amartya Sen’s conceptualization of development as freedom:  Amartya Sen explains:

Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states… Development has to be more concerned with enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy. Expanding the freedoms that we have reason to value not only makes our lives richer and more unfettered, but also allows us to be fuller social person, exercising our own volitions and interacting with – and influencing – the world in which we live... The issue of inequality relates centrally to the disputes over globalisation. A crucial question concerns the sharing of the potential gains from globalisation, between rich and poor countries, and between different groups within a country (Sen 1999). 
Since the Human Development Report tries to do what Sen suggests in terms of measuring development, we can consider the fact that the countries that bring up the rear in the most Human Development Index (February 2010) are African.  The very last of the countries is one of our 17 that are 50 this year:  The Seychelles, which is not on the list of our 17 50-year old African countries scored highest in Africa, at number 51, with a score of .821.  Central African Republic is number 172, and it has a score of .355.  Numbers 124-172 are African, with scores ranging from Morocco’s .631 to Ethiopia’s number 171 and a score of .367.  If you know anything about statistical trends, you probably suspect that the top 10 countries with the highest HDI rankings are European and the US. 
Focusing on the 50 year mark, it is legitimate to consider African independence from colonialism in a manner that is somewhat limited to the experiences of the 17 countries listed above.  This is not to underestimate the need for holistic analysis inclusive of all African countries but to acknowledge that 50 is symbolic in human life as a time when most people begin to retrospectively consider how they have lived their lives and make plans on how to correct old mistakes and resolve to do better.  This is particularly important if they have missed the 40 year mark where they have endeavored not to be a proverbial “fool at 40, (who) is a fool forever”.   So, what do we see in Africa?  It is important at the 50 year mark to consider the challenges and breakthroughs that the continent and its peoples have encountered in the last fifty years (Eshetu 2010).  To do so, the record of African countries in the period after independence should be considered.

The Paradox of Age and its Multidimensionality

It is a paradox that Africa is the world’s oldest inhabited territory, and yet, in 2010, 17 African nation-states have been independent for only 50 years.  Their experience of the possibilities of liberation from colonial rule is significant because they are the largest number to experience independence in any single year.  Considering their experience presents a special opportunity for reflection on the nature, form and meaning of Africa’s journey since the end of formal European colonization.  We also see this as a unique opportunity to encourage the envisioning what ought to happen, using the medium of the fine arts.  Due to the disparity in power between Africans and the Europeans who colonized them, the struggle against colonialism and imperialism was necessarily waged  piecemeal, evoking the theme: Bits and Pieces.  Independence too was granted in Bits and Pieces, and the struggle for development proceeds in Bits and Pieces.

On Bits and Pieces

            Many struggles were waged, lives given, sacrifices made for emancipation from the explicit racialized subordination of formal colonialism.  However, “decolonization” was only partial and imperialism did not end with formal independence.  What have 50 years of independence from colonialism meant for Africans?  What were the key mistakes made after inheriting the colonial state?  What breakthroughs have been made?  What challenges remain?  “Bits and pieces” constitutes an attempt to contemplate some of the possible answers to these questions.
            “Bits and pieces” suggest fracture, splitting up and fragmentation, possibly from a catastrophic encounter.  But the phrase also evokes multiple positive possibilities—collage, mosaic, quilt, appliqué, montage, tableau, pastiche, installation, juxtaposition, piecing together fragmented bits and pieces to make a beautiful collage, a gorgeous mosaic, a magnificent quilt and imaginative appliqué through the application of human imagination to creating a new and different whole that is more than the sum total of its parts.  It is a historical fact that the fracturing of the continent’s peoples and pre-colonial states into bits and pieces of European-created nation states resulted from the imperialistic designs of late colonization that began with the Berlin West Africa conference (1884-1885) sliced and diced, distorted and torn asunder Africa by European powers around a conference table where there was no African presence, but aspiring world powers like the United States of America had observer status.  It is also an incontrovertible fact that some pre-existing states survived the assault.  Ethiopia for example did not experience formal colonization, albeit this was not for lack of European design. 
            A Bits and Pieces conception that emerges out of the understanding that humans make history but not under circumstances that they create or control could also express the hope that Africans can put together the Bits and Pieces created through European imperialist design as a gorgeous mosaic/beautiful quilt/magnificent installation/imaginative montage.

