The Ontology of the African IV: The Antinomy


The claim to being knowledgeable and intelligent as well as acting in denial of knowledge and intelligence, simultaneously, is as Antinomy of an unusual kind. Knowledge is power only when it is usefully and unarguably applied. Is knowledge power to the African? The mental dynamic of the derisory ontology of the African is a perhaps fortuitous acceptance or nefarious imposition of an irrepressible “Antinomy”. Simply put, it is the acceptance of the African that the non-African has done better in and for the world and can only bring about more good. Such is twinned with the recognition that Africans have done very well in and for the world and can only do worse or nothing. It is a self-defeating belief that some gifted Africans “transcend” by way denial and demonstrating their exceptionality and ‘non-Africanness’. The contemporaneity of this Antinomy is neither extreme nor false. Africa’s past glories and excellence are as relevant as the one-time vivacious Mongol Empire is to the present-day Ulan Bator. Let us stick with today.

How do Africans deal with this undesirable but irrepressible Antinomy? Acceptance by justification by regardless of the facts is one common approach adopted mostly among the learned and unlearned. There is safety and reprieve for many Africans in exocentric or xenophiliac justifications. The evidence they use for argument appears very pro-European (sometimes in the extreme) and more recently increasingly pro-Oriental since it entails comparisons with too-easy-to-find African failures and her lack of progress. The justification also betrays untiring support for any evil inflicted upon Africans at home or in Diaspora by non-Africans. The economic terrorism of multilateral financial agencies and vulture funds, punitive and fatal racism, intellectual imperialism are all justified mostly by the personal ontology “I am not like those wretched other African”. Frantz Fanon’s works need a revisitation.
It is quite a sight when an otherwise rational individual embraces folly to justify his derision. Though these justifications may be uttered with vehemence or self-assurance by the African, her heart and soul wrestles with pain and often disturbances, the safety and reprieve they seek are invariably elusive. The justification here is not mere self-defeatism, it is the helpless acceptance of one’s inferiority relative to a non-African and perhaps outwardly projected self-hate. Denial is another widespread tactic used to cope with relentless depreciation of the dignity-castrating Antinomy smothering the ontology of the African. Found mostly among well-educated Africans, they simply deny the Antinomy in question under the guise of ‘all men are equal’ and other universal statements of hope that have proven throughout history to be part of the aesthetics but not practice of dominant cultures. The idealism of the most abstract and distant form is the preferred approach of dominant cultures in respect to others; Africa being the most convenient theatre.
The unveiling nightmare is that “enlightened” African [but for a minority of them] cannot face up to the reality the Antimony. The coward runs away from it altogether, but the denier cannot escape her “Africanness”. Delusion offers no comfortable refuge because a sober awakening is always imminent like an avenging angel. With increasing sophistication, those in denial invariably resort to “proving” their “non-Africanness” often through self-ascription, achievements, lifestyles and associations. Unfortunately, the non-African cannot buy the unsaleable; Africans are who they are without a price. Cost-benefit analysis: you are either useful or useless as an African to a non-African. We must consider the fact these deniers believe they are only African because of some bunch of proteins in the bodies called DNA and nothing else. We should wish these deniers very best of luck. It is equally surprising that the ordinary African is the one that sees through the Antinomy. Knowledge thus becomes the screen that shields the Antinomy.
Indifference is also a tactic employed, especially when there is no reason the face up to the destructiveness of the Antinomy. To be fair, countless Africans encounter responsibilities and problems that often push the Antimony very far down their list of concerns and preferences. As the saying goes “the woman whose house is on fire does not chase after rats”; the Antimony is rarely a rat though. Anger is probably the most sincere approach to the Antinomy, but it is also the least observed. Anger does not work well in the ontology of the African; displays of anger are narrowly rendered as uncouth, ill-mannered, savage and primitive even without negative words and deeds happening. To be angry and present it with public support is an utterly non-African thing; Africans are not allowed to slap, punch, shoot, bulldoze, bomb, invade, occupy. You have to be non-African to do that with pride. The ontology of the African is a clear and present relegation of rights.
Fela, the Afrobeat exponent, sang “Suffering and Smiling“, this part of the expected ontology of the African no matter the circumstances. Africans have to smile and look happy even when their suffering is unbearable. In Part III, one could read how the African leader failed the ontology of the African and here how they have created this impossible Antinomy. The Antimony has played a very influential role in preventing Africans from offering their significant contributions to modern society. ‘Import and transplant’ rather than ‘develop and foster’ is the most dominant manifestation of the Antinomy. Xenophilia is a short cut to Africa’s dependence; autophilia is the long road to unqualified freedom and independence.
