Africa’s Central Role in the Development of World Civilisation

A few weeks ago, I read an exceptional book by Thomas C. Oden titled, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, which given the central role that Christianity played in the development of Western civilisation for the majority of the centuries before the Age of Enlightenment, revealed the critical role that African thinking and African writers of antiquity had played in the development of what should be more accurately called world civilisation. (As opposed to the Eurocentric, biased term: “Western civilisation.” The book itself debunks many myths about Africa, which most Africans themselves have ignorantly accepted and promote such as: the myth that Christianity in Africa came with the Colonialists, was used to colonise the natives and as such is a “Western” religion. This myth is easily debunked by the historical fact that Christianity was already in Africa during the early parts of the First Century and most of the great Christian thinkers of the Ancient World actually emanated out of Africa, something which the West and our ignorance as Africans, has deliberately kept us from knowing. The other myth that was debunked, was the idea that Africans are people of an oral tradition only and that there is not much written African tradition for African scholars to rely on. This implies of course, that it was the Colonialists who civilised us and brought about such cultured things as changing us from being people of an oral tradition to at least endeavour to have some kind of written history as a people. The real truth of history is that there is a rich pre-colonial written African intellectual tradition which is of the highest quality. Most of the great thinkers of the Ancient world actually hailed from Africa. The likes of: Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Lactantius, Plotinus, Valentinus, Manus Victorinus etc. As a matter of fact, in the Ancient World, the African cities of: Carthage (located in modern day Tunisia) and Alexandria (located in modern day Egypt), where the key centres of knowledge in the realm of ideas, literature and learning. In fact at their zenith, these cities where of more importance in terms of learning, development of ideas and literature than the predominant European cities of the time, such as Rome and Antioch. These are all historically verifiable facts that we as Africans have been ignorant of, for far too long. If we want to overcome this deception and discover the key role that Africa played in the development of world civilisation, we need to discover the textual riches of the writers of African antiquity. This calls for us as young Africans to  re-evaluate the prejudicial  assumptions that ignore or own African intellectual history. The truth if history is that in that ancient era, the flow of ideas was from Africa to Europe and this had a massive impact on the development of world civilisation. Intellectual leadership in this early period of our history, moved from Africa to Europe, from South to North and not the other  way round as Eurocentric interpretations of history have led us to believe. Europe and the West have slept for many centuries without being willing to acknowledge their vital intellectual sources in Africa. Just like the European Renaissance produced a rebirth of interest in the writings of Greek antiquity, we need a New African Movement that will lead to a rebirth of interest in the thinkers and the writers of African antiquity. We need to rediscover the likes of Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Arius etc and take pride as Africans in the vital role that they played in the development of Western/European thought and hence world civilisation. As young Africans, we also need to foster a renewed interest in the African civilisations of antiquity and the culture and thought which emerged from that.  We need to put the writings of African antiquity in the public domain and make them easily accessible and readable to the common man. One of the fundamental problems with the African Renaissance idea, is that it’s still largely the preserve of a minority, intellectual elite and has still not caught on with the ordinary African. We need to use cultural avenues that are relevant to the common man, modern features such as Twitter, Facebook and the World Wide Web at large in order to popularise the great thinkers of African antiquity, the great civilisations of African antiquity and the great writings which emerged from therein. We need to find creative ways to show the ordinary African , our rich intellectual and cultural heritage as a continent, and how this played such a significant part in the development of Western thought and hence world civilisation. This will be part of the process of giving the African his confidence back, as someone who played a significant and leading part in world history, and not as someone who was on the periphery and incapable of coming up with anything original of his own, as popular, flawed, Eurocentric historical interpretations would like us to believe.
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Mugabe Ratshikuni

introverted, shy, nothing to write home about

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