AS Nigeria continues to unravel and explode into new cycles of verbal and bloody violence with a threat of permanent and general insecurity across the nation, the need to advance, contemporanise and spread Africa’s equity spirit becomes necessary and urgent.
For prior to Arab and European entry into our territories, Africans in their ethnic and village communities had developed and shared ways of living within and between their communities that made for peace and good neighbourliness.
Even where there were conflicts that led to wars and death, efforts were made to limit the damage in the face of strong belief and understanding that the shedding of sacred human blood desecrated the earth and damaged relationships with supernatural forces. The mass slaughter of humans in our so-called modern, civilized and enlightened times can only overwhelm the discrete sensibility and reserve of our many wise ancestors whom today we uncritically or arrogantly term primitive and illiterate.
In prosaic terms, Africa’s equity spirit was ritualised and covenanted in these familiar verses which have their matrix in various African languages:
Live and help live
Abide and help abide
Room for the kite
Room for the eagle
Life to the river
Life to the fish
Room for the elephant
Room for the squirrel
Life to the aged
Life to the young
Equal – Equal
Is our song
Same here- Same there
Is our tune
May none die
May none perish
Affirm we shall live –
We shall all live, we shall all live
Convivance translates and embodies Africa’s equity spirit in our current cross-cultural-language setting. It has variants in covival and covivalism which contrast sharply with the survival of the fittest or the strongest which has been the destructive dynamic of certain ideologies past and present.
As a way of thinking, acting and living, indeed as an ideology, covivance or covivalism is large-hearted and expansive enough to welcome and accommodate everyone, while constantly working to restrain violence and disarm combatants.
In a covival community the welfare and security of everyone is the watch-word. I believe that Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa – working together – conveys the same covivalist thrust although he lamely used socialism to translate it cross-culturally in the absence of covivance or covivalism which I believe better translates Africa’s equity spirit in the modern context. Kwame Nkrumah had proposed consciencism in an attempt to synthesise communism and capitalism within African’s cultural context. But it did not quite resonate with Africa’s equity spirit.
At the heart of covivance – Africa’s equity spirit – is reverence for life, for all life, and particularly for human life. For it is in the association and company of fellow humans that the spirit of living, the sharing of the bounty and scarcity of life in various shapes is celebrated and assured.
That is why covivance comes as close as possible to the emphasis on the gift of life and the sharing of life in practical terms within the African setting.
In pristine African communities the equal value attachment to human life and the need to accord equal respect to every person in the community, in the spirit of covivance, led to the establishment of communal laws around land-allocation and sharing of certain economic trees.
Through the equitable distribution of land products like palm fruits, to every family, family members in a largely farming community were assured of their daily or regular sustenance. As a consequence there were no beggars in such communities. Indeed they were rare.
Although African societies have been politically and economically skewed in novel directions by the new regimes of influence that we have inherited, the elevation, internalisation and promotion of covivance – Africa’s equity spirit – will go a long way in creating more appreciative and caring dispositions and attitudes with regard to every human especially within the Nigerian family.
The current over-heating of Nigeria’s polity through the aggressive quest for power, money and influence to the detriment of even school children is a clear indication of disregard for Africa’s covival – equity spirit – which is a noble heritage that beckons all Africans and humanity at large to embrace.
In stead of promoting or embracing global terrorism or global imperialism that threaten to decimate or animalise us all, let us resurrect, internalise, promote and spread covivance locally and globally as a basic and peaceful way of living for all humans.
Most Revd ANTHONY OBINNA is the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri.