The meaning of the term “African Renaissance” now running parallel with Pan Africanism in the corridors of the African Union must be clarified. It is confusing to people who are not rooted in the history of Africa before the tragedy of the European slave trade in African people and plundering of African countries by Europeans through their Berlin Act of 26 February 1885.
Lest we forget, the “European Renaissance” brought slavery, colonialism and racism to Africa. It dehumanised Africans, plundered the riches of Africa, destroyed African civilisations and under-developed Africa. Africans have suffered the worst holocaust in human history as a result of the “European Renaissance.”
Pan Africanism challenged the effects of the “European Renaissance” formally from 1900. The wars of national resistance against colonialism in various parts of Africa were of course long fought in countries such as Azania (South Africa as early as 1510). From the very beginning Pan Africanists spoke of liberating Africa and restoring this Continent to its colonially lost power and glory. Pixley ka Isaka Seme spoke of “African Regeneration.” He was right and wise in not using the term “African Renaissance” which would look like an African colonial imitation of a “renaissance” that took place in Europe.
The first renaissance in the world was African. Africa is the cradle of the first human civilisation which was destroyed by the agents of “European Renaissance.” Africa was advanced long before she was invaded by Europe. Europeans took advantage of the superiority of the gun over the African spear in war. Before all this, fascinated by the greatness of Africa, in admiration of this Continent, that famous Emperor of the Roman Empire Julius Caesar proclaimed to the world, “Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi!” (Out of Africa comes always something new). This is not surprising when it is remembered that not long ago, Europeans adored “the Black Madona” – the holy family of Jesus Christ and his mother Mary. Sir Godfrey Higgins’ ANCALYPSIS pages 137-138 states, “The infant God in the arms of his black mother, his eyes and drapery white, is himself perfectly black….There is scarcely an old church in Italy where some remains of the worship of the Black Virgin and Black Child are not to be found.” Sir Godfrey has, however observed that lately, “Very often the black figures have given way to white ones and instead of the black ones as being held sacred, they were put into retired places of the churches, but were not destroyed.” This has been one of the many attempts to hide the glory of the first renaissance on earth which was African and to portray the barbaric and immoral “European Renaissance” which produced the darkness of slavery, colonialism and racism as “superior” to the very Africa that sustained and enlightened the world.
The truth however persists. Commenting on the peace and security of many African states before the European Berlin Conference in 1885 which grabbed and partitioned Africa into “British Africa, “Belgian Africa,” “Spanish Africa,” “French Africa,” “German Africa,” Portuguese Africa,” and “Italian Africa”, leaving nothing for Africans except Ethiopia, Basil Davidson, a British journalist and author wrote that “Only six missionaries of some 300 who had penetrated into East and Central Africa are known to have been killed by wanton murder. What looked like chaos was seldom anything of the kind. What seemed like danger to life was nearly always a huge exaggeration. Life for the traveller in middle Africa was in fact a good deal safer –from wars and human killings than it generally was in Europe; which explains – of course, the gentler way in which Africans were accustomed to receiving strangers.”
For his part, the biography writer of Prophet Mohammed, Hisham has stated that this prophet so trusted black people that he instructed those who were persecuted in Mecca to go to Ethiopia [Africa]. “There they will find a king under whom none are persecuted. It is a land of righteousness where God will give you relief from what you are suffering.”
Lucian, a Greek satirist who is regarded as a “free thinker” of the olden days has written, “The gods on occasions do not hear the prayers of mortals [in Europe] because they are away across the ocean among the Ethiopians [Africans/black people] with whom they dine frequently on their invitation.”
Prof. Cain Hope Felder of the Howard University, Washington D.C., has remarked, “It shows the esteem in which the ancients held the African people; that they selected them as the only fit associates for their [European] gods.”
Because many people have deliberately caused confusion about Mizraim in Africa (which the Greeks called Egypt), it is important for me to first clear this confusion. An African Egyptologist, Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop has written extensively on the early history of Africa, especially of Mizraim (ancient Egypt). He has declared, “Egypt was a Black civilisation. The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in the air and cannot be written until African historians dare to connect it with the problem of Egypt. The African historian, who evades the problem of Egypt, is neither modest nor objective or unruffled; he is ignorant, cowardly and neurotic.” Prof. Diop elaborated, “Imagine if you can, the uncomfortable position of a Western historian who writes the history of Europe without referring to Greco-Latin Antiquity, and passes off that as scientific research….The ancient Egyptians were Black. The moral fruit of their civilisation is to be counted among the assets of the Black World. Instead of presenting itself as an insolvent debtor, that Black World is the very initiator of the Western civilisation flaunted before us today.”
