Chinweizu Decolonising African Literature Essays

Books by Chinweizu

 

 The West and the Rest of Us (1975) / Decolonising the African Mind (1987) / Voices from Twentieth-century Africa (1988)

 

Invocations and Admonitions (1986); Energy Crisis and Other Poems (1978); Anatomy of Female Power (1990)

 

 Towards the Decolonization of African Literature (1980)

 

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Letter from Chinweizu

The Insolubility of the Color Line

 

Rudy hi: Happy New Year!

I am only now catching up and reading your "powerless morality" pieces. It saddens me to see fine minds, the thinkers of our race, squandering their talent and time on the wrong problems. This preoccupation with the problem of inequality reminds me of the saying about generals working out how to win the LAST war. The problem of the color line has been said and shown to be insoluble.

Addison Gayle, Jr. said so: “The problem of the color line is insoluble”—Addison Gayle, Jr.  (1970). And the history of the last 50 years in the USA has shown it to be so. Otherwise Bakke, Jena, etc. would not have happened. Let me put it more accurately: The problem of the color line is insoluble within the narrow context of the USA or the Diaspora. It is not soluble until the underlying problem of unequal power between whites and blacks is solved. Members of two groups with unequal power cannot co-exist as equal individuals in a society.

Hence the problem of the color line is the problem of lack of the Black African power that will compel respect from the rest of humanity. it is not a problem of morality. It will end only when, as Garvey realized, we have created in Black Africa a country with power of G-8 rank. Only then will Blacks stop living in a state of shame, and gain self-respect and the respect of the rest of humanity. There is no other way. It is mind boggling to see our people today, in the 21st century, carrying on as if Garvey never lived or spoke or wrote. We determinedly evade his correct insight and prescription.

Besides, why can’t we focus our minds on the problems of today and tomorrow? Namely, the problem of our extermination that has been in process for the last 30 years since the invention of AIDS by the US Govt. Why are we addicted to the problem of inequality when we are being exterminated?  Our prime problem is no longer the problem of inequality, but that of ongoing extermination!!! And the answer to this new problem, which was also foretold by Garvey, is our creating enough Black African power to stop the process. How to create such power within the next 50 years is the problem on our table, not how to create equality between whites and blacks, women, homosexuals, etc.—as your philosopher,  Shelby, seems to think.

If we are to set about creating that power, we must cure ourselves of our addiction to powerless moralizing. As they say, "We should keep our eyes on the political donut of power, and not on the morality hole!"  I hope you find the attached paper useful for reconfiguring our new situation after the disaster of integration.Furthermore, I think we need to put together an Anthology of Pan Africanist Thought and Practice to help ground the next generation in knowledge of what has been worked out in the last two centuries, so they don't have to start from scratch as if a body and tradition of reflections and proposed answers to our changing problems did not exist.—Chinweizu

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Responses

Last night I heard on internet radio a Garveyite Jamaican talking about the African Union, as a representative of the Sixth Region, the people of the Diaspora (MERLETTA). This was after reading Bankie and thinking of you. I had just posted this page Lessons and Warnings from South Sudan. They mentioned on the program Gaddafi's recent threats of redirecting his oil wealth to Europe or the Middle East. From the Garveyite rep for the Sixth Region, I am uncertain where he knew of your fears and Bankie’s about Arab racism and the Arab conspiracy with regard to Black Africa. His main emphasis was getting the Sixth Region recognized by the African Union and Diaspora residents awarded full status as citizens of a United States of Africa.
 
I follow events in Africa as closely as I can, especially since the declaration of an "African Renaissance" by Thabo Mbeki in 2003 and  his speech I Am an African. Of course I see no evidence of a renaissance. Matters in Africa have worsened in the 21st century. But still your dictum rings rather true: "Our prime problem is no longer the problem of inequality, but that of ongoing extermination!!!" That seems especially true with major fratricidal conflicts ongoing, as we see in Kenya. We seemingly are victims of our own narrow politics in regard to what is the proper relationship to have with the West and its globalist economics.

