[DEBATE] : Did the Cape Times really publish this "Africa by the soil vs the blood" nonsense from Mazrui?
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Wed Sep 10 22:45:58 BST 2008
Meaning of being African in post-racial age
By Ali A Mazrui
Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama are icons of the post-racial age which
is still unfolding. But they are very different post-racial icons.
Mandela was very much a child of the struggle against racism at its
height, whereas Obama attained maturity when racism was on the decline
and the civil rights movement in the United States had already
attained some of its most important achievements.
A major precondition of Obama's preparation for the American
presidency was his being abandoned by his African father. The divorce
of his parents (his mother, Ann Durham, was from Kansas, Missouri) is
probably destined to be counted by historians as one of the most
significant matrimonial break-ups in history.
If young Barack had been brought up by his dad, and become a member of
the Black Diaspora of post-coloniality, he would have been another
African sending remittances home to Kenya.
If he was prepared to serve in the poor areas of Chicago as a matter
of conscience, he would also have been tempted to serve in Africa - a
case of brain gain.
Since he was one of the most brilliant black students ever to graduate
from Harvard Law School, this brilliance could have been mobilised to
serve Africa as brain gain.
Another great "might-have-been" is as follows: if Obama's mother had
been black, but his wife white, it is unlikely he would have been
chosen as the Democratic candidate for president. Obama's white mother
was less of a political liability than a white wife would have been.
An African-American married to a white woman would have been less
attractive to African-American voters - as well as to blue-collar
white voters. A white First Lady married to a black president would
have been a bleak prospect to many race-conscious voters, both black
Many African-American women sometimes feel offended when a highly
eligible black male turns to a white female and proposes marriage.
When the African Union (AU) came into being in 2002, five sub-regions
of the African continent were envisaged - Northern, Southern, Eastern,
Western and Central Africa. But a sixth sub-region was also discussed,
at least as a scenario - the African Diaspora as a constituent part of
greater Africa. Earnest conversations began about how such an African
presence, scattered in several continents and islands of the world,
could effectively and physically be represented in an organisation
based in Africa. How would black people, dispersed from Brunei to
Brazil, from Harlem to Hamburg, from Barbados to Birmingham,
participate in the institutions of the AU?
The black world outside Africa - perhaps as many as 150 million people
- as a whole is descended from both enslaved Africans and more recent
ex-colonials. The overwhelming majority of black people in the United
States are descendants of the enslaved rather than descendants of the
But the migrant families of black people like Obama's father, Chinua
Achebe and Ali A Mazrui are part of the diaspora of post-coloniality
who left Africa in the aftermath of the disruptions and dislocations
of the colonial and post-colonial experience.
This diaspora of post-coloniality, "Africa's floating nation", is
"floating" partly because of its own uncertain psychology. Are these
Africans overseas permanently, or only until they retire at home, or
until conditions improve in their ancestral countries? Obama's father
floated back to Kenya early. He also floated as a family man. He left
his son's mother when the boy was only two years old. He floated back
to see young Obama when the boy was 10 years old - and then abandoned
the child for ever.
In the US, these people are American Africans, rather than African-
Americans. In their case, the noun of identity is "Africans". To the
question, "What kind of Africans?", the answer becomes "American
Africans". The term "American" is an adjective. Obama Senior was
African for certain. But was he really ever "American African"? Was he
afloat all the time?
On the other hand, Jesse Jackson and his children are "Americans"
first, as the basis of their identity. To the question, "What kind of
Americans?", the answer becomes "African Americans". The term
"African" in this case is the adjective.
American Africans are part of Africa's floating nation. But their
children or grandchildren may indeed one day become African-Americans.
Young Barack Obama illustrated a speedy transition from American
African to African-American - as links with his African family at home
shrank, his command of African languages never took off, his taste for
African cuisine weakened, memories of Africa became less personal, and
his self-definition becomes more firmly American than African.
But perhaps the most compelling reason as to why the diaspora of post-
coloniality is "a nation afloat" is the potential transition from
brain drain to brain gain or brain bonus.
It is widely understood that two interactive forces cause the brain
drain - the push-out factors in weak countries like those of Africa
and the pull-in factors in stronger countries, which serve as magnets.
The push-out factors in Africa include political instability, economic
uncertainty, the pendulum between too much government (tyranny) and
too little (anarchy), and the resulting dilution of occupational
opportunities and professional recognition.
