There couldn’t be a more appropriate text from which to embark on an on-the-spot reminder to the world of the role of Africa and Africans in the intra-European World war of 1914-1918 or the Great War or the First World War than Unbowed: One Woman’s Story, the inimitable memoirs of Wangari Maathai, the award-winning celebrated environmental activist and biologist (http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=wangari, accessed 28 August 2014). In those poignant passages memoralising on uncle Thumbi, conscripted by the British occupation regime in Kenya in 1914 to fight the Germans in neighbouring Italian-occupied Somalia and German-occupied Tanganyika (contemporary Tanzania), Maathai notes (Unbowed, 2008, 27-28):
In my family there was a missing member, someone I did not find out about until I was well into adulthood. During the First World War, Africans in the colonies were conscripted to fight or serve as porters. In
, if parents had an able-bodied son old enough to go to war, they were … expected to surrender him to the authorities. My grandparents had such a son, Thumbi. My grandmother did not want her son, who was more than twenty at the time, to join the war. She was in despair. So she advised him to hide in the dense vegetation near a high waterfall in the Kenya … [but Thumbi was eventually caught … and the British] went and seized him … “He will never come back,” my grandmother … cr[ied]. And he never did. He became one of the more than one hundred thousand Kikuyus who died on the battlefield or from starvation or influenza during the First World War … My grandmother cried for her son for the rest of her life… Tucha River
(John Coltrane Quartet, “Tunji” [personnel: Coltrane, tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; recorded: Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US, 11 April 1962])
(Wayne Shorter Octet, “Mephistopheles” [personnel: Shorter, tenor saxophone, Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Alan Shorter, flugelhorn; Grachan Moncur III, trombone; James Spaulding, alto saxophone; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Joe Chambers, drums; recorded: Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US, 15 October 1965])
Following from (f) and (g) [above], it is in fact no coincidence that Britain would wage two devastating wars against two African nations at the forefront of terminating its occupation of Africa in the immediate post-1939-1945 war era: against the Gĩkũyũ in the east in the 1950s, with the death of tens of thousands of Gĩkũyũ and others and in co-perpetrating the Igbo genocide in west Africa with the state in Nigeria, 1966-1970, with the murder of 3.1 million Igbo or one-quarter of this nation’s population. Both the Gĩkũyũ and Igbo had spearheaded the liberation of
…The Angel of History must look just so. [Its] face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, [it] sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before [its] feet … nothing which has ever happened is to be given as lost to history. Indeed, the past would fully befall only a resurrected humanity. Said another way: only for a resurrected humanity would its past, in each of its moments, be citable. Each of its lived moments becomes a citation a l’ordre du jour [order of the day] – whose day is precisely that of the Last Judgement.
[The European conquest of
Africa] may indeed be a complex affair, but one thing is certain: You do not walk in, seize the land, the person, the history of another, and then sit back and compose hymns of praise in his honour. To do that would amount to calling yourself a bandit; and you won’t to do that. So what do you do? You construct very elaborate excuses for your action. You say, for instance, that the man in question is worthless and quite unfit to manage himself or his affairs. If there are valuable things like gold and diamonds which you are carting away from his territory, you proceed to prove that he doesn’t own them in the right sense of the word – that he and they had just happened to be lying around the same place when you arrived. Finally if the worse comes to the worse, you may even be prepared to question whether such as he can be, like you, fully human. From denying the presence of a man standing there before you, you end up questioning his very humanity …[I]n the [European conquest] situation presence was the critical question, the crucial word. Its denial was the keynote of [this conquest’s] ideology. (Chinua Achebe, “African Literature as Restoration of Celebration”, Kunapipi, 12, 2, 1990: 4; emphasis added.)
Achebe, Chinua. “African Literature as Restoration of Celebration”. Kunapipi, 12, 2, 1990: 4.
Ekwe-Ekwe, Herbert. “Daughter-of-the-soil”. Rethinking Africa, http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=wangari, accessed 28 August 2014.
Guardian, The. “From our archive: Mr Churchill on our one aim”. London, 11 November 2009.