A Prayer For Africa
I met a man on the Equator line, his skin as black as coal, his eyes flamed with smoking, boiling pitch .. that awful stare that just puts you there .. at that place .. at the root and seed .. of all the injustices .. of all the ages. In mortal fear I stepped back from that awful apparition .. then said .. who are you? What do you want of me?
“I am the White mans burden” .. And mockingly .. “Tell me Bwana .. why am I a burden to the likes of your kind”?
Oh, I thought that would make you pause .. he said. For we were old before you were young .. and individually we fought and conquered the mighty lion to wrest from him our manhood .. the harvest of the fruitful earth we gathered … and game we stalked to feed our Children … are your lands so impoverished and minds so dissatisfied with the land of your kind that you come to plunder mine?
I bleed just like you .. and with a slashing rip of his nails he raked his breast. Shocked to silence .. I watched lines of red globules become small streams .. that became a river .. that became a waterfall from his breast and the blood splashed his feet and soaked the earth around. The symbolism so powerful that I was humbled in a trice.
I feel just like you .. listen! .. he said .. and from within, cavernous as if from a great distance .. I heard massed African rhythmic singing .. expressing perfectly, harmoniously .. the universal sounds of the heart .. and ancient root shoots stirred within. I winced as he smashed his fingers with a stone .. and watched in horrified fascination as the burning pitch from his eyes brimmed over .. hot rivulets across his cheeks, with smoking furrows in their wake and the inevitable scarring of a mind.
We know the meaning of Freedom far better than your kind .. for your technology has made you slaves .. We in bush and veldt .. no guns .. a loincloth and a spear .. that is freedom my friend. Freedom does not lie in shanty towns clustered around Colonial Cities and our young people aping the white man. Your Democracy is a well basted hypocrisy and garnished with a white piety that reminds me of vultures flapping around a corpse.
The ills were many that arrived with the Missionary .. After the pox and the plague came the Governors and the Soldiers .. the Union Jack .. Lee-Enfield rifles, the Maxim and Gatling guns … but worst of all was the consuming greed that made hyenas and jackals of so many men. The Slave Ships lying off the coast, loaded with shackles, shot and chain. Historically we have been the White Mans Burden. Yet you came uninvited and will no doubt leave an abomination in your wake. It is we the benighted heathen that must bear the burden .. dragging the cross of your shame.
His searing words branded in my brain … and shocked me into the present once again .. and the horror of the nightmare slowly melting into the campfire flames.
I lay stretched on my bedroll with my feet to the fire to keep at bay the chill of the African night air. The African night sky is so magnificent .. so vast .. Moon hanging, burnished silver shield .. the veldt visible silver-grey and lost in deep purple-black at the horizon .. the coughs, grunts, snarls and squeals, the myriad sounds of the nightly business made one feel small and insignificant .. just a small spark in the immensity of it all .. surrendering was never so sweet .. it was without doubt a cross-road experience.
He also lay on his bed roll .. his skin black in the firelight .. and winking dark blue highlights in rhythm with the dancing of the fire, the Mau Mau Freedom Fighters mark of brotherhood that was etched upon his face .. for this was in the days of the dying of the Empire and self-rule lay near. He was dressed in the cotton drill and insignia of a Sergeant of the Kings African Rifles and commanded a section of Askari for our protection. A mobile signals unit maneuvering in the Northern Frontier District .. as the Brigadier .. peacock like .. displayed our might. to all that dare.
It was against the regulations to supply beer to the native troops.. and apart from white officers .. fraternization was strongly discouraged. But out on the veldt what cared we for regulations .. men together .. we raised our bottles of warm Tusker beer and shared that comradeship and respect, that the men of war of many nations have in common. My Swahili was poor and his English good and well nuanced .. his truths cut like a surgeon’s knife .. slicing away the caricatures, misconceptions and white mans lies about the African people’s and their life.
Brother, I understand you well .. but tell me .. why do you wear the uniform of the oppressor? .. a pause .. then he said .. long after your soldiers are gone there will be a need to fight and I am ready .. trained, clothed and well versed in your tactics. ready to train our young warriors on the journey to freedoms light .. I do not understand I slowly said.
Taking a mouthful of beer from the bottle .. he went on .. Your soldiers may leave but foreign seed has long been planted .. what you call men of fortune or carpet baggers are well entrenched behind a façade of your law. Law that was built over a thousand years by the slave masters! .. He raised his hand .. before you protest hear me out .. You may pout your breast like a pigeon at the words of the Magna Charta .. yet in truth .. just look and see what it has become .. your law is nothing more than a hoax on the peoples for the benefit of a few.
He stayed my hot words with his hand .. and asked .. What do you expect of your law? .. Justice! .. I replied .. and he gave a snort and a cynical laugh .. You .. or your people cannot afford your Justice! .. Your justice is only for the few .. those that can pay well … It’s a sort of double bind for you .. Retributive injustice costs money .. And its your belief in retribution and money that supports that facade.
Restorative justice is the African way .. and will needs be fought for .. Despots must be overthrown .. And in relationship to the world .. A Pan Africa will not bow to force, but only to honest diplomacy .. On that day Africans will be singing and dancing on the High Road .. Africa for the Africans .. he said .. things done in the African way. We know how to do that better than you!
I pried the cap from another beer and passed it to him .. and said .. I am privileged to meet you.
My friend was educated at a Mission School on the outskirts of Nairobi. He told me that he needed to learn to read, write and figure .. The British Colonial History of the Empire and the other stuff they taught .. he left behind.
It is well that one remembers that the African Holocaust is the greatest the world has ever known and the innumerable sufferings crying out to the Heavens for succour which never comes .. the missionaries still prowl the land and as a personal question .. who gave them the right to usurp the spirit of the land?
Moslem, Christian and Jew .. first the rape and plunder and then the reapers of injured souls. Far better they get the Justice and Freedom that they have suffered so eternally for .. rather than those hypocrites of the book they are all selling .. because the price is an individual soul .. so everyone has the right to choose the God of their understanding .. God has 6 billion names and faces and to each in equal measure .. love .. irrespective of understanding, or the words of the learned clan.
And for the white tribes a gradual assimilation as they too become Africa .. and on that day the Africans will sing and dance on the high road for the birth of a Federated States of Africa .. in all of its incredible diversity.
Many things have changed in those decades that have since passed but what has never changed is those men and women of honour who have maintained their principles and each time they have been smashed to the ground they arose again .. Generation after Generation they arise again .. and in spite of the current horror that is to be visited upon Mali .. Africa will continue to breed men of honour until she finally stands tall and free and Masters of their Nation.