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A lost sense of identity

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Centre stage – Africa wants to be everything else but never its true self; Africa has imbibed all the strange habits and cultures from regions of the world it will never equal, or ever be like: for Africa was never meant to be equal to anyone else of these lands but can only ever gain meaningful progress if Africa looks for the source of power within itself. That there are discussions on global issues where Africa is only an honorary actor with a cameo role means that it was from the onset never about Africa.

The issue is only how Africa’s status as the natural and human resource centre can be extended. The discussions where Africa is involved are only there to serve as platforms for Africa to reveal the secrets to the maps where the vast reserves of knowledge and natural resources can be accessed.
This is one of the reasons why Africa’s children are never and have never been taught in a tongue (or tongues) that are primitive to them.

What has been real since pre-colonial times is that the stranger comes to the shore of the African land with the intention to impose not only their culture but also the norms and the customs, the habits and the tendencies, the books of knowledge and the language.

It does not matter how the African wrote before the advent of the old or the new colonist, all the new one ever comes to do is to ‘teach’ the African how to live and to understand the continent the African was born in. It is simple to understand this strange equation the past ten or more generations of Africans people have had to deal with, where the landlord is told by the tenant how to live and to run the errands related to their yard.

It is only Ethiopia out of the many African states that has more than less kept their knowledge base intact, by sticking to their script and largely using their mother tongue in almost every speech episode.

This has helped because it means that every new thing encountered is reduced to the language of the common people and is thus easy to translate and to interpret into knowledge that can be used for the benefit of the people.
In strange pseudo-English twang the children of the continent are taught to ‘ascend’ to the standards set by other parts of the world where traditional African mores and moral issues are not even understood.

The African has stood by as their culture, customs and lores were lost with the advent of the new ways of the marauding wanderer looking for something new and exotic. He and she (the African) stood by as their mores and their totems were reduced to the lowly status of being mere trinkets to adorn museum exhibitions and with a glass of some strange brew in a flute, the African speaks with the tongue of their coloniser as an expert on the very items that were stolen from their lands.

It is a strange affair this one, where one gets to be told by some academic how they should pronounce the words of their mother tongue, and how to articulate them in ink on paper to render them meaningful to the coloniser.

We must be the only continent in the world where our names are mispronounced without any form of retort. What instead happens is that many of us end up pronouncing indigenous names with a foreign accent, and I wonder: how long shall we go on playing the parrot and the parakeet to some strange masters? Shall each generation of Africans that comes along be subject to the desecration of their identity by forces that are in essence not even African?

Who forgets the true tongue of their land should never hope to gain the true understanding of the world. Who lets a stranger build walls on their land should be ready to at some point lose their land to the very stranger behind the walls. The fact of the matter is simple; no one is allowed to impose their norms on what is rightly not their place of normal habit.
What we should rather have is a mutual understanding of who stands where, where all of this mess hampering Africa’s true progress began, and how we shall come to see its end. It is of no benefit taking in new norms like a whore taking different members with each passing day for a pittance.

It has become a norm that we elect a beggar class into office, and honestly speaking, no African leader of state is exempt from this loathsome habit: all of them go cap in hand to beg everywhere they go.
Forget the audacity they have to go to the begging party flying first class, the reality is that the average African leader seems unwilling to find solutions to local problems from the population within. He or she would rather go begging for ‘aid’ than to establish some ‘self-help’ scheme to put food on the table and some income into the fiscus.
The moping sessions and pity-parties posing as conferences actually gain the African nothing but obesity, imbibing the free booze and refreshments, binging on four-course tea breaks and eight-course lunches and dinners in expensive hotels.

Forgetting to use their hand and poking at grains of rice with forks, the new African with a strange sense of etiquette is actually the product of what has been going on over the past few millennia following the fall of large empires such as ancient Egypt and other kingdoms that used to dot the African continent’s landscape.
Those kingdoms were great, and there were no beggars, for people never had to beg but could actually work for their daily bread. The false Eurocentric definitions of who built the pyramids actually define the craftsmen that hewed the huge blocks of sandstone from the quarries as slaves.
This is not true, the truth is that those men belonged to a clan of master-masons that were unequalled when it came to the craft and were therefore actually defined and honoured as a venerable class by the pharaohs.

The problem with gaining this type of knowledge is that the continent is cursed with the reality of a colonised teacher passing their colonised beliefs onto the next generation. Those who do not question what they heard in class actually end up even more ignorant, passing on their ignorance onto the next generation.
What Africa in fact needs to progress is an army of knowledgeable teachers, well-read leaders, and self-understanding citizens that never refrain from rising up against the injustice of eroded identities.

We cannot hope to progress if we carry on in the manner where the outside influences the inside: there is a reason why there is a difference between what is outside and what is inside, as much as there is a reason why there is a clear line of demarcation between dusk and dawn; the night and the day.
One of the best teachers I have come across is Cheik Antah Diop whose paper was mulled over by scholars and academics and professors for over ten years. Fools argued to the contrary when it came to his assertion that the Egyptians of old were actually Negroid and were not from the Middle-East.

Such a teacher as he is of the type that is very scarce these days where the teacher and the student are victims to technological advancement.
The continent speaks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but the continent does not have a single plant where the components to the devices are actually manufactured. Africa is only there to provide the raw material for the components of the new-age devices that the citizens of the continent are forced to later buy at exorbitant prices.
Lined up as sheep to a dip or shearing shed, Africans stampede to buy what is made from materials found on the continent (think of Black Friday).
Our forefathers are said to have done the same thing; lining for blankets at the various Frasers and other general dealers (Mabenkeleng) in the past. The blankets were manufactured from wool shorn off their sheep for a pittance, and the same buyer came back to sell the woven wool for a hefty fee. The raw material is sold off cheap, and it comes back more expensive than the larger majority’s purses can afford.

These trinkets then become objects of vanity, with Africans heckling over who has the best trinket: vanity of vanities and a vainglorious attempt at boosting one’s identity by affiliating with that which is actually exacerbating one’s poverty.

Such progressive minds as Thomas Sankara were actually hated for telling the fact that the only way Africa could progress as a state and continent was if the continent adopted and inward-looking approach when it came to issues of economic development.
He was killed (not assassinated) for telling this truth. Patrice Lumumba and Steve Biko were killed for sharing the same sentiment that the true liberation of Africa lay in the freeing of the mind of the African to the point where the citizens really understood themselves.

True freedom and progress comes with one understanding who they really are and what they really posses. It cannot come where the leaders always emphasise poverty instead of potential, where leaders are not ashamed of being perpertual beggars that use their position as a tool to gain funds to line their pockets with and not to ensure that the citizens actually gain a sense of autonomy when it comes to the issues of economic development and financial or similar stability.
The reality is that Africa was for a long time in slavery, and the misfortune is that it seems that the clutches of this prolonged slavery and colonisation never actually got out of the psyche of the African.

This is due to the fact many of the first class of teachers were actually colonised individuals that had sacrificed the indigenous way of living for the sake of sounding and behaving like the colonists.
The past was considered glorious in terms of its mannerism and patterns of etiquette and was thus continued. There was no effort to eradicate its shameful uppity ways as leaders such as Lumumba sought to do. Speaking of the past on the day of his country’s independence he stated:

This was our fate for eighty years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.
We fail to progress because we are stuck in old ways, the same divide and rule tactics the colonist used have found their new form in political party formations. Where we could unlearn the ways of those that oppressed us, personal interest takes over and the beat goes on as was planned by the colonist.

This is one of the reasons why the types of leaders we have seem to religiously rely on some outside help to keep their regimes in power.
What they conveniently forget is that nothing is for free in this world of the living. The law is “a favour for a favour/ you do for me, I do for you” as it was from the beginning. Of the decay of Africa as the most advanced civilisation in the world, the reality is that the African forgot himself or herself and in the process forgot of his true ability when it came to effecting change.
This has led to this point where the African seems to hold the false notion that the only help he or she will get will come from outside the continent, which is not true if the African were to look deep down within himself or herself.

We lost our sense of being because what was once considered wealth was declared as useless. What we knew as sacred was denigrated to the status of being named as heathen practice. What we knew to be beneficial in the practice of knowledge acquisition was named as useless and ineffective.
Self-doubt set in, and the continent was lost as the new confusing ways of the colonist with their strange patterns were adopted as core to the cultivation of African character.

Put up on the pedestal, the colonist became not only the lord but became also the master of the destinies of the Africans around himself. This has carried on to the present day where the African still believes that salvation shall come from without the borders of their land.
What the African fails to understand is that he or she should first know who they really are before accepting gifts from strangers, before thinking that the outside can save him or her. Keeping this mindset means that we are bound to unwittingly pass it on to the children, and the perpertual slavery of the continent will go on as it has for the past centuries.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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