Tag Archives: Africa

Do Africans Have a Monopoly on Their Continent’s History?

I am an avid collector of books – a budding bibliophile if you may. My goal is build a collection of books – rare and current – on as broad a range of genres and subjects as possible. However, my focus will be, in order of import, books on Kenyan, African, African-American history and historical figures. And ideally, a fair share of these books will be by Kenyan, African, and African-American writers and historians.

During a recent exchange on a Facebook page dedicated to the socio-political and cultural history of East Africa, someone posed an interesting but common question. In response to a comment I made citing two books on Idi Amin – The Most Evil Men and Women in History by Miranda Twiss and The World’s Most Evil People: The Epitome of Evil by Rodney Castleden, someone asked me whether I had “investigated the authors of the 2 books and their sources….(and if) they ever live in Uganda?” My response?

Great point. Both authors are British and thus far, I cannot tell whether they’ve lived in Uganda.

As a follow-up to the question and to my inability to respond affirmatively to the question, I researched the two authors and aside from the following information, sought to expand the question beyond the two western writers and their books on Idi Amin.

As far as I can tell, Ms. Twiss, a self-described “Londoner” has degrees from the University of London and Goldsmiths’ College and an MA in Historical Research from Birkbeck. She has also written for Evening Standard, the Sunday Times, and Vogue. Her section on Idi Amin cites four books including Phares Mutibwa’s Uganda Since Independence. The other three authors she cites are Martin, Jamison (Idi Amin: an annotated bibliography, Greenwood, London, 1992); J. H. Listowed (Amin, IUP Books, Dublin, 1973); and David Martin (General Amin, Faber, London, 1974).

The website goodreads.com lists Rodney Castleden as a member since 2008 who specializes in History, Geography, and Archeology. The site indicates that he has “68 distinct works” of which “The World’s Most Evil” is one. Castleden does not provide any references on any of the men and women he refers to a the “world’s most evil.” However, one can scroll through the internet and find material from within and outside Uganda written by Ugandans and non-Ugandans alike that dovetail with his “evil” characterization of Idi Amin. One tidbit he reveals that I would like to see corroborated is the claim that while British Foreign Secretary between 1977-70, David Owen “proposed that General Amin should be assassinated in order to bring the bloodshed to an end” – a proposal that was turned down. I would be curious to read up on Who proposed the assassination of a foreign leader; Who turned down” the proposal, and Why they turned it down given that some proposals actually materialized.

The preceding preamble is to credentialize the two authors on a public African personality who is caricatured as the prototypical African “Big Man” – mostly by the western media/press. The preamble also seeks to contextualize if not answer the question about the sources of the two authors and whether they have traveled to Uganda – presumably “genchi genbutsu,” i.e., “go and see” their subject Idi Amin – in his natural element.

The set-up also seeks to answer the following questions: Do Africans have a monopoly on their continent’s history do non-African writers of Africa’s history lack the credibility writing about the continent’s past?

My take:

Given the ease and frequency with which historians and writers, particularly western ones, have papered over or lied about the continent’s past and about the atrocities committed by their respective countries (Belgium, France, UK, Portugal, Germany, etc.), Africans SHOULD play a more prominent role in writing about her past. This is not to say that these African historians and authors are innately more credible and trustworthy than their non-African counterparts when opining about the continent’s past. However, the implicit bias, romanticization, and outright bigoted and racist depiction of the continent and its people (by the latter) is not only too tempting, it is very real.

Also real is the sycophancy and fawning over the continent’s many “presidents-for-life” by certified historians as illustrated by Peter Kagwanja’s vacuous “Uhuru Kenyatta: A Legacy of Democracy and Development“. Fortunately, the 2018 release of the book by the Africa Policy Institute, effectively a collection of speeches by Kenya’s fourth president, coincided with a cavalcade of negative incidents and scandals that run counter to the title’s glowing characterization of its main subject.

On the other hand, a list of non-African historians and writers have put out an impressive list of well-researched and impartial historical books on the continent that only the most jaded Afro-centrist can disregard. Charles Hornsby (“Kenya: A History Since Independence“), Daniel Branch (“Kenya: Between Hope and Despair 1963-2011“), Nic Cheeseman (“The Oxford Handbook on Kenyan Politics“) and Caroline Elkins (“Imperial Reckoning” and “Britain’s Gulag“) are some titles on Kenya by non-Africans. These titles rank up there in balance and accuracy with the works of Gideon Were (“East Africa through a Thousand Years“), B.A. Ogot & W.R. Ochieng (“Decolonization & Independence in Kenya: 1940-93“).

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Foreign Intervention: A Necessary Evil To Prevent African Leaders From Being Successors to European Colonialists

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently told Africans and the world to “(F)orget foreign intervention, Africans are better placed to solve their own problems.” In a piece of the same heading in the Daily Nation, Mr. Kenyatta offered the assessment that the work the “founding fathers” of Africa begun is “…far from over…”

Using the tried but tired “blame-the-mzungu” meme that some in the diaspora accuse African-Americans of, the son of Kenya’s first president gave as a reason for Africa’s mediocre and erratic development, the “stiff resistance by those who benefit from a divided Africa.”