The ongoing destructiveness of Colonialism

Colonialism is one of the prime challenges that the African continent has faced.  But we should also be mindful that it was a very short period—approximately two generations on the average (Rathbone 2007).  And although it would be much too ignorant to begin Africa’s experience of modernity with the colonial era, it would also be very wrong to totally dismiss colonialism as a watershed period in the continent’s history.  Indeed, the missionaries and traders preceded the colonialists to the African continent, and according to Taiwo, modernity, expressed as the desire to “civilize” Africans through the introduction of Western education and Christianity came first from the missionaries (Barnes 2009), and these missionaries were not just Europeans, but also included African recaptives, freedmen, and converts who never left the continent (Taiwo, How Colonialism Preempted Modernity in Africa 2010). 
In the late 19th Century, colonialism was suddenly, forcibly, and unpredictably imposed on the African continent in a catastrophic and phenomenal manner, that was the more shocking given the tremendous progress and far-reaching revolutions experienced in the first eight decades of the 19th Century.  As a matter of fact, A. Adu Boahen tells us that

An overwhelming majority of the states and polities of Africa were in full control of their own affairs and destinies…and by 1880 was in a mood of optimism and seemed poised for a major breakthrough on all fronts.  By 1880 old Africa appeared to be in its dying throes and a new and modern Africa was emerging (Boahen 1987)

African Resistance against Imperialism and Colonialism

Africans resisted, and we all have heard of the valiant efforts of Samori Toure, the Ndebele and Shona, the Nandi in Kenya, Chief Mandume of the Ovambo, the Sokoto Caliphate, the Ashanti, the Baoule of Cote d’Ivoire until 1911; the Igbo of Nigeria until about 1919; The Dyula of Senegal until the 1920s; the Dinka of Southern Sudan until 1927; Muhammad Abdille Hassan of Somaliland until 1920; the resistance of the Bedouin against Italian colonialism via a guerilla war until 1931; Algeria resisted French domination for 17 years from 1830 to etc.  We also are familiar with the Ethiopian exception.  In the end, so few Europeans were able to maintain the jackboot of colonialism on the African continent, and it is a mark of the success of colonialism that the map of Africa that was drawn during the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 remains very much reflected in the Africa of today.  It is also a mark of its success that Europe quickly followed up with the Scramble, a move that legitimized the abstract map-drawing in Berlin through the trading of, and dickering over territories in London, Paris, Berlin and other European capitals by European leaders who knew next to nothing about the continent; demonstration of “effective occupation” and the process of brutal pacification (Meredith 2005).  So little did the Europeans know in fact, that Lord Salisbury, British Prime Minister of the time said: “We have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were” (Meredith 2005, 2).
            We all know the problems created by the arbitrary ways in which Europeans drew the African map, jumbling together various ethno-linguistic groups while dividing others in an equally arbitrary manner.  Approximately 10,000 African polities were converted into 40 European colonies and protectorates at the end of the Scramble for Africa.  Through treaties and conquest, Europeans established their rule on the continent and its peoples.   The French made out like proverbial bandits, with 3.75 million square miles of land, the British closely followed with approximately 2 million square miles (Meredith 2005, 2).  The first and second World Wars saw Africans used as cannon fodder in European wars, and the continent’s territories shuffled between victor and vanquished among the Europeans.  Various Indirect Rule schemes were used to maintain European domination over their colonial territories.  African chiefs were co-opted or created where they did not exist.  We all know this story very well.  An unintended consequence of both wars was the radicalization of Africans and the solidification of their resistance to European colonization.
            Despite its coercive, racist, exploitative and traumatic nature, colonialism represented threat for some Africans and opportunity shortsighted for others.  One must indeed be shortsighted to sell one’s heritage for a veritable “mess of pottage” or a mere pittance.  Its impact was far from homogeneous but highly varied and uneven on men and women, different colonies, at different points in time, as well as on the young and old (Rathbone 2007, 91).  The European Scramble for Africa involved some countries that had successfully begun to trade with Africa since the 15th and 16th Centuries such as Portugal, Holland, Britain and France.  Germany, Italy and King Leopold of the Belgium joined the party.  Spain also tried to secure what little it could.  But this was not the only scramble going on, Africans too scrambled for territory, using the aphorism:  “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as rationale in choosing alliances.  The grab whatever you can and “the devil take the hindmost” rationalization for predatory behavior ensured that whatever gains were made were mere Bits and Pieces.  For the kind of extraordinary gains to be made by Africans that could have had transformative effect in the era of colonization required a level of unity of purpose and concerted action that could not be achieved given the circumstances prevalent in those times.

