Re-imagine Africa and the Quest for it's missing pieces
I catch up with Raymond. He is what I like to call a pure intellectual.. Software engineer at Microsoft, originally from Nigeria, he’s a musician, an artist. Raymond and I connect over art, music, history, maps and our passion for the continent of Africa.
I wanted to sit with Raymond and brainstorm ways he and I, and others like us would like to see the continent prosper. We discuss this from our view, the one of working in a technological hub, members of the diaspora, using the tools at our disposal. We tackle various ideas for bad and good governance, ways to make good use of capital being sent home, just ways we can see the continent proper, all of this on the backdrop of the Endsars movement as well as police brutality.
No way to put Raymond and I in the same room and not want to talk about history! We discuss the importance of writing our own history as we discuss ways to recover it’s missing relics.
Ken: This is Ken, I'm excited to bring to you another TWDS story, for the past two weeks I've been wrestling with a broken voice and I'm so excited to finally have my voice back. Allow me to introduce my guest today, Raymond. He's what I like to call it a pure intellectual. He's a software engineer at Microsoft from Nigeria. He's a musician and artist, and we share the same passion for art, music, history and maths. I know Raymond is super passionate about the continent of Africa so I wanted to sit and talk to Raymond about reimagining Africa, from our point of view, technology, which is our main tool and using the tools at our disposal to bring some solutions and just frankly, just ways to see the continent prosper because it matters to us.
We also discuss ways to find the missing relics of our history. I know this sounds like an open letter to the African diaspora, it kind of is. This episode sounds like something that's probably going to go into a business journal, but my pledge to you was always to bring success stories and this story is special to me because it's one that makes my heart weep.
There are two things that led me to want to record this episode. The first one is this imagery of a boat capsizing on the shores of Europe, leaving Libya. This boat is filled with people who otherwise would be the bread earners in their family, people who are carrying hopes and aspirations of generations, including children, by the way. Boats headed to Europe for the prospect of a better life and people would just never making it, dying ashore and it's so painful to watch.
I don't understand how many more people we must lose at sea. And of course the first place I want to look at is those leading us, because that's where we were hoping to find solutions. You see many places have colonization and have been colonized. As a matter of fact, I think 95% of the world is the living proof of what colonization was, but you see Africa had a specific mix. We had our own way of life, our own customs, our own history, but today every African rallies on the flag and that flag represents a land whose boundary were drawn arbitrarily.
Our first official language is generally one that we did not choose. Our worship is one that was bestowed on us and so I see Africans seeking to reconcile their ancestral identity and those who we are today. I find this particularly pertinent because there's a part of history that seems to be missing. Bookstores are galore of things from Pre-independence and BC and onwards but as soon as you start to leave colonization and start to work your way back to the period where Europeans were starting to sign pacts with African kingdoms as outposts, you start to see less and less.
It was entirely in their purview to make sure that pieces of that history does not exist anymore and so Raymond and I just discussed where to find said history these days and ways to reconcile all of this.
Raymond said something that's the beacon of hope that I carry, the truth is these are the cards that we're dealt, but we can move forward and we can now start to be the ones to tell our stories and the ways we live. Guess what, that's what we're doing here today, there's also something I wanted to highlight, I always talk about how telling stories has consequences and this is another one.
Raymond is from Nigeria, I'm from Togo. We know African heads of states are at best unstable and do what the hell they want and we don't know what kind of consequences will come out of this, but we take the risk anyways, because that's where our heart is.
So let me tell you about the second part, Raymond and I sit down and talk about Raymond starting a new relationship now, after a few years of marriage and I pick Raymond's brain about what he thinks about love in 2020 and his journey essentially. I think some may agree that sounds more like a TWDS story, but I bring both to you.
Another piece that super excites me is that Raymond and I make music on that episode, on the second episode, I am going to play in different portions the way the music was layered and built; it's freaking dope. Anyways, I have talked more than I would like on this first part. So listen, get ready, get set, let's go.
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Raymond: We've been trying to get together for over a year now, I'm glad we're finally able to make it happen. It's been an interesting year, the last couple of months have been equally as interesting and challenging. I decided I was going to take off and head to the continent for about a month, see family, see friends, eat some good food, stay in an environment where people know you and you feel grounded.
