Gambian Literature and Publications
Western Domination, Imperialism and Exploitation
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Dr Pierre Gomez
In its 19 November 1951 edition, The Gambia Echo made a survey of Miss Sylvia Pankhurst’s book entitled A Forgotten Country where, making reference to her knowledge of the horn of Africa, she describes the behaviour of the Italian colons towards the people of Somaliland. She evokes in this work the method used by the Italian government, just after the Berlin Conference (1885), to annex this part of Africa. The slavery and the ghastly racist strategies developed by
Mussolini against the Somali people will not leave the author unconcerned:
Somalis at this time: Anti-racial laws were promulgated, all Somalis had to salute every European they passed or met in the streets or elsewhere educational facilities were reserved for the Italian settlers and Somalis could not go further than primary education unless they were sons of chiefs or other high ranking dignitaries.
In addition to this pro-slavery and racist behaviour, Pankhurst gets herself preoccupied with the British occupation after the defeat of the Italians in 1941. Paradoxically, since, according to her, Britain misgoverned the country after the departure of the Italians, she proposes “to hand Somaliland back to the Italians as Trustee for a period of ten years from 1950, with a clause in the Trusteeship Agreement that the territory shall be a free and independent state at the end of that period.” It is evident here that the author attacks the British and asks for the independence of Somalia in ten years. Although the book makes no direct reference to The Gambia, it is tempting to infer that its content will not fail to arouse similar sentiments in the new generation of Gambian intelligentsia. This explains why the book is of relevance to this study. A lot of books of this nature will receive the same attention in certain columns of this paper. The target was very clear: the footsteps of other African countries in the outcry for independence.
In its 28 July 1952 edition, Sam H M Jones makes a study of No Green Pastures written by Roi Ottley. The book addresses the issue of racism in western countries. Going by the author, this crime against humanity is more acute in the colonizing countries than in those countries that never had colonies. According to him, this is so because the latter are more liberal in their behaviour. Thus, having a full grasp of the British and French colonial systems, Ottley believes that Negroes were better treated in the second system. Indeed, according to him, they were given the opportunity to discover the lifestyle and culture of the French people. Going by the author, some blacks even became, thanks to the system of assimilation, generals in the army or even writers, rubbing shoulders with distinguished French writers like Alexandre Dumas (a half-caste) and Charles Baudelaire. Better still, in the streets of Paris, black/white interaction was obstacle-free, unlike in England. But compared with Italy, France takes an inferior position: Rome even had black popes (Adrian and Gelasiks) as well as having black authors; twenty blacks were beatified and elevated to the rank of saints. Cyprien, Benedict, Maurice and Augustine were among those black people who attained sainthood because of their impeccable sanctity.
In view of these examples, Jones believes that No Green Pastures is a book that blacks can use to their advantage; a book which will enable them to attain a higher level of existence that will subsequently help them attain the status of free men. Events leading to the abolition of slavery and revising the status of blacks in England have already been mentioned and some iconic writers, like Samuel Coleridge and George Padmore, engaged in the fight against western imperialism, appealed greatly to the reader. The intention was to whip up an anti-colonial feeling in the Gambian. The 1950s indeed marked a significant turning point in the colonial policy of The Gambia Echo.
In connection with the dialogue of force, Jonkunda Daffeh established himself as a much stronger nationalist than Jones. In a direct manner, after destroying the mantle of colonialism in Africa, Daffeh redirects his efforts in the fight against neocolonialism and its consequences on the African soil. He starts by recalling the early struggles and speeches made in great European capitals by the torchbearers of independent Africa:
Then the words came: Democracy! Freedom!
Colonialism went into coma
Flag and anthem
Pronounced the name of the newborn baby!
