Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 16 April 2006

The Misconceptions of the African diaspora


"Fear not those who kill the body, but those who kill the spirit"

- Steve Biko

By Mading Ngor Akec Kuai*

April 13, 2006 - The Scramble for Africa at the European conquest of 1884 which saw the balkanization of Africa has had a far-reaching effect on Africa and its people to the extent that the generations borne 100 years after the end of formal imperialism are decolonizing to date. Puzzled, mis-educated and confused, most of the here and now learned Africans such as the author of [ Revealing the true characters of Africans, Sudan Tribune, Wednesday 12 April 2006 ] are misled by the fact that "we have been educated, and still being educated, by the very people who have reasons to write Africa and its peoples out of the history of humanity." Why should an African at this era believe that he is inferior to both the Arab and the European if not what Steve Biko calls the fear for those who kill the spirit; "the physical violence of the battlefield being followed by the physiological violence of the classroom?"

The truth about the African history no matter how falsified and distorted must be revealed if we are to move forward. In the historic signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the late revolutionary thinker John Garang de Mabior [Architect of the acclaimed New Sudan Vision] and the Father of our Nation emphasized on the necessity to go back in order to gain momentum in order to go forward. He quoted President Museveni as saying: ’That is why you see sheep, you see rams moving backward first when they fight. They gain momentum before they lock horns’. Maybe a backward glance at our archaic history isn’t such a painful ordeal as many of us wrongfully associate the African past with barbarianism and paganism to name but a few: a direct result of centuries of mental subordination. I seek to highlight some of the most nuanced achievements by black scholars and scientists, yes!

John Henrik Clarke, the African-American educator and critic, has said that when Africa was colonized, the information about the continent was also subject to colonization. This explains why the many attempts to excavate the truth about our history has proven to be elusive overtime. However, the French renowned historical researcher commenting on African inventions and discoveries, Count C. Volney, wrote: "A people now forgotten, discovered, while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and science: A race of men, now rejected from society for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded on the study of the laws of nature those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe." To which Dr. Jon Henrik Clarke, the African researcher adds: "First, the distortions must be admitted. The hard fact is that most of what we now call world history is only of the first and second rise of Europe. The Europeans are not yet willing to acknowledge that the world did not wait in darkness for them to bring the light. The history of Africa was already old when Europe was born."

On the one hand in furthering the African reality, Thomas Hodgkins, the British historian wrote: "When people talk, as they still sometimes do, about Africa South of the Sahara as a ’continent without history’, what they really mean is that Africa is a continent about whose history we Europeans are still deplorably ignorant....One must admit, we are all to some extent still victims of a colonial mentality: we find it hard to realise that Africans possessed their own indigenous civilisations for many centuries before we Europeans, beginning with the Portuguese at the end of the 15 th century, conceived the idea of trying to sell them ours." And on the other hand, In 2000 the British TV, Channel 4 anchorman, Jon Snow, who made his name a journalist in Africa in 70s, was amazed to find in a library in Timbuktu (Mali), stacks of books dating back "more than 500 years"(his own words on camera). "We [meaning Europeans] like to think we brought books to Africa, but here in my hands is evidence showing the contrary. They gave us the books [meaning the Africans]", Snow said as he leafed through one of the ancient books."

If only we give much thought to our history and learn from it irrespective of the imperfections, no one of us would utter such misguided and irresponsible outbursts as this: "Africa has never produce any scientist" and lamenting on the state of affairs in Sudan and Africa (compounded by the same Arab and European elements), Steve Paterno extols Europeans and Arabs as knowing Africa best since "Africans have no recollection whatever of those periods" (pre-colonial periods).

So black people can’t invent?

Never heard of a black and African scientist? Well, below is a sample - a small sample - of black inventors in America in modern era:

In medicine, Charles R. Drew became a pioneer in the development of the blood bank. In 1940, his work with blood plasma and storage opened the way for the development of the blood bank in the US.

In 1935, Dr. William Hinton, published the first medical textbook written by an African-American, based on his research into syphilis.

The physicist, Lloyd Quarterman, played a major role in the US scientific team that developed the first nuclear reactor in the 1930s and thus brought the world the atomic age.

Another physicist Robert E. Shurney developed the wire mesh tires for the buggy used in the Apollo 15 moon landing in 1972.

George Washington Carver

, an agricultural genius, developed new farming methods that saved the economy of the US South in the 1920s. In 1927 he made vast improvements to the process of making paints and stains. He also researched widely into soil and plant diseases, and developed 325 different products from groundnut, ranging from printing ink, face power, milk substitute, soap, cheese etc.
Jan Ernst matzeliger

(1852-1889) invented the "Lasting Machine" that greatly impacted on the shoemaking industry of the world. He was given a patent for his invention by the US government in March 1883. He later sold the rights to the Consolidated Hand Method Lasting Machine Co. By the time he died in 1889, he had 37 more patents to his name. America honoured him in 1992 by printing a special postage stamp with his portrait embossed on it.
Dr. Ernest E. Just (1883-1941): His study into egg fertilization and cellular research just before World War I was hailed as a first. He gave the world the insight into how the building blocks of the human body - the cells-work.

