History (the past) isn’t “nonsense upon stilts”; it’s the key to progress

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By Njundu Drammeh

“Dear, dear Jackass! Don’t you understand that the past is the present; that without what was, nothing is? That, of the infinite dead, the living are but unimportant bits?” W.E B. Du Bois

To quite a people, history is bunk. Or rather that it’s remembrance, at least in the present, is an exercise in futility or playing the dead ostrich. And even for others, the historical sins of injustice and exploitation committed by the forebears, fathers in particular, cannot and should not be attached to, or be visited on, the descendants, their children. Everyone should carry their own cross or be accountable for their acts of commission or omissions.

We cannot minimalise history, the past, and its links to or impact on the present and future of a community, society, country or people as a collective. It bears on the neck of the present like an albatross. None can move forward, to the future or make the present meaningful, unless it is able to fully understand the history of its understand and stand ready to face it and call out loudly those who are responsible for that history.


We cannot understand Africa’s predicaments, its descension to a decayed Garden of Eden, without tackling head on its inglorious past and the irreparable damages that slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism has done and continues to do on its growth, reverberating from the Horns of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope to the Smiling Coast of Africa. If you don’t, then certainly you must be living in cloud cuckoo land, or have decided to anaestized yourself from the realities of your own political, legal, social and economic conditions. Look at your economies and see how they are tied to the apron strings of the Bretton Woods institutions, created in 1944 when most of Africa was under colonial yoke, to further the financial interests of the colonialists. True today as it was when they established. Take a closer look also at the grand edifices they bequeathed to us, ornaments we romantically call “systems and structures” and see what ends they truly serve.

Certainly Walter Rodney is right that Europe underdeveloped Africa. Read his book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” and you would understand the nakedness of this truth. Conversely, Nkwazi N. Mhango had also asserted fearlessly that Africa in deed developed Europe (read his book “How Africa Developed Europe: Deconstructing the HIS-STORY of Africa, Excavating Untold Truth and What Ought to be Done and Known”). Just a little understanding of African history or political-economy would show one that Europe and the USA were developed on the sweat, blood, tears, bodies and resources of Africa. The machinations through slavery, colonialism and imperialism attest to that fact. So to understand Africa’s poverty, one has to appreciate the devastating consequences of colonialism and imperialism.

Granted that after 60 years of independence, Africa or her countries have little or no excuse to blame colonialism or slavery for her woes, tribulations and troubles. Granted also that we are beset by bad leadership. Check our economies and development architecture and see who controls them and the foundations on which they stand. Check our leaders and see who hoist them on the people, through their proxies and machinations. Whose invisible hands were in the murders of Lumumba, Nkrumah, Nasser, Sankara, Steve Biko, and all our independence leaders? Look at the power behind the scenes and you cannot miss the long arms of the “Master” doing the manipulations. Granted again that some Africans connived with the European slavers to sell their own brethren. In fact, Africans were also engaged in the slave trade. But PLO had its own snitches. It was a ANC supposed member who betrayed Nelson Mandela which led to his arrest and eventual imprisonment for about 27 years. That some members betrayed the PLO or ANC do not take away the brutality and dehumanisation of Apartheid or the Israeli occupation of Palestine. That some Africans took part in the slave trade does not take away the horrendous and barbaric nature of the Atlantic Slave Trade. That African leaders are inept and responsible for the retrogression that Africa is, does not take away the still lingering effects of colonialism.

There is no mutual exclusivity when it’s about wrong or horrendous events of history. The wrongs of the past can be loudly condemned as those of the present. In fact, it could be possible that the terrible wrongs of the present are being repeated because the wrong doers and the sufferers have no knowledge of the past. Gambia didn’t create the TRRC just to have the historical records of the Jammeh regime. It is mainly to learn from the tragic history or past and ensure the “never again” mantra is embedded in the psyche of the people.

History is not bunk; it’s the lead to our understanding of the present and future. And those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat its pitfalls.

“He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past” George Orwelm