By Lateef Ositelu
LITERACY as defined by the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary is an ability to read and write as well as to understand. This reading ability ordinarily entails studying in an organised institution but findings showed that Africans got the encounter only during the era of colonialism.
Scholars have argued with substantial proof that people of African descent have their cultural ways of reading and writing even beyond oral tradition before the advent of the Europeans colonialists.
The controversy that Europeans brought writing and reading skills to Africans had caused serious intellectual spat between African and European scholars. In the heat of the argument, there was a reference to a British historian called Hugh Trevor Roper, whose lecture at a conference in the University of Sussex in October 1963 disclosed that there is no African history to teach but at present there is none, or very little. There is only the history of Europeans in Africa, the rest is darkness, like the history of pre-Columbian America. And darkness is not a subject of history.
Ropers submissions drew angry reactions from diverse African scholars like Onwuka K. Dike, JC Anene, JF Ade Ajayi, Bolanle Awe, Abu Boah, Obaro Ikimi and host of others who vehemently disagreed with the British historian tagging of Africa as a dark continent.
They proudly argued that Africa had existed with a well-organised monarchical government and a civilised society before the advent of Europeans. The position of some of these African scholars was that the continent was never one for backward people or dullards as erroneously being projected by foreign voyagers. They emphasised further that European invasion stymied African literacy development from materialising in the continent.
Some of the typical analyses for countering the White were the calligraphy writing skills found in South Western region of Nigeria known as Oracle slanting skill (Eji Ogbe ifa), the Nsibidi writing skill from Eastern Nigeria and the writing skills in Amharic and Semitic languages discovered in Ethiopia and ancient cartography in Egypt similar to Arabic or Tigrigna, Akkadian, among other regions of the Mesopotamia.
Finding showed that literacy development that precedes civilisation orchestrated learning/research institutions which grew great in Europe and eventually sparked off 18th Century Industrial Revolution that turned around the destiny of the world into a global village. They argued that such evidences of ingenuity were not readily available in Africa at the time European had burst out into era of industrialisation.
Africa was said to be meddling with the issue of Oral Tradition, connotation in cognomen and memorabilia which could not match the European sophisticated writing and reading ability. But up till now, the disagreement about the loss of rich African native literacy to colonialism has not been adequately resolved under scholastic review.
Today, what is seen in Africa as literacy study is nothing but lingua franca, the adoption of writing and speaking of foreign language as one official language for communication which was syllabified for African literati consumption. No wonder most African students fail to grasp the full concept of education as a platform to ensure civility, peaceful coexistence, socio-economic development, among others. Many scholars have decried the phenomena as the main speckle factors affecting African industrial development, among others.
Be as it may, African scholars insisted that European civilisation had disrupted very peaceful foundation of native literacy knowledge, civilisation, native science and technology. Social experts have argued that it might take Africans longer years to conform to foreign literacy and attain the globally- prescribed civilisation as its core native sense of speaking and writing had been stolen and replaced with lingua franca.
Africa was not the only colonised continent. Other continents that were colonised side by side have become great today and developed beyond measure. But why is Africa still lagging behind 46 years after independence from colonialism? The point, according to Professor Babade of University of Gode, Africa had received an overdose of Western literacy that has eventually distorted its original frame even with neo-colonialism.
Meantime, all African countries joined the rest of the world in celebrating the International Literacy Day on every September 8 as endorsed by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, to spread the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies as a factor of promoting human dignity and human right, particularly towards ensuring a more literate and sustainable society with enduring peaceful co-existence.
Without much ado, all children of African descent are part of the celebration, even though their literacy knowledge has been woven into global tapestry, the typical Amulumala read and write study in what is called ‘Ede Ajeji’- meaning foreign language. We all know the impact of this on the African child till today. But I am still pondering over the literacy challenges confronting African people and if they can ever regain their lost socio-cultural mien in the 21st Century.
Be that as it may, governments at all levels in sub-Sahara Africa, particularly in Nigeria, can pioneer the rekindling of African literacy by encouraging the study of Africa’s rich cultural norms and values in schools through indigenous literacy research framework that will revive the native alphabets and advance the local numerical study among others towards attaining true industrialisation even in the face of neo-colonialism.
Ositelu is of the Ogun State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta and wrote via: [email protected]