The Invention of Africa

The invention of Africa is an idea about which VY Mudimbe and others have written extensively (Mudimbe 1993).  Rather than engage in deep analysis of how the invention began and thrived, I observe that the invention could not be said to have begun during colonialism but it was helped along by the process.  It is clear that the occupants of the continent did not consider themselves as “Africans” before the advent of colonialism, but beginning from the 15th Century efforts of the Portuguese during the “age of discovery”, when the territory was dubbed thus, it was regarded as such.  The forcible removal and enslavement of 12-20 million Africans and their transportation to Europe and later the new world from the 16th to the 19th Centuries, meant the fusion of the notion of racial inferiority with African-ness in the European imagination.  Literature, Politics, economic relations and popular culture contributed to the negative invention.  So did European-derived Christianity and its Hamitic theory.  But even in the dreadful circumstances produced by slavery, people of African descent rejected the vilification of the continent and its peoples.  Pan-Africanism is one of the expressions that demonstrated this rejection.  Ghana, Mali, Songhai, the Great Zimbabwe, Egypt and other examples of what could be termed the “African genius” even in the acephalous communities of Africa, there are notable contributions to human progress.   Precisely because colonialism was so onerous, independence could be considered a revolution (Boahen 1987).


            Africans struggled for independence with valor and vigor.  They had great aspirations for freedom and self determination politically, they sought economic development.  by 1945, Liberia, Egypt, South Africa and Ethiopia were free from colonial rule (Ethiopia free from Italian domination in 1941).  Egypt was a British protectorate and South Africa ruled by a white minority government.  By mid 1950s, most of North Africa was independent.  Algeria was the exception.  By the mid 1960s, most other African countries were independent.  The Portuguese however hung on for dear life, and the peoples of the areas they colonized fought long wars of national liberation. 
Even in the countries where independence resulted from negotiated settlement, there was militant trade union action, demonstrated by general strikes and work stoppages, (Dakar, 1946; Mombasa, Dar es Salaam in 1947; French West Africa 1947-8).  There was also a peasant rebellion in Madagascar in 1947, there was widespread urban uprising in Gold Coast in 1948 to demand self government, leading to its grant in 1951, and demand for full independence; in Kenya, the Land and Freedom movement whose Kikuyu word for an oath taken by adult men but generalized as requirement for all members was distorted by the British into Mau Mau (Elkins 2005), had armed uprisings from 1952-1956; Cameroon experienced the same in 1956-58; Algeria in 1954-62).  Of course, harsh colonial repression was the response to all this resistance.
Nationalist resistance against colonialism was fueled by a refusal to succumb to domination, and it was manifested in many different ways, which luckily, have also been carefully documented.  While we have many laments of enduring African proclivities toward disunity, it is actually possible to see the resistance by ethnic nationalities of the embrace of the states created only through European imprimatur as alien and unacceptable, in spite of their seeming permanence.  Anti-colonial resistance also yielded multiple defeats.  Samori Toure was captured, he died in exile.  Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh was deposed and sent to a near-thirty year exile.  Lobengula of the Ndebele lost his life while escaping from the Maxim guns of the British South Africa Company’s forces in 1894.  Unfair taxation, use of forced labor, drives to increase commodity production and anti-African economic policies were hallmarks of colonialism that left deep marks on the continent. 

Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you –Kwame Nkrumah

Euphoria and great optimism followed independence with high hopes of life more abundant for all. The desire for quick advancement and to catch up with the global North was pervasive in all independent countries.  As just one example, more schools and higher education institutions were established.  These include University Colleges in Ibadan and Legon in 1948.  In 1951, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda had universities.  More universities followed.  These contributed to the development of African historiography and “the decolonization of the African past”.  The challenge of elusive legitimacy for African leaders meant that those who led independence movements did not last as leaders committed to the well-being of their people.  Independence did not produce immediate uhuru the challenge of unity versus diversity.
From a 20-20 hindsight perspective, we can now excoriate the nationalists of old for seeking political independence first and failing to realize that economic independence is equally important.  However, the Yorùbá have a saying that is germane to illuminating the dilemma of being “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea” or facing a Hobson’s choice:  Bí owó ènìyàn kò bá te èèkù àdá, kò leè béèrè ikú t’ó pa baba rè, meaning:  if you do not have the hilt of a sword in hand, you dare not investigate your father’s death.  This in essence means that if if one is not well equipped, it is difficult to meaningfully investigate and avenge an injustice.  One may need to see the decision to fight for political independence first and hope that economic liberation will follow in this light.  An accurate reading of Fanon’s statement about the duty of each generation says as much, as I will indicate later. 
While yesterday’s colonization was experienced as physical presence of imperialists on African soil, today’s colonization is pushed by international capital.
Dates are important.  They compel reflection about trends, currents, processes.  50 is a watershed year that most human societies consider significant, and African Historiography informs us that the first wave of African nationalism could be taken as stretching from the late 1930s, or one could date it from the mid 1950s to mid-1960s.  The independence movement from the 1960s to the 70s constitutes a second wave (Iweriebor 2010).  The third wave came subsequently.  We could also consider a Modern Africa that existed for 40-50 years.  But we should avoid the danger of conceding that African history is externally induced, since this plays into a racist assumption of intellectual thought that Africa is not autonomous. Africa is our continent first and foremost, but while we know this intellectually, the dilemma is that Africans tend to accept others’ definition in all instances.  We should deliberately refrain from going along with outsiders to downplay our continent’s contributions to human experience, knowledge and learning.  Doing this contributes to a “Bits & Pieces” conceptualization of the continent.  This is done for example, when we decapitate North Africa from Africa and maintain that North Africa is Arab.  It is also done when we separate out Sub-Saharan Africa from Southern Africa.  It is our responsibility to resist others’ attempts to define us and to define ourselves in a positive manner.
Economic challenges abound as another paradox of an Africa that is the richest continent in natural resources.  Yet, there is no mystery about poverty, and the ingredients for self development are also not a mystery.  Serious societies put development at the forefront of their struggle but Africans have accepted colonial characterizations to define themselves. Ideological backwardness leaves room to being ruled from the outside.  It is indicative of the failure of independence that Africans are being dictated to by non-African countries.  It is tragic that endogenous development processes are ignored due to being ruled by the agenda of neoliberal ideology through the “assistance” of World Bank and IMF advisors (Iweriebor 2010).
One of the tragic consequences of Africa’s economic downturn from the mid 1970s to the present is the infrastructural decay of the educational apparatus and flight of the intelligentsia to countries that are more economically buoyant both in the continent, and especially in Europe and North America.  How do we revive declined African tertiary institutions? (Fasehun 2010, Williams 2010)  Exchange Programs are a newly popular medium.  Philanthropy flowing from the Global North is another avenue.  For Africans in the old and new diaspora, a willingness to give both material and intellectual assistance is key (Rowser 2010, Hudson 2010).  In this respect, remittances have become the new buzz word, and many are understandably impressed by the size of these financial flows and especially by their proportion as a percentage of GNP for each African country.  However, no amount of private philanthropic effort, and no manner of remittance has the capacity to take the role of a state in the economy.  If this were not the case, states of the Global North would not have stepped in to offer stimulus packages to their people when the World Economic Meltdown struck.  Were it not so, these states would not engage in any economic planning or policymaking whatsoever.  Philanthropy may have its place, but so does effective and thoughtful policymaking and close attentiveness to the interests of citizens, primary of which is well-being in all respects.  Instead, a disjointed Bits and Pieces strategy is pursued that is ultimately damaging.
Some elements of Bits and Pieces are evoked when one considers some of the strategies devised to solve African problems.  For example, African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and UN efforts exist and there are many brilliant ideas that have been generated over the years but there is little evidence of their implementation.  Some of the problem is created by inadequate finance.  An example is UNESCO’s 35 year effort to write an 8-volume history of Africa finished in 1999 but there was no interest to use these books in all African countries.  Only in 2009 was a program funded by Libya to teach African history on a common platform.  History and culture are foundational but there are no takers yet to actualize the teaching of African history as conceived above.  In addition, the AU has established many organizations, for example, African Academy of Languages in Bamako, Mali; Centre for Technology, Lagos, Nigeria; Centre for Oral History and Tradition, Niamey, Niger.  The AU is looking for opportunities to synergize with the Diaspora.  AU has defined the Diaspora as its 6th region due to the resources, finance, expertise and experience that reside there.   Some African American organizations are already connected, e.g. World Africa Diaspora Union (WADU), which got together to work with AU.  WADU however is dominated by African Americans and does not include other African Diasporas.  The recent African Diaspora is riddled by the same fissures, linguistic, regional, etc. (Williams 2010) 
Some wonder how we can bring down the barriers in the Diaspora and Africa, especially those created by colonial dependency and linkages.  They wonder whether people in the Diaspora can help to overcome the challenges.  But how is this to be done?  What does the Diaspora gain from this relationship? Many studies exist, some sponsored by the ECA, and it’s important not to work in a vacuum.  There are many centers in Africa for a variety of subjects.  The MDGs also incorporate several issues that have been with us as challenges.  We should determine the issues we want to concentrate on and make an impact.  We should also think of how to build synergies that take into account what others are doing.  We need to further reflect to pinpoint where, when, and what we would like to concentrate upon.  One possible area is the educational system in Africa.  In the rating of universities worldwide, most of the top 500 in the world are in South Africa.  Association of African Universities in Accra documented this.  What can be done to help?  How do we get the Diaspora to collaborate in the transfer knowledge? (Williams 2010).
One answer is that rather than trying to do everything—an overwhelming process under any circumstances, we should be specific and garner theoretical foundations from what’s been said so far, and then look to practical and pragmatic concerns.  There are myths from geography, history, economics, about power and powerlessness, poverty and wealth.  What is the point of intervention?  We should pay attention to the core issues and how to transform these compelling problems.  Sierra Leone is an example of a country that went from a promising state, especially concerning human resources to becoming a basket case.  In the academy, one observes also the decline of Africa as organizing principle, and rise of the Diaspora as a concept (Allan 2010).