So that happened, that was great, spent some time in Rwanda, did some traveling with my girlfriend and then went to see my parents in Nigeria. Through the course of that process the end SARS protest started, I would wager it's been the largest protest in modern Nigerian history, at least that I can recall.
For those of us who were in the States this year, I mean, hell, those of us in Seattle, the black lives matter protests were significant. We all went out. We knew important that was to our existence as people of color in the States and it was interesting to be home and you realize the same thing is happening.
The fact that the special anti-robbery squad in Nigeria very much harasses young people is like a known fact. When I'm leaving the house, my parents are always like, go put on a hat so they don't see your hair, all these things you have to do just to make sure that you don't flag yourself or draw attention to them. Things like hiding your phone if you've got a new iPhone and it stems from a bunch of things.
When I look at Nigerians and I look at Africans as a whole, I don't see Africans as bad people. This is actually like an experiment I tend to carry out on myself. For example, most times when I go home, I'll pay someone more than the amount of money I'm supposed to pay for something and a hundred percent of the time that person turns around and says, hey, you gave me more than I was entitled to. When you treat people with respect, they treat you with respect, for the most part.
Africans are victims of circumstance and when you look at the people who constitute the special anti-robbery squad, underfunded, underpaid, you're in a country that is struggling, you're being put at risk. You're not paid enough and the trajectory of your life is not anywhere near middle-class and not to talk of all the other pressures that come from the leadership going down. So for these people, they're victims of their circumstance. It might not necessarily be where you started out, but majority of them have adapted to become the monsters that were suddenly now trying to protest against and the beauty of the protest was that it wasn't just saying disband this special anti-robbery squad, it was also saying, hey, reform the police, pay them more, give them the appropriate training and give them what is due to them so that you don't create an environment that fosters this behavior where people's kids are getting shot because of someone's ego or jealousy that young person is more successful than you are.
It's a consequence of so many things, globalization, you're working overseas. Here, when you buy an iPhone from a phone company, most of the time, you're not paying cash for it and then when you go home where people are used to being cashed for something, someone's looking at you and it's like six months’ worth of salary that you're carrying in your hand but you don't get a chance to explain, well, I'm making monthly payments or I'm not actually as rich as it seems.
One thing leads to another, it becomes a volatile situation. However, I think the frustration of COVID, the frustration of what was going on in the country, combined with a general feeling across the world, there's enough of this injustice. That's what inspired people, people got out on the streets and for the first time I saw what I would consider a glimpse of what a new Nigeria slash new Africa can be. People across economic backgrounds came out to protest, people across ethnic backgrounds came out to protest, people across religious backgrounds came out to protest.
Ken: The monster that was created, started to touch too many people across the board and therefore the response has to be that every functioning member of society feels like they have a stake in this and they have a stake in things changing, but something that's shocked me is how much repression happened afterward because I thought maybe the police would join in actually.
A couple of days ago, Faz showed the new video that I didn't see before, the video that circulated before was showing people running and saying that they were shooting at Leki bridge and you could clearly see soldiers shooting on the population. To me that comes to the meat of also the second part of our main discussion, which is we understand we've had systems, we had colonization that started, diplomatic influences that are stifling contracts away, there are different ways you could think about the problems of Africa.
But the one that I have a hard time understanding is exactly what happened in Nigeria as a response, which is soldiers stepping out in the street and doing that, these are your sons and daughters too.
Raymond: It's actually not uncommon in Nigerian history for the government to use the military as a tool to quell any kind of protests in as much as the military is the state's legal way of using force state-sanctioned violence. If you look at Nigeria's history, yes, they also have a massacre, there's a laundry list of instances where the government has used a military force to stop anything they deemed threatening. If you also look at why, when you ask questions, like why the police didn't join in or the military didn't join in, I mean, let's fast forward to today.
CNN has released a report, it's evident that people were shot, people died and the government lied about it, but guess what has happened? Nothing. No one is been held accountable that you can draw a straight line through Nigeria's history and you will see this repeated multiple times. When you as a soldier or as a police officer, unless you have a strong moral conviction, even at the cost of your own life, you're willing to risk such a thing, you know nothing's going to happen. If you step out of line, they're just going to put you in the ground, like every other person.