The West makes guns, sell them to us, and we murder each other. But even without guns we have other instruments just as effective, including the steady impoverishment of African peoples by the reactionary governance of African heads of state. What reform impact  those in the Diaspora can have on how these African governments treat their own national residents, I suspect, is little or nil.
 
I am not anti-Garvey. But I do wary of ideological perspectives in which actions cannot match our high notions of what might be or should be. So I am not against you when you say, our oppression: "It will end only when, as Garvey realized, we have created in Black Africa a country with power of G-8 rank." I know that China is generating power by standing "globalism" on its head. But China participated in the globalist strategy with an advantage: it had/has a regimented workforce that it can exploit and even with several billion peoples a historical (political and cultural) sense of being one people so that they had a rather solid foundation by which to gain a G-8 status. Such a foundation and political and cultural perspective on the whole is lost on most of Africa's peoples.
 
Yes, there need to be educational efforts. I have no problem with this statement of yours either: "I think we need to put together an Anthology of Pan Africanist Thought and Practice to help ground the next generation in knowledge of what has been worked out in the last two centuries." Such materials I suspect are available for the vanguard (intellectuals, journalists, propagandist, writers and artists like ourselves.) Whether agreement can be found widely in such perspectives is another matter. Nevertheless, one more anthology will not hurt and may be of some benefit. Overall, we cannot change the perspectives of the hundreds of millions of African peoples when most of these millions are illiterate or semi-literate or are so debased that they have little time or interest at all in reading "anthologies" or anything else. There must be cadres who are willing to live and work among Africa's vast peasantry and urban workers for peace and nonviolence.
 
Of course, those few of us who are situated however should do whatever we can. I am committed to that. But I have little hope that actual progressive events on the ground will take us forward as quickly as our thoughts. The fellows, for instance, who are ideologically trying to persuade and struggle for a Sixth Region of the African Union have not even created the propaganda networks to represent their thoughts and feelings, much of which I found rather amorphous, a hodge-podge of numerous "black histories" and "black sociologies."  

The whole scheme of it indeed reminds me of Garvey—grandiose and grandiloquent—with few possibilities of carrying out such projects among the peoples on which it will have an impact. Such actions and events require financial resources and people who are so committed to the long struggle so that they will not misuse and abuse the devoted people who turn over their work and dollars to those who later turn out be scoundrels and demagogues, hard-earned resources used for other purposes than a higher level of consciousness and development.
 
You indeed may be right that the color line is an insoluble proposition in the West and that there is a necessity to gain political power through the coalescing of African states into a superpower, or at least the rank of a G-8 status. But finding on the continent of Africa a stable political state willing to work with its people and the peoples of other states in measured economic justice is like finding a needle in a haystack. We ever place the cart before the horse. So in practice, it seems to me, Pan-Africanism is a zombie with only a few adherents who keep such thoughts alive.

I have no confidence in Gaddafis or any of the heads of African states to resolve the day to day difficulties of African peoples. I have no confidence in an African Union to speak to the needs of Darfurians or Haitians (about 90% illiterate)—Haitians Forced to Eat Dirt.
 
I will read your piece "Reparations and the Pan-African War on Genocide," gladly and will probably publish it on ChickenBones, for others as well to read. I have great respect for you and your knowledge and commitment to a coming renaissance of African peoples. Our own New Negro renaissance was rather a failure. But most of us too  many of us are much like Garvey, great journalists and propagandists. Few of us are shipping magnates, industrialists, successful capitalists, billionaires, or have the know-withal to force African states to get their acts together to provide the basic essentials in order to create an African renaissance among the masses of African peoples.
 
Presently, I am not very enthusiastic about this third wave of Pan-Africanism, which has not moved toward any clarity to just what that is. The most hopeful aspects of its growth has to do with the development of technologies in which information can be quickly and widely dispersed and the development of relationships among a variety of peoples in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. That pulling of together of intellectuals—writers, artists, poets, propagandists—provide some hope. But the pace of the development on the ground is despairing.
 
Still I hope we can have a continual dialogue on such matters. I look forward to our continued cooperation and collaboration.—Rudy

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I had a conversation recently with an Ethiopian fellow I once had a class with. He isn't political, activist or intellectual or for that matter at all much concerned with such things as this. I asked him what he thought about Pan-Africanism. He said man there are at least two or three different ideas about what it means to be Ethiopian (or what is Ethiopia), let alone the territorial differences of opinion with Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan which are all undergirded with  hundreds of underlying language, religious, tribal and economic considerations. I think the meaning of the term Pan-Africanism is a lot easier to conceptualize from our safe comfortable Western thought incubators than it is to define on a subjective level on the continent itself. —Vince

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I have lots of problems with both Rudy and Chinweizu's perceptions. Chinweizu wrote a book decades ago entitled  The West and the Rest of Us[1975]. I don't remember what it was about. I do know that Chinweizu is strident in his condemnations of  Arabs in Africa and promotes the idea of Arab racism-which may or may not be real in my thinking. Their discriminatory actions may be based on something else or something less than racism, if you place racism in its historical and economic contexts.

Rudy and Chinweuzi's constant referencing Bankke in southern Sudan is disturbing. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was brokered by the US in 2005 and calls for a plebiscite to be held in 2011 which will allow southern Sudanese to break away from Sudan, if they so vote, and create their own nation. Sudan signed this agreement with a gun to their heads and the US would like nothing more than to see Sudan break up into two or three different countries, all beholden to Washington. This is one reason why Washington and Bush are prolonging the Darfur crisis, to give the Darfurian rebels time and opportunity to unite and create a breakaway state. What is taking place in Darfur is not genocide but a civil war. Our friends in the Jewish holocaust survivors camp want us to believe otherwise—but these entreaties to us from them are in the cause of US imperialism and oil.

Officials from the US State Dept proudly announce that Southern Sudan (GOSS) is America's third largest reclamation project in the world; third only to Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater has been hired to train the Southern Sudanese army. So you can see how envisioning an African G8 power, based on globalized imperialism, is problematic from a progressive point of view.—Jean Damu

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Jean, I have published a number of pieces by Bankie, writing from Juba (South Sudan), and a number of pieces by Chinweizu (See below). As a journalist I respect your opinions and I respect theirs. I think theirs is much closer to the truth of things.
 
There's a saying that politics make strange bedfellows. I know that Israel and the United States provided some support for/to the South Sudanese in their struggles against Khartoum when most were silent, including India and China, two nations with Khartoum contracts and who probably benefit the most from Sudanese oil.
 
I am quite unfamiliar with the international politics of GOSS. I know that they are not angels and Bankie has pointed out some corruption within that government. I do not know that Bankie and Chenweizu necessarily want the break up of Sudan into rival states. Bankie has specifically stated, "The change of government in Khartoum will happen, after which the creation of the New Sudan would take ten years or less to construct, which was John Garang’s project" (Lessons and Warnings from South Sudan). The break up is indeed optional and leverage if there is an impossibility of creating in the present Sudan a democratic state that recognizes the rights of all its citizens, including Nubians, Darfurians, and the South Sudanese.
 
My view is that Arab racism exists inside Sudan as well as outside. Whether there is a conscious international and historical Arab conspiracy, I am uncertain. But I am quite willing to give both Bankie and Chinwizu the benefit of the doubt and place that charge on the table. Thus, we have published the views of both Chinweizu and Bankie:

Chinweizu

Reparations for Darfur  USAfrica: A Mortal Danger for Black Africans / Racism: Arab and European Compared  Black Enslavement: Arab and European Compared

Bankie

Discussion of Arab Racism in Africa   South Sudan in Sudan-Situation Analysis / Pan-African Nationalist Thought and Practice

To suggest that GOSS, the South Sudanese; the Darfurians; and the Nubans;  as well as Chinweizu and Bankie are pawns of Israel and the US government; seems to me to go too far. I do not believe that is true. That notion never entered my mind. What indeed entered my mind was that the threats of Arab states in Africa and outside Africa are indeed real and that Bankie and Chinweizu are right to be suspicious of Arab machinations in Africa.
 