When the African Union talks of Pan Africanism and African Renaissance, which “African Renaissance” are they talking about? The first renaissance on this planet was African. If the present African Renaissance AU is talking about is merely to mimic the racist “European Renaissance,” then the Pan African objective of total liberation of Africa; will not be achieved.
The pre-colonial Africa fascinated not only Julius Caesar, but Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Napoleon so envied the title “Pharaoh” which was the title of Black rulers of Mizraim that he also wanted to bear the title “Pharaoh”. Anyway about 1820, this French Emperor sent his scientists to carry out archaeological research in Egypt, Africa. These archaeologists affirmed that ancient Egyptians were Black people. Abbe Emile (1850-1916), a highly qualified Egyptologist excavated Om El’ Qaab. He discovered and identified sixteen African Pharaohs more ancient than Menes who united south and north Mizraim. In fact, a French Egyptologist Count F. Volney has recorded that “The Egyptians were the first people to attain the physical and moral science necessary to civilise life.” A German scholar Karl Lepsius after visiting the tomb of Pharaoh Rameses III, exclaimed, “Where we expected to see an Egyptian [white person], we are presented with an authentic Black!” Also on this subject, Sir A. E. Wallis Budge, a British Egyptologist who has written extensively about Mizraim (ancient Egypt) has declared, “The prehistoric native Egypt [Mizraim, Kemet etc], both in old and new Stone Ages was African and there is a reason for saying the inhabitants came from the South.” Budge was a keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum.
The view that ancient Egyptians were Black people was held by leading ancient historians such as Pliny, Strabo, Diodorus, Tacitus and the venerated Herodotus himself. Africans built Memphis, the capital city of Mizraim in 3100 B.C. Greeks built Athens in 1200 B.C. The Romans built Rome in 1000 B.C. Africans invented writing. It was Hieroglyphics before 3000 B.C., Hieratic alphabet shortly after this. Demotic writing was developed about 600 B.C.; while the Kushite script was used in 300 B.C. Other African scripts were Merotic, Mende of Mali, Coptic, Amharic, Sabean and G’eez, Nsibidi script of Nigeria and Twi script of the Twi people in Ghana.
The AU speaks of “African Renaissance”. The question is which “African Renaissance” is the AU talking about, the one that is just a mimicry of the “European Renaissance”? If it is mimicking the latter, this would be merely a pandering to the arrogance of the agents of cultural imperialism. The earlier notion of Africa’s restoration was expressed in a Zulu/Xhosa slogan “Mayibuye! iAfrika!” Many Africans were aware that Africa had been taken away from them by Europeans through the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. From then onward everything Africa had been colonised and expropriated by the colonisers for themselves. “Mayibuye iAfrika” means “Africa must return to its rightful owners” with all its resources and its colonised African epistemology. To this notion of African restoration, Prof. Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s Pan Africanist Congress added, “Izwe Lethu! iAfrika! (Afrika [and all its riches] is our land!
It is estimated that from the 15th century, the slave trade practised by Europe, America and others pilfered from Africa over three hundred and seventy trillion US dollars ($370,000,000,000,000). This excludes the colonial damage to Africa which is going on even now. Yet, Africa is harassed for “foreign debts” by former practitioners of slavery in human beings and thieves of other people’s countries and their riches. Africa was never inferior to Europe until European terrorist militarism imposed slavery and colonialism on Africa.
As Edem Kodjo, author of AFRICA TOMORROW, who is a great researcher puts it, “It is here in Africa that history began. Far from being a gratuitous assertion, this statement is an undeniable scientific fact for which one finds corroboration when one roves the world in search of the remains of the ancient civilisations. According to the present state of research on the origins of the progress of humankind, the Mother of Mankind, Africa remains the privileged source of the first manifestations of intense human creativity.”
By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
The writer is a historian, political scientist, lawyer and theologian. He is author of books such as Towards Africa’s Authentic Liberation, African Renaissance Saved Christianity and Rediscovering Africa And Her Spirituality. He is a former Member of the South African Parliament and former Representative of the victims of apartheid and colonialism at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.