Mar
14

Secure the Base

Secure the Base (2016) is a collection of speeches that Ngugi wa Thiong'o gave. His other works include Decolonizing the Mind (1986), An African Renaissance (2009) and Theory and Politics of Knowing (2012), amongst many others. A few quotes:

"It is fair to say that 'tribe', 'tribalism' and 'tribal wars', the terms so often used to explain conflict in Africa were colonial inventions. Most African languages do not have the equivalent of the English word tribe, with its pejorative connotations that sprung up in the evolution of the anthropological vocabulary of eighteenth -and nineteenth-century European adventurism in Africa. The words have companionship with other colonial conceptions, such as 'primitive', the 'Dark Continent', 'backward races' and 'warrior communities.'" (p. 9)

"It is not hard to see the roots of this identification with cultural symbols of Western power. The education of the black elite is entirely in European languages. Their conceptualization of the world is within the parameters of the language of their inheritance. Most importantly, it makes the elite an integral part of a global-speech community. Within the African nations, European tongues continue to be what they were during the colonial period: the language of power, conception and articulation of the worlds of science, technology, politics, law, commerce administration and even culture." (p. 42)

"For a long time now, I have advocated moving the centre from a handful of European nations to marginalized nations, and then creating conditions for a healthy dialogue and equal exchange among them all. Although this has been couched in mainly linguistic and cultural terms, my concerns embrace the wholeness of a community - the economic, political, cultural and psychic." (p. 59)

"I want to suggest that our various fields of knowledge of Africa are in many ways rooted in that colonial tradition of the outsider looking in, gathering knowledge with the help of native informants, and then storing the final product in a European language for consumption by those who have access to that language." (p. 71)

"We cannot afford to be intellectual outsiders in our own land. We must reconnect with the buried alluvium of the African memory - that must become the base for planting African memory anew in the continent and in the world. This can only result in the empowerment of African languages and cultures and make them pillars of a more self-confident Africa ready to engage with the world, through give-and-take, from its base in African memory." (p. 76) 

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Apr
22

Moral History of the 20th Century

Jonathan Glovers' (1999) Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century explores why atrocities occurred – from World War I to the Rwandan genocide – and insight on how we can learn from this history to prevent similar events from occurring again. This "thought provoker" post presents a limited selection of those insights; those interested in conflict studies as well as ethics ought to add this to their essential reading list:

On Nietzsche:

  • "For Nietzsche, this is all misguided… The idea of loving your neighbour is a disguise mediocrity. People too weak to override others disguise weakness as moral virtue, though this may be a necessary stage on the way to something higher: he says that the 'bad conscience is an illness, there is no doubt about that', but goes on to say that it is an illness as a pregnancy is an illness. The man Nietzsche admires will overcome bad conscience, which is the mark of slave morality, and will want to dominate others." (p.14-15)
  • "Some of us drawn to those ideas may feel aghast at where they took Nietzsche. Struggle, egoism, dominance, slavery, the majority having no right to existence, peoples that are failures, hardness, the festival of cruelty, the replacement of compassion for the weak with by their destruction. If such a world is really the result of Nietzsche's thought, it seems a nightmare." (p. 17)

On escalation and the prisoner's dilemma:

  • "It was assumed that countries pursued their national interests and that war was legitimate in support of vital interests. On these assumptions, each country had to plan against being attacked. Although most governments did not want war, they were in a prisoners' dilemma, where individual pursuit of national self-interest made it hard for them collectively to avoid the worst outcome." (p. 193)

On (mis)information:

  • "Governments also want to keep their own public committed to the war. In Britain in the First World War this was the main function of the newly created Ministry of Information. In a document published in 1918 about its work, this was accepted: 'Propaganda is task of creating and directing public opinion. In other wars this work has not been the function of government.' But 'in a struggle which was not of armies but of nations, and which tended to affect every people on the globe, this aloofness could not be maintained.' Sometimes leaders know that an informed public would see the human cost of war as too great, so the facts are carefully filtered." (p. 167)

On "tribalism":

  • "The common view is that real tribes are in Africa, where the same tribal hatreds have been fought out in battles since the Stone Age. Calling the conflict in Northern Ireland is a kind of rebuke: you are behaving like primitive tribes in Africa. But this picture is wrong. These other conflicts are tribal in more than metaphor: in Ireland, Yugoslavia and elsewhere they are literal enactments of tribal hostility as those in Africa. The picture in Africa is wrong too. Some of the tribal divisions are recent creations. The origins of African tribal war and massacre are more complex than the 'ancient hatreds' account allows." (p. 119) 
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