African autonomous responses to economic crisis.

We also tend to ignore or be unaware of the multiple developments created and sponsored by Africans independently of the dominant external governments.  However, thinking about the meaning and essence of independence requires that past activism of African countries should be noted.  The African Priority Program for Economic Recovery and Development (APPAERD) was developed to foreground an Africa agenda for development.  It was distorted and the United Nations Program for African Development (UNPAD) was substituted.  The Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) was also focused on prioritizing regional development.  Its writing was led by Professor Adebayo Adedeji.  Instead, the Structural Adjustment Program SAP was pushed by the West.  IMF and World Bank development experts on Africa recommended some bad programs that caused numerous problems and the reversal of development but they neither apologized nor acknowledged their role in causing problems.  Their emissaries see themselves as some kind of Ambassadors-at-Large who would rather liaise directly with Presidents and Prime Ministers rather than bureaucrats, and they have had the opportunity to do this.  We should think of annual events to focus on African challenges and bring policymakers and academics together (Fasehun 2010).
As Africans, we also must look forward. What lies in the future?  Africans should envision what they think should happen in the continent.  We should strategize about how to realize their aspirations and dreams in the future.  Now, fifty years after “the Year of African Independence” we take time to share, to learn and to educate, to mobilize and organize, in our own interest to create positive change for all Africans. There is a need for increased awareness and attentiveness to the representation of Africa in the popular imagination with a view to countering Anti-African representations (Steering Committee, Modern Africa Group 2010).  Negative representation is also pervasive in political analysis, and it is not a luxury for Africans to develop our capacity for political analysis in order to not only challenge negativities but to produce in a proactive way, our own autonomous analysis of our politics in a manner that enhances our independence from colonization.  We should do this while imagining a better political future that is truly free of colonial domination. (Steering Committee, Modern Africa Group 2010). 
Today, Globalization seems to be colonialism in a different garb, and Africa is still laboring under colonialist domination of multinational capital and its proxies, often with the cooperation of states that are insufficiently responsive to the needs of their people.  Many observers have also claimed that one or the other of Africa’s post-colonial governments is more akin to its colonial precursor than to the people with whom it shares common origin. 
As Africans, we also need to realize that all is not lost.  The artists in the “Bits & Pieces” exhibition were trained at the Obafemi Awolowo University, and they graduated during the dark days of Structural Adjustment.  They are skilled, they are talented, they are hopeful, they are optimistic.  One of them is here in the US, while two remained at home.  Both have become a part of shaping and preparing the youth for careers in the Fine Arts, one as a University lecturer, and the other as a Studio Artist.  The third trained as a teacher in Art Education.  All three have pursued their passion and dreams and are practicing artists.  All three, including the two who remained in Nigeria are successful professionals whose work can be categorized as part of the avant garde in the corpus of contemporary African art.  Their work is at once beautiful and thought provoking.  It is decorative and inspirational.  It is expressive as well as contemplative.  They use manifold media in very imaginative combinations.  They give us hope that there is much to be excited about in Africa.  They inspire us to know that there is a generation of Africans who value the culture and capture it in a manner that is visually arresting.  While we should zero-in and look at what made others develop, we should also attend to how we can re-create ourselves to achieve our own dreams and aspirations.  The fine arts are one means of doing this, particularly in an inspirational manner.
Gender equity, conceptualized as the norm of complementarity between men and women, was a part of pre-colonial African society.  Our imagined future should therefore engage and foreground gender equity.  Many of the works in this exhibition present both the male and female form, engaged in work, leisure, and the activities of daily life.  We focus on practical and pragmatic concerns.  There are myths from geography, history, economics, about power and powerlessness, poverty and wealth.  We should pay attention to the core issues that we must engage and imagine how to transform our lives in a more positive direction.
The 21st Century can be seen as the New African Century.  But while China’s presence in Africa is making the US more concerned about its Africa policy, we who have always been engaged in envisioning African independence should take stock of what this means for the future (Brown 2010).  What do the 50 years mean? 
Some meaning can be derived from a reading of Fanon:

Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.  In the underdeveloped countries preceding generations have simultaneously resisted the insidious agenda of colonialism and paved the way for the emergence of the current struggles.  Now that we are in the heat of combat we must shed the habit of decrying the efforts of our forefathers or feigning incomprehension at their silence or passiveness. They fought as best they could with the weapons they possessed at the time, and if their struggle did not reverberate throughout the international arena, the reason should be attributed not so much to a lack of heroism but to a fundamentally different international situation.  More than one tribe had to rebel, more than one peasant revolt had to be quelled, more than one demonstration to be repressed, for us today to stand firm, certain of our victory. For us who are determined to break the back of colonialism, our historic mission is to authorize every revolt, every desperate act, and every attack aborted or drowned in blood (Fanon 1961).

According to Basil Davidson in an epilogue titled “African Destinies” in The African Genius, a book written in 1969,

In the end it will be a matter of knowing how the civilization of the past can be remade by a new and bold vision.  The Africans sorely need their modern revolution: profound and far reaching in creative stimulus, unleashing fresh energies, opening new freedoms.  The world’s experience may help.  But the structures that are needed will have to stand on  their own soil.  Perhaps this is only another way of saying that these new structures, as and when they emerged will be nourished by the vigour and resilience of native genius, by all the inheritance of self-respect and innovating confidence that has carried these peoples through past centuries of change and cultural expansion (Davidson 1969).

Rather than engage in the easy exercise of denouncing past and present actors, we should consider what we are doing to change Africa.  Are we repeating the Africa is incapable discourse?  It is the responsibility of every conscious element of every generation to contribute to progress.  We should mark major turning points and design a common agenda and vision.  What is lacking now is an Africa-thought out agenda for its own self-development and rallying forces around it.  It is part of our defeat that we coalesce around others’ agenda.  We should reflect on the past and identify “where the rain began to beat us”, where we need to go on.  Superficially, all you hear about Africa is negations.  There are subjective perceptions that differ from objective reality.  Sierra Leone from the 19th Century to the present is an example of painful nation building. We need to learn from our own history, but we don’t.  Every society must go through defining moments.  There is no mystery about solutions.  Neither Afro pessimism nor Afro optimism is relevant; these are externally created concepts and are classical examples of Western binary thought.  African thought is different since it’s multi-linear and does not focus on the conflict of binary opposites.  What is the objective reality in Africa?  What is actually happening?  We can look at the example of Nollywood: an example of African autonomous capitalism for self-development.  It belies everything said about Africa and Nigeria, and has become the third largest film industry in the world (Iweriebor 2010). 


