Martin Luther King dreamed of a world where there were no differences, yet it seems we constantly perpetuate these and those who try to break down barriers to bring about a better understanding of cultures and beliefs are shouted down for undermining the status quo. How illogical is that… we say we want change but we don’t really. I was therefore heartened to come across this article by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, a Nigerian novelist. She’s not the first to say what she does, there is a growing community of like-thinking people.
This is not to say don’t remember the past – it’s important to do so, as that provides our identity and gives us a sense of grounding. What we can’t allow to happen is to let it engulf us and dominate us.
1918 in Africa was a year where most of the fighting was done by black East African soldiers, alongside white and Indian – by then the majority of the Nigerian and Gold Coast soldiers as well as those from the West Indies had returned home and the Cape Corps had moved to Palestine and Mesopotamia. Yes, the officers were still white, but it is generally accepted that as many of them were new to Africa, they became reliant in ways earlier officers had done, on the support of their rank and file to understand and survive the terrain they were in. I don’t think this was much different to what was happening in other theatres when newcomers arrived. Their success and survival depended on those they were leading as much as those they were leading depended on their leadership.
I can’t help but think that of those many soldiers who fought in the war, whether by choice or coercion, all had a dream of a better world and that something beneficial had to come from the conflict. If they didn’t, they would have given up (and some did – I think of the men on the Aragon who ‘died of a broken heart’) and the many porters and carriers who couldn’t continue. But for those who lay down their arms with von Lettow-Vorbeck in November 1918, what kept them going? The African People’s Organisation saw the opportunity of being involved as a means to (hopefully) getting increased political recognition for their Cape Coloured and the South African Native National Congress kept discipline to show they could be trusted whilst the rebellious Boers could not.
From the war came leaders who led their countries to independence – Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nyrere, Mandela and others. Recognising what the past had been, they saw the opportunities afforded by dreams and through hard work and encouragement led their people to fulfil those dreams. We know they weren’t perfect, no person is, but I wonder what they would think today when they see their people caught in a rut of blame and not having the courage to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and make their dreams come true.
Many look on the First World War in Africa as a colonial or imperial war, which it was to a large extent. However, alongside the major conflicts there were numerous rebellions and uprisings throughout Africa during those same years (I gave up trying to make a list of them) as people tried to realise their desires for a better world. This might seem to contradict the point about those who served dreaming of a better world. It doesn’t – the point is, they didn’t sit back, moan and wait for someone else to improve their world, they all did something to try and create the world they dreamed of.
This is not to say that rebellions and armed conflict are the way to improve conditions, we all know the consequences of violence. But we can take a leaf from those of different cultures and beliefs who served alongside each other and learnt to know and trust each other. (On Call in Africa, The Unknown Fallen)