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Re-reporting Africa to the diaspora through literature

  • To re-report simply means to ‘report again’, that is, to provide a new report of certain events –which may be different from the earlier report(s). To ‘re-report’ therefore implies that there are some earlier reports either to buttress or challenge.

    A discussion of this nature should perhaps begin with some necessary questions: who are those that have reported Africa earlier? How did they portray Africa in their reports? Why the need to re-report? Who are the re-reporters and how did/do they re-report?

    Who are those that have reported Africa earlier and how did they portray Africa in their report?

    For almost four centuries Africans have endured traumas induced by the foreign encounter, specifically the transatlantic slave trade the phenomenal colonialism. Colonialism, in its radical transformation of African societies, was greatly aided by the colonial literature. The western colonial writers devalued the continent, seeing its pre-colonial ‘era as a pre-civilised limbo, or even a historical void.’

    They depict Africans as an inferior race which is utterly incapable of governing itself. They claim their mission is to civilize the ‘sub-human’ Africans. Read below a typical of this literature:

    Africans ...are just like children....They are always either laughing or quarreling. They are good-natured and passionate, indolent, but will work for a time; clever up to a certain point, densely stupid beyond. The intelligence of an average Negro is about equal to that of a European child of ten years old...They are absolutely without originality, absolutely without inventive power. Living among white men, their imitative faculties enable them to attain a considerable amount of civilisation. Left alone to their own devices they retrograde into a state of little above their native savagery.

    By Sheer Luck: A Tale of the Ashanti War, 1884 novel by George Alfred Henty

    From the excerpt above, one can understand those who reported Africa earlier and how they reported it—a report highly motivated by racial prejudice. Apart from the one quoted above, other pieces of colonial literature with this mission are Joseph Conrad’ Heart of Darkness, Joyce Carry’s Mister Johnson etc.

    Why the need to re-report and how was/is the re-reporting project executed—and who are the re-reporters?

    After the end of the brutal socio-politico-economic phenomenon called colonialism and the accompanied ‘image distorting’ history and literature created by the colonial writers, the first job for the newly unfettered (the Africans) was to reclaim their past, to re-report. Thus, the postcolonial African writers, seeing literature as a potent instrument through which the colonizers maintained and justified their mission, rose up and employed the same means to counter the prejudices and the misrepresentations depicted in the colonial literature. They set for themselves the task of eroding the colonialist ideology through which the African past had been devalued. A typical instance is the negritude movement.

    The Negritude movement pre-occupied itself with the task to explain the originality of Africa, redeem its image and publicize its potentials to the world. Largely, postcolonial African writers reacted to this prejudicial colonial literature which they were exposed to during their university education.

    In an interview granted Lewis Nkosi in 1962 in Lagos Chinua Achebe said: ‘one of the novels that set me thinking was Joyce Carry’s novel set in Nigeria, Mr Johnson...’ The key motivations for postcolonial African writers was to restore the moral integrity and cultural autonomy of Africa, to redeem the image of Africa in the world and also to educate the African masses whose psyche has been damaged by the colonial mentality. Chinua Achebe opines:

    I would be quite satisfied if my novels...did no more than teach my readers that their past—with all its imperfections—was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.

    Some of the postcolonial African writers (and their prominent works) are Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God), Wole Soyinka (Death and the King’s Horseman), Ferdinand Oyono (The old man and the Medal), Sembene Ousmane (God’s Bits of Woods) and so on.

    Interestingly, great deals of this postcolonial literature are wholly preoccupied with putting the record straight. In redeeming the image of Africa, they do not unnecessarily distort the image of the Europeans—as some colonial writers did.

    Today, looking at the postcolonial literature that was preoccupied with the task of re-reporting Africa, one cannot but applaud the postcolonial African writers. Not only have they been able to put the record straight concerning the original and honest image of Africa in the world, they also enlightened the African masses whose psyche has been badly damaged by the colonial project.

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