It seems also right that the South Sudanese, the Nubians, and the Darfurians need to think first and foremost of their own peoples and their development. That help is not coming from Khartoum. One must take help from wherever quarter it comes when the situation is desperate and so if that means it comes from Western powers so be it. Here are other articles we have published that might furnish farther insight to the crises of Sudan

With the Lost Boys in Southern Sudan   Blood, Ink, and Oil  President Omar al-Beshir / South Africa and Darfur -- Fact Sheet 

Let me add that I am not supportive of US involvement in Ethiopia and Eritrea and Somalia. The situation in Sudan seems quite different. The charge that the US is dragging out the Darfur displacement of Darfurians because it seeks Sudan oil  and that there is no real genocide taking place in Darfur seems rather cynical and not progressive at all.—Rudy

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Pan-Africanism is a beautiful idea (and should be the ultimate solution to Africa's problems) but at this point the conditions for African unity are in the same condition as Black Americans returning to Africa. Too much has happened and too much time has passed to force a workable fit at this point. The best that can be done going forward is to inspire intra-continental trade, joint infrastructure projects, resource maximization schemes and cultural exchanges on a neighboring country by country or regional basis. If the individual nations can find a reasonable level of domestic harmony and prosperity  then things may organically take shape towards the goal of Pan-Africanism as various barriers come down and problems are solved.

A scheme for forcing all 53 countries to become one nation doesn't take into account that the 53 countries are an illusion, but the hundreds and hundreds of language, tribal, religious and customs are a reality. Just the unification of Nigeria and Niger would require a century of negotiations, compromises, and changes.

The sad thing is that it shouldn't be impossible for those 53 countries as it were to convene their best political scientists, economists, doctors, educators, and military men to figure out how to form alliances for mutual benefit where possible towards the goal of benefiting from the strengthening of the continent as a whole. Just as sad as Western elites believing they have all the answers to Africa's problems is that the brightest and best on the continent don't seem to be able to figure out how to fix the problems of government, economics, health, and education that exist in some form on every other continent.—Vince

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Rudy,

As a woman and mother who is Half-Arab and comes from Sudan, I could just wring Jean Damu's ignorant neck. I am so sick of these selfish, indolent Black American bastards who refuse to open their eyes and see what is going in Sudan. Jean Damu places his own relationship with Israel and the U.S. above the needs of millions of Black Africans in South Sudan who desperately need intervention—regardless of where that intervention comes from.

My birth parents were executed in Omdurman, Sudan for opposing the beginnings of Arab-financed slavery.  My father being Arab didn't stop him from being branded a pow Abeed ("nigger-lover") and being murdered for speaking out. The chronic rape of Dinka/Nuer Children...their enslavement by Arabs in the North and the literal chaining of black men to the back doors of houses so that they can be fed from Doggie Bowls and unchained "to work" is quite real. What difference does it make who will be the one to set South Sudan free? Would it be better if racist Chinese and hateful, Imperialist French set us free? NO—it makes NO difference!

We need Israel and we need the U.S. to use their might to bring change to South Sudan. Unfortunately, there will be consequences for this, but it's absurd and STUPID for Jean Damu to suggest that there would not be the same consequences any other way. The South Sudan is powerless, poor and completely broken, therefore, there are going to be consequences . . . and that's just life. But the important thing is that Sudan needs a chance at life, and Sudan needs to adopt DEMOCRACY and get rid of the Colonialism of Arab Muslim Imperialism that is destroying North and East Africa.

How utterly disgusting for Black Americans, people who have been literally created by a White Slavemaster, to now defend and prescribe that Black Africans should remain in an abusive relationship with our Arab Slavemaster—that we should accept genocide, slavery and blatant racism as spoils in lieu of "friendship" with an evil race who believe they are superior and more human that Black Africans are. Jean Damu is a complete and total fool and an enemy of ALL black people if he/she cannot fathom the rank idiocy in leaving South Sudanese to perish just because he/she has a disdain for a Jewish state providing assistance.

Let it be remembered that Sudan is the mother of the Jews, not Ethiopia, as the Ethiopia spoken of in the Bible was actually the continent of Africa and its capital was in Nubia/Kush (Sudan) and not in the nation we know as Ethiopia today. Let it be remembered that the very first Cushitic language was a Hebrew language. Let it be remembered that many of the South Sudanese are the original Cushitic people and they are the parents of the Jewish people, including the Falasha. Let it be remembered that Sudan has two bastard children—the Arab and the Jew and that the worst, most racist and violent of the two is the Arabs, not the Jews. 

Let Black American "Afrocentrics" be confronted with the FACTS. Israel is no more racist than the United States, and when Jean Damu "DEFECTS" from the racist white United States, then he/she will have more credence to castigate the racist white Israel. Israel is LESS racist than Palestine. I have lived in Israel, and as a dark skinned black woman, I could get a husband in Israel long before I could get one in Palestine if I had to. In 2011, South Sudan (New Kush) will begin the process of starting its own nation. The entire Arab world is going to be against it, because they don't want to lose their Slave Colony. The only country in the Middle East that considers the Arab World its enemy, other than South Sudan—is Israel. Like all nations, South Sudan will need allies, and it is far and away in our best interest to align with Israel. 

The days of Farrakhan Politics are dying away, and the time of "strategic intelligence" is coming into view, as we recognize that NO NATION is a true friend to the African continent—none.  But we must be wise and utilize what we can from any and all. We need to use Israel and the U.S. just as much as they need to use us.   As National ChairWoman of Sudan's SSPP, let me close using the motto of the ancient Nubians: "So let it be written...so let it be done." Kola Boof

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Like all nations, South Sudan will need allies, and it is far and away in our best interest to align with Israel.—Kola

I rest my case.—Jean

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With all due respect, your last remark is not an argument. That one aligns oneself with another nation that is involved in undesirable behavior, the oppression of the Palestinians, does not preclude in itself accepting help from them in one's own complicated situation.  That seems only to show the desperation of the South Sudan-Darfur situation. Are you also critical of China and India for buying oil from a government that displaces and enslaves its citizens? Successful politics involve making decisions that involve complexities and contradictions.

It seems to me that you are not taking the whole history of what has occurred in South Sudan and in Darfur and in upper Nubia. Your ideological stance against Israel sympathizing with the misery of Palestinians while overlooking the misery of South Sudan and Darfur lacks balance. The USSR by its situation was forced in WWII to make the difficult choice of siding with the Allies against the Nazis. 

I still wonder why Bashir of Sudan is giving a pass by the US government while we firmly condemn and demonize Mugabe—Rudy

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Dear Kola Boof,

Gee Kola, I've always spoken highly of you.

Well, I just re-read your letter to Rudy. As my brothers and sisters from the south (Mexico) would say, "Aye yae yae!"

Dear Rudi,

Genocide has become one of the most politicized terms on the face of the planet. I attended a Save Darfur meeting about a year ago and asked, "Where were you guys when 1,000 people a day were dying in Angola?" No one responded.

You could ask today, what about the eastern Congo? Why does no one raise issues about that horrific, US inspired madness? If the Rwanda Patriotic Front (who we armed and trained) were Islamic, there'd be hell to pay.

Have you examined how it is the US came to declare Darfur genocide? How does one explain Congress passing a resolution declaring Darfur genocide even before the State Dept. reached that conclusion? And just as Congress never passed an anti-lynching law, they never passed a resolution declaring Rwanda genocide despite the fact that more people died in a shorter period of time in Rwanda than at any time since the bombing of Hiroshima. Why did Congress act so quickly on the issue of Darfur?

Colin Powell was instructed by the White House to ask the UN to declare Darfur genocide. At that time they refused saying, the US had already declared it genocide and Washington was doing no more than looking for a pre-determined conclusion.

Finally, only the politically naive or dishonest say they can use imperialism to their advantage. You don't use imperialism. It uses you! 

I could write more here but google my articles on Africom (and note the Army War College discussion on redrawing the map of Arica)  and "Does God work for the CIA?"

Also google Keith Harmon Snow's article "The US's War in Darfur."

Peacefrom your selfish, indolent Black American bastard brother—Damu

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Kola Responds to Jean Damu, and Others

To all,

You don't need to ask the US government if there is a genocide in Sudan. Ask us Blacks who are FROM Sudan. I am the novelist Kola Boof, a Half-Arab woman who was born in Omdurman, Sudan. My real name (my Arab name) is Naima Bint Harith.

My Birth parents—Arab Egyptian archeologist Harith Bin Farouk and Jiddi, a Black Oromo Nomadic woman who was SOLD by her black father "for marriage" at age 14—were murdered in my presence for speaking out against the Slave Trade in South Sudan. 

As a child, I witnessed seeing slaves in North Sudan.  Tied up to the back of Arab houses and fed out of doggie bowls.  I was adopted by Black Americans—Marvin and Claudine Johnson of Washington D.C. and was raised here in the U.S.

As an adult, I returned to North Africa, and I witnessed first hand, the continued "color caste" enslavement, bombings by Arabs on Black villages to kill off the "abeed" (niggers) so that the Arabs could build Oil Fields on those African sacred grounds, and I am here to tell you....as well...that the GENOCIDE in Sudan is "understated," not "over-stated."

This past month, Jan. 2008, the African Global Congress appointed me to be National Chairwoman of the Sudanese Sensitization Peace Project, the headquarters of which is based in Juba, Sudan and is an off-shoot of the South Sudanese government.

I have also been a member of the SPLA, and in 2003, I was able to get the Israelis to send guns, ammunition, food and medicine to the South Rebel Army in Sudan so that we could defend our people in the South against the racist Arabs of the North. I really don't give a fuck what you think about me.  But your pathetic "brown brothers" bullshit...as it relates to Arabs, Latinos and all others who have done absolutely NOTHING to deserve such an honor...is beyond tiresome.

Arabs and Latinos don't give a fuck about your self-hating, color struck asses!  I have a dream . . . that you'll soon wake the fuck up and figure that fact out. So be insulted. But me, a Black Egyptian-Sudanese woman, I will fight for the Black Sudanese and I will welcome the help of all those who are for the liberation of MY people—as I reject my White father's Arab clan and now claim the Dinka and the Nuer.

I will welcome the help from Israel and continue to curse the rotten Brown-skinned Satanic  Rat-fuck Arabs that you Black Americans love so goddamned much. I was born Islamic, but I sure as hell fucking despise it TODAY! You can take Islam and Christianity and stick them both where the sun don't shine! I don't do slave religion.

Tell me, Cynthia Mckinney, since I see your name on this list—is your pussy cut up and stitched back together 12 different ways for Allah like mine is?  Have you ever had your menstrual period through a straw?   Do you think yourself a "proud African sister" while you bash Jews but make deals with these Satanic Arab Muslim motherfuckers who call you "Sister" on American soil but call you "Nappy Ass ABEED bitch" back in Africa???

And then I see the name "Earl Ofari Hutchison" . . . a light skinned man who wrote in the Washington Post newspaper that "colorism" doesn't exist in America, that his mother could nearly be mistaken for white (which is obviously why he couldn't relate to the suffering of Marita Golden or countless other "authentic Black women" right here in the USA) . . . and you tell me that THIS MAN is supposed to tell me about Sudan and what's best for us???

I've been wanting to spit in your yellow face for 2 years over that goddamned bullshit review you wrote!!!! You don't know a goddamned thing about BLACK women and what we go through! Let me make it plain. . . . I do not support the Arab Muslim Nations and I do not support Palestine—Palestinians in Port Sudan kicked holes in my Uncle's stomach because he was "Promoted" to Foreman on the job and they didn't want to take orders from Abeed (nigger).

He died with his mouth in the dust.  A black man kicked to death by White Arabs in his own country. And who in the hell do you smart fucks think FINANCES these "Black Arabs" in Sudan to do the murdering and terrorizing??? So do not send me your goddamned phoney ass "Afrocentric" Plantation Nigger-Farrakhan bullshit! You don't like what this African Sudanese MOTHER has to say?  Then fuck you!  I will continue to stand with Israel against the Arab world . . . because we have that little in common, and that little is all it takes.

tima usrah (through fire comes the family) Kola Boof

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Jean, I am surprised you are not moved by Kola's passion and the horror of her experiences. You seem to have shut down your heart and finer sentiments and are paying more attention to the machinations occurring in Washington, than what is happening on the ground in Darfur and South Sudan. You are right with regard to the subterfuges in Washington. But there is more happening than these conspiracies you see.

I am not an advocate of Africom. Nor did I support Clinton's response to Rwanda. Nor do I support the present silence with regard to the Congo. But all of those actions seem besides the point. Like you I too lack direct on the ground experience with regard to Sudan. I know too there are silences with regard to Bashir and the ethnic cleansing going on in the Sudan.

But I have read enough reports and articles, from numerous quarters, that I am convinced that terrible crimes have originated from and committed by Khartoum and Bashir. Why you are silent on this matter undermines your credibility.As I said before I respect your views on a number of issues and as a result I have been more than pleased to publish some of your articles. But it seems in the case of Sudan you cannot see the trees for the forest. I have no understanding of your blindness and hard-heartedness with regard to what is happening to the peoples of Darfur, South Sudan, and Nubia. It is much too profound and after several exchanges you have not moved one iota in explaining why you have taken such a hard line with regard to the sufferings of these  African peoples.—Rudy

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Dear Rudy:

I have noticed how, in several email discussions between Afrikans, there is a handful of decoy artists whose deliberate role is to distract us from the vital issue on hand. The same thing is happening here. Notice how Jean Damu has subtly hijacked the focus here from African powerless moralizing and the project of Black African power—the subject of the initial exchange between you and me—and has imposed the decoy issue of his anti-Americanism that is both fanatically pro-Arab and extremely anti-Afrikan.

I personally do not engage in discussions with Afrophobic Afrikans like the Jean Damus of this world. For, as Confucius said: “There is no point in people taking counsel together who follow different ways.” In my view, those Afrikans, who on the altar of their anti-Americanism will gladly sacrifice Black Africans to the Arab enemy, are basically anti-Afrikan. They are Afrophobic Afrikans incurably disoriented by Arabophilia; and they are bent not only on cutting off Black Africa’s nose to spite America’s face but also on helping the Arabs to destroy the Black Africans. Hence, in my Confucian view, Afrophobes have no place in a discussion among Afrikans.

So, Rudy, as we are in your space, would you please refocus this discussion and keep it on track? See to it that we don’t fall prey to Arabophile decoy artists who are keen to keep us away from discussing and figuring out what to do about the matter of our ongoing extermination by both the Arabs and the Europeans. Please, let those Afrikans who are not Afrophobic take counsel together in your space, and study the extremely urgent matter of our extermination. To help refocus the discussion, you might perhaps link this discussion page to that attachment [“Reparation and the African War on Genocide”] which I sent with my initial letter, and link it also to my BPPA#6 on Khartoum’s scheming. Thank you.—Chinweizu

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Dear Everyone,

I have in my basement some long unused US flags you all can wave as you kick me to the curb. Also, I'm canceling my subscription to Israel Today. Have a nice day—Jean Damu

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Of course we still love you. Especially me. When blacks fight, it means nothing really. We just don't agree, but in my secret heart...I love everyone. That is why I become so upset.—Kola Boof

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  /  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  /  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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Decolonising the Mind

by
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author



  • The Politics of Language in African Literature
  • The essays collected in this volume were previously presented and published elsewhere

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Our Assessment:

B : important arguments, fairly well presented, but too ideologically coloured

See our review for fuller assessment.




SourceRatingDateReviewer
New Statesman.8/8/1986Adewale Maja-Pearce
TLS.8/5/1987Chinweizu


