Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The Controversy of the African Race - real or imagined

(originally published on Black UK Online 19 October 2007)

Since the abolition of slavery, Europeans have sought to maintain racial hegemony by propagating false notions of African inferiority based on pigmentation and texture. Later, selected forms of genetics premised on emotional and mental structures, have been applied uncritically. These approaches were used by colonisers to justify invading Africa in the 15th century and later, the heinous Transatlantic Slave Trade, all under the pretext of `civilised freedom’. That is precisely why the geneticist, James Watson’s theory on `Africans are less intelligent than Westerners’ is not surprising or at worst, shocking, though it should be utterly repudiated.

The Science Museum in London cancelled his speaking engagement on the ground that Watson’s views went `beyond the point of acceptable debate’ and yet two British professors received a grilling interview on the Today Programme on Radio 4, as they expressed concerns about the `freedom of speech’ doctrine `floated’ by the press versus the `scientific incompetence’ of Dr. Watson’s theory.

It is absolutely right that the views of such an eminent scientist be condemned for its false and delusionary nature, particularly since there was international outrage after the Iranian leadership challenged the historical truth about the Holocaust. On that occasion, the allegation of xenophobia rose to a crescendo and the world was engulfed by this controversy.

Reading Watson’s theory in both The Independent and The Times on Western intelligence versus African `less’ intelligence (translated as white supremacy), bore a striking resemblance of the infamous The Bell Curve, by Charles Murray and Richard Hermstein. These authors also applied IQ and DNA constructs to justify claims of African inferiority even though the basis of their conclusions was far from clear. And since science alone, cannot be the final arbiter of reasoning and truth, as well as freedom of thought and action, other factors deserve consideration. Science itself is fraught with danger (signals) and indeed if it is perfect, then why Western democracy has inherent fault-lines? Why is the global economic system pregnant with inequalities in both the industrialised and non-industrialised states, since the last century? Why is military force or `gunboat’ diplomacy still viewed as the guiding strategy for political compliance and economic obeisance, when soft power or traditional `human’ diplomacy has proven a viable alternative for peace and stability, for instance, in South Africa and the Caribbean? Quite contradictory, although the recent Burmese conflict was condemned by the international community, the military-intelligence dared to suggest military intervention similar to Afghanistan and Iran.

Global Turmoil

In addition, the recent troubles in the medical profession in America, Europe and Britain involving the pharmaceutical industry, misdiagnoses and the outbreak of infections in hospitals due to poor hygiene control measures, all beg the question, whether European systems are that intelligent or sufficiently adaptable to modern technology. Indeed, if intelligence is to be measured by `civilised’ action and a system of governance, then essentially, (Western) justice should for the many and not for the few, as is the case today. Again, the volatility of financial markets also questions the competence of global establishments and their integrity in dealing with trends particularly in a fluid, free market culture. If Watson’s theory is supposedly sound, did human intelligence contributed to the 1930s Stock Market Crash and subsequent economic recessions in the US and Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, coupled with the BCCI, Maxwell and Enron scandals respectively? Could Watson’s racial theory of intelligence prevent endemic corruption in Western democracies?

The other aspect of Watson’s theory is premised on African economics – raw material production versus the industrialisation principle. He argues that Western aid is counter-productive because of corruption and other ills, yet he fails to consider these historic truths about Western interference, domination and manipulation leading to trade distortions (particularly in export prices) that favour the industrialised North at the expense of the non-industrialised `South’. The fragility of African democracy is partly due to years of militarization, trade protectionism and cultural imperialism. Much of these episodes are well documented by World Bank/IMF and other international institutions, as well as independent observers, though little of this information is publicised. It is also interesting to determine whether Watson’s theory resonates with Africanised stereotype or it reflects a wider melting pot of African peoples; those from a generically Black, White, Indian and/or other mixed heritage. A large section of African people –at home and abroad- are Westernised; culturally, academically, professionally and socially, so the debate about natural or applied intelligence, requires `opening up’ rather than be limited to polemics and divisive hysteria.

