Many centuries ago, explorers from other continents found out the richness of the Dark Continent and its obliging people. They found out that the human and natural resources needed for the growth and development of their plantations, their infrastructure and industries were in abundance on the continent. They also found out that the raw materials needed to power the different stages of their technological advances were available in some parts of the continent. The Dark Continent with its underdeveloped infrastructure and naive people became the go-to location for the adventurers. And so the Scramble for Africa, also called the Partition of Africa, or the Conquest of Africa began. One after the other, Western powers decided to invade, occupy, divide and colonize the continent: some brought their diplomats while others brought their weapons. Either way, resistance wasn’t tolerated.
Yet, some were experienced when they encountered the obstinate Zulus, the Abyssinians, the Maomaos, the Benins and the Ekumekus. Ultimately, the explorers turned invaders prevailed and in a bid to protect, strengthen and control their conquests, invaders came together and decided to partition and own different areas of the continent in accordance to their needs – it was divided up by the French, the Dutch, the English and the Portuguese.
Due to cheap labour of Africans, Europeans easily acquired products like oil, ivory, rubber, palm oil, wood, cotton and gum. These products became of greater significance due to the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. The race was open to all European countries.
In return of their plundering, they gave us very many good things as seen by many different people. They gave us their languages, their education, their names, their religions and their mode of dressing. It didn’t take very long before the continent started seeing goodness through the white man’s lenses and that remains the case to date. We gave up our languages for theirs – it didn’t matter how hard we struggled to learn due to a new and different language, we gave up our clothing for theirs – it didn’t matter if it the suits were a death sentence in our scorching weather, we also gave up our food, religion and culture.
The present generation is unaware of our old mode of government because we were told that they were barbaric, fetish, primitive and uncivilized. The unwritten history of our religion, government and people is in the art which were taken away under the guise of denouncing our gods to their museums. The little that we know has been through visits to some museums in Italy, Germany, Holland and UK. During one of my many visits as a history lover to the British Museum some years ago, I was taken on a tour and told of an incident that occurred during the Ooni of Ife’s visit to the museum. You see the British Museum is a treasure of historical works; a number of these works came from Nigeria. They are beautifully displayed and well represented. One of such works is the original gate of the Palace’s Shrine that was taken many decades ago with the permission of the then Ooni of Ife and replaced with a golden gate by the British. The golden gate is still the entrance to the shrine till now. After seeing the original gate displayed at the British Museum during his visit, the present Ooni of Ife was said to have joked that the museum should take back their golden gate and return original gate to the Palace. I saw the humour in the story but couldn’t help the sadness at how much history has been rewritten by that mere act. The stories that were carved into the original gate as with many artefacts of old were no longer part of the people they originated from.
When I write or lecture, I don’t expect some people to agree with my position on most topics. In fact, the disagreement makes for a very good debate and the education of the future generations. Most times, my positions are based on the experience and wealth of knowledge I have acquired from over half a century of travelling all over the world learning and knowing other peoples cultures, traditions and religions and ways of life. In carrying out some research, over the years and writing in my weekly column and in exhibiting some of the heritage art in my private museum called DIDI Museum, I have sometimes been completely misunderstood as being anti-religion. This cannot be further from the truth because I hold very dear my religious upbringing but we must look at our history, it is a must to know how far we have come and how much further we must go.
We cannot continue playing catch up but without a solid beginning and foundation that’s all we ever manage as unfortunately, the rest of the world will not wait for us to catch up with them. Most of the raw material and human resources that were used to grow and develop the wealthy countries that we look up to were gotten from this continent. The atomic and nuclear bombs that are being used to intimidate us were tested in our Sahara and the desert today remains the only active desert in the world.
After so many centuries, the point is not to go back to our old ways, but we must begin to re-educate ourselves with a combination of the old and new ways alike as it is being done in those countries that refused to be invaded and colonized. It took those centuries but today they have emerged and are now becoming world leaders. We must therefore start building on what is ours not those that have been given to us.
Africans have been part of the development of United States of America; politically, scientifically and romantically. We also gave the world Nelson Mandela, a man who exuded statesmanship, nobility and integrity, considering that he was first seen as a terrorist and imprisoned but now revered by all with a day set aside by the United Nations in his honour. Mandela remains the only man in the whole world that is being remembered and honoured by the whole world.
There is so much in the continent that has not been touched and can be harnessed but this must be done by Africans themselves, nobody will do it for us; if they offer to, it will come at the cost of charting most of what is harnessed away in the process.