- Written by Amanda Letiwa
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South Sudanese under-estimate the profound power that comes with asking the question 'why?' This single question if embedded in the collective psyche of South Sudan would alone cause the revolution needed to effect change in South Sudan, and perhaps Africa as a whole. It has been my experience that South Sudanese do not question the actions of their leaders thoroughly enough to cause our leadership to account. We do not question ourselves enough to cause ourselves to be productive in South Sudan. Lastly we do not question the narratives ascribed to us by foreigners in order for us to define and chart a path for ourselves based on our own understanding of the world. South Sudan's institutional inadequacy is really furnished by ignorance. We are content to know very little about ourselves, and as a result seek to have everybody else tell us what and who we are. No wonder South Sudanese en masse believe the myth, created by Sudan and their friends, that South Sudan is inextricably linked and dependent upon Sudan.
I would like to ask the question: why do Africans especially South Sudanese not question the fact that most foreigners think we are primitive and therefore treat us as though we are children. This reminds me of a meeting that I attended in the Houses of parliament (Westminster, London, United Kingdom) where Michael Bain MP, completely ignorant of the history of both Sudan and South Sudan, with very little interest in both countries chaired a meeting on the 9th July 2012. Aside from the complete and utter disregard both he and many of his colleagues showed many South Sudanese people in the room, what baffled me most was the fact that the South Sudanese in the room at the time ended up looking like victims. It was our independence anniversary, and many of us in the room were/are residents of the UK, and yet not one non-South Sudanese person in the room thought that our views were relevant or necessary to be discussed on this momentous day. My question us WHY?
Let us examine how the use of the question 'why?' can enable a healthy critique of a basic idea that has crippled the African and inevitably South Sudan.
The question 'Why?' as an agent for the Deconstruction of the word Primitive and its relation to Africa/South Sudan
Some definitions of the word Primitive:
4. Anthropology. of or pertaining to a preliterate or tribal people having cultural or
physical similarities with their early ancestors:no longer in technical use.
5. Unaffected or little affected by civilizing influences; uncivilized; savage: primitive
I find it difficult to find this extremely Eurocentric concept a stick to beat my people and my ancestors with. Primarily because of the pretentious nature of prescription when one's only reference point is themselves.
Africans are not a homogenous collective of people. What I find interesting about the labelling of Africans by Europeans is that for some reason they seem incapable of viewing that which is different to them as different but potentially equal. I have often found that for many Europeans that I encounter, one system must be considered inferior, almost as though it is necessary to conclude that one is better than the other.
Another difficulty I have is, accepting that Africans as a general statement should agree with the idea that Africans en masse are lesser because of our indigenous way of life verses those in Europe. For example my ancestors used sticks as tooth brushes to clean their teeth, Queen Elizabeth several centuries ago it is noted did not smile in portraits painted of her because her teeth were rotting. What I find interesting is when Africans had basic forms of dentistry that many Africans still use today, an English queen who was lavishly adorned with gold, silver and diamonds etc had no known mechanism for cleaning her teeth. There are several other examples I could use. One could argue that that was England five hundred years ago, the fact that is no longer the case is evidence of advancement. Maybe so but what it does say is that Africa was not taught everything but had a system of existence independent of and to Europe, that if people were not busy trying to put down from the offset, may prove contrary to the claim that Africans en masse are primitive.
Another example is the idea that African's are savage. Let's be real about that, Europeans butchered Africans with no thought to African humanity. In English law the African was considered 3/5 a human being. Yet in the 'dark continent' many African societies did not practice capital punishment, if one member of the tribe killed another instead of the tribe authorising that individuals killing, that guilty member of the tribe was exiled.
Moreover, in the Trans-Atlantic and Arab slave trades they would rape African women so much so that you could argue the birth of a new race of Africans because of the product of this rape. Yet we were likened to animals. If Africans are indeed not human as English law had it then and many other European countries regard/ed us then surely their actions were tantamount to bestiality. If that is the case then I honestly marvel at the idea that we the African are excessively carnal and animalistic alone...
I will be completely frank; in my opinion the only regrettable thing that my ancestors did was to practice the dark arts which produced paradoxes and societal practices that one could definitely argue stifled Africa's development. What I find key to note is that, just because we are not the same as Europeans does not make us automatically inferior, it makes us different first. If Africans do not develop as Europe has the standard is not Europe but rather what can Africans do for Africans that makes life better for Africans. How can Africans become more efficient etc...
One last point, often people argue if Africa were really as advanced in the classical/ancient world, why are they as they are today. The essence of the point is to negate the possibility that Africa could have at any point in history been seen by others such as the Europeans as a paragon for development. I honestly struggled with this for a while and then concluded that perhaps it was regression, and to be honest I was not completely convinced by this speculation. However I am fully persuaded that it could have been. For example I cannot believe Greece looks the way it does today, it is dysfunctional, lacking efficiency and competent organisation/management, 'Greece the birth place of European/Western civilisation'. What's happening in Greece is as bad as many developing African countries the only difference is they have White faces and the EU.
My argument above is not that any one race is more superior to the other, but rather that we are all equally Human and prone to excessive shortcomings. These shortcomings cannot be overlooked if we as Africans and ultimately South Sudanese are to develop ourselves enough to create a future for South Sudan.
I would like to challenge all South Sudanese to begin to ask the question why? If this challenge annoys or offends you then I would recommend that you too ask the question why?
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