It suffices to say that I am in Accra as I write. Yesterday we were out to Tawala beach where we convened as part of the IB Accra Project workshop. The idea is to have a sort of laid back afternoon reading and discussion around the works of some important thinkers and contributors to the African Critical Theory. We did – we read the likes of Reiland Rabaka, Mia Couto, Bonaventure Ndikung, and Emeka Okereke.
We opened up on the topic of what is African? We deliberated on various point of views as to what Africa is, and what makes us Africans. Indeed, it was an interesting conversation session. I could invariably term it a feedback session for myself. It was rewarding to hear a few people caught within this African reality talk about how they perceive themselves in it. Take for example, Samuel Kolawole talked about finding the human essence rather than what labels we give to ourselves, be it African or whatever. Therefore to him Africa is a term still unresolved and to an extent, irrelevant in relation to his human essence. As he spoke, I reflected thus: but what are the constituents of this human essence? And what propagates these constituents?
As I quietly listened to the participants share there various views on the matter, my thoughts took various twists and turns. I began to make a difference between Africa as a place, a group of people or cultures, and Africa as a deliberate philosophical construct. Talking about the later, it is true that the attempt to define Africa has in no way affected the former, or change it’s meaning that much (No amount of definition, redefinition or reposition could displace Africa from its location, or negate already confirmed traditional customs). But what this attempt at definition has succeeded in doing is that it created a perception by which everything from this location, this group of people this string of cultures, is seen – a box of stereotypical partitioning so to speak. And over the years, indeed centuries, this perception have been deliberately nurtured, invested upon by other groups of people who needed this perception as to be at advantage in detriment of the perceived.
Therefore, today when we assert that we do want to take part in “telling the story of Africa”, What this invokes is that we want to become stakeholders in creating, nurturing and investing in the manner by which we are seen and perceived by all peoples of this world. It is of secondary preference what we are called, whether African, Nigerians or People of the Bantu tribe, what we ought to focus on is the implication of what we are called, what this means when called thus. This emphasis on a “deliberate construction of perception” is very crucial because up until now people of African origin have had little or no chance in making their perception of themselves the yardstick for how they are seen, positioned or referred to, especially within a context void of self-defence and apologetic validation.
Talking about the human essence, can we have a human essence, if we do not first embark on a deliberate deconstruction of those perceptions which have interwoven over the years to become the primary constituents of our “opportunities and struggles”? Can one talk of a real discovery of the human essence within the African reality without endeavours at making that mountainous step towards undermining the skilfully woven perception, indeed doing away with the glass prism which over the years, have distorted the view of a particular kind of place, people, and culture? Furthermore should this not lead to our becoming lead players in the construction of a self-conscious perception which on the long run would culminate in the longed-for identity?
The question then is: How do we go about this?
Photo: Ordeal of a Wanderer | Indecisive Moments | James Town, Accra 2013 by Emeka Okereke