Afrikology and community: restorative cultural practices in East Africa.

Author:Wanda, Ronald Elly


Natural resources supply raw material for getting the work of the world done. Cultural resources organize co-operation among people for getting the work of the world done.

--Dani Nabudere, 2006

The foundation of this article is the timeless supposition that we are culturally more together than we are alone. Our theme aims to explore the practicalities of culture in peace creation, and in the workings of Afrikology as an epistemology in East African communities, or to put it simply, Afrikology and cultural clusterism in action to ask what are the operational aspects of Afrikology, and what is the DNA composition of the cultural clusters in Mount Elgon cross-border communities of East Africa (Mount Elgon is a volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya, hence, the oldest and largest solitary volcano in East Africa)?

To begin with, the first articulation of Afrikology declares that: "it is a true philosophy of knowledge and wisdom based on African cosmogonies. It is afri--because it is inspired by the ideas originally produced from the cradle of humankind located in East Africa which emanates from the source of a universal system of knowledge originating in Africa. Thus, the philosophic product is therefore not relativistic to Africa, but universal in its essence, with its base in Africa. It is also--(ko)logy because it is based on the logos-the word, which was uttered to set in motion the universe in its originality. It was from this word that human consciousness first emerged and it was from that consciousness that humanity emerged as thinking and acting agents with language with 'word' as the active cultural achievement. As professor Dani Wadada Nabudere (1932-2011), the epistemological and philosophical grandmaster of Afrikology, states in Afrikology: Philosophy and Wholeness (2011), he states:

Afrikology is not African-centric or Afrocentric. It is a universal scientific epistemology that goes beyond Eurocentricism, or other ethnocentrisms. It recognises all sources of knowledge as valid within their historical, cultural or social contexts and seeks to engage them into a dialogue that can lead to better knowledge for all. It recognises peoples' traditions as a fundamental pillar in the creation of such cross-cultural understandings in which the Africans can stand out as having been the fore-bearers of much of what is called Greek or European heritage as fact of history that ought to be recognised, because from this fact alone, it can be shown that cross-cultural interactions has been a fact of historical reality (2).

Professor Nabudere argues meticulously that for centuries the African personality has been bedevilled by the burden of foreign domination that has affected her self-understanding. Subsequently, Nabudere urges that the process of re-awakening and recovery in Africa has to be one of a historical deconstruction in what he calls "consciousness raising," not by others, but by Africans themselves, tracing the origins and achievements of their civilizations. This, he insists, requires the adoption of Afrikology as an epistemology that recognises orality as a valid source of knowledge. He therefore, encourages researchers and practitioners alike to adopt a holistic approach towards recognising that orality can only be interpreted under a platform that accommodates multi-and interdisciplinary approaches. Appropriately, this is what he calls 'act locally, think globally.' Implicit in this epigram is the belief that it is local struggles in the villages that can guarantee African-rebirth, resurgence and renaissance and ensure that local communities reject neo-traditionalism that had been instituted by the colonial state.

However, Nabudere at the same time warns that this should not be seen in isolation, but in solidarity with other local groups elsewhere in the world. The argument here seems to be that if the driving force towards globalization is domination, then globalised resistance based on "global consciousness" ought to be its antithesis. The imperative, as such, for the authentic liberation of Africa, as argued by philosopher Mogobe Ramose, requires neither a supplicated apologia nor interminable obsequies in defence of being African. "The African must simply be an African, that is, a human being second to none in our contingent but complex universe" (3). The brutal and systematic assault on communities across Africa and the subsequent systems (cultural, religious, epistemological, curricula's, governance etc.) imposed on communities denotes that this is essential.

The Dialectical Impact of Colonialism in Africa

For Africans the world over, the advent of colonialism by Europeans was a tragic experience. In 1885 during the so-called 'Berlin Conference', Africa was scrambled up among occupying powers with the sole aim of violently looting as much as they could in their areas of influence. Thus African states were created to facilitate and ease the efficiency of rapid colonial exploitation. The colony became a laboratory of caprice where all sorts of clinical trials (political, social, and cultural) were performed, causing untold suffering to African communities-effects of which still remain visible to this present moment (4). The dialectical inter-phase that occurred during colonization also left Africa ruined psychologically and intellectually. The experience left two broad "legacies" on Africa; first was the denial of African identity and second, the foisting of Western thought and cultural realities and perspectives on Africans. In Egypt for instance, the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said has observed that when the British ruling class tried to assume political power over Egypt, it did so by first establishing British 'knowledge of Egypt'." Said further elaborates that:

The British were initially not concerned principally with military or economic power over Egypt, but their knowledge of the Orients, including Egypt, was conceived as a form of power. The objective was to have such knowledge about the "distant other" in order to be able "to dominate it and (exert) authority over it." This in effect meant denying autonomy of knowledge over the object of domination since to do so would have recognised the existence of knowledge of the object over itself. The object's existence could only be recognised, in the words of the Colonial representatives, in as much "as we know it (5)."

As such, the current cultural value crisis among Africans is the result of the impact of liberal philosophy and its associated discourses. For so long the liberal paradigm has undermined the hermeneutic power of African people to interpret the world through their symbols. One common factor among liberal theories is the value that they place on individual freedom to pursue interests and goals.

This is perhaps why classical liberals such as the British philosophers John Locke and John Stewart Mills placed strong emphasis on freedoms from social control. From this foundational value of freedom follows the welfare state, wealth, and power manifestations of a mind-set focused on individualism. Therefore, the concept of the world and the manner of living which informs Western societies can best be described as materialistic which has been aggressively exported to all parts of the world where their civilization has gone in search for material resources to ultimately meet its expansionist philosophy.

Epistemological Dependency Culture in Africa

Today in East Africa, in spite of flag independence in the early 1960s, nations are still dependent on Western political constructs, socio-legal ideas, and judicial and epistemological philosophies. Like elsewhere in Africa, this is because the structures of all nation-states (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi) oozes from an engineered political metaphysical past, where people never dialogued on their differences as a basis for federating. They were simply conscripted into geopolitical constructs that they neither chose nor bargained for. Therefore, colonialism as such, designed and inspired many of the problems our communities face today; this includes those now being rotated as universal rights and the deliberate portrayal of women in Africa as victims of traditional culture and thus in need of rescue.

The identification of African women as subordinate victims, devoid of any form of agency to resist or challenge oppression, has roots in historical, economic, social, cultural and political structures designed and defended by Eurocentric philosophies. Ugandan scholar Mukasa Luutu has argued elsewhere that this perception of African justice systems implies that indigenous Africa was insensitive to human rights and as such, the concept of human rights and its protection originated from Western civilization. On the same basis, human rights have been misappropriated and patented as an organic attribute of Western society and values; this has portrayed the West as the mode, the yardstick and arbiter over human rights concerns in the world. (6)

One other key problem characterizing the post-colonial state in East Africa has been its tendency to fragment its own communities into hostile factions. Instead of politically uniting its people within and across its borders, the African political elites have resorted to colonial tactics of 'divide and rule' and the ideology of 'neo-tribalism' by exploiting the ethnic diversities of their communities to their benefit and to the detriment of unity in the so called 'state'. It is common place in East Africa to be asked by state operatives: We, toa kipande or kitu kidogo or at times if you are very unlucky toa kitu yote (produce your identity card or money). Instead of utilizing the rich ethnic and cultural diversities of communities as building blocks to a people's African unity, they use these diversities to divide the people even further in order to, yet again, enrich themselves. In so...

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