Enduring Struggle

Besides brutal conquest, post-colonial aggression helped galvanise protracted conflicts in central parts of Africa and elsewhere. The civil wars in the frontline states of Angola, Mozambique and Namibia for instance, were fuelled by external belligerence; manipulating national resistance movements and circumventing duly elected governments such as the one in Ghana. Apartheid in South Africa was bolstered by Western economic and military intelligence underpinned by a brutal racial ideology that almost destroyed two generations of black South Africans. Had it not been for Nelson Mandela’s magnanimity and political adroitness, plus the support from peace-loving people the world over, South Africa would have become a failed nation-state. Caribbean stalwarts such as Marcus Mosiah Garvey, CLR James and George Padmore were among leading pan-Africanists who enabled the process of African political independence, starting in 1957. It was these three, along with civil rights activist, Claudia Jones, who was a victim of the Jim Crow laws in the US in the early 20th century. Garvey was ostracised for his Black Star Line (shipping) initiative because of its long-term value in cementing trade relations between Africa and the Diaspora.

Watson’s supposition also failed to take cognisance of other economic truths. Apart from foreign meddling, according to former Ugandan President, Yoweri K Museveni, "the present-day situation in Africa resulted from centuries of disruption of non-integrated economies that concentrate on producing unprocessed raw materials for foreign consumers. Many of the manufactured goods we need come from outside Africa at very high prices. The result is that we cannot balance our export earnings with our import bills.”

In his penetrating analysis regarding a blueprint for African peoples, African- American author, Amos N Wilson, asserted that, `it is worth noting that compared to the 500 year rise Europe and the 200-year rise of the United States, even the lifetimes of the Greek, Roman and Holy Roman empires are but flashpoints of time relative to Egypt’s 10,000 years, the ancientness of Ethiopia, the thousands years of Ghana, and the thousand years of and independence of a plethora of African kingdoms and empires – free, virile, ingenious and independent,’ until the arrival of the European conquistadores (the writer’s emphasis).

African Renaissance

Contrary to the media hype, Africa has been praised for embracing democracy whilst stabilising national economies. Travel brochures are replete with colourful messages of Africa’s tourist attractions, economic vibrancy and fertile culture, bearing in mind that the continent has untapped natural resources that could be transformed into commercially viable industrial products and services, to replace perpetual aid and related `hand-outs’. Equally, African scientists are among the world’s leading thinkers and many could be found in the capitals of America, Britain, Europe and elsewhere. Nigerian Chief, Emeke Anayoka was a successful Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and more recently, Ghanaian diplomat, Kofi Annan, also had a distinguished career as UN Secretary-General. Africa’s first woman leader, the President of Liberia, Ellen Sirlief-Johnson, possesses a honed financial mind with World Bank credentials. Nigerian financial expert, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, became the first African woman to be appointed as Managing Director of the World Bank in early October this year. She is one of many trusted Africans leading a campaign for an African economic renaissance.

Indeed, if these men and women were so `less intelligent’, how could they be entrusted with such prestigious offices and enjoy respect from the international community, in the process? Commentators have even suggested that Africa could be the world’s next economic superpower based on phenomenal growth rates averaging between 2% and 4% in emerging democracies in the Eastern, Western and Southern regions of the continent. Resource limitations aside, the African Union is a potential security force for good contrary to persistent criticisms from biased media houses.

Moreover, the increasing trade links with China, India, Japan and other Asiatic states, is a comforting thought for many in the developing world, predicting Africa’s once `cradled’ civilisation with that of a resurging continent. In light of Dr. Watson’s racialized theory, it is worth questioning his mindset along the following lines. Was his selective use of DNA measurements validated, and against what? Who were the `guinea pigs’ in the experiment? What prototype was used to achieve and sustain the results? Was there any prior corroboration or cross-referencing of reliable data used to arrive at existing conclusions? What were the processes used to pre-determine or determine the efficacy of the existing racialized theory involving Europeans and Africans? Is this theory supposedly valid based on modern technology that lends itself to instantaneous gathering of facts and figures to process intelligent (human) processes?

The African intellectual project is a work in progress and Thandika Mkandaw’s book, African Intellectual: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development, makes interesting reading. It provides insights into the challenges and successes, as well as the future prospects of a continent where human civilisation began. As the Bicentenary commemoration on the legal termination of the Slave Trade and Black History Month observances, we will continue to denounce the European racist agenda in every shape and form, by publicising the enormous contribution of men and women of colour to human civilisation. It is patently obvious that Dr. Watson’s assertions are unwittingly, part of a campaign to destabilise the advancement of Africans in the Motherland and in the Diaspora. We must resist the temptation of such machinations and instead, work harmoniously across the divide, to achieve political deliverance, (unfettered) economic liberation, social unity and cultural unification to make the universe a better place for all.

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