The pull-in factors in stronger and more stable countries include
higher professional rewards, greater political openness, the
reassurance of stability and better prospects for one's children and
But are African conditions always a push-out force? And is the Western
world always a pull-in magnetic force? There are changes at work,
which are likely to affect the balance between the brain drain and the
The senior Barack Obama (the father) resisted the pull-in factors of
the US - and returned to Kenya, leaving his young son behind.
Inadvertently, the father permitted his son to become American enough
to become a credible candidate for the American presidency.
A distinction needs to be made between Africans of the blood and
Africans of the soil. Those of the blood belong to the African race,
but not necessarily to the African continent. Africans of the soil, on
the other hand, belong to the African continent, but not necessarily
to the black race.
By being left behind in America by his dad, young Barack Obama was
prevented from being an African of the soil - and became only an
African of the blood.
Most Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians are Africans of the soil but
not of the blood. Most African-Americans, Afro-Brazilians, and Afro-
Jamaicans are Africans of the blood - belonging to the black race but
no longer to the African continent. However, most black people that
reside south of the Sahara are Africans of both the blood and the soil.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former secretary-general of the United Nations,
was African of the soil by ancestry. FW de Klerk, former president of
South Africa, was African of the soil by adoption. On the other hand,
Kofi Annan, also of the United Nations, was African of both the blood
and the soil.
There are Africans of the blood objectively who may not subjectively
regard themselves as Africans at all. These would include Saudi or
Kuwaiti princes with black mothers. The long-time Saudi ambassador to
the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was objectively an African of the
blood, but subjectively in denial about his Africanity.
The late president Anwar Sadat of Egypt was an African of the soil
both objectively and subjectively. Because his mother was black, Sadat
was also an African of the blood, but only objectively. He did not
regard himself as a black African at all.
Ralph Bunche and Martin Luther King jun were of course African-
American Nobel Peace Laureates and therefore Africans of the blood in
our sense, but not of the soil. Sadat and De Klerk were as Peace
Laureates, Africans of the soil, but not of the blood. Albert Luthuli,
Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela were Africans of both the soil and the
blood. All three were South Africans, as was De Klerk. But we should
note that De Klerk is an "African of the soil" by adoption rather than
by indigenous roots to the continent. Kofi Annan as a Nobel Laureate
is African of both the soil and the blood. Also elevated more recently
is Egyptian Mohamed El Baradei, director of the International Atomic
As the 20th century was coming to a close, Mandela achieved a unique
status. He became the first truly universal black moral leader in the
world in his own lifetime after spending 27 years in prison. Martin
Luther King achieved universal status after his death. King and Jesus
Christ are the only two individuals whose birthdays are federal
holidays in the US.
The shadows in Africa itself are not yet fully lifting. Poverty,
underdevelopment, disease and instability are still rampant. The brain
drain continues unrelentingly. But the shadows of Africa's role in
world affairs are indeed lifting more clearly.
As Secretary of State of the US, Colin Powell was an African of the
blood and a compatriot of Martin Luther King. As secretary-general of
the United Nations, Annan was an African of both the soil and the
blood - and a compatriot of Kwame Nkrumah.
As for WEB DuBois, he was the reverse brain drain from America to
Africa. DuBois was also a compatriot of both Powell (fellow African-
American) and Nkrumah (fellow Ghanaian).
As for the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize for Peace, this
was the achievement of Kenya's Wangari Maathai in 2004. She was also
the first black woman of any country to become such a Nobel Peace
Laureate. And Liberia has led the way with the first woman president
in Africa's history, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson. She also happened to be a
Diaspora returnee. A former member of Africa's brain drain returned to
make gender history in Liberia.
President Barack Obama may be the final fulfillment of upward
political mobility. Will he be the ultimate brain gain for Africa? The
answer is in the womb of a history which has yet to unfold.
# Professor Mazrui is director of the Institute of Global Cultural
Studies at Binghamton University in New York and the author of more
than 25 books. He received the Order of the Grand Companion of OR
Tambo in 2007. This is an edited version of a speech delivered in
Nairobi, Kenya, last month. Mazrui will be in South Africa this week
as the guest of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and will speak on
"Barack Obama and the Black Atlantic: Towards a post-racial global
Africa" on September 15 at 5.30pm at the University of Cape Town's
Kramer Law Building.
* This article was originally published on page 9 of The Cape
Times on September 09, 2008
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