The Art exhibition, Africa Happening! Bits & Pieces shows us that Nollywood is by no means an isolated phenomenon.  It also enables us to consider many of the issues germane to African independence via the lenses of artistic expression, featuring on the beautiful, challenging diversity of Africa as well as continuity and change, from the imagination of some of the continent’s young artists.  What we see in this exhibition is all the more exciting because these artists were trained in the continent and their work is infused by their cultural knowledge and experiences. 
Attempts to solve problems in the African continent, particularly by the international community and development experts reflect a dismissive attitude toward Africans and a valorization of non Africans, particularly in the quest for expertise, nanalysis, evaluation, explication of problems and proposal of solutions.  Thus, where there are two similarly matched persons in all respects, including training, experience and expertise, one African and the other from the Global North, the Global Northerner is likely to be privileged over the African as a source of knowledge, information, cutting edge analysis, and insight.  Where the two are African, the person with training in an institution located in the Global North is privileged, even if the subject matter is Africa.  Where one of the two Africans is male and the other female, the male is likely to be considered more expert.  Until the structural conditions that make such decisions routine are eradicated, and conventional power and gender considerations are rendered irrelevant, we would be doing serious disservice to all of humanity.  More importantly, considered from the perspective of Africa’s 50-year independence, it is about time that its peoples took the lead in autonomously thinking about, or really re-thinking the solutions to its problems, and leading the efforts to implement policies to actualize the well-being of all.   Thus far, independence is yet to yield autonomy.  When the nation states in the continent have encountered the normal problems such as ethnic, religious, communal and civil wars, and any number of challenges, the expert pool consulted tends to blame the victims and abstract the African experience from the proper context—some experiences are human, even if they are undesirable.  Human beings rarely learn the lessons of history, and old mistakes are made over and again.  Africans need to take the Bits and Pieces of our history after colonialism and create objects of beauty that inspire us, encourage us, and make our lives better.  This exhibition encourages us to consider these possibilities.  
Present at the first meeting were:
Professor Tuzyline Jita Allan
Dr. Fahamisha Patricia Brown
Ms. Iman Drammeh
Ms. Amrotae Eshetu
Dr. Orobola Fasehun
Dr. Fredline M’Cormack-Hale
Ms. Nicole Hudson
Professor Ehiedu Iweriebor
Professor Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome
Dr. Candice Rowser
Gen. Ishola Williams (Rtd.)

Joining the efforts later, and helping to further conceptualize in the Steering Committee are:
Ms. Bosede Adenekan
Dr. Nkechinyelum Chioneso
Ms. Iman Drammeh
Ms. Nicole Hudson
Ms. Divine Muragijimana
Dr. Dolapo Niell
Dr. Chaka Uzondu

Dr. Lynda Day participated in some of the Steering Committee meetings and in her capacity as Endowed Women’s Studies Chair, will organize some events in the Spring under the auspices of the Women’s Studies Program.

Other members of the group are:
Dr. Rashidah Ismaili AbuBakr
Bandele Adeyemi
Dr. Kwame Akonor
Dr. Ousseina Alidou
Dr. Melanie Bush
Dr. Roderick Bush
Dr. Yuusuf Caruso
Mr. Kunmi Demuren
Dr. Mary Dillard
Mr. Cervat Dargin
Dr. Darling
Dr. Orobola Fasehun
Ms. Nosarieme Garrick
Ms. Binta Hassan
Mr. Wuyi Jacobs
Dr. Aderemi Ogundiran
Ms. Khady Seck
Dr. Toks Sofola
Ms. Bukola Shonuga
Mr. Ekerete Udoh

We are grateful to Professor Joseph Wilson, Director of the Brooklyn College, Department of Political Science’s Graduate Center for Worker Education, for offering us the exhibition space at 25 Broadway, NY.  This location in the Wall St. area, at the heart of the city’s financial district, and opposite the iconic bull sculpture makes it possible to have a central location.  We also thank Professor Juan Carlos Mercado Dean of the City College Center for Worker Education, who graciously gave us an extension up to the end of the month of October for the exhibition.  Finally, we thank Annie London, Yoshi for their support and assistance.

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