Wiping Colonialism Off The African Map

[An early contribution to commemorations marking the 100 year anniversary of Nigeria's manufacture]

A very interesting rhetorical question was once posed by a friend. He asked, in Yoruba, "Se o'le fi po mu gari?" [Meaning: "Would you drink gari out of a chamber-pot?" ]

The question was recognised a a rhetorical one since the only answer possible was obvious: Under normal circumstances, no person with conventional sensibilities would eat (or drink) food served in a chamber-pot. Not even if the pot was brand new. Reason being that an awareness of what the container was manufactured for would interfere with the appetite. Also, apprehension about the ridicule one would be subjected to if others witnessed the usage of such a thing as a eating vessel (even if the pot was brand new) could be another reason for the refusal.

Names are given not only so we can tell persons and places apart from each other but, also to express the hopes and aspirations that the name-givers have regarding the future prospects of the person or place being named. Names can also serve as commemorations of valued historical persons/ancestors. In other words, the names that we use in the present are linked to pasts that we value and futures that we aspire to.

Which is why no normal person would call a new-born child "Family Destroyer", "Shame", or "Worst Mistake I Ever Made". Nor will collectives who set out to found an enterprise name the vehicle through which their hopes for a prosperous future is to be realised "Potential Failure", "Unprecedented Catastrophe", or, "Home Of The Despised Exploitables".

Actually, I got it wrong on that last one. It did happen, not with the exact words used above, but in the same spirit. And the entities so named still mostly carry the names given to them with some unfathomable pride. I refer of course to contraptions imposed upon the African continent by European imperialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These contraptions are today barely functional geographical expressions which sometimes, in the self-deceiving way so dear to the 'natives', like to refer to themselves as 'nations'.

While a few like Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Zimbabwe were once fortunate enough to have leaders who were well aware of the great importance a name played in fostering the fundamental collective sensibility that is otherwise known as nationalism, others like Nigeria, Cote D'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, etc. are (more or less) quite content to soldier on under the names that they were given by persons who had come to their shores as mortal enemies. The French estate currently known Cote D'Ivoire even went as far as to insist that only way to correctly address (or refer) to it was by the French version of its name. To the 'leaders' who invented this bold initiative, this must have been seen to be a great act of self-assertion. But in their own way, they were just as sadly ridiculous as those Diaspora Africans who, in deciding to reject remnant indicators of their ancestors captivity by the 'white' man, dropped their European names and adopted names from the Arab - that other (and even more rabid) enslaver of the African.  

For peoples once held under subjugation by foreign imperialists, true independence is built upon autonomous redefinition of all elements that are fundamental to the creation of everyday realities. These primal elements are precepts that determine the functionalities of those economic, educational, legal, military, as well as cultural structures that nations are erected upon. 

Where any of these precepts is badly thought out or, where in design, it was intended to function as a poisonous pill, then the structure that emerges will be one that is of little or no use.

The name that is borne by a person (or other entity made up of sentient humans) should transmit profound meanings to the one(s) it references every time it is uttered. For so-called Nigerians, it is well past time that the decision is made to unshackle the spirits (individual and collective) from the detrimental message that was sent by those who named the geographical space. 

More than a century after his death, Count Leo von Caprivi, veteran of the Franco-German war and successor to Otto von Bismarck as imperial chancellor, has been wiped off the map of Africa.

His name had lived in Namibia, a former German colony, in the form of the Caprivi Strip, a 450km area known for its tropical rivers and wildlife. But this week it disappeared forever when the tourist hotspot was rechristened the Zambezi Region, after the river that forms the northern border with Angola.

Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba also announced that Lüderitz, a harbour town, would be called !Nami=Nüs, which means "embrace" in local Khoekhoegowab, a Khoisan language.