“Black Nationalism is a self-help philosophy”

“Black Nationalism is a self-help philosophy. What’s so good about it? You can stay right in the church where you are and still take Black Nationalism as your philosophy. You can stay in any kind of civic organization that you belong to and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can be an atheist and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. This is a philosophy that eliminates the necessity for division and argument. ‘Cause if you’re black you should be thinking black, and if you are black and you not thinking black at this late date, well I’m sorry for you.”
-Malcolm X, The Ballot or the Bullet

On investing in Africa and “uneven development”

I recently watched a video where a financial expert offered advice for diasporan Africans seeking to invest in Africa. She highlighted two areas of particular concern to the state and commercial interests: agribusiness and real estate. The agribusiness discussion touched on some things by which I was both surprised and unsurprised. One surprising element is the growing global demand for Ghanaian pineapples. According to my wife, they are quite good. It would appear that many folks in Eurasia agree.

With regards to real estate there’s great interest for housing developments for the cosmopolite elite. Apparently, though there is a great need for housing for the poor and laboring masses, it simply isn’t as lucrative to house them as the petty bourgeoisie. No surprises there. This is the same model that prevails in the hyper-developed west.

Ghana reflects something a bit different from what Walter Rodney postulated (underdevelopment), which I call “uneven development”. This is the pattern that enables the educated elite to enjoy all of the conveniences and privileges that the 21st century offers, while others live a century or more removed from such opulence. You can see this first hand when you go to Accra, two centuries side-by-side. Its very interesting.

Of course my reason in posting this is not simply to critique the inevitable social malformations that capitalism produces, but to highlight the emergent economic forms of the global south where increasingly the diaspora is returning home, armed with cultural and commercial capital, and building edifices to the vapid western model of development.

Yes we should invest in African economies (both on the continent and in the diaspora), but I fear that if we do so absent a vision of economic development that produces Anderson Thompson’s African Principles, that is “the greatest good for the greatest number”, then we are simply playing a game of hegemonic musical chairs–where we take the place of the west as the lords of Black misery. We have to be better than that.

Esperanto, la universala Afrika lingvo? Esperanto, the universal African language?

Cxi ne estas malbona ideo, sed gxin havas iu limigoj. This is not a bad idea, but it has some limitations.

The good part is that Esperanto would be easier to learn. While English, French, and other European languages are official languages in many African countries, many people cannot speak them properly. In some ways the European languages, the colonial lingua francas, have remained the languages of the cosmopolite elite as they are generally the ones who have been afforded the opportunities to learn them. Moreover with the curricular changes in some countries to primary school instruction being in local languages primarily (say in Ghana and Tanzania), English and French will become even more imperiled as languages used fully among the masses.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. By that I mean that the decline of the old colonial languages, while dysfunctional in the sense that it removes a common medium of communication, also allows for that role to be supplanted by other languages. In some places this transition is taking place organically. Take the spread of Asante Twi in Ghana as it is quickly becoming the defacto lingua franca of that country. Swahili is also slowly spreading into central Africa and north and south beyond the bounds of Kenya and Tanzania. Again these are promising developments as English (or French) were insufficient as organic mediums of communication in many respects.

This question of organicity is in fact the challenge of Esperanto. Esperanto does not necessarily have an organic base from which it can naturally spread. There are some groups in Africa who are teaching the language. On Facebook recently I was intrigued to see an Esperanto-Swahili dictionary, but the language lacks a foothold. This is something that can only be mediated by institutions or a living and thriving speech community.

I think that Swahili is a stronger contender for an indigenous language that might become a continental language, and in some ways this would be better. While no one owns Esperanto, it is still a European-derived language, and its advance in Africa does little to satisfy the decades old challenge of “modernizing” African languages as tools of creative and intellectual production (read Ayi Kwei Armah’s “Our Language Problem”). The fact that creative writers, legislators, and scientists still rely on Western languages to capture and communicate their knowledge would not be solved by the adoption of Esperanto. They would simply move their dependence from one European language to another (albeit an artificial one), while failing to facilitate this necessary development in their indigenous languages. I would consider such an outcome to be a profound waste of potential.

The bombast of fear, the vacuity of doubt

One mustn’t choose to live in the shadow of fear and doubt. Fear can populate the mind with thoughts of legions of potential perils. Fear may provoke anxiousness and anxiety, but these feelings possess an energetic quality that if properly harnessed can also motivate one to act.

Doubt is a corrosive acid upon self-assurity that if not faced and divested of its power can compel inaction when action is needed, capitulation when perseverance might carry the day.

When I was 9 years old I resolved to eradicate my fear of the dark. I went into the darkest room of my apartment and sat. I wanted the darkness to envelope me. I wanted for fear to show itself, to unleash the doom that it so often had promised, an annihilation which lay just outside of my covers.

In the beginning I was terribly afraid. I feared the invisible hordes who, draped in darkness, might prey upon me. But this fear was counter-balanced by something else, my knowledge that the darkness was merely the absence of light, and my fear merely the triumph of irrationality and the absence of reason.

I conquered my fear of the dark, and also learned something more, fear and doubt are synergistically linked, one compelling us to retreat, the other assures us that no matter what we do, the possibility of triumph is illusory. In spite of this, fear can be bested. In fact when confronted we often find that fear’s ominous vestments merely hide a withered and frail form. Similarly, doubt can also be overcome. Much of its power over us is that it seems to face us in the mirror, it lurks in our memories of failure, it resides in the possibility that what we are striving after is–like so many things–simply beyond our capacity. Doubt has to be seen for what it is, mediocrity’s companion, the one sure path that will always divert us from evolving into the people that we might potentially become. It is a fetter, yes, but an impermanent one that if discarded enables us to (re)discover who we are and what we can accomplish.

While my forays into the dark eventually bested that fear, others remained. Thus throughout my life I have found it continually necessary to seek out fear, challenge it to show itself and to deliver its promised oblivion, or to leave me be. I have also had to remind myself that it is not doubt that faces me in the mirror or lurks in my memories, but that doubt is a shadow that grows proportionally to the light within which one walks. Doubt is the inescapable echo of your voice projected into the world, faint and diminishing, but never fully absent.

Despite the bombast of fear and the vacuity of doubt, the future remains undetermined, providing us the chance to fashion our lives and the world into an image and form worthy of our highest potential.