So it makes it difficult for people to actually participate. Even some of the people who participated in the protest they didn't cause any trouble, Arams was released I think yesterday or today, and there are multiple of them who got arrested after the fact. Think about it, you're a regular person, you get thrown in jail for upwards of a month. Chances are you're going to lose your job and lose your source of income, so it's not necessarily that maybe we won't kill you. Maybe you're not going to stay in jail forever, but we're going to disrupt the course of your life.
God help you if you don't have enough funds to go through the legal process and meandering of getting yourself out, you're going to rot to in jail. That's one of the problems that people were protesting against as well.
Ken: I think it was the mayor of Lagos who used to be an activist himself. I don't remember all of the political names, a lot of people who are coming out on social media and calling him out by name and saying, you should know better, we stood side by side when where we were fighting military regimes back in the day.
Raymond: It goes back to the thing I had said earlier about how, when you have organisms that live in a certain environment, that environment has quite a strong influence. Eventually the organisms adapt to live there, especially if there are no other options of where they can get out and go.
Every now and then you might come across one or two that are anomalies but a majority of those organisms will adapt to start living in that environment. So that is what tends to happen in Nigeria and in Africa at large, no matter how great a person is, we put them in that pool, the same thing is going to happen.
Ken: The way I look at that opportunity is looking at governments and entities, just for one standing up and wanting to do the right thing for people.
Raymond: I personally am bullish on Africa, I believe in that continent, I believe in its people and I believe that there will be change. However, I think we need to be more objective when we think about change.
Change is not a place, change is not a destination, change is a journey.
Our idea of change should not be the thing we stop at. We should think of it as a stop on the journey and to that regard Africa in itself can still change. There are great Africans. There are a lot of opportunities for us to do a lot of things. Yes, leadership is extremely important. We need the right leadership in order to be able to fully get to where we can as a continent. If we realize we need good leadership, then we should get in leadership. There is a need for us to now think of how we can collectively go into leadership.
We sometimes focus so much on what the government won't let us do or what they're not doing. What are the ones they will let us do? Let's go do those ones and we educate people to understand, to hold their leaders accountable, including yourself.
When you look at what happened with End SARS, one of the greatest things that came out of End SARS was transparency. People were donating money and at the end of every day, there was a report. We spent this much on bailing people out of jail. We spent this much on providing food and help and medical supplies, this is the balance. This is what we're going to put it to.
It was an amazing thing because it showed to people that corruption doesn't have to be, there's accountability and people were not worried about sending money or what is my money going to be used for because every day someone deemed it fits to just show what happened with the money, goes a long way to tell you that it's possible that things can
Ken: I see it very hard for the populations to just kick start themselves. It's not even a savior complex thing, I know people back home are very resourceful. A great example of that is just how music, art, how different forms of creativity come from Africa and just blow the world away and they come from absolutely nothing. But at the same time, there's this thing that needs to be funded some way or the other and who was going to do it? This is why I always look at the governments because that's where most of the money's stifling through. Are we looking towards the Dangotes of this world, and most families, I mean, they're dealing with their own problems. If you are here, you have four or five family members who are definitely needing you in some way, shape or form, and that's your immediate philanthropy.
So it never puts you in this specific situation where you're fluid and being able to be like, okay, now I can maybe donate to this cause or donate to this cause because it's something that benefits the coordinator as a whole. So now has come to question, where do we find these means?
Raymond: When I think about Africans, I think about Africans who live in Africa and Africans who don't live in Africa and then Africans who sort of, kind of navigate both worlds. People like us who we're home today, we're back here tomorrow. So we can't say that we are very well versed in the things going on in the country, but we know a little bit, I think there's a role for every one of us to play; for the people who are there on the daily grind, sometimes I think we expect too much of them. When you go live in Africa, just live in Africa for one month, within a month, you will start to accumulate the stresses that come with living back home.
The way you prioritize, what is important in your life, starts to shift. You start to distill back to let me just get home and rest. We cannot burden them with a lot. There's a lot we have to learn from them about how the system works, about what the frustrations are.
