Dr. Kwasi Konadu’s course “Intro to Contemporary Africa” covers a wide range of topics relating to the continent of Africa. Throughout the course, students become aware of how the continent of Africa has arrived at this present time in history. From the beginning chapters about geography and historical context all the way to the final chapter on the trends and prospects for Africa, there are a few conclusions that students can soundly arrive at. As far back as scholars have researched, a range of different cultures have come into contact with Africa including European and Islamic cultures.
A lot of the interaction has been forced upon the continent, and has been accompanied by violence, physical and otherwise. However, it is clear that the different cultures of people who have passed through and continue to reside on the continent has had effects, both positive and negative, on various aspects of the continent. Ali Mazrui is a Kenyan academic and political writer whose book The Africans: A Triple Heritage, which is actually a reader supplement to a PBS telecourse, covers this topic.
Ali Mazrui’s argument that “modern” African politics, culture, and societies are a product of an Islamic, European, and indigenous African triple eritage is an accurate portrayal of the continent which African people should derive strength from, focusing on the positive aspects of each, in order to reach the transcontinental stability Africa envisions for herself. Chapter four “African Politics” of Understanding Contemporary Africa written by Donald L.
Gordon is a valuable source that speaks to the politics of contemporary Africa and how they have been heavily influence by European culture. One of the most basic pieces of evidence of European influence on African politics is the countries contained within the ontinent which were drawn up by Portugal, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany at the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 which initiated European scramble for Africa[l]. This artificial superimposition of lines over the continent divided ethnic groups and more relevantly it disturbed traditional social and economic patterns.
This is an example of forced influence on the continent which, whether the people living on the continent wanted it to or not, influenced the path of politics which continues into the present day. According to Gordon, as a result of this forced nfluence, upon reaching independence “huge differences among the various African countries in their potentials for nation-building, economic development, and stability’ were created. This is one of the negative results of influence from outside cultures, but it is still a part of the heritage of the continent.
Gordon is accurate in stating that the democratic governmental models were “alien structures hastily superimposed over the deeply ingrained political legacies of imperial”; however, in the year 2012 at this point in history, the democratic model can be something from Africa’s triple eritage that can benefit the future of the country. Giving the people of Africa the opportunity to have a choice in who governs them is a key component of empowering the people of the continent. There is a lot of turmoil throughout the continent that can lead people to feel powerless, but being able to chose your government is a step in the right direction.
Giving the people a voice is always a step in the right direction. Chapter eleven of Understanding Contemporary Africa entitled “Religion in Africa” written by Ambrose Mayo contributes a lot to support the stance that African culture is a result of its triple heritage. Ali Mazrui himself, who makes the argument for this triple heritage, is ofa muslim background which stems from Islamic influence, and Christianity is widespread throughout the continent which is a European influence.
To begin, Africa is and always has been inextricably religious, even before any outside influences can into play. According to Mayo, “It is a way of life in which the whole community is involved, as such it is identical with life itself”. African Traditional Religions are still practiced today, along with Christianity and Islam. The original religions of Africa “are not static”; according to Mayo, “contacts with Christian nd Islamic traditions have brought about transformations and syncretism of all three” a perfect example of the triple heritage of Africa.
Christianity made its way into African culture before Islam did, with its first roots dating back to the first century. In present time, Christianity is actually the largest religion in sub-Saharan Africa. Many scholars of Africa view Christianity as a devastating blow to the continent; as Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, accurately stated “When the missionaries came the Africans had the land and the Christians had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed.
When we opened them they had the land and we had the What Kenyatta says is true, making the European contribution of Christianity seem completely deplorable, but what the European Christian missionaries did not predict was the birth of “awareness among oppressed black people that before God they were of equal value with their oppressor”. In this way, Christianity may not be as negative as Kenyatta indicated. Either way, it is a major part of African culture today, as well as Islam.
The eighteenth century wave of Islam in the presently majority Islamic western and northern Africa was carried through ihad, but not solely. Islam contrasts “sharply with the Muslim belief in equality believers” making it an attractive choice for African people. Fortunately for the continent, “the spirit of Jihad and forced conversion were largely replaced by a respect for religious pluralism,” the pluralism with which Africa can move forward, with its triple heritage in tow, towards a brighter future.
One of the most clear positive impacts that European and Islamic influence has had on the African continent is its effects on the devastating epidemics of HIV and AIDS. There are a lot f factors in play around HIV and AIDS and why it has become such a large issue that the continent is facing. In chapter seven of Understanding Contemporary Africa entitled “Population, Urbanization, and AIDS” written by April A. Gordon speaks to this topic. Indigenous African culture carries a lot of norms which and linked to high fertitlity[1 1].
High fertility can mean increased economic strain for the continent as a whole with more human beings depending on the already scarce resources available throughout certain parts of the continent. As this relates to HIV/AIDS, a lot of HIV ositive and AIDS infected parents are passing the devastating disease to their children. Where European and Islamic influence comes to play is around changing the cultural norms that are leading to these bleak conditions.
Polygyny is prevalent throughout a lot of societies in Africa, and as a result a lot of HIV positive and AIDS infected men are passing the disease to their wives, because as Gordon reports “only 18 percent of African married women use any form of birth control”. This means that African women are having unprotected sex with their husbands leaving them at high risk for contracting HIWAIDS. Wars that Africa’s triple heritage can assist in battling issues of overpopulation and HIV/AIDS is through the European and Islamic religious influences.
Christianity, a European influence, undermines polygyny and sex before marriage. Both of these are factors leading to HIV/AIDS because it simply means more sex is taking place. Since so many individuals across the continent are infected, the more sex is happening, the more likely it is for the diseases to spread. Christianity and Islam both also undermine the African belief that many people have that “males are biologically programmed to need sex with many partners” since these eligions advocated for monogamous marriages. 13] It is clear that European and Islamic influences have pervaded the African continent and are co-existing and converging with indigenous African culture. It may be a painful reality for some African people to accept that the culture of groups of people who have historically oppressed and are continuing to oppress them have become such an integral part of African politics, culture, and society, but it is the reality of the situation.
Africa would have a complete different political, cultural, and societal climate if colonization never appened and European and Islamic culture never entered the continent, but this is not the case. It is a difficult reality for sure, but as the saying goes, “when life gives you lemonade, make lemonade”. The forced integrations of European and Islamic influences into indigenous African culture are the proverbial lemonades, and what African people decide to do in their current situation is the determining factor in yielding proverbial lemonade.
Along with all the terrible, disgusting, destructive effects outside cultural influences have had on the continent come significant ontributions to Africa’s chances at a stable future such as medicine to combat viruses and diseases plaguing the continent, advances in technology connecting African people to the rest of the world, and empowerment of the African people through democracy and choice in government. Although there are complications with these contributions, there is a lot of opportunity for African people to make great leaps and bounds.
If we wallow in the negative impacts these cultural influences have had and ignore the positive impacts, Africa may never be able to reach the future she envisions for herself. In the year 2012, the time machine has yet to be invented, so fighting to get back to culture that simply can not withstand the multicultural climate of Africa’s current position in history would be a waste of energy, time, and resources.
Those who want to reject everything European and Islamic as inherently negative and counterproductive to Africa’s future are still hurt by the grave injustices Africa has faced, and it is understandable. The stance that African people need to find a way derive strength from their triple heritage in order to move forward is not to discount the terrible things that outsiders have done, but s a continent, you have to make due with you have.
If Africa finds herself with European and Islamic people and influences diffused throughout, she cannot sit and wish and pine for it to go away. To propose that Africa go back to its indigenous beliefs, is to propose mass genocide against African people themselves who have prescribed to the beliefs of the other components of the continents triple heritage. This is the time for Africa to acknowledge the silver lining around their triple heritage and play the cards she has been dealt, refusing to ever throw in her hand.