3- De-Silencing the African Past
Corresponding Author(s) : Tekalign Wolde-Mariam
Africa Review of Books,
Vol. 3 No. 1 (2007): Africa Review of Books, Volume 3, n° 1, 2007
Silences in African History: Between the Syndromes of Discovery and Abolition by Jacques Depelchin
Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers (Dare-es Salaam), 256pp., 20 or $34.95.
“The history of victims, conceptualized and produced by those who have never been victims, must be looked at with suspicion”,
so declares Jacques Depelchin in stating the central idea that informs this collection of essays. The book starts off by asserting
direct and strong connection between the themes and methods of professional historical writing on Africa and the cultural and political bias of the practitioners, particularly of Western scholars who have dominated the enterprise for slightly over half a century now. The author charges that Africanist history is tainted by cultural baggage carried over from historical learning in the West suffused with racist notions of Africa as well as by poorly disguised political endorsement of Capitalism. It is for this reason, he argues, that Africanist history not only failed to tap into indigenous conceptions and interpretations of the past but actually aided and abetted in their suppression and silencing. Worse still, according to Depelchin, the luminaries of Africanist history sought to steal the moral high ground from victims of such abominations as Slavery, Colonialism and Apartheid by
claiming for themselves the mantle of “discovering” the oppressiveness of these arrangements and of championing the cause
of “abolishing” them. These “syndromes of discovery and abolition” are the core ideas around which Depelchin attempts to weave the story of Africanist historiography. Depelchin does not have kinder words for legions of Western scholars who followed in the footsteps of the founding fathers, but reserves his harshest rebuke for their African disciples. In a paraphrase of Fanon’s admonition of native intellectuals back in the 1960s, he finds the latter as being “incapable of recognizing knowledge coming … from their own backyard because they had been trained to despise it” (p. 12).