List the top five issues you believe are plaguing this country and I will show you how each of them relates to colonialism.
This was activist, Sylvie Njobati’s response to a reporter who quizzed her on the need to invest so much energy on restitution of cultural heritages while society faces other ‘more pressing issues.’
The question and answer session was on the heels of a play, Shambles of Haunted Africa, staged at the Cameroon Cultural Center, May 25. The play was a summary of the travails of the Nso people in the hands of colonial masters and their situation today with the clamour for the return of the Ngonnso heritage. It has been in German custody for 120 years today.
In her submission after the play, its Producer, Sylvie Njobati noted that the question of restitution and reparation by colonial masters is one largely ignored in history and consequently, by youths today. Her goal is therefore to mainstream the discourse to pave a way for justice.
By Form one, I could recite the names and exploits of Christopher Columbus, Bartolomeu Dias, Prince Henry the Navigator and other invaders presented to us as explorers. I would go on to learn of other false heroes such as King Leopold of Belgium. But again, he was presented as a hero in the picture, and not the villain he should be perceived as. While awareness on the African continent appears to be at an all-time high, the same cannot be said for actions to change the narrative.
It is becoming more convenient to talk against neo colonialism and bad governance. It appears more convenient to look ahead and see a future for Africa being its own man, finally getting its deserved place among world powers someday. But the walls cannot be built solid if we don’t dig deep and lay firm foundations. Like Sylvie puts it, they are not doing us a favour by returning our heritage and paying reparations and acknowledging their inhumane machinations and the adverse effects. It is our inalienable right to have that which is ours and the least they can do is return them.
Another perspective she brought to the fore was the trap of individualism and division. It starts small – watching the innocent not get served justice; letting people go astray when we can be there for them, because it does not directly affect us. This graduates to more overt displays of unproductive individualism; shutting down others for speaking up; and as we have seen in more recent times, spates of violence spurred by xenophobic tendencies sometimes fueled by those meant to be called leaders.
The story of the discovery of Ngonnso and other Nso heritages in Germany is in itself, a lesson on being a brother’s keeper, a blueprint of how an action which seems so small can stir a wind of change so mighty. On a broader scale, Sylvie prescribed South-South cooperation as a panacea for returning home all stolen heritages. Restitution in Namibia is your concern as much as it is in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana or some other country. Even their good book says it: give to the Nso what belongs to the Nso. Give to the Africans what belongs to the Africans.
The restitution/reparation discourse is one too broad to be had on a single post. But this too is a good start. Multiple questions arise at every turn and of course, no one person has all the answers. What we all have in common however, is the same burden. Your village might not have had an artefact taken or you don’t care at all if it returns because your god calls it evil.
Still, you share a portion of the burden. It might be through the Anglophone crisis, the persistent poverty and embarrassing standards of living, or your inability to buy a plane ticket and fly the world when you want because your country is on some blacklist. Whatever the travails might be, there is the hand of a colonial master lingering somewhere behind the curtains. It is a reasonable thing to apportion some of the blame to our leaders too. But wait. Who puts and maintains them there? Your guess is as good as mine.
Identifying the problem is one thing, but finding a way to address them that works, is another. Among possible solutions discussed at the post-play parlay, were the need to write petitions, engage in community advocacy, partake in movements or contribute in whatever way you can.
Like Sylvie, I subscribe: take away the language, the embedded Anglo-saxon and francophone dictums and the fancy words used to cover up the harsh realities behind our financial, political and social situations.
Now, zoom in.
Do you recognize yourself?