For piling our dinner table high with lungfish, we’re paying dearly

Monday May 11 2020

confused

The God concept many of us hold was taught to us by the colonial masters, yet we remained committed to some of our cultural beliefs. These are often at variance with the religions from outside the continent, leaving many an African confused. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA 

By The EastAfrican

If some African countries enter the post-Covid-19 era without seriously reviewing the way they think about and manage their economic and political affairs, then they should be referred to God for help.

There is a slight problem with this though. The God concept many of us hold was taught to us by the colonial masters, yet we remained committed to some of our cultural beliefs. These are often at variance with the religions from outside the continent, leaving many an African confused.

A century after the Berlin conference that partitioned Africa, the Western spiritual compass and barometer had almost fully overcome African traditional beliefs when a new wave of religious instruction came by way of ‘Pentecostal’ preachers.

These threw overboard the way religion had been taught, aggravating our confusion. Some modern preachers demonised the older churches even more fiercely than traditional religion which had been branded witchcraft at the start of the 20th century.

Will Africa retrieve some of its age-old wisdom that was more effective that the conquerors’? The supposedly superior cultures are for example just discovering the need to avoid close body contact yet in Africa this was the norm. They have named it ‘social distancing’ and we have to re-learn it after being made to abandon it.

Most African couples never even walked hand in hand or side by side, but one several metres ahead of the partner. Some years ago, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni had to lecture European diplomats about it when they accused Uganda of abusing the rights of some social groups for openly showing their affection in public. He told them even himself cannot show his wife close affection in public without risking losing the next election.

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In East Africa when our people followed the ‘civilised’ teachings and started using all nature in pursuit of profits, Lake Victoria was defiled. Now the lake is using the prolonged rains that started early last year to fight back.

Even though the wisdom in the pre-colonial beliefs can often be denied because our ancestors did not write it down in reference documents as they are known today, in Uganda at least we have an important coloniser’s document to attest to this wisdom. It is called the 1900 agreement. This was the negotiated dispensation on the management of the Buganda kingdom around which Uganda was constructed.

The document by which the ‘natives’ formally surrendered sovereignty spelt out the parcelling of the land amongst the ‘Crown’, the treacherous collaborator chiefs, the vanquished royals and to the commoners.

The greatest victory the locals and posterity had secured in that agreement was the preservation of a tenth of the land for natural forest cover.

Actually in the negotiations, it was understood that should the measurements need adjustment of the acreages accruing to different beneficiaries, the forestland would not be touched and the reduction would have to come from other allocations.

The natives were at least satisfied that their spirits would remain undisturbed. Little did they know that foreign inspired greed would override traditional reasoning. Today there is hardly any natural forest left.

Other examples of superior African reasoning abound. For example, the largest clan in Buganda has the lungfish as its totem. This fish, now fast becoming extinct, lived and bred in wetlands. Because people did not eat their totem or that of their close relatives, this fish was not sought after and so the wetlands were left protected. Today the wetlands are virtually gone, being drained by developers.

The time for Africa to re-think for itself has come.

Last year we were encouraged to hear Kenya government saying all loans it would take had to be denominated in Kenya shillings.

Hearing China today doing away with the dollar makes us hope the Kenyans meant and remember what they said last year.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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