In the midst of the debates roused by last week’s column in cyberspace, I confessed that English is my best medium of communication and a scholar of an African language with whom I have had unhealthy debates on what qualifies for the African labels, has taken that up as an academic engagement; that such declarations are not only effects of Western imperialism but a sort of profanity by a Blackman.
The worse is, he even recommended Hausa as a better medium to take up. At first, being a Hausa-man himself, I considered his position a spark of his ethnic pride, but on realising that Hausa is not just a language of an ethnic group, that came to me as another of an African scholar’s intellectual amnesias. Hausa and English are both alien to me; both are from foreigners!
My language belongs in Niger-Congo family and Hausa is from Afroasiatic, and my people even speak Hausa with a terrible accent because, linguistically, we’re even closer to the Zulu of South Africa than Hausa. So accepting Hausa too is no less a form of “cultural imperialism” – if we must define imperialism from the scholar’s skewed understanding. Well, I’m open to remedial influences, even though my people’s accents rhyme with Zulu’s more than Hausa’s. See? It’s a riddle of commonsense. And it’s lazy and dishonest to portray Africa as a monolithic entity; every village in Africa hosts a chaos of identities. So if we want to resist influences, and preserve our ethnic values in the confine of our gated localities, this place called Africa is finished!
In the prequel to this piece (The Meaning of African Culture, 13/09/2013), I highlight the dynamism of culture and how certain concepts we flaunt as indigenous are actually influenced or introduced through intercourses of ideas with foreigners whose beliefs or values turned out to be easier to practise or more significant. Here is why history is relevant, to understand our evolutions from loin clothes-wearing peasants to clerics in cassocks and caftans and technocrats in suits. Civilisation is not achieved through preservations of our past, but simply by being inspired by others to improve on our way of living.
But we’re still a people struggling to break through the wall that separates our primordial sentiments from our actual brains. We refuse to demolish the wall in our ignorant pursuits of unprogressive sentiments, which is the reason anyone would find acquiring English for one’s academic or scientific ventures a gain of imperialism. Ignorance and hypocrisy are also why a morally wounded conservative who takes pride in listening to the lewd songs of, say, Sa’adu Bori or Barmani Coge would emphasise on morality in condemning the “vulgar” lyrics of American hip-hop which are just as lascivious as those of our singers’. And if the scholar himself isn’t a hypocrite, has he championed conversions of scientific symbols into Hausa? Hausa Language is even more fortunate than my mother-tongue, because it’s progressive and has borrowed heavily from Arabic which is why its relevance to the vogue is indisputable.
I came from a minority ethnic group, speaking a language that lacks every chance, from number of speakers to degree of influences, of becoming a Language of scholarship. And thus it’s untrue to say that settling down for English makes one a specimen in the study of imperialism.
Imperialism, in my honest perception, is adopting the values of foreigners when you have a similar concept. I see imperialism as a sophisticated form of inferiority complex, when indeed you have a concept as relevant as the one acquired. But abandoning a cultural drawback either by modernising existing concepts or acquiring those considered superior or advanced is an opposite of imperialism. You have to check your thesaurus for an apt term!
We are humans because we evolve, not just morphologically. Our cultural evolution is simply as a result of years of keen observations and criticisms of our concepts and traditions, so it’s misplaced to argue that culture is simply a group’s identity. If identity is the main essence of culture, then we must have been the same peasants in loin-clothes.
Before we begin to label anything an act of imperialism, let’s at least acknowledge that we have the brains and power to reject impositions. Let’s acknowledge that unless we have a concept better than the imposed one, it’s not imperialism. And while I beg the counter-imperialism experts among us to stop using anything developed overseas, I task them with giving the imperialists a run for their money; let’s indigenise science! Science is all about symbols, and if a people are too lazy to develop or convert the symbols into their language, screaming imperialism is a condition better understood by psychiatrists.
May God save us from us!