  From the Reviews:
  • "Ngugi's presentation of the case suffers from a romaticiziation of the peasantry. It is as if African culture is an exclusively peasant affair. (...) This misleading bit of Marxist hagiography aside, Ngugi's book remains invaluable as an African intellectuals account of his withdrawal from the Eurocentric culture of the neo-colonial state in which he was nurtured." - Chinweizu, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ngugi wa Thiong'o famously began his writing career writing in English (publishing under the name "James Ngugi"). He had considerable success, but eventually turned to writing in his mother tongue, Gikuyu (though he did translate and publish these later works in English too). Ngugi is among a handful of authors who have written successfully in more than one language -- Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov are among the few others -- but his reasons for doing so differ somewhat from those of other bilingual authors. Decolonising the Mind is both an explanation of how he came to write in Gikuyu, as well as an exhortation for African writers to embrace their native tongues in their art.
       The foreign languages most African authors write in are the languages of the imperialists -- English, French, and Portuguese -- that were relatively recently imposed on them. (Ngugi doesn't consider Arabic in the same light, nor Swahili.) Ngugi makes a good case for the obvious point: that the relation of Africans to those imposed languages is a very different one from that which the same Africans have to the native languages they speak at home. Speaking and writing in the language of the colonisers will naturally be different than in the language one speaks while at play or with one's family. In addition, the language of the coloniser is often a truly foreign one: segments of society understand it badly, if at all, and so certain audiences can not be reached by works in these imposed languages. (The validity of some of these points has, however, diminished over the past decades, as literacy has spread and French, Portuguese, and especially English have established themselves as linguae francae across much of the continent.)
       Ngugi rightly complains that an educational focus that embraced essentially only foreign works (not only foreign in language, but also in culture) was destructive:

Thus language and literature were taking us further and further from ourselves to other selves, from our world to other worlds.
       Clearly there was (and probably still is) a need to create a literature that conveyed the true African experience -- from the perspective of the local, not the visitor or outsider. The local language is an integral part of conveying that experience, often because much of local tradition has been preserved in that language -- for example, in the songs and stories that have been passed down (the oral tradition -- orature -- that Ngugi values so highly).
       In the second chapter of this book, "The Language of African Theatre", Ngugi describes his experiences at the Kamiriithu Community Education and Culture Centre, and the efforts to stage drama there -- in Gikuyu. Ngugi convincingly shows the benefits of working in the local language, and within local traditions, as the entire community works together to create and shape a play.
       Ngugi's basic arguments are largely convincing, and his personal experiences, related to explain how he learned and changed his views, make the entire book an interesting read. Occasionally he does go overboard: in the end he maintains that it is:
manifestly absurd to talk of African poetry in English, French or Portuguese. Afro-European poetry, yes; but not to be confused with African poetry which is the poetry composed by Africans in African languages.
       For new generations the language of the former imperialists has also become something different. Admittedly, too often it is the Westernized worldview found in music, television, and film -- but then the French complain about a similar cultural imperialism too. Ngugi is right to say that it is important to reach an audience in the language of its heritage, but one of the difficulties with that is that it is financially difficult to publish in local languages in Africa. The state of publishing is deplorable through much of the continent, and writers are drawn to English and French also because the audiences (and publishers) they want to reach are often Western ones.
       We at the complete review are always terribly disappointed by how difficult it is to find any books by African authors originally written in an African language. There are a few, but they are very few. (Similarly, it is very difficult to find books originally written in Hindi or other Indian languages, while there are dozens of "Indian" authors who write in English.) Ngugi is to be lauded for his efforts in this area, and for his willingness to stand up for what he believes. Would that more followed his example.
       Among the problems with Decolonising the Mind is its political and ideological slant. He writes of "two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other." Imperialism for him continues after the colonial period: it is "the rule of consolidated finance capital". Ngugi's worldview here is still profoundly Marxist, and one has to question how useful this simple division -- imperialism versus resistance -- is at the beginning of the 21st century. (Curiously he chooses to see the class struggle as universal, never considering that it too might be an imperialist fiction imposed on Africa despite not fitting African tradition, culture, or history.)
       The book also focusses on art-with-a-purpose: be it pedagogic or political or helping preserve traditions or forge identities, all the literature he considers serves a purpose. The simple beauty of art isn't at issue for him -- in part, no doubt, because he does not want to admit that politically incorrect art (of any stripe or colour -- even art with say a blatantly imperialist message) might still have some value.
       Decolonising the Mind is an interesting, if occasionally too heated (and too simplistic) work. It addresses significant issues, and Ngugi's presentation is consistently engaging. Though aspects are already dated, it can still serve as the basis for fruitful discussion of a subject that continues to be of interest.
       

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Links:

Decolonising the Mind: Reviews: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: Other books by Ngugi wa Thiong'o under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Kenyan author (James) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o was born in 1938.

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