There is something beautiful happening in terms of the African renaissance globally.
Amongst many other reasons, the growing population of African diaspora is enabling Africa’s music, art and culture to be amplified in ways unimaginable to our parents and grandparents even merely 20 years ago. One doesn’t have to look to far with Hollywood films such as Black Panther and Beyoncé’s recently released album “The Lion King: The Gift” to show the contribution Africa is making in shaping global culture.
But what happens to a continent when we wash away its trauma to focus merely on what it can do for others rather than what has been done to it? How do we embrace the peaks we are now reaching if we cannot discuss and heal from the traumas of our past?
This summer, I have had the opportunity to conduct primary source research on the social history of the Kenya Railways. If you know a little about the Kenya Railways you know that it is in summary the history of Kenya. You cannot study this topic without coming to contact with the cartography of Kenya, settler history, the social geography of Kenya or its labor history. Safe to say, through much of the primary texts I have encountered, I have developed a new appreciation for understanding my own history.
Looking at contemporary Kenya, it is no surprise that we are still haunted by the imperial debris of British colonialism. Our housing plans imitate those of pre-independence days with the Kenyan elite taking over the reins of the whites as racism is substituted by classism. The railways which at one point was undertaking an Africanization policy is now creating a new status quo with Chinese technocrats at the helm of the SGR construction leaving many to wonder the consequences of this economic immigration in the coming years.
Let me be clear, my observations are in no way a lamentation of Kenya’s woes. Rather, I hope to in my own small way offer pointers with regards to the enormous task that lies ahead for anyone interested taking part in the development and conservation of Africa’s history. I more than anyone admit that yes, there is a new Africa. Yes, Africa is rising. Yes, we can now identify ourselves as Afropolitans, nouveau Africans and Afrofuturists. But what is the use of qualifiers such as ‘new’ when there is little within the public realm to understand the old? What happens to those who simply want to be African? Who gets to remind them what it means and where they come from?
Simply looking at the material structures around Nairobi, I cannot ignore the overwhelming stench of imperial residues. Land policies remain a huge problem with Kenyan citizens with supposed full rights still living as squatters in their own land. Additionally, Kenyans use terms such as ‘reserve’ or ‘kipande’ lightly without any context of their historical significance, more specifically, their roles in oppressing and subjugating our ancestors. We ignore the conversation on race when looking at the racial structures that persist until today (read current nightlife controversies) and yet one can go as far as arguing that historically, Kenya was a de facto apartheid state. Arguably, if we as Africans in the continent did an eighth of the intellectual work African Americans have done to understand their history, I doubt neocolonialism would be part of our modern day discourse on Africa.
I’ll end by invoking one of my favorite African philosophies, Sankofa, a twi term hailing from Ghana that simply translates into “go back and fetch it.” It is my belief that there is still so much for us as Africans to fetch from our past to truly stand firm in our present. No outside recognition or global acceptance will ever match up to that not even when it sounds as affirming as “Wakanda forever!” Indeed while the local is increasingly becoming globalized let us remember that only we can prevent our local ways of being from becoming extinct. So learn your history my dear reader for there is so much we are yet to uncover.
Love and Light!