By Obi Nwakanma
Human migration is an inexorable part of human history. Human beings move, settle, and resettle, according to certain compelling forces, including the search for security, for new economic opportunities; for food and well-being, and in some very unique cases unwillingly, and therefore by force. In the making of America, the Africans were the only people who were force-marched to what became the “new world” by force.
Millions were kidnapped to work as slaves to work as free labourers, in the pre-industrial, pre-machine-age plantation slave economy; some were sold after capture in war; many fought and resisted coming to America with the last breath in their body, preferring to die in the slave ships, rather than go to America. The late historian, Professor Okon Uya, who later taught at the University of Calabar, did his seminal work in the United States researching and documenting the incidents of slave resistance among Africans forced into slavery in America. Among the most powerful examples of such kinds of resistance was what he documented, and what many chroniclers of the slave ships documented to be the tendency, among Igbo captives to commit suicide rather than be slaves in America. Compare this, folks, to today. They did this in a number of ways: sometimes, they sat down, closed their eyes, and willed themselves to death. These acts of self-willed deaths so frightened the slave ship captains that they resorted to cutting off the head of the dead, before throwing them to sea, as a way of deterring others who may so will. They did this after finding out the very idea behind this self-willed deaths, the fact that these Igbo folk, believed seriously in re-incarnation, and believed that in exiting their physical bodies, they would re-incarnate and return home to Igbo land from where they had been abducted.
The Igbo also believed in the credo: “isi-dinso” – one’s head was holy, and was the carrier of one’s fate. So, the slavers thought that without their heads, at death, incarnation was impossible, or incomplete, at least in that Igbo conception of the afterlife. However, this did not stop all the attempts to escape, for very frequently, whenever they could, these Igbo would agree, and still in their chains, choose to commit suicide by hauling themselves into the roaring sea, consumed by the waves, believing that they would drown, but they would incarnate physically whole in Igbo land, which they had always regarded as holy – the sacred land or “Ala-Nso,” in their conception of their land. One of the most dramatic incidents recorded in this example is the now famous incident of “Eboe Landing,” in Georgia, where Igbo captives on arriving in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and discerning their fate walked right back solemnly into the sea to commit suicide by drowning chanting, “the sea brought us, by the sea we shall also return…” These incidents also created the myths in America of the “flying Igbo,” so-called Igbo who simply disappeared by “flying home” physically, or the so-called, “melancholic Igbo,” who remained dopey, refused to work, and ultimately died from heartbreak and nostalgic melancholy. Most slave owners did not want these Igbo slaves, who also, if they even settled, plotted escapes, and all manners of insurrections and subversions, including the incident, now written of by the historian, Douglas B. Chambers, of poisoning Ambrose Madison, the father of one of the presidents of the United States, James Madison, in his Virginia plantation, Montpelier, in 1732. It wasn’t only the Igbo Africans who fought their enslavement and resisted coming to America, many, many other Africans fought, resisted, and died, and many longed for home. A truly magnificent, new novel, Homegoing, by the contemporary Ghanaian-American novelist, Ya Gyasi, puts a magnificent sheen on this. Now, the point of this is to situate this important question of the historical value of America to Africans.
Over the years Africans and descendants of Africans enslaved in the Americas, particularly in the United States have come to understand the enormous sacrifice of Africans in building America as the richest nation on earth today, and are claiming it as heritage. American success is from the sweat of their brows. The historical imbalance in wealth and access to power in America, and the profound decimation of Africa by slavery continues to linger as does the consequence of over three hundred years of depredation of the entire continent by what I call its three historical modern conditions: abduction, subjection, and dispersion. The anti-colonial movement in Africa, and the civil-rights movement in America were the cooperative action in modernity by Africans in the Diaspora and in the homeland to establish common ground and common cause, and retrieve themselves and their historical homeland from depredation, and build a bridge of cooperation, prosperity, and solidarity. It will take another essay directed at this very issue to unbundle it all, and I will leave it well alone, and just simply say, that at the end of decolonization, a generation of Africans were determined to rebuild Africa from its ashes. But within a decade of decolonization, these new nations succumbed to the subversions of a “new world order,” designed without their economic and political security in mind. They were to remain minion nations, with which the new great powers that emerged after World War II played “yo-yo” particularly during the cold war.
The subversion of Azikiwe and the Nationalists in Nigeria, and their prevention from assuming power, and the installation of an incoherent postcolonial or “Ogbanje” nation in Nigeria; the destruction of Lumumba in the Congo, and the overthrow of Nkrumah in Ghana, and most recently, the destruction of Ghaddafi and Libya, and the installation and securing of the minions of the great powers in Africa, have more than anything else Walter Rodney may write about how the west strategically underdeveloped Africa, helped to buckle Africa in the modern era. In fact, the assassination of the likes of Rodney, Malcolm X, Lumumba, and the containment of black nations in the west like Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and so on, is an extention of the strategic containment of the black world by western powers, and the racists that determine their policies. But that is also only one part of the issue, because black folk themselves have much of themselves to blame for not recognizing the impetus for shared survival: Africans fight themselves; Africans have refused to push their political, economic and cultural leadership to fuse and repair a global and transnational Africa, and to create and quicken the internal cohesion of Africa.
Up till the 1980s, Nigeria was a magnet for Africans, and drew an array of African expertise from the black world to itself, in her schools, her industry, her bureaucracy, and and its new wealth ensured what seemed like a rapid growth. But Nigeria and its new elite mismanaged an opportunity to provide the African bulwark to Africa. Nigerians went all over the world to school, and like the Chinese, quickly returned home. Today, Nigeria sends her children away, and says to them, “do not return to this shithole.” Africans themselves call their own land “shitholes.” Africans are about the only people who send out their best people today to immigrate without returning. Nigerians who migrate to America are from its best educated. It follows the example of the decimation of Haiti – the first African republic in the new world – with the fleeing of its educated and professional class, which, aside from the “debt-over hang” imposed on it by international usury, was complicit in the long term impoverishment of Haiti. That is why the American President Donald Trump’s reported outburst on Thursday in the White House, that America does not need more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole” countries from Africa, but more from countries like Norway cuts close to the nerve. Of course Donald Trump is Donald Trump, and speaks the mind of trouble white racists in America. Very thoughtful Americans from both parties did quickly denounce Trump’s use of such vulgar description of black people as “shameful,” “divisive” and “unkind.”
America is full of good people. It is also full of racists. It also true that Nigerians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians, are among the best educated Americans today. In fact, a New York Times report clearly placed Nigerians as the most educated in America today, with many of them acquiring higher degrees far more than white folk. Trump’s statement is part of the larger racist image of Africa as the world’s “underling” – the savage space where people still live in “huts” and up on trees. But Africa is a beautiful and wealthy continent. Many people in Africa have higher lifestyles than many Americans. But that is immaterial. What is important is that Africans must see Donald Trump’s statement as an insult and a challenge, and begin to complete the task of decolonization; rebuild many parts of Africa and the African world, and stop African or global black immigration to America, or take its many left-handed charity. It is pointless to get angry at Trump who is both ignorant and uncivilized.