There is something to be said about experiences. I mean, if we subtract these past four years here in the US one of the greatest experiences I would say we've had is we're in a place where things seemingly work. At the back of your mind, there's something that tells you that X is possible. For a lot of our people, especially people who are in rural areas, X is not possible.
The only analogy I can make here is when you think about something like police brutality, you think about families that have seen their grandfathers, their fathers deal with police brutality on multiple levels till they died. It's very hard to convince that person that is going to change, but they keep trying to change it.
I think for us, as Africans in the diaspora, we need to not expect that the people at home, nobody sees the entire view. Even people in the international space station only see a certain part of the earth at any given point. We can't expect them to always see things the way we see it.
There's also another role which we have to play. For example, I think it's 2018 or so in terms of remittances, I think in Nigeria was about $23 billion. It was more money than we got in foreign aid. We also need to step away from this mentality of philanthropy.
We want to take care of our families, we want to send stuff back home, I understand. We need to start being strategic, we need to deploy that capital to good use and now the question arises, how are we going to make sure things go right?
They're starting to grow a set of people who are in that space, who are able to manage things effectively that way. I hate to make a plug but one of the people that I'm very fond of and I follow is Feature Africa fund. The fund is primarily geared toward who's running a business and start-ups in Africa that we think make sense, let Africans give them money. Let's keep the money in the family of quote unquote.
The conversations that have started to happen, I can tell that people are interested in how do we create a fund for infrastructure where we know that if I'm buying shares, I'm buying shares in an infrastructure fund in Africa, we go get thing X done. Because let's be honest with ourselves, if you work out the numbers, sometimes we expect too much from our governments.
Our governments literally cannot afford to fund a lot of the things we asked them to fund no matter where they get the money from, there's also a part of it, which is being realistic with expectations. When you hear that African governments are corrupt, people in government are stealing money. Yes, there should be a reform of how the money is budgeted and allocated. Nigerian senators shouldn't be getting 300% for insurance allowance and whatnot.
But if we actually took all that money out and put it in a government purse and you try to divvy up things like paying the police a reasonable wage, giving them good housing, pension, life insurance, you do the same thing for education. You do the same thing for health, to be honest, we don't have enough money.
Look at the US, the US still struggles with budget every year. So there's a need for us to realize that there has to be a partnership. I wouldn't even call it a partnership at this point, but we need to start stepping into a certain degree to change things. If we want to see a certain group of candidates, let's create a pool similar to what what's called the super pack and let's go get those people in office to start driving the changes that we want. Some of those things are springing up.
I think that we should have a little bit more conversation around who's doing what so that people know where to put their money and people know where to invest. But I feel like a lot of that is springing up, we should encourage it.
Ken: Oh man, I love that. Absolutely love that. We're going to put the African feature fund thing that you're talking about in the description of the show. I always like to do in every show when there's a conversation like this, where there are resources that can be brought. If you're in Africa and you're doing something legit that has to do with funding a project that touches one of the areas that we're talking about, please reach out.
I'll make sure the plugs go around and that the information is distilled so that other people can keep having these conversations. This is why we sit around and talk about these things, it's so that we inspire the people to keep talking about it. But from the flip side, I also want to talk about some nice and inspiring stuff I've been seeing lately.
The first one is just call it by name, Mpesa, it freaking blew my mind. Let me explain it a little bit, there's this technology developed in Kenya that allows mobile payments without using internet. It uses a protocol, what you use for authenticating your phone with a SIM card or different things. As long as you have a cell phone tower, you have a way to exchange cash. The technologist in me squeaked at the prospect of a project like that. Well, what other projects like that excites you today?
Raymond: It's also something that I'm loving about Africa today, God, Kenya alone, there's Brick, there's Oshahidi, there's Well-told Story. I mean, Well-Told story is an organization that when you think about our cultures, there's certain things you don't talk about that are taboo because I believe they created a network of people who could quote unquote, be allies. When you're a girl and you're on your first period and there's no one to talk to you, send a text and ask a question which sends it out to a group of people and someone can reach out to you and give you the steps that you need. You want to talk about contraceptives, you want to talk about birth control, but in an anonymous way where you don't get in trouble.
So when you think about what the future of technology is in Africa, we can't just build stuff for the Western world and go put it out there. At Microsoft a few years ago, myself and a few friends started this initiative as part of the hackathon called a hack for Africa and it's been on for probably about two or three years now and the fundamental premise was because of the constraints in Africa, if you can build stuff that works in those environments, there's a decent probability that it will scale to the rest of the world because they don't experience the same constraint.
So MPesa is a great example. You have the acquisition of a paystack recently. There's a github page, actually that lists all the open source projects or other technologies that I believe it's Nigerian developers are working on. It's like an entire glossary of stuff that people have written or are contributing to, you've got zip line, it's almost like this is something that just grew wings and took off. Here's actually a funny one, when junior CEO, I think early last year, 2019 or so was on I think MSNBC or some news network and he had made a statement about how Africa doesn't have talent, there are no engineers in Africa, we can't seem to find engineers, blah, blah, blah.
Literally is like less than a month later, we opened our engineering office in Lagos, African development center for Microsoft, the engineers there are awesome. The talent is there, I can't remember who said this today, I had seen this on Twitter. He said that the problem isn't that there are no skills in Africa, it's that there are no opportunities. When you create opportunities Africans will scale up to meet the opportunity.
It's a very interesting paradigm because when I think of what I can go do in Africa, I just want to get out of people's way. I want to look at someone with an idea and say, what do you need? Is it Azure credits for one year? I got you, go do the thing, let me give you that covering versus let me go show you how to do; nah, we get out of the way, we unblock them, we remove the obstacles in their way and let them go do things.
Ken: It's fascinating that you say that, I actually had the same experience going back to, I actually went back to Togo and Ghana. I went to Ashessi University in Ghana produce a lot of badass engineers and every project they came up with, it gave me a pause because the ideas that they're producing over there are touching daily lives of people in ways that I cannot think of them.
I literally, in order to be able to co-sign their projects, or even be the one to generate such an idea, I need to live in those environments and I do not know this. There was a kid whose idea was to do a relay system by using the ingenuity of ladies in the market, as they are placing themselves as strategic points in the market, that's a relay system for transfer of whatever, you just call it and he was talking about how this was like a platform as a service for really; nothing in my current purview has me thinking about going, taking a lady to a market and the point to point system like you see, and that's what African love about the engineers back there.
It's one of the things that is something I think we should learn in the diaspora. Again, everybody has a role to play. We need to get away from the Africa mentality of, I want to be guy, I want to be the chairman, I want to be the CEO of thing X or founder or co-founder, no, sometimes your job is to connect people.
Or it's one of those interesting things about Africa, where the moment you interact with people, I love this, whatever part of Africa I go to just kind of trying to get to know people, understanding where their mind is at, a lot of people don't necessarily want to go build a unicorn or a Snapchat, they're trying to figure out what can help them on the daily grind. For example, if you look at cell phones in Africa, man, if that phone can make me money, I'm buying it, man. I don't care what greatest technology is on it, it has a depth perception camera. I don't care, how can I make money with it? How can I generate income?
And I think a lot of the time where we misstep is when we take our Western world mentality of I hit enter and then the internet just fires whatever I want to fire and life keeps moving on. We take that back home, why don't you just do X? Or why don't you just do Y?
Majority of what we should be doing is literally pooling all our bar money, the money we burn at the bar and all that stuff. Imagine if we pulled all the money we burned last year, and we set it to a couple of businesses that were actually solving problems, we could have made significant progress in that change that we're trying to see.
In as much as we think we figured it out, we need a strong mind shift because it's easy to point out and say, oh, they should change this or whatever it, but you're sitting in an air conditioner and life is good and you're saying that, you're never going to get up and do anything.
We've become armchair activists. We can tweet about it. We can press our computers and be very passionate and mad about whatever someone 8,000 miles away is talking about. Get up and go there, even things like for us as Africans, the fear of, oh, do I know anybody in that community, man, go, it's your people. You can't change anything from a distance, you have to go there and see the people, you've got to create a personal connection, you've got to create a personal touch, understand the cultures, understand what makes them different, discard this mindset of I have to be a God at the top and the whole nine yards.