That there are those who benefit from a divided Africa is and has been a fait accompli for quite some time. However, seen within the context of the article’s heading, the president’s assertion is misleading. Penning a piece that announces that the continent’s problems are best “solved within rather than through….self-serving foreign intervention” without mentioning the many reasons why the dreams of the continent’s founding fathers lay in ruins is the height of irony and hypocrisy. Nowhere in the rather self-serving article does Mr. Kenyatta mention the many self-inflicted injuries the continent’s leaders have afflicted on the people they lead including corruption, impunity, abuse of humans, and the many isms and evils that continue to wreak havoc on Africans half a century after independence.

Mr. Kenyatta’s government recently unleashed its police force on school children who were demonstrating against a favorite Kenyan past-time originated by his own father – land-grabbing. Setting the police on schoolchildren protesting against the endemic corruption has very little to do with “foreign intervention” in the lives of Kenyans unless the foreigners being alluded to are the Singh brothers who allegedly serve as fronts for the mostly African land-grabbers.

Alfred Keter’s foul-mouthed rant heard and seen all around the world captured in no uncertain terms, the impunity with African leaders comport themselves away from prying eyes and alert ears.

Perpetration of the post-election violence of 2007 which Mr. Kenyatta was recently “acquitted” of was fomented, not by wabeberu or wakaburu:

The violence pitted Kenyans against one another – Luo against Kikuyu against Kalenjin against (fill in the blank). Civil wars pitting Africans against one another, of which the genocide in Rwanda was the worst, has been repeated with amazing regularity since independence. Indeed most of the continent’s killings (over natural resources and political power) have been instigated, indeed funded by foreigners. However, the inconvenient and uncomfortable reality is that the British, Belgians, Americans, French, Portuguese, Russians etc. would not have done so without the help of native Africans.

On a side but cautionary note, the continent’s current love-affair with China, while seemingly benign and a marriage of equals, is even more insidious and dangerous than the wars yore. Out-sourcing the continent’s economic development to a country whose record on freedom, open government and human rights is suspect and is only too willing to indulge the continent’s “big men” so long as they allow extraction of the continent’s natural resources and inflated contracts to build standard gauge railways (SGR) portends an extremely worrying development.

President Kenyatta does no one any favor when he makes lofty pronouncements such as the need for Africa to “jealously guard its sovereignty and assiduously work to secure its freedom” while his own administration moves to curtail the freedoms of those it disagrees with. The president is being disingenuous when he harps about “the exploitation by institutions” (such as the ICC) while institutions in his own government exploit and abuse citizens of Kenya as evidenced by the various unresolved extra-judicial killings and the corruption that has even seeped into his own Office of the President!

Until the continent’s leaders demonstrate a consistent ability to solve crisis in their own backyard, the calls by President Kenyatta will fall on deaf ears and provide ammo for those who decry the self-preservation decisions of the continent’s club for its “big men” – African Union (AU).

In an era of the global village where jet travel can transport the outcome of poor governance by a despot across the oceans in less time than it takes to navigate a rain-soaked Thika Highway, there is little doubt that foreign intervention will be needed in Africa for quite some time. The international community, of which the much-maligned International Criminal Court (ICC) serves as judiciary, would be remiss were it to take Mr. Kenyatta and his fellow “big men” at their word re: eliminating foreign intervention in Africa.

From confronting the Boko Haram menace in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa, Ebola and other pandemics, and the mostly West African refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, Africa has yielded several crises that have morphed into full-fledged global security concerns. A leader in Europe or America would be deemed irresponsible were they to remain passive with such threats developing from afar. Stateside, President Obama has been repeatedly excoriated for his administration’s decisions to intervene in and/or withdraw from various global hotspots. The US President has been taken to task because he allowed the lack of “good” governance in faraway lands to morph into crisis at home in America.

Let me offer a different take on the very quote Mr. Kenyatta uses in his article. A founding Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah wrote that Africans needed the strength of their combined numbers and resources to protect themselves “from the very positive dangers of returning colonialism in disguised forms.”

“Colonialism” has many variants of which the one perpetrated by the Europeans and Americans is but one. The basic mechanics of “the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colony in one territory by a political power from another territory” i.e. colonialism has not changed since the “wazungu” left Africa in the 60s. In 1967, Kenyatta Pere’s nemesis Jaramogi Oginga Odinga offered the rather prescient analysis regarding the mutation of colonialism in his book “Not Yet Uhuru”.

Kenya’s first bona fide opposition leader offered the view that “Kenyans (were) still struggling to prevent (fellow) Kenyans in black skin…..from ruling as successors to the administrators of the colonial era.”

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Filed under Africa, African Union, AU, Big Men, Boko Haram, Corruption, Failed State, Foreign Intervention in Africa, Impunity, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya