It has happened numerous times before. I have had those moments when I realized that I’ve learned more about my own history and my continent’s history as a Kenyan in the diaspora than I ever learned as a student back home in Kenya.
Ironically, my education up until Standard Eight followed the Kenyan 8-4-4 curriculum. Sure I learned the basics about the Mau Mau and the fight for independence but the first time I learned about apartheid was as a high school student in a foreign classroom. I already knew who Mandela was but what did I know of the segregation and mistreatment of the native South Africans? What did I know of the history and effects of colonization? What did I know of the Franco-Algerian war of the 1960s or of the civil wars of Nigeria, post-independence?
I once saw a posting on Facebook where a fellow African lamented that he didn’t know much about his own continent until he came to America. Isn’t that sad? That one can live in a country for so long and not know much about it? Of course some may disagree but his sentiments resonated with me. They are sentiments I seem to share with other Africans from different countries and backgrounds. I have wondered if it was inevitable given my age, but that theory has been disproven given that even my mostly African-educated friends have shared these same sentiments with me in the past.
I read a blog by a female Indian-Kenyan not too long ago. It detailed her return to Kenya after her studies abroad and how she had felt the need to come back although her parents resisted. She didn’t just relate her personal struggles but also detailed the traumatic experiences the Indian-Kenyan community faced during the political strife in the early eighties. My first thought after reading her blog was how I actually didn’t know much about the 1982 coup d’état attempt and that I did not know that my fellow Kenyans had experienced such brutality in their own country.
How is any of this relevant? Why should any of us care about Nigeria or the civil strife that we faced as a country in the 80s?
See, the issue also extends beyond general politics. Overall, we are all basking in ignorance in all areas concerning our history. Recently, I had a phone conversation with one of my aunts. We were discussing Coast culture and heritage and how most of it was getting lost as we lose our elders in our communities. There’s a lot in our culture that has never been documented and that which is documented is left to accumulate dust in the archives.
Tragically, a lot of us will grow up not knowing our history and the struggles of our people. What am I to show my children in the future to teach them of their past? Some of us may even dismiss others because they may not share our same ethnic background and we wonder why we continue to have ethnic tensions...
And for those of us who leave and possibly may not have a chance to come back, are we to watch ourselves disappear into oblivion? Shall we watch our history disappear with us when we should be proud and speak loud of the uniqueness of our traditions that had made us who we are as Kenyans? Even before we were a country, we played a vital role in the global community.
We cannot claim a sense of unity if we are ignorant of where we all, individually and cumulatively, came from as a people. How are we to look forward if we are losing our roots and our past? The past gives birth to the present and the past is the foundation of our future.
Part of this tragedy is that without knowing our past and consequently learning from it, we fall into the same traps. History repeats itself. If we cannot learn from Rwanda or Somalia or even our own history, then how are we to use those as points of reference to prevent the failures of the present and the future? How are we to tackle our own problems without understanding their root causes?
As Muslims, we are often referencing Islamic history but the truth is our own history is just as, if not more, relevant to us. To tackle our problems and empathize with each other, we need to understand both histories to be insightful contributors. There’s a disconnect that exists which needs to be addressed and though I do not have concrete answers, I do think there generally needs to be a cultural push to teach, document and maintain the passing down of historical knowledge, not just of religion but of our cultural and civic heritage as well.
Book: Kenya 1982, The Attempted Coup: The Consequence of a One-party Dictatorship
Kenyan History & Current Affairs
Authors: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Firoze Madatally Manji
Other Kenyan Authors: http://goo.gl/77jnlj
African History & Current Affairs
Author(s): Albert Memmi (Algeria), Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
photo credit: rogiro via photopin cc