Friday, 28 November 2008

The Elders: Son and daughter, whose work are you doing?

The Elders: Son and daughter, whose work are you doing?

I open this week’s instalment with an excerpt from a well-known Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah. A child of Takoradi and a graduate of the legendary Achimota College, Armah proceeded to Harvard and Columbia where he ate more and bigger book, until his forehead bulged with knowledge.

Later, he came back home, loaded and ready to share his knowledge with the rest of Africa. He walked the four regions of the continent, including Southern Africa, where he taught literature in Lesotho.

A great storyteller, Armah’s best known novels include The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Why Are We So Blest, Two Thousand Seasons and The Healers. All of them have become classics of African literature, and one cannot pretend to have read African literature without going through them. To the title, Armah grapples with the abiding theme of imperialism, both in its classical colonial form, as well as in its post-independence subtle sequel: neo-colonialism. His treatment of both epochs can be unremittingly bitter and negative, but without being hopeless.

He excoriates Africa for its astounding folly, for its seemingly overwhelming venality. But he is careful to retain and cultivate hope. True, for Armah the beautiful ones may not be born yet, but they will be born, some day. True, Africa has to live through two thousand seasons of gruel, but for Armah, the other thousand years relate to a slow, painful rebirth, indeed to an excruciating journey back to "the way". And of course the fact that Africa can now ask itself why it has been such a favoured object of Europe’s destructive seduction, means she is beginning to awaken, beginning to outlive her folly, indeed beginning to peer beyond her enveloping bondage in order to catch the beckoning glimpse of freedom’s shores. Africa, Armah would say, has now found its "healers" who are ready and able to take it back to its way, "the way". Armah presents hope — not fulsome, not extravagant — but judicious hope, guarded hope that never underestimates the much that has to be overcome, the much that has to be accomplished, before she slouches back to her heyday.

Two thousand seasons

Two Thousand Seasons from which I extract a portion is an epic on the massive violence that has been meted against Africa in her long and arduous journey towards self-redemption. The novel traces the gratuitous violence visited on the continent in the first and second wave of her invasion and conquest by marauding Arabs and European colonisers respectively.

His nuanced tracing of this crippling violence brings out his ever mounting indignation, often manifesting itself through vivid description of asymmetrical sexuality between the colonisers and their African women victims. Conquest raped, violated, ravished. In one such typical encounter, Armah narrates with sickening, detailed indignation the assault of mother Africa (literally) by Arab conquerors.

Overfed and dead drunk, these latitudinarian Arabs engage in unspeakable acts of the flesh, their dutiful African askaris loyally transfixed on perimeter guard, unconcerned, unmoved by the debilitating orgies suffered by their mothers and sisters trapped inside these dens of debauchery. Undefended by their men-folk and sons, who have been turned into dutiful askaris, the women have to device ways of defending themselves and liberating their people. They decide to play along, seemingly ready to gratify these drunken Arabs, many of pretended libido.

The day of infamy

A combination of drunkenness and imagined ecstasy throws the invaders off guard, allowing the violated women to take devastating revenge that leave scores butchered and dead. Of course the African askaris hear the mounting wails of dying Arabs trapped within. But they mistakenly attribute this cacophony of death to leaping multiple ecstasy for which their bosses are well renowned.

Until of course one clever askari realises that instead of the usual tapering grunts and groans of burnt out lustful joy, the noises on that particular day seemed to end too abruptly, never to be followed by the traditional heavy snores of a contented Arab. Perturbed and yet torn between care and dutiful compliance with an iron-clad instruction never to interrupt, he carefully opens the door only to see horrific death, all set against triumphant women petulantly admiring bloody, smoking daggers. He raises a wild alarm, whereupon his kind rush in to witness the horror.

Without further ado, the askaris fell upon the women with matchetes, dementedly hacking all to death by way of vengeance. The offending women of the village are slaughtered, including mothers, nieces, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and half-sisters of the attacking askaris. That day the sound of dying women echoed throughout the village, attracting the attention of the elderly, and even men who had gone to faraway forests for a hunt. First to arrive at the place of double carnage is old woman Nandi who cannot understand why the askaris are butchering women — their mothers — for dead masters. These women have done no more than liberate themselves from sexual predators. By killing the invaders, they have liberated their own children and communities, all along in captivity. But here were children of the village, hacking their mothers to death, seemingly to obey and fulfil orders masters, now thoroughly dead. What a bloody reflex from a slave!

A genuine elder’s question

Confounded by this sacrilege, old Nandi confronts the head askari, who happens to be son of her eldest daughter: "Son of my daughter, whose work are you doing? Look. Those who turned you killer, where are they? Look at them. That should have been your work: killing your people’s killers, destroying your people’s destroyers. You did not do it, the work of your life. Instead you chose the work of walking corpses, killing your own people. What could we say to you? We knew your masters.

They would have screamed at you to kill us all, and you would have obeyed them. But now look. There your masters lie. You can give them your obedience no more. They have been sent past its use. For whom then are you still killing your people? Son of my daughter, for whom?" She does not get an answer. What she gets instead is a fatal blow that splits her skull into halves, a blow that ensures she never asks again.

The askaris carry on with the carnage, until of course their long dead masters are thoroughly happy and pleased with their work. Or so they thought. Thereafter, they filed back, each mourning the death of his master, each fearful of a future now blank without the master’s orders.

Enter www.comtheelders

Only this last week Zimbabwe was forcibly scheduled to play host to a group calling itself wwwdotcomtheelders. Save for its stubbornness. Led by a famous Ghanaian called Kofi (Friday) Annan, this most kind group would have comprised America’s once-upon-a-time democratic president, Jimmy Carter, and Amai Graca Machel, once-upon-a-time wife of the legendary and feisty revolutionary and founding President of Mozambique, Cde Samora Moises Machel. Graca has since remarried — remarried to advantage — as her detractors would surely swear.

She is now Mrs Nelson Mandela, having ousted Winnie, the same way revolutionary Josina’s death turned her into Mrs Machel. I don’t need to know much about Jimmy Carter, except to quickly dismiss his claim that he supported Zimbabwe’s liberation. He never did. He never could. No American president would ever support Russian and Chinese-backed communists, which is what the Patriotic Front was in conventional American governing wisdom.

It is too early for America to begin to falsify our history. She has to wait until this generation passes. So these elders: one a thoroughbred American, two "Africans", were supposed to force a visit, having judged that Zimbabwe lacked elders, judged that she badly needed the wisdom that comes with age. And age and elderly status is what the three paraded as they sought to bless this nation of kindergartens, a nation led by one Robert Mugabe, a budding teenager of a mere 84 years!

Breaking through homesteads

Here were founts of wisdom, these our elders, who have seen much, travelled far, heard matters too heavy for the ordinary ear, during their individual and combined long stay on this earth. They have lived beyond anyone’s knowledge, these vaunted elders whose will and mission is never to be gainsaid. We do not need anyone’s permission to come to Zimbabwe, said one man-Friday Annan, stressing the infallibility of their collective wisdom, judgment and mission.

All we needed to do was to show the world that we care for the suffering in Zimbabwe, intoned the she-goat Graca, well infused with the grace of telescopic philanthropy. I am proud to be a partisan, added he, Carter, born of stripes and stars, detailing how mercilessly beaten by rains, afflicted by disease, gnawed by relentless hunger he was, as he traversed Rhodesia under arms, all to cause the arrival of a free Zimbabwe!

Whose elders, from which village?

Until some naughty village elder from Chinamora asked: "These elders you want to bring in, whose children are they? From which village do they come? Born which moon? Who cut their umbilical cord, to bury it where? What language do they speak? What is their totem? How come one of them is ashen? Whose son is he?" As if his mischief knew no measure, the elderly villager further asked: "These elders you lend us, does it mean our own villages have no men and women who have seen time and collected the wisdom it brings?

Are we all infants with milk oozing off our nose-bridges? Which home is it that does not have elders? Who bore fathers of all those children who prance the whole village, children which these elders from afar want to save from suffering? Surely their fathers have fathers who are now elderly?" The questions became too many, making those to whom they were put too confused to know which ones to answer first. The questions went beyond each village as heavy word that looked for wise answers. To this day, no answer has come.

Until someone thought of consulting diviners who were quick to throw bones to crack open this puzzle that had so split the mind of the nation. As the bones settled from their fall, the message they collocated seemed frightfully dire, too dire for the diviners who spoke back through shaking heads. "My children, this is too much for my bones, too much for my small mouths. The word coming from those who reside in the wind is too heavy.

Go look for answers elsewhere", said the last consulted diviner, hurriedly putting all his bones back into their dirty pouch, ready to leave his home. Even those of the wind could not utter a word. But no horned monster can ever be kept under wraps. Soon the village would begin to whisper and the truth about these imported elders would soon be known.

Branson and Gabriel’s elders

Indeed it did not take long before the whispers reached every ear. These elders were children of some knee-less white man who made money from flying an iron bird called "Virgin Airlines". Virgin Airlines. "Virgin!", yelled one village elder, mouth carrying dying froth from a potent village brew. "How can elders be sired by a virgin? Are there no qualified men in the neighbourhood? We have men a-plenty here." "Richard Branson, he is called", added another beer-wise elder, clearly determined not to be undone. "It is said he made the elders together with another white man — a singer called Peter Gabriel", still added another, to utter puzzlement of the rest. "Don’t be foolish Chipembere! How do two men sire elders?" It was a gentle remonstrance which drew raucous laughter from the rest of the elders. "But far away, beyond the vast waters we hear men sleep and marry one another?" "You have eaten too much millet Chipembere. Your head is no longer correct, go home now. You are full!"

Strange elders from other clans

But a greater puzzle had hit the village. Why would the elders of Africa be so young? Why would they not respect the host’s homestead, seek to overrun it even? Why would they include a white elder from so far away, and from a lineage of Africa’s tormenting conquerors?

Above all, why would Africa’s elders answer "father" to two white men, both of them half their age, but with lots of money, fame, song and iron birds that flew endless journeys? "Ane mari ndiye mukuru", intoned a thoughtful elder. Where else do elders have fathers who are outsiders of the clan? Where else do we have elders who report to elders of other clans? Does this not undermine both their wisdom and their court? So many questions complex enough to vex bones of our diviners!

Too elderly for sanctions

Where is Africa’s pride when a whole past Secretary General of the United Nations is turned into an errand boy of two rich Britons, all of them half his age? Is this his pride of place? Words do fail me. Here was a man who was at the helm of the United Nations for two consecutive terms. He saw the imposition of illegal sanctions against

Zimbabwe by Britain, the EU and America, and was happy to do nothing about it. Not once did he speak against those sanctions he knew to be unlawful and unjustified. No, in spite of repeated pleadings from Zimbabwe. Before the western dominated Security Council, he was no elder, only a dutiful askari. Zimbabwe suffered; Zimbabwe got savaged by these illegal sanctions which pared down her capacity to fend for herself, for her children. Is it not a fact that Zimbabwe has had droughts in the past?

Is it not a fact that Zimbabwe has had water shortages in the past? Yet neither of these adversities ever turned into hunger or cholera. The State would always stand in defence of the citizenry, using the means derived from unhindered economic activity and interaction with the rest of the world. What has changed now? Why is the State unable to defend the welfare threshold of its citizens?

This is no question for these so-called elders, themselves opinionated glory-seekers. They have no time for whys and wherefores. All they see is hunger and disease, causally linked to what they dismiss as a venal local leadership. They see no hand of the spiteful white man: their bigger elder and taskmaster. They see no sanctions, will not hear about them, let alone speak against them. They have joined whites in their war against this nation, against Zimbabweans. And you too Graca? Hau! You who know from the days of Samora and Renamo how Europe fights viciously to subdue anyone who goes against her will? Is this your tribute to your late husband? Who are these men you now flirt with, against Zimbabwe?

Man-Friday’s no wonder

Kofi is no wonder to all of us. We know that America chose him to replace the radical Arab, Boutros Ghali. That made him an antipode of Ghali, which means a traitor to interests of the continent which Ghali sought to enforce. Under his Secretary-General-ship Britain and America invaded and subdued two nations and got away with it. He had no elderly wisdom to dispense to the two aggressors. None at all. Instead he joined in the looting of Iraq, through his own son, Kojo, who made brisk business through the same UN his father pretended to run. After his tenure with UN, he is deployed to Kenya by the West’s threatened interests, to put out the fire and to save the West’s investments there.

After he is done with Kenya for the West, the age-long land question remains unresolved, in fact as intractable and as incendiary as ever. He never solves Africa’s problems; he pacifies communities for its continued looting by Europe, this man born on an accursed Friday. He does worse things. He cobbles what he calls a peace-deal in Kenya, which sees the enthronement of an out and out mass murderer called Raila Odinga.

He calls the aftermath "peace" and adds it onto his glorious CV. Is that the wisdom he wants to bring to this land? Why is he always running to where the empire’s interests are threatened? Why does he feel so great fighting the empire’s wars? Armah, his countrymen makes the point for us: "Here too lay the beginning of our bafflement at the heavy phenomenon of the slave forever conditioned against himself, against our people.

With such never will there be any possibility of creation, never will new communities of the way be born within their presence." Zimbabwe has killed the invader here, to start the possibility of creation. It has sounded a clarion for the second wind of change. Africa and Africans must rejoice at the start of this war the continent cannot avoid en route to its genuine freedom. Yet we seem in the middle of the age of reaction, where quiescence is the game; where leaders of protectorates hold sway. Why is the askari so blest? Whose work is he doing?

Media’s blind spots

I notice the media have been having problems in contextualising two occurrences. First, they have had difficulties in situating a stricture which South Africa is said to have placed on the R300m aid meant for Zimbabwe. Thanks to the spin from South Africa’s white press, this has been read as clear indication that the new Government in South Africa is taking a tougher line against Zanu-PF and its Government.

No one has told unsuspecting readers that this stricture was imported into the equation by South African Parliament whose complexion we all know. Not quite the same as attributing this to Government, surely? Then came the well-publicised Khama visit to South Africa. It was made to read as if South Africa and Botswana were beginning to forge an anti-Zimbabwe alliance. Really? I thought South Africa summoned Khama to tell him forthrightly to get his MDC allies to present themselves for the talks on Constitutional Amendment 19, or else . . .? Which he did by the way, explaining why the MDC went to the talks limping.

The threat was total. South Africa would expose to the world the staggering list of properties the MDC hierarchy has bought in uptown South Africa, which acquisitions are making them so nonchalant about peace and settlement in Zimbabwe. Watch this column for more details. I also notice Tsvangirai’s angry call for Mbeki’s recusal has been handled as if that is where the story began. Nonsense.

The real story began with Biti’s rude and drunk letter to Mbeki, copied to the South African President, declaring Sadc communiqué a nullity. Correctly, Mbeki responded by a filling salvo, which placed Tsvangirai where he belongs: outside Africa and well into the lap of Europe and America, as an avid puppet. Tsvangirai was not amused, which is why he went impotently ballistic, to an indifferent audience. Then you have Sadc investigations on his Botswana-housed insurgents. The net is closing it. Icho!


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