Two centuries after John Macadam gave the world ‘macadamised roads’ Nigerians, like other Africans, cannot still tar their roads nor maintain them adequately. Nigeria has abundant reserves of asphalt and bitumen, countless competent engineers, scientists, planners, managers, professors, university departments relevant to road-making and the vast oil revenues but ‘leadership in thievery, waste and empty claims’ take total precedence over ‘leadership in technical reliability, societal interest and development’. The Antinomy persists. The ontology of the African persists.
No dominant culture (especially its leaders) appreciates or tolerates substantial increases in the social consciousness of a hitherto “non-conscious” people. Laws are passed, spying programs are created, antithetical groups are sponsored, school curricula are changed, media houses are co-opted, immorality and amorality are enforced, punitive tactics are adopted, by leaders of dominant cultures to prevent, reduce, minimise the rising social conscientiousness of non-dominant peoples. When such happens in America or Europe, as hypocritical, immoral, unjust and shameless it is, the African is effectively a stranger in a strange land. It also happens pervasively in Africa, African leaders and African ethnic majorities oppressing each other with the self-harming suppression of social consciousness. That such happens to ethnic minorities in Africa becomes an unquestionable assumption of unquestionable integrity.
The non-Africa leaders and elites have no incentive to advance the social consciousness of the African, especially in Africa for a good reason. Still, the African leader and elites fear to foster it more in incomparable degrees. Political ricism, as a political strategy is an apt example. Political ricism is the use of rice (mostly) or other foodstuffs (e.g. beans, salt, vegetable oil, local fast foods, vegetables), essential commodities (e.g. kerosene, hurricane lamps, fans, textile fabrics) and farm stuff (e.g. cutlasses, hoes, seeds, fertiliser) in small quantities by politicians as incentives to persuade voters to make “on the spot” decisions to vote for them. Only a socially non-conscious people will vote a politician who they know nothing of his politics into public office for four years for a mere 5 kg of expired rice. Worse still is that these politicians are mostly intellectuals trained at elite western universities. Nigeria’s most decorated and distinguished intellectuals (few exceptions) are visibly unrepentant tribalists, and their anti-tribalism rhetoric is slapstick comedy to some and shameless hypocrisy to others. George Ayittey’s provocative indictment of the African intellectual in positions of power (see We let Africa Down Badly is not going away in a hurry it should be heard [read] by Africans as much as best-selling music.
Claude Ake complained of how the real political and democratic consciousness and intentions of independence politicians was so rapidly substituted with the awareness of tribe and religion by those very same people because of the enormous easy expediency it offered. Easy expediency fuels the amorality, irresponsibility and mindlessness necessary to make Africa the seem ‘anus of the world’. Yes, the inordinate quest for easy money and power (above all), easy governance, easy thinking, easy opportunism, easy life. Easy everything led by African elites translates into observations of laziness, incompetence, ignorance, delusion, complacency, senselessness, failure and desperation. The creation of a robust dignified social consciousness and flourishing society is untiringly hard work. Why would the Antinomy not be their shield?
If African leaders, intellectuals, academics, tycoons, activists and angry young youths cannot do this essential hard work, who will do it? And what has happened to those who have tried? To successfully reject that being African as the equivalent of non-conscious easiness is arduous work and often thankless. African leaders and intellectuals even expect that much needed social consciousness besides numerous other things would be made and delivered by non-Africans for Africa. The Antinomy is structurally upheld by the wreckless African leadership when they outsource their core foundational responsibilities to non-Africans. Easy expediency and social non-consciousness are inadvertently some significant achievements of the African leader and the generator of the pervasive derisory ontology of the African. The Antinomy has a manor and master.
The ontology of the African and the Antinomy characteristically abhors freedom for African people, in Africa or Diaspora. At the heart of it all is the question of democracy, the freedom to be a dignified human being living a life free of routine degradation and avoidable suffering. African leaders and intellectuals have had their day, and it has been an utterly failed day. Who is next? Maybe they are yet to be born. If or when they are born, autophilia should be their dominant philosophy because the solution to Africa’s problems lies solely within Africa. ‘Love thyself’ means infinitely more than it sounds its practice is never an Antinomy.
Grimot Nane

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