Ken: It's about helping other people, this is really cool. I love the fact that we got to the meat of the African conversation. So we talk about government, we talked about systems, we talked about investments, we talked about sort of not being the bystanders watching things happen and getting involved. We talked about new technology coming out and things that exciting us over there. So you love maps, I feel like there was a map of Africa that I had on coasters and I realized it was a freaking old map and I can't even find a print of that map anymore. It's like a really, I keep it a frame it, and we had like a long conversation about why Sudan was called Sudan. It's fascinating, fascinating stuff.
Raymond: I've always been fascinated with maps and language, when you think about a lot of African history, a lot of our history was destroyed. Even when you look at some of the stuff we deal with today, we didn't have enough time to modernize some of our systems, our design, our art, our philosophy. We didn't get enough time to modernize those things so that they existed in a modern form today. When I think about history, when I think about collective cultural history for those of us who are in computing, I started this paper and it's one of those things I feel like is going to take me about a year to complete writing. I think of our collective history in two ways, cold storage and cash, the cash is the stuff our grandparents know. Our mom or dad, the things they tell us, the stories they tell us, but it was never put in cold storage, it was never written down. It was never recorded. So when they die, when you unplug it what happens, it's gone forever. But the stuff you put in cold storage, you can always retrieve, that's the archives. That's the paper.
There's a part of me that feels like we should encourage this generation of Africans to document. Even if you don't publish any of that stuff, put it in your will, find a good enough nonprofit that's collecting stories, that's preserving history, donate it to them. It doesn't matter if your name is not on top of a building but when I go back to figure out how Africans were living in Seattle, back in the mid-2000s, I can pull out a piece of paper that you wrote and they'll tell me something, give me some insight about when people find a piece of art that they can't tell, for example, who owned it, who painted it, what it was, the ways in which they tried to decipher, what happened is things like, what clothing were they wearing then? This was this era, there's a man and a woman in this picture in this way. What were the cultural norms around the time that would dictate this kind of behavior? So a lot of what we need to do is try to document our history. When we don't document our history, we don't know what happened and so for me, when I look at maps and I look at language, it tells me what happened back then.
For example, this is a running joke I have with my friends. When I hear of an African who's vegetarian, I say, what's the word for vegetarian in your language? And majority of the time, there's no word, I don't recall or I haven't heard of any group of people who were only vegetable eaters. Fast forward 200 years from now, there will be a word for it because in our time there are people who are vegetarian. So how do I know we just never really had it, it hasn't come up. I bet you, in India, you could find that, there's a certain thing that happens with languages, either written or spoken and with maps, that I'm very fascinated about.
Ken: My main language which is from the Ewe people that straddles Togo, Ghana, and some parts of Benin, one of the things for instance, is school is literally the English word school and if you want to say school in the formal way, you say things like the place of learning or of knowledge. Which I think was what those places were before we got the concept of school.
So the evolution of the language blended and those nuances in the language, which I find absolutely fascinating and I love the fact that you touched on this right away. You get a lot of African literature where you can say okay, these are the empires that happened before the empire Mali, the empire of Ghana, Newbigin and then there comes to a point where something happened between a little bit before colonization to modern times where I'm just finding it very hard to uncover and also understand the evolution of our people.
I cannot see the great universities that they were in some part of Africa and especially in Nigeria, actually, they had ways of life and ways of nurturing their own culture and for some reason, as soon as you start to approach colonization period, anything in that bulk of the century before most African kingdom started to sign those pacts with European forces a little bit before that and after that, there's just a blank. I cannot understand how; empires fall but...
Raymond: Whenever there's conflict for a long period, a lot of the arts and a lot of the, what I consider soft power tends to just take them back burner for a bit because things are being forceful, people are just kind of in survival mode. When you look at colonialism, for example, when you look at West Africa and we all had our gods and our way of life and the whole nine yards and someone walks up with a machine gun that is capable of sending out hundreds of rounds per second, and all of a sudden they're able to cause carnage and mass killing at like an unprecedented level that you have never seen before, given a short amount of time, you will start to believe that their gods are stronger.
You will start to believe that there has to be something about their way that makes it man, these people will know what they're talking about. So there's one aspect of that then you look at places like India and the machine gun was there as well, but a lot of their cultures stayed and were preserved, still predominantly Hindu. You wonder why a lot of us kind of ditch the things that we were.
It also has to do with the way our societies were set up and what made us kind of a fertile ground for that hostile takeover to happen. So the topic that you can go on with all day, but it has to do with the amount of violence that people saw. It also had to do with the structures that existed in society at the time. Also, if you look at colonialism, it was a lot of like remove and replace, completely eradicate this like it didn't exist and replace it with something else.
So there are multiple reasons why that has happened, we need to have a significantly prolonged period of peace in Africa, where there are not multiple civil conflicts that are at a large scale for some of these things to come back. Look at Nigeria's music industry for example, where what two plus decades out of dictatorships, do you understand what I mean? People cannot pursue the arts and to a point where there isn't this feeling of panic, that if you don't become an engineer or a teacher or a doctor, you're not going to survive, you don't have kids and all that, given enough time, those interests will resurface again.
The thing we just need to do right this time around is make sure we document and that we don't allow it to be destroyed because when you look at that gap that you're trying to find, can that gap exists? It's in the real British archives, it's in the French archives. One of the things I was telling you about I started doing this year was I went back and I started reading the accounts of early explorers to Africa. They wrote about what they saw. Now, it was heavily laced in racism, just the idea of the black men being inferior at the time but you can gleam elements of who you were.
For example, there's a book called the Niger BendWay, one of the first to make it inland from Senegal. There's a passage where one of the things he spoke about Senegal, I'm going to paraphrase, but the passage goes something like the blue boubou that Senegalese people were, he said that you could never cheat them in the quality. They knew what good quality was and more importantly, they consulted with each other and he explicitly said, when they consult with each other, it's very difficult to cheat them.
That has always been African tradition. We consult with everybody else. There's also another part of it where he talks about how Africans are easily distracted with shiny things, the way he phrased it, he said something like mirrors, just trinkets, just things that were trivial. He was talking about his visit to a King and he's like, every time I rock up and I bring all these things that are trivial, I only constitute the secondary form of trade that we have with these colonies. I mean, at the time there weren't even colonies, they were like outposts. The primary trade being gunpowder weapons, so essentially distract them with the shiny stuff, bring in and take what you want and just keep them focused on the shiny stuff that is still us today.
The things we're looking for exists, majority of our art is in Western museums. If you want to know your history, go to the Smithsonian or go to the Royal British museum, you will see artifacts from your history that you never knew existed. They exist, they're there, the archives are there, the papers are there, the journals are there.
Ken: There's going to have to be a second wave of curiosity where we try to patch that history. I think a lot of us, especially once you get into a diaspora, you want to get closer to your history, you go far. Respect to the Nubians and to the Soudiata Keita and all of these big names in history but especially as you're now an adult living in a place that is not yours, you have a strong curiosity for how people lived.
You want to understand why family structures were the way they were. Even just the concept of love too. I want to understand what is it in our history, our forms, our art, our structures that allowed Kings to have hundred kids? What were the central beliefs?
Why is there a new form of patriarchy in Africa but a lot of the older civilization had women hold head of state roles and powerful rules endorsed and there were so many Queens that were ruling their kingdoms independently through history. I want Africans to be able to be the ones to go back to this and reform that history and come back and teach us.
Raymond: The documentation of history and the teaching of history now is everyone's responsibility. Unfortunately, we're in an era too, where it's very easy to corrupt history to meet us. I mean, it's always been right, but you can always find things that are inaccurate and not factual.
Here's the thing, every day, you and I are making history. The day we die, then it suddenly becomes like, oh man, these are the accounts that happened back. Then somebody else comes and tells you a story. Tell the one you have now, document it, write about yourself, write about the thoughts going on through your head.
As a black man how stressful was this period for you? How are you dealing with your mental health? When you write those things and you hand them to your son or your daughter, they start to understand themselves better. I always joke about this with my friends. If you look at the people who make wealth here, look at the Ford family, look at the Walmart family. The Ford family does what? They make cars, what are the kids doing? They're making cars. My maximum potential is the day I start farming yams, I say it as a joke, but it's true.