These are the battles that send colonialism lifelessness, into a state of coma, as the author rightly puts it. The phrase “Mistaken for Death” reveals in no unequivocal terms that the job is incomplete. In a rather inebriated and unconscious state, amidst unbridled festivity, the new African hurriedly hoists the symbols of the new republics of free countries, to be followed by the hurried declaration of independence. But,
The name hardly learnt
The vampire recovered its health
With the aid of your prodigal sons
Licensed killers of your sons
With the essence of the new born baby
The baby went into death
Death on this side of death
Anthems, flags, declarations of intent
When it regained consciousness, colonialism, qualified as a vampire, devoured everything on its way. Dreams became nightmares and paths that were supposed to open up exciting vistas were all blocked up. It meant a return to the prison yard for those who wait to suffer this carnage. And, as for the child, he has already been sacrificed to the altar, to the slaughterhouse, leaving behind him “Anthem flags, declarations of intent”.
But according to Daffeh, in all that, the worst for Africa is to see its sons give active support to its assassin. Africa conspires against itself. This explains the failure of its integration plans. How can these plans succeed when the sons of Mother Africa behave the hypocrite, the unfaithful and become the right hand men of the enemy?
The story not told
To substantiate his claims, the poet cites instances of atrocities and butchery perpetrated on Africans and on their own soil.
Down below mumblings
Daffeh bewails here, in a rather oblique manner, the fate of Patrice Lumumba in Leopoldville, and that of the Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah, who was forced into exile after being thrown out of power. He equally makes a federal case of Ahmed Sékou Touré who, with the backing of his people, was brave enough to say "No” to de Gaulle. As well as these, the Guinea Bissau crisis does not leave the poet indifferent. It is this painful history of Africa that the poet aims to recount to the youth of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Point, from Mogadishu to Bathurst.
The story is being told
The message spreading
Cairo to Cape Point
Mogadishu to Bathurst
The millions are knowing
This mind-moulding job becomes the poet’s vocation in order to wake Africa up and make it take its destiny into its own hands. Bathurst, the capital of The Gambia, should not be passive in this sensitization and self-discovery campaign. Africa should reconcile with itself.
In the same intellectual temperament as Daffeh’s on pan-Africanism, N’jogou Bah Jr, in Ode to Kwame, pays homage to the heroes of the fight for the liberation of the black man:
Say hello to Nasser
and extend to him our greetings
The poet acknowledges the greatness of those men who fell in the field of honour. Those who willingly accepted to shed their blood for the respect of human dignity, history will never forget about them. Their names should remain eternally engraved, according to the poet, in the collective memory of the African youth. To the catalogue of pan-Africanists evoked above shall be added other freedom fighters like the Egyptian, Abdel Nasser and the African-American, Malcolm X. All these men of honour who, in the main, consisted of people uprooted out of the continent at a very tender age, should not die in vain, according to N’jogou Bah Jr. The present African youth are invited to emulate these fallen heroes and reconstruct a new Africa that will be devoid of all useless - isms and of every form of neo-colonial theory. It is only when these conditions are put in place that Africa will hope to regain its former glory.
However, J Ayo Langley chooses to analyse The Blinkards by the Ghanaian Kobina Sekyi, described as one of the most controversial members of the West African intelligentsia between 1920 and 1952. His true name is William Esuman-Gwira Sekyi. Up to 1910, therefore, when Sekyi sailed for England to study, he was, as he later confessed in “The sojourner’ and subsequent socio-political writings, an ‘Anglomaniac’ who had been brought up and indoctrinated to be ashamed of most things African”. Many of his poems indicate that Sekyi suffered an identity crisis and underwent an ideological transformation (or re-conversion) after his arrival in London.
Copies of some of Sekyi’s speeches and articles, as well as some remarks in his poems, indicate that Sekyi underwent an identity crisis and ideological transformation (of reconversion) within a short time of his arrival in London. Britain swiftly disillusioned him, even he tells us, ‘his old dreams as to European food are over,’ land ladies worry him no end, and the regular baths he has been accustomed to becoming a problem, as the ‘wash’ is hardly a satisfactory substitute. But, more devastatingly, it does not take him long to find out he is regarded as a savage even by the starving unemployed who ask him for alms, ‘and many are the stupid questions he is asked about his humanity; on the whole he is much disappointed with England as he has seen it by the time he is six months in England- just about the normal period it takes.
