Stephen Rwangyezi Speaks on African Issues
AfricaSpeaks.com and TriniView.com
Interview Date: August 05, 2008
Posted: September 05, 2008
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RAS TYEHIMBA: Are you saying that Ugandans are not encouraged to study the history of Africa?
RWANGYEZI: Not yet.
RAS TYEHIMBA: What about the wider Africans Diaspora?
RWANGYEZI: Africa is still Africa. It's still studying about Europe. It's still hoping that life can only be made good if we consume European products. If I made a shirt in Uganda with nice cotton and label it, "Made in Uganda" and I made another same shirt and put on a label, "Made in London," I would sell the Ugandan shirt at maybe ten dollars and the London-made shirt at a hundred dollars. It's as bad as that.
RAS TYEHIMBA: The more you talk the more I see how similar the history of Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean and Uganda is, because both regions were colonized by the British. So even here in Trinidad the attitudes have a strong anti-African slant where a lot of African practices, African perspectives and African history are demonized and not properly taught in school curriculums and in the mainstream education systems. So even though you came here, you came here during the Emancipation period where a lot of these things were being promoted. But apart from this Emancipation period it's quite similar to what is happening in your country.
RWANGYEZI: I am glad that I actually came slightly before and stayed slightly longer than the Emancipation Day. But there is one thing that is very clear to me: on the Emancipation Day I saw people dressed in African styles. They were wonderfully robed. A day after I have been looking in the town and I was looking at the show we had last night but I didn't see people dressed up like this. I have been on the flights from here to Tobago and back and I have been at the airports but I have not seen the people dressed like this. It's very clear to me that we have a period that is a kind of ceremony. I was telling the troupe that it was like a wedding ceremony where the bride puts on a white gown and hopes that the ceremony is over so she can dress the way she wants. But that is not to say this is not important. I think that it is extremely important that we start actually developing the consciousness and reminding ourselves. But the next step is crucial.
The other night we were lucky and privileged to be hosted by the Right and Honourable Prime Minister for a dinner and a lot of Cabinet Ministers and a lot of people were there. And I said to them two things need to be done now. One, immediately change the curriculum. Let's think about emancipation in the next thirty, forty, fifty years, one hundred years. Let's not think about ourselves who are alive today. Change the curriculum. Two, let all the universities set up a faculty of strategic studies. Strategic studies meaning that we should ask ourselves how are we going to be existing in the next hundred years? What do we need to do? The mentality which enslaved the people, the mentality which colonised Africa or Asia or South America, the mentality or the conditions which made production of perennial crops become an issue of colonization and enslavement have not changed. That has not changed because Europe or North America still gets winter so they would not economically produce coffee. But coffee is still necessary.
I have listened to some extremists in Europe and in America and it's only a short while ago, a few years ago that we had the Second World War based on the same hatred principles, on the same disregard of human beings, other human beings, as was the cause for slavery. We cannot be complacent. We cannot sit back and say that all is well. We must educate ourselves and we must strategically plan. We must focus a long time from now and design ways and means to make sure that the slot we have in the global village can be kept as a right not as a favour. At the moment it's a favour and we are not able to protect it. I tell people some times to look at the developments. When the captors of our ancestors, the colonialists were coming, they were using guns, rifles. With a rifle I can hide behind an anthill or behind a tree and you won't see me. But now they are in space. For us we are still at the technology of hiding behind an anthill or behind a tree. When I am in space it doesn't matter where you hide I still look at you. The situation is even more dangerous because bio-technology has gone so far that it is possible to wipeout people without physically getting into confrontation. So what is the strategic method of protection? Whether it is of the African race, whether it is of the Asian race, what is this strategic method? What happened to the Caribs who were inhabiting these places before? What happened with the so-called Red Indians who were inhabiting North America before? What happened to the people who occupied Australia before? What are the chances that nobody wants Africa as a continent for settlement of people who can't find clean air in the already polluted industrialised world whether it is Europe, America or China. So until and unless we can work out strategic methods of survival the struggle is not over.
RAS TYEHIMBA: So in the context of the resistance that you are talking about, are there other African groups in your country that promote African awareness?
RWANGYEZI: I think that the trouble with living inside a port is that you eventually get used to the surroundings and you don't see any more problems. I always tell some people if you go in a smelly latrine, the first time you go in is terrible but if you stay in for a few minutes you actually cease to detect the smell. I think, therefore, that the main problem with my brothers and sisters back in Africa is that when the Europeans were still there the reason for resistance was life. Everybody was fighting and the Mau Maus were raging and the people in South Africa were ... everybody was fighting. Then they changed their tactics, took some people, trained them in Western ways and then said you are independent. But these people only became supervisors of the same system that the colonialists had started. And because we continued seeing fellow Black people we stopped resisting. Actually, the most dangerous thing now is we are being used to destroy our fellow strong Africans. Whoever comes up as a strong person, the stronger powers manipulate the other African communities and they fight that strong personality and destroy it.
I would say the so-called Independence has worked as a sedative. People are sedated like you are going to be operated on in a theatre and they put anesthesia in you. Nowadays there is even an anesthesia which doesn't really knock you out. You continue looking and even talking to the doctors who are operating on you but you don't feel the pain. All they do is cover the area they are cutting and they continue doing their thing and talking to you. I think that the so-called Independence has been a kind of anesthesia and we are sedated and we're slumber in some nice sleep while the operation is continuing to go on. I don't know what can be done to shake up people up out of their sleep; to put them on some kind of antidote that will be able to wake them up during the operation so they can feel the pinch and the pain and then they can be able to say, "Just a minute. What is this you are cutting off my body?"
I will give you two examples. When our current government came into power in 1986 one of the things our President wanted to do was barter trade, exchange of commodities among African countries. He started by working with Tanzania who were producing a lot of rubber products like tyres and cable insulators and so on. They were also manufacturing electricity transformers, step-down transformers. But they had a problem with food because Tanzania is not as fertile as Uganda. In Uganda we did not have these manufacturing industries but we had plenty of food. So he discussed with Julius Kambarage Nyerere and they started exchanging, giving grain, beans and corn to Tanzania who were getting these rubber products. What America did was give free corn to Tanzania for three years and that was the end of the trade. All the silos that have been built and all the stock piles that Uganda had done of the food and the stimulation that Ugandan farmers had gotten, their outlets and markets for their foods were frustrated. Three years down the line Tanzania did not get any more free corn but Uganda was in no more in a position to continue with the trade so that was it.
The second example I want to give is clothes. The biggest market of clothes in Uganda is used clothes. In Europe and America when the seasons change, when summer goes into winter, the clothes you are using for summer are no longer useful. They are actually a nuisance in your house and you want to get rid of them. Now that is the stockpile that is sent to Africa and sold to the Africans. It is sent for free. It is something that is thrown away but it is a big market in Africa. How can a manufacturer compete with an import of used clothes which are cheaper, ready made, a lot of different styles and varieties? Here you have someone expecting to grow cotton, process the yarn, manufacture it and sell it in rolls and expect that people are going to be measuring and tailoring. You cannot compete. The cost is higher than these free things that are being dumped there.
I was reading the book where Sir Henry Morton Stanley in the eighties predicted that used clothes would become big business in Africa. Whether they are clothes of prisoners, people working in the hanging gallows or soldiers, or thieves, he predicted there would be a big market among these naked Africans. The cheap and unwanted things are being dumped on the African market. Look at motor cars and vehicles. The used cars coming from Japan are making it totally unattractive for anybody to try and manufacture any car based on the African conditions. They are making the pollution so fast. The fridges, everything; whatever that is not wanted in the developed world get dumped down there and that creates short-term comfort and makes people stop thinking of how to address and solve problems on their own. But the flow continues. Any African leader who wakes up and says, "Now I stop the importation of used clothes, now I stop the importation of used cars," or used fridges or whatever will be overthrown within the next one week. Anybody who wakes up and says, "I am going to regulate religious practices and all this noise that is being promoted by different religious bodies," would not last a week. So the Africanism is not strong and is not grown and that is why I am worried about the strategic survival of the African in the future.
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