Ken: You are so right about this.
Raymond: It's literally what was included in my DNA. If I wanted to become a billionaire, I need to figure out a way to make people eat yam chips instead of potato chips, I need to figure out a way to make yams grow in the Pacific Northwest and not just in West Africa. Then we wonder why sometimes we're not at our full potential, there are things going on in our heads, there are things that we're capable of that we're not writing down, we're not living out.
Now, there are reasons why the world we live in is not so amenable to you chasing hopes and dreams, Where my limit is, where I stopped, my children will continue and push further. Where my parents' limits are, I will push further. I don't want you to find out when you're 37 with two kids, from day one, I'm going to tell you these are the things I conquered, these are the things I'm still afraid to do. I want you to know that feel free to push, feel free to try to become more than I am, because that's the only way we collectively move forward.
I fundamentally believe everybody is gifted some art form, but a lot of times, and even, I struggle with right where I'm like, guys, my music wouldn't be good enough. I struggled with that too, we started playing live. I had always wanted to do this, play live music and I didn't know how it pan out and the whole nine yards. Even until today, there are elements of art that I still struggle with where I'm like, ah, if I put this out on people will say, it's rubbish, what am I going to do? But more than anything, I'm also realizing that a lot of the stuff that I'm fascinated with, I don't think the person who even put it out had any inclination how it would be used, what purpose it would come to. Because they just did it, there's there's a mask of the queen mother at the Seattle art museum.
When you read the story of the queen mothers in Benin kingdom, why those masks were made for them, every time I go see that mask, I'm like, man, I'm so sorry, you're locked up in here. I wish I could take you out, but I legally am not allowed to, but I'm so sorry. I'm not a Benin person but as somebody who's tribe is from the general area, I am so sorry that you're locked up in here because this is not who you were.
But if the person who was supposed to carve that mask, didn't carve it, do you understand what I mean? I'll just go to the museum, look around and go home. But then the more you connect with a lot of these things. I was having a conversation with people on clubhouse, we're talking about the Igbo language, Igbo culture and a lot of people were lamenting how their parents didn't teach them their language and all this stuff.
A lot of the disconnect we have with our cultures and languages is sometimes we don't think that our language has had like histories or cultures had depth. You talk about philosophy and people will tell you Aristotle and that guy and this guy and blah, blah, blah.
When you hear one African proverb, you will understand that this is like generations of thought, when you do something because you suddenly feel you've grown taller and your parents tell you, listen, no matter how tall the okra plant grows, when I need to have a seat, I will bring it down to my level. There's a depth of experience that comes with those words, with those things.
When you read about our mythology or religions, our philosophical systems, we were, still are very interestingly diverse group of people, 2,500 different languages. All of those languages convey experiences and thoughts and history and things that just like we need to go examine. We'd rather go learn German first. Yes, I understand it's commercially viable, it actually makes more sense for me as a Nigerian, from the Southeast of Nigeria to go learn your language before I cross the water to learn French. We wonder why Africa is not moving forward, we're just bad Africans.
Think about it, the majority of Africa, twice a week, or once a week, depending on what religion you are, we go somewhere, we learn another person's language, we read their history, we memorize their history. How much time do you spend per week learning about Mansa Musa, or about the Buntu people? Zero, and we wonder what our problem is. We are bad Africans. We're great Europeans, great Jews, great Arab people, but we are bad Africans.
You cannot simply manifest what you are not, it's not possible. So we need to do a mindset shift to start becoming the thing we truly are. I should know, quite frankly, more about the Benin kingdom and the people from Togo and that whole channel right before it became French West Africa and English West Africa. I should know more about that. I should have learned more about that in my 30 plus years of life than I know about England. What was our governance systems? People are like oh no, it's so diverse and so complex. Yes, so is China and to me,
I think that is one of the things we need to more than anything for the next generation from day one, I want my kids to understand, that's fine, you can do whatever you want to do. If you want to go to church, go. If you want to go to mosque, go. If you want to read this book, read, but here's what our challenge is to do, first you're an African, the amount of time you're spending, learning that thing spend equal amount of time learning this or learning the other language that will give you a true version of who you are than you constantly trying to fit in something that you are not.
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