NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 114

African intellectuals with a solid Western formal education, however, are taught to discount the evidence of this reality. Instead, they are encouraged to commit to the fiction that ancient Egypt was not African but Middle Eastern or Oriental, and therefore effectively lost to Africa. Africa’s oldest historical records exist and can be accessed, in the form of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writings. But go into a gathering of African intellectuals today, and ask how many of them actually know how to read the ancient script that contains so much information about who our ancestors were, and you’re unlikely to see more than three of four hands go up. In extreme situations, intellectuals with a lifetime commitment to the Berlin status quo may treat you to an outburst of anger, condemn hieroglyphs as unspeakable and despicable, and insinuate that any African interested in their study must be suffering from pathological feelings of inferiority. Admittedly, this is a clever way of covering up a sad fact: these African intellectuals can read Latin, maybe, but they are robustly ignorant when it comes to reading the most ancient of African scripts, hieroglyphs. 112 In the immediacy of encounters with African intellectuals properly integrated into the Berlin system of dismemberment, it may be tempting to focus on the comic aspect of our dilemma, and to laugh at their deep ignorance of African history, culture and philosophy, the phenomenon our best Egyptologist, Theophile Obenga, traces, with unsentimental directness, to la médiocrité de leurs connaissances, that is to say, the low level of their scholarly grounding. But laughter in this situation would be unproductive and, ultimately, senseless. African intellectuals proud of their formal Western education and their degrees, but ignorant of African history because unable to access information, contained in readable scripts they were never taught to read, are bit players in a deadly farce that damages us all. The fact is that for African minds, a formal education in the European scheme of things is a formidable trap that at some juncture catches every one of us. Being in the trap means being incapable, or unwilling, to see African history whole. It means accepting the socially contrived and temporary reality of the Berlin system as the natural, essential condition of African humanity. Intellectuals who accept this crippling condition as their basic philosophical ground are incapable of thinking out a way forward for African society, because they themselves are inside a mental prison from whose confines innovative thinking is impossible. How, for example, can anyone who sees himself or herself as a citizen of Niger combat the extraction of uranium to produce industrial electricity for France while his own country remains substantially powerless and lightless? The argument that a small country as Niger cannot rationally use the energy resources involved falls apart the moment the constituency is no longer Niger but Africa. But we are caught in the smaller frame of reference. That is the dilemma, for instance, of African intellectuals passionately committed to Pan-Africanism in their own imagination, but simultaneously hooked on such ahistorical, anti-African frameworks as the existing state frontiers, with their accompanying spiritual dogmata: Christianity, Marxism, Islam…. To laugh at someone trapped at the bottom of such an epistemological hole is to violate human decency. If I see my fellow caught in a trap, the thing for me to do is to throw him a key with which to spring the trap, if I have a key. If my fellow is caught at the bottom of a hole, the thing for me to do is to send down a ladder. Laughing at the ignorance of the learned is not a reasonable option, because all Africans at the bottom of the Berlin hole, all Africans caught in the trap of the intellectual status quo, serve a purpose that is not our own: maintaining the intellectual universe needed to make the Berlin system perdure even as it continues killing Africa. The purpose of the Berlin trap, the purpose of the intellectual hole in which our Berlin-type education places us as African intellectuals, is to make us incapable of reasoning from the basic premise of a unified African field. There is a vast difference between what a designer thinking as an African can aspire to, and what a designer limited to thinking as a Kenyan, a Ghanaian, a Senegalese or a Mozambican only, can aim at. This is not a simple matter of intelligence; it is the much more complex issue of intelligence in a negative context, or the same intelligence in a positive context. The dimension of that difference is what separates the present disastrous situation we live in from the humane and prosperous social conditions we could create if we put our minds to the challenge, as Africans.