African emancipation only first step

Dara E Healy.
Dara E Healy.

Dara E Healy

“The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the UN…Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.”

– Extract, Patrice Lumumba’s letter to his wife from prison

TO UNDERSTAND the significance of emancipation, in the wisdom of Sankofa, we must go back to get the information that will help us chart our future. Our understanding of freedom should not simply be about what to call the day. Rather, conversations should be framed against the backdrop of larger concepts like imperialism and neocolonialism.

As we commemorate Africa Day today, let us take the time to reflect and ask the question: where do we go from here?

Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of the Congo, was assassinated before I was born, and for a long time he was not part of my consciousness. I recently understood the depth of collusion between the governments of Europe, America and then leadership of the UN. There was fear of the growth of communism. Western powers were also determined to maintain their control of Congo’s vast natural resources.

In a repeat of history, there are numerous exposés of the exploitation of Congolese people and children to gain access to the minerals that power 21st-century technology. My emotions towards Lumumba are therefore similar to how I feel about uncle Maurice (Bishop), Dessalines, Walter Rodney, Cécile Fatima, Basil Davis and the many others who gave their lives across the centuries.

For me, the African struggle is a continuum, from the 1400s, when the Portuguese sparked a lucrative global economic system based on the buying and selling of Africans, to the cruelty of governor Picton towards enslaved Africans in TT 300 years later. Those threads of oppression weave towards the 21st century, where young African boys are lined up facing a wall – their only crime styling their hair in neat cornrows to celebrate an important school event.

These and other realities frame my thoughts around emancipation. Why did it take us so long to remove colonial laws banning the drum? Why are people of African heritage consistently at a disadvantage, from education to business and home ownership? If the inclusion of the word "African" before the word "emancipation" is to have real meaning, these are the conversations that must take place – in communities and public spaces.

Clear actions are required. It is not enough for citizens with a passion for African culture to do community outreach or teach the stories. It is not enough, because the generations that we did not empower feel cheated. Since we did not give them what they need, they have decided that they will take what we have.

African emancipation must therefore see a deliberate celebration of the people of Laventille for the creation of the pan. The teaching of our instrument must be framed against the backdrop of cricket in the Dry River, Lord Kitchener sleeping in panyards and Lloyd Best’s vision of panyards as centres of community empowerment.

History must be reframed to instil understanding and pride in the people and events that helped advance the cause of African emancipation. Who were Claudia Jones, Kwame Ture, Nefertiti, Fela Kuti, George Padmore or Ma Rose?

Further, we need to accept that the way we are teaching our culture is not working. I read with excitement about plans for a Tobago-centric curriculum. A people without history is like a tree without roots – doomed to die.

We also need to have honest conversations about the role of Christianity in making Africans more receptive and compliant to enslavement, while turning them away from their spirituality, associating ancient beliefs with the devil. Young Africans need to know that the Asante (non-Eurocentric spelling) of Ghana were some of the fiercest warriors against enslavement, through the power of their obeah.

The pride of our association with Africa is consequently deeper than the potential for trade. It allows us to reclaim ancient connections distorted by centuries of greed, racism and power imbalances.

We cannot bring back Lumumba and the others, but we can celebrate their legacy. This is essential to help reverse the damage to the African psyche. African emancipation is thus another, important step in the long walk towards freedom. Come, future generations are watching.

Dara E Healy is a performance artist and founder of the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN


"African emancipation only first step"

More in this section