Sekyi will not escape the devastating consequences of colonization – on the socio-cultural angle. Seen as barbaric even by the British beggars in the streets of London, the man is disappointed by England. The country is not the much dreamt about Eldorado. Thus, with his Bachelor’s degree in his pocket, the decides to come back to Ghana where he will teach for two years, write society and literate oriented articles after making adequate research into Akan-Fanti culture. After regaining his balance, he publishes this play entitled The Blinkards. This literary work reflects the restored mental health of Sekyi. He sees himself now prepared to return to Europe, with no fear this time of going through the cultural trauma he went through during his first stay. But that was without
making room for the realities of the time. Whilst in the boat bound for London, he suffers racial attacks:
It was while the ship was in the Irish Sea that it was torpedoed by a German U-Boat; some lives were lost, but Sekyi managed to clamber on to a life boat. According to interviews with some of his surviving friends in Cape Coast, it was this incident that finally convinced Sekyi that African values and interests were incompatible with those of Europe. I was informed by those to whom he wrote after the incident that after he had managed to get into a lifeboat one of the Europeans started shouting at him to get out as he (Sekyi), a black man, had no right to be alive when whites were drowning.
In this boat, men are not born equal. The black man should die to save the life of the European. Sekyi realizes that racial segregation is always the order of the day. In the face of this rejection, the author seeks refuge in writing in order to expose the evils of the British society. In a satirical manner, he depicts through his characters the sort of African woman colonial education would produce, citing Mrs Brofusem as an example. In addition to the school, he accuses the missionaries of having failed in their work, by accepting to be the disciples of Satan on earth. If Langley’s opinion is anything to go by, Sekyi is convinced (and he denounces it loud and clear) that imperial commerce and Christianity are the principal agents of social disintegration in West Africa.
As in the previous articles, texts connected with liberation movement, with the issue of freedom and equality, are published even where they are written by foreigners. What matters is sharing the same type of discourse on the defence of humankind in general, and the black man in particular. It is the latter’s desire to taste the fallouts of the trilogy: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This explains why in “Colonialism” Denis Njie laments over the behaviour of the colonialists in Africa.
C-rouching like thieves in the dead of night,
O-rganising ogres with faces white,
L-ooking for who to sell or kill.
O-ur land our gold in the deal
N-ever has oppression been so rampant,
I-nternational bandits from places distant,
our one and every right,
L-azily the world watched this horrible sight,
I-nnocent children torn from their mother’s hem,
S-laves and corps they made of them
M-urders and missionaries we know the game.
As for him, the intruders have only one objective: sell or kill blacks in order to appropriate their lands and all the mineral resources that abound in the African continent. The poet’s pain is heightened by the triple use of “Our” in this stanza specifically in the fourth verse, “Our land, our gold all in the deal.” This rampant oppression of Africa and of his own country is a result of an international plot orchestrated by people “from places distant” who know neither the culture nor the history of his country. Njie denounces the fact that their only right to existence has been seized from them by people coming from faraway lands. When innocent young people are being killed cold- bloodedly or forcefully turned into slaves or being forced to squat in prisons, “Lazily the world watched this horrible sight.” “Murderers not Missionaries, everything is clear!” to borrow the terminology of the Ivorian reggae artiste, Tiken Jah Fakoly.
In the face of this destruction, this robbing of Africa, Ingram Peters, more commonly known as Femi, reveals, through “We shall try ”, that hope is not yet totally lost and that his country might, will, in fact, wake up one day. The heart boils with rage at what he considers the “painful realities of the poet”. This sordid page in the history of the continent should be closed so that its sons will be able to look into the future with optimism.
We shall try
To make a desired restitution
More has to be gained
To help transform society
Though not coercively
For therein lie the desires of the result
To get to the other side
We shall try
But not alone
For together we pursue
To erase from the mind of the people the trauma they were made to suffer and for the good of all and sundry, it is necessary, for everyone, as far as the author is concerned, to participate actively in the collective transformation process of African society. Cognizant of the difficult nature of this task, the poet throws a passionate appeal to his fellow citizens to accept the challenge. But of course the job is bound to fail if Africa does not unite; unity is strength, as is often said. The youth then have to seize the opportunity.