Granville T. Woods (1856-1910) began his career as an inventor by improving his career as an inventor by improving steam boiler furnaces in 1884. He went on to invent a new telephone transmitter that revolutionized the quality and distance that sound could travel. The Bell Telephone Company brought the patent from Woods whose most memorable work was the improvement he brought to the railways. First, he invented the "railway telegraphy system" used to send messages from train to train. He bettered it in 1888 by inventing the "overhead electric system" to power trains. He followed it up by inventing "the third rail" used today to power trains that do not use the overhead electric system.

Richard Spikes developed the automatic gear shift for cars in 1932.

George Carruthers, an astro-physicist of the US space agency, NASA, developed the Far Ultraviolet Camera used on the Apollo 16 mission which gave the world the groundbreaking view of the moon in 1970s. His combination telescope and camera is till used in shuttle missions.

Fredrick M. Jones invented the automatic refrigeration system for long distance trucks in 1949 and revolutionized the eating habits of America, and by extension the world. "He secured over 60 patents, including a silent movie projector to accommodate talking films and box office equipment that delivers tickets and change," according to Ebony magazine.

James West, an acoustical engineer, jointly invented the foil-electric microphone with Gerhard M. Sessler in the mid-60s. Commercial production of their invention started in 1968. The knock-on effect was a revolution in the telecoms and broadcasting industries
1986, Dr. Patricia E. Bath, an ophthalmologist, invented the Laserphoto Probe, a laser device that has had great impact on cataract surgery since then.

Dr. Shirley Jackson, another African-American woman of renown, who once chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is a great theoretical physicist.

In 1989 Dr. Philip Emeagwali, a Nigerian émigré in the US performed the world’s fastest computer computation - a staggering 3.1 billion calculations per second. His feat has since changed the way the global warming and weather conditions are predicted, and has also helped solve one of America’s 20 Grand Challenges - understanding how oil flows underground.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams became the first in 1893 to perform an operation on the human heart.

Mark Dean, an electrical engineer with IBM, along with his colleague Dennis Moeller, developed the "ISA systems bus", an interface that enables multiple devices, like modem and printer, to be connected to personal computers".
The chemist, Percy L. Julian, "one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century", according to Ebony magazine, led the way to the developments of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma when his experiments broke new grounds in 1933. "His research into the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug to treat glaucoma, improved memory in Alzheimer’s patients and served as an antidote to nerve gas, "according to Ebony.

In 1980, the Ghanaian émigré in the US, Dotsevi Y. Sogah, a chemist, along with his colleagues Owen Webster and William B. Farnham, developed a new method of synthesising polymers and petroleum compounds used in making plastic paints and synthetics fibers.

Benjamin Banniker was the first notable African-American inventor. He made the first clock in America, and dabbled in astrology. Later he became assistant to the Frenchman LaFlan who was planning the city of Washington. When LaFlan left in a huff with all his papers because he was unhappy with the Americans, Banniker remembered the plans, and as Dr. John Henrik Clarke puts it nicely, "Benjamin Banniker is responsible for the designing of the city of Washington, one of the few American cities designed with streets wide enough for 10 cars to pass at the same time.

Lewis Latimer was one of the greatest talents of the 19th century. A draftsman of great repute, this African-American did the drawings for the world’s first telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. Later, Latimer improved upon Thomas Edison’s light bulb which, until Latimer came in, had a lifespan of only 20 minutes. Latimer created the carbon filament that vastly increased the lifespan of the incandescent light bulb, and in 1882 invented a machine to manufacture the carbon filaments.
Garret Morgan, invented the automatic traffic lighting system and the gas mask.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. There are thousands more black inventors and inventions all over the world that cannot be mentioned in this article. Yet if you asked Steve Paterno: Who invented the "Hot Comb", the "Wonderful Hair Grower", and the "Ecocharger", he might well say: A European or Arab because "they are way smarter than Africans."

Yet Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919), America’s first woman millionaire, who invented the Hot Comb, the Wonderful Hair Grower, the Vegetable Shampoo and Glossine, was black. Her parents were ex-African slaves. And the inventor of the Ecocharger, Ron Headley, was black. He moved to England in 1952 from Jamaica at the age of 13.

The Ecocharger is described in the book, Black Scientists and Inventors, as "a cleaner diesel engine emission system [that] improves the performance of diesel cars because it reduces smoke emission, fuel consumption and allows cars to run for 150, 000 miles without major maintenance. Ron’s innovation succeeds where others fail. It works on the fuel before combustion, so there is no need for a catalytic converter to clean up the exhaust afterwards. This allows us all to breathe cleaner air."


, let the words of Thabo Mbeki echo determination in our hearts and not waver in our resolve to make a seat in the universe: "Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say: nothing can stop us now."
*Mading Ngor Akec Kuai is editor of

* Mading Ngor Akec Kuai, is a Sudanese student in Canada, he is the Editor of www.newsudanvision.com and can be reached at madingngor@newsudanvision.com

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