… Let’s not use words such as origins, cradle of humankind, raw, natural resource etc to rob African of their heritage.
It’s a travesty that Africans have been taught to hate everything about themselves and told that their development solutions will come from the West or outside of them. As an undergraduate taking political science courses I would ask myself why African was underdeveloped and I had somehow figured it had to do with their mindset (something which prompted me to take psychology classes) but I also had this theory about arrested development and wrote an essay (for a contest) whereby I postulated that Africa had been on its own development path as any civilization has its own path and was interrupted by colonisation and imperialism which derailed or rather sidetracked us. As a consequence, we are always playing catch up in a game whose rules we do not quite fully understand. Any nation or people who have no foundation for their development will ape what they see. Development is sequential. It starts from 0. The idea that Africa could start at someone’s 50 and be a force to reckon with in terms of development cannot work. Such an outlook on development leaves us with resources which we cannot appropriate without outside help or rather which can be appropriated by an entity that has been successful in following and staying true to its own development path. African on the other hand has relied on its natural resources in order to make money i.e. selling resources to an entity that knows how to appropriate them.
For a long time we have known Africa to be a source of natural resources, a place where no value can be added to anything. In fact we have been urged on to continue being the hub for natural resources because that is what what we are good for. On the other hand we have ridiculously expensive value added products sold to us at much higher prices than what we could sell our natural resources for. Let’s go beyond growing cash crops for sale to western countries and expand the concept of natural resources to include cultural resources. At one point we became the space for growing produce which we have no need for and significantly, our cultural resources have been labelled as backward while being appropriated without recognising the rightful source.
This is evident in biopiracy (See Biopiracy: when indigenous knowledge is patented for profit & (Drawn out battle over genetic resources dampens Africa’s hopes).
The Akamba for example knew how to cure snake bites (a constant menace for them) and I’ve heard that a certain foreigner learnt this knowledge and used to develop an anti-venom without giving due credit. This happens because African communities tend not to be profit oriented and view cultural knowledge as necessary for everyone’s well-being rather than for profit making. While doing my field work I was directed to a fellow who had done extensive research on Akamba herbal medicine with a foreign researcher. The product of the research is a huge book (fortunately, he has a copy)which he uses to heal people. The researcher also went away with a wealth of knowledge (perhaps for value adding without recognising the source of knowledge). Simply stated, we have researchers collecting knowledge and appropriating it without recognising its source.
As a researcher on African culture and religion, I am worried about Africa being labelled as the ‘cradle of humankind’ (perhaps it is, perhaps not). I am concerned about African culture being labelled as primitive and thus being the ‘source’ or origin of information for every researcher who wishes to connect the dots from the past. Perhaps Africa is the cradle of humankind but our culture cannot be separated from us and presumed to belong to everyone because we are the source. Academics will lift African principles and refer to them using terms such as ‘primitive’,’origins’ and deny rightful ownership or appropriate the information into other kinds of knowledge without acknowledging the source. African culture cannot be referred to in words such as ‘origins of human behaviour’.
I am one of those who subscribed to the idea that the African American gang problem could be understood by studying African culture. Boy was I wrong. To demonstrate the absurdity of seeking ‘original’ knowledge in Africa one of my professors told us a about a lady who had come to research about an African American problem in Kenya instead of focusing on the historical happenings in America. Western societies are constantly evolving and developing and the origins of their behaviour can be tracked based on the choices they have made in the past. We Africans have preserved our culture over time, and I hope we continue to do so (despite some of our cultures being referred to as harmful). It’s not too much to ask that we recognise the rightful source of information without twisting it.