VOL. NO: 24    DATE:
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-With Benn Ackah


Sure, some are tall others are shorter. Some may be darker than others. Some are more illustrious, industrious, flamboyant, courageous, patriotic, apolitical, outspoken, placid, hospitable, and, may be, idle than others.

Some pride themselves in unity whilst others could be more selfish than the word 'me' itself but the ubiquitous people of black Africa are one people. 

One people, if I may ask? Yes! Some historians would quickly point to the Akan clan that cuts through several African boundaries like a sharp razor as the evidence that we are one. They may even cite the scramble of Africa and how the divisions left overlapping peculiar cultures, traits, languages and customs in country after the other. 

Yes, before Leopold II crusade, before Salisbury and Livingstone, before pedagogue- explorers like Carl Peters, journalist-explorers like Henry Stanley, sailor-explorers like Pierre de Brazza, soldier-explorers like Frederick Lugard and gold-and-diamond opportunists like Cecil Rhodes one could arguably say that African lived as one. But these Europeans nibbled at what lied to the south. They thought this continent, our beloved Africa was a legally res nullius, a 'no-man's land' to be specific. Whhaaat? Didn't they think that we could be one, unlike them? 

One! Sure one? How? What was the benefit? Where was the peace? Since when did that happen? And the big question is why the chaos then and now? This is the beat. The why could go a long way to explain some of the difficulties we have let ourselves face up until this piece is read by you.

We may be one as a race but linguistically we are very, very diverse. For an example let's narrow the subject just to the west coast of Africa. Although there may be hundreds of less important and near-extinct languages in West Africa alone (my friend Jack used to tease me that Nzema is one of them), the dozens of major languages spoken there make it the most linguistically complex region in the world. Fact! In Nigeria alone about four hundred different languages are spoken. In Ghana we have over sixty-eight different dialects.

From Hassaniya Arabic to Tamashek to Hausa to Kanuri to Bambara to Wolof to Malinke to Bantu to Ewono to Fang to Susu to Dan to Kru to Akan to Nupe to Yoruba through to Mende, and to Songhai coupled with the hundreds of others, the calculus of equating unity to identity would not add up. Yet this is the West Africa alone. And yet again we are one! 

If we add all the major languages spoken from Mauritania through Burkina Faso to Cameroon we would then understand the depth and dearth of responsibility language has put on us. Yet we are one! Or so we ought to be. 

My dear readers, why am I bothering you today with this boring yet interesting history? It is simple. It is about an overlooked or taken-for-granted attitude amongst us Africans than continually pose problems for us. Real problems. 

Last week I witnessed what people might think trivial but upon deep thought would appreciate is the root cause of most of the disturbances and instability we find on our doorstep. 

There was this simple issue of a Gambian girlfriend with a Nigerian boyfriend. Perfect! Isn't it? One people, one love, peace and harmony! Unfortunately, it was not to be. The couple bumped into a Gambian ex-boyfriend of the Gambian girl. Wolof they might have spoken. Ebbe or gyirekete might have been the simple culinary discussion that transpired between girl and ex-boyfriend but because he did not understand what might have caused his gal to laugh and yodel so much hell broke loose.

Dear friends, come to think of this, suspicion stemmed from not being able to understand one's language is why we have not been able to live as one. As trivial as this might be it has caused a lot of problems for Africans even within national frontiers. 

Take the Tutsi case in Rwanda for example. Take another look at the formation and structure of any warring faction or rebel group in Africa, for instance, and you would realise why the blessed abundance of language has been our nemesis. 

Take suspicion aside, there are other real problems in Africa today that stems from this one simple blessing. Lack of cohesion and co-ordination, illiteracy, misunderstanding, favoritism, nepotism, corruption (with a capital C), war, ethnic cleansing, bullying, backstabbing, and ignorance are all but a few of the unfortunate nestlings from this beautiful seedling of language.

Are we going to learn one's language although we do not understand them like the Apostles did on Pentecost day? I think it would be magical. 

Dear friends, another lesson from history; when the Leopolds, de Brazzas, Livingstones, Lugards and the lot of 'those' people 'discovered' (so they say) the "no-man's land", they did not speak one language but they succeeded in partitioning Africa haphazardly amongst themselves into money-churning territories and colonies which we now call our countries. 

If all could be one that easily we would not have had the United Nations, the G8, the Commonwealth and so on. The world would have been one big mass of either hunter-gatherers and chaotic sapiens or utopian. 
So, since all cannot be one, we must at least act as one. Period! 


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