Thursday, 12 October 2017
THE HUMANITIES AND THE AFRICAN SETTING: A HISTORICAL INQUIRY
On the maiden episode of Eagle’s Eyes we will be attempting a historical inquiry into the development of the humanities in Africa: its development and relevance to the answered question to the unanswered question of “Under-development” in Africa. The skyrocketing rates of underdevelopment and moral decadence in African societies and polities have spurred several debates over the importance of the “humanities” in African societies. Several scholars, politicians, and socio-economic analysts will be eager to point to one or two problems evident among African societies and their role as a continuous impediment to development: this they often do by highlighting factors such as corruption, mass apathy, negative impacts of colonial legacies, just to mention a few. However, it is worth mentioning that it’s been over 50years since most African States attained independence from erstwhile colonial powers. Yet, these new freedoms from colonial shackles have been unable to translate into sociopolitical and economic development. Several works of research in the fields of economics, political science, history and philosophy have been anchored on developing clear-cut policy oriented research that will aid in ameliorating the malaise of underdevelopment that the continent currently faces in all spheres of society. Nevertheless, an important point is often overlooked: that is, the relevance of the humanities in the fostering of development in society. This is because the humanities aids man in developing the right attitudes and thought that will bring about positive changes in society. It could be argued therefore that development itself is attitudinal. The term “humanities” simply refers to the study of man, his constructs and relationship between man and man, and between man and the society at large. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary of Learning 5th Edition: the humanities connote “the branch of learning (philosophy, arts, history, or languages) that investigates human constructs and concerns as opposed to natural processes”. In other words, the field of the humanities is preoccupied with how man could develop himself to achieve his full potentials. It is scarcely surprising that such a field of learning should be indispensable for development, because man has to undergo internal development of some sorts before projecting it outward to the society at large. In fact, development in any society is mainly propelled by an aggregate of developed men interacting (socio-politically and economically) with one another consciously or unconsciously through societal relations. History has shown that this remains the most popular path towards development. The civilizations of the river valleys of Egypt (The Nile River), Mesopotamia (Tigris and Euphrates), India (Indus River), and China (Yangtze River) prove this to be true. Although the importance of geographical features must not be downplayed, it would have been an unused asset if the people had not attained some form of internal development as to be able to utilize the provisions made by nature, and afterwards make sure that their society maintains much needed cohesion. Since there exists a striking correlation between the adept learning of the humanities and development, it therefore means that an attempt to investigate the problem of underdevelopment in the continent will inevitably be also an attempt to a considerable extent, the evaluation of the nature of the humanities and its relevance in the continent. The humanities as a field of learning in the modern era owes its origins to the ear of the “Renaissance or rebirth” in European history. Following several centuries of stagnation in art and learning, and the control of man’s contemplations by the Church: the Europeans in the sunny states of the Italian peninsula began to pursue new thoughts processes that were relatively divergent from the teachings of the Catholic Church. This triggered several developments subsequently in Europe that saw European states leapfrog their counterparts in Africa and Asia who relatively, had been at par or even ahead of them in terms of development. The consequent political, economic and social developments that occurred in Europe during this period have been aptly referred to as the “Great Divergence” by economic historians. The Renaissance saw rebirth in the learning of the classical texts of the ancient Romans and Greeks. It was in such context that the scholars of 15th century coined the term “the humanities”. This is because unlike the conventional studies of the time which had been characterized by the dominance of a transcendental being (God) who had sovereign authority over man. All attempts to explain human phenomena during the era before the Renaissance (the Dark Ages) were largely influenced by the interpretations of the Church (the Catholic Church). The Renaissance Scholars focused more on the mundane interpretations of things. As Pico often opined “man had the ability, if he be willing, to ascend to a level same as that of angels or descend to a status worse than pigs”. For them, man was the center of all things. He had been given the planet and it was up to him to explore and give answers to the somewhat problematic questions thrown at him by nature itself. Thus began the awakening of a new spirit in the European man that was to lead him to achieve unimaginable heights. Subsequent developments in European history: the Reformation (16th century), the Scientific Revolution (17th century), the Industrial Revolution (mid-18th century and matured by the 19th century), the era of Nationalism and Realpolitik (the 19th century) and the so called “Age of Extremes”- so graphically captioned by Eric Hobswann- (the 20th century); both the good and bad turns of these event as shown by historical developments in Europe can be regarded to have been precipitated to a large extent by the awakening of a new consciousness among Europeans during the Renaissance. By and large, the Renaissance was a seminal development that laid solid foundations for subsequent events. The aim of this historical inquiry is not to dwell on the historical experience of the implications of the humanities on continental Europe but to draw a connection between its origins in Europe and its emergence in Africa. The 15th century saw Europeans draw Africa into a new trans-Atlantic (as opposed to the trans-Mediterranean relationship that had been going on between both continents before the era of exploration and discovery) relationship by way of the several voyages of exploration which also led to the discovery of the American continent. In economic theory, Karl Marx asserted that the most striking development of the modern era was the opening of the Cape (in present day South Africa) in 1488 and the discovery of the Americas by Europeans. This new relationship led to the exportation of European culture to new areas hitherto unknown by Europeans. This relationship was to change subsequently as it went from cordial relationship between partners to an acrimonious one between two unequal partners. The nadir of this relationship was marked by colonialism. Colonialism lasted roughly sixty to seventy years in Africa, after the erstwhile colonial powers pulled out of the continent; they had left several imprints of their rule on African societies that were both positive and negative. An important legacy of colonialism was Western education. It will be inaccurate to hold the view that education was introduced to the continent by Europeans. However, it was the western type of education that was introduced and popularized by Europeans during colonial rule as Africans had developed indigenous forms of education during pre-colonial times. This had the consequence of further integrating some sections of African societies into European culture (no wonder one major problem that post independent African states had had to grapple with was the issue of Identity Crises). With the absence of European rule of over half a century, Africans have struggled to carve out a new identity for themselves. Europeans rule no doubt, exterminated the previous identities that had existed on the continent and created new artificial boundaries and identities. The Massai people were now bounded with Kikuyus and Luos in a new state of Kenya, the Hutus and Tutsis were brought under the umbrella of Rwanda, same was for the Ovimbindu and Bakongo peoples in Angola, or the Igbos, Yorubas, Tivs, Hausas, Fulanis, and Jukuns in Nigeria. This unholy union of many tribes in one state clearly explains that the political landscape of post-independence Africa was to be chaotic and filled with strife. Nevertheless, intellectuals, politicians, and society leaders now had a daunting and sensitive task on their hands: how do they manage the mess that had been made by erstwhile colonial powers? What steps would they take to ensure stability and cohesion in their new states? The immediate years of post-independence Africa saw developments that set the continent back in its quest for development. It can be argued that even in more contemporary times African polities are still reeling from the mistakes of the early post-independence years. At this juncture, the inquisitive mind might ask: how did the humanities develop in modern African since its learning in modern times began in Europe? What has been its role in the quest for development? And what are its prospects and problems in the no distant future? These questions will be attended to in the subsequent episodes of Eagle’s Eyes……….. Stay tuned.