Advocacy for a shared human history

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Working out concensus on the agenda of the upcoming UN conference on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and inteolerance slated to run 31 August through 7 September in Durban, South Africa was no easy task for the organising committee that met late July in Geneva.
The compromise required taking into account a US objection to an inclusion of compensation for the ills of the Slave Trade and colonialism as suggested by some African countries.
Washington was also against Arab calls for a condemnation of Israel's "colonisation and occupation" of Palestinian land.
The Americans, who are threatening a boycott of the Durban conference if their objections went unheeded, softened their stance somewhat on Slave Trade reparations, over which they stand the most indicted.
As was the case in the previous conferences held in 1978 and 1983 in Geneva, the US remained adamant against any attempt at equating zionism to racism, or indicting Irael's policy towards Arab territories.
This stance has shocked several people, even within the US itself, notably among the vast African-American community.
However, Washington is not the only party opposed to the idea that the West (Europe and North America) should compensate Africa for the slave trade, colonisation and slavery.
For reasons completely different to those advanced by Washington, a certain school within the intelligentsia of the African-American community and in African universities is equally opposed to the idea of compensation.
These intellectuals, who share the idea that the pharaonic civilisation of Ancient Egypt was black, are calling on Africans to stop being miserable and claim their history, since they have not always been victims.
According to them, the stakes of a forum such as the Durban Conference have to do with "the right to remember" and a "shared human history".
They also contend that, contrary to what African peoples have been made to believe and to what has been taught across the world, indigenous African aristocrats engaged in healthy trading with the rest of the world well before the slave trade, in which humans were used as merchandise.
With supporting documents and maps, they contend that an African explorer, Emperor Abou Bakari II of Mali, sailed from the West African coast and landed in America in 1312, nearly two centuries before Christopher Colombus "discovered" America in 1492.
This pre-Colombian transatlantic African expedition is supported by Arab historians El Omari and Kittaab Al Mamaluk, as well as by Catalan maps, the anonymous Atlas of 1375 and the map by jewish geographer Mecia de Villadestes in 1417.
To immortalize this history, the International Association of the Pan-African Arts and Culture Festival (AIFESPAC) planned in 1986 to erect the Goree-Almadies Memorial and the Bakari II Corridor of Freedoms in the Almadies area of Dakar, the westernmost tip of Africa.
The monument was to be erected in the aftermath of the Pan- African Arts and Culture Festival which was to be held in the Senegalese capital.
Presented to the UN in 1988 in presence of the UN secretary- general and the OAU chairman, the Memorial project, which was to be Africa's Statue of Liberty, aroused keen interest.
It even registered pledges of funding, and according to Senegales linguist Pathe Diagne, one of the initiators, Gen.
Ibrahim Babangida, then Nigerian president, contributed one million US dollars.
However, for financial, scientific, ideological and political reasons, neither FESPAC nor the Memorial materialised.
The monument was intended to "undo, without passion or hatred, the sense of vengeance, the political, ideological and racist hurt visited upon the colonised, who were psychologically, intellectually and spiritually victimised," explained Diagne, an opponent of the idea of compensation.
"The fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance should not be a bargaining tool to settle debts acrued from bad governance," he said last January at the African regional conference held to prepare the Durban forum.
According to Diagne, who heads the AIFESPAC in Dakar, and according to the advocates of non-compensation, this is not a time for moaning, but a time for endeavouring to dismantle the ideological mechanism through which the contribution of Africans in building a globalised world was reduced to that of mere slaves.
They posit that such efforts were initiated long ago at the political level by celebrated pioneers like Ghana's Kwame N'Krumah and, at the scientific and ideological level, by Egyptologists Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal and Theophile Obenga of Congo, among other figures of the African Renaissance.

19 august 2001 12:53:00




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