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NAMIBIAN NIGHTS

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  • Rrashidi
    THE GLOBAL AFRICAN COMMUNITY TRAVEL NOTES NAMIBIAN NIGHTS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE BY RUNOKO RASHIDI* DEDICATED TO THE PAN AFRIKAN CENTRE OF NAMIBIA Of all our
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 17, 2000
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    • Rrashidi
      THE GLOBAL AFRICAN COMMUNITY TRAVEL NOTES NAMIBIAN NIGHTS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE BY RUNOKO RASHIDI* DEDICATED TO THE PAN AFRIKAN CENTRE OF NAMIBIA Of all our
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 18, 2000
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        THE GLOBAL AFRICAN COMMUNITY TRAVEL NOTES
        NAMIBIAN NIGHTS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
        BY RUNOKO RASHIDI*
        DEDICATED TO THE PAN AFRIKAN CENTRE OF NAMIBIA

        "Of all our studies it is history that is most qualified to reward our
        research."
        --Malcolm X

        AFRICA IN MY HEART AND ON MY MIND: AN INTRODUCTION TO NAMIBIA

        On February 14, 2000 I received an official invitation from the Pan
        Afrikan Centre of Namibia to come to Namibia in May to present a series
        of five lectures in commemoration of Africa Day 2000. The letter was
        signed by Ben Uugwanga, a PACON board member. I love Africa and accepted
        the invitation joyfully and without hesitation. Namibia, a large and
        rather arid country, is in southwest Africa. It became independent in
        1980, is rich in minerals, has a progressive Black president and enjoys
        a majority Black population of less than two million people. I'd always
        hoped that I would be able to go to Namibia. Considering that the only
        part of Africa that I had previously visited was Egypt and that PACON
        promised to cover all of my expenses I was ecstatic. Why wouldn't I
        be? Indeed, I was so honored and became so excited that I soon made up
        my mind that if necessary I would pay my own expenses to get there. It
        meant just that much to me. It seemed that my time had finally come to
        see more of Mother Africa--the birthplace of humanity and civilization.

        In truth I must confess that I had been actively avoiding travel to the
        rest of Africa. I essentially took the rest of Africa for granted. I
        think of Africa all the time and knew that I would eventually get
        there. As an historian Egypt has been an exception for me because of
        her abundance of antiquities. Egypt is obviously not the only country
        in Africa with antiquities but the ruins of ancient Egypt have no
        parallel in the world. Besides, the origins of pharaonic Egyptian
        civilization is such an intense battleground right now that it became
        obvious to me some time ago that as a historian travel to Egypt was
        virtually essential and I have now been able to visit Egypt on five
        separate occasions. I have never been able to resist Egypt. I never
        wanted to resist it and I don't now. Egypt casts a kind of spell on you
        and compels you to return.

        In regards to Africa beyond Egypt I knew that I would eventually see a
        great deal of it. And I knew that once I started to go there then other
        travel destinations would dramatically diminish in importance. I love
        Africa. More than any other part of the world it is my home and I knew
        that I would become addicted to it once I started to travel there. As a
        result I've tried to explore other realms of the Global African
        Community. The Ancestors have really blessed me in this area and I now
        travel fairly regularly on international circuits. I take great pride
        in having been fortunate enough to lecture on every continent in the
        world save Antarctica. Indeed, I have often been heard to say that "if
        I can find some Black people in Antarctica then I will go down there
        too, just to make things complete."

        I love Africa and all my presentations, mostly slide presentations with
        lots of stunning and stirring photographs, are about Africa's place in
        history and African populations scattered around the earth. In fact, I
        am coming to believe that there may be more Africans outside of Africa
        than are in Africa itself! Africa and African people are really all
        that I talk about. I am an African historian with a strong
        African-centered and Pan-African perspective and I think that the major
        mission in my life, more than anything else, is to help make Africans
        proud of themselves. Africans around the world must realize their
        attachment to Africa and its essential importance to us. We have a
        major stake in the future of Africa. Along with countless others I
        believe that Africa can never truly be free unless African people
        scattered around the globe play an active part in the freedom process.
        At the same time, African people outside of Africa can never be truly
        free until Africa itself is united, independent and in control of its
        natural resources. As African people we must work together.

        NAMIBIAN NIGHTS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

        The Namibian presentations were scheduled to take place between May 23
        and May 28. They were sponsored by the Pan Afrikan Centre of Namibia.
        We had been exchanging messages via the internet and I am so grateful to
        PACON for bringing me to Africa. My itinerary called for me to fly to
        Windhoek, the Namibian capital, via Frankfurt, Germany. PACON wanted me
        to journey to Namibia on Air Namibia, the national airline. It seemed
        appropriate. Besides, I suppose that flying through Germany with an
        almost thirteen hour layover in Frankfurt provided a practical kind of
        orientation for me. Germany colonized Namibia, brutalized and nearly
        exterminated large numbers of its people and even today plays a highly
        important role in Namibia's reality. In Namibia itself the major ethnic
        groups are the Ovambo, the largest group, followed by the Herero,
        Damara, Nama, Caprivian and San. Overall, I found the masses of people
        in Namibia to be very poor with a daily uphill struggle. The White
        people of Namibia, on the other hand, seemed to be very prosperous.
        This bothered me. Why should African people be poor and homeless in the
        land of the plenty? Windhoek itself is a very European looking city and
        highly segregated.

        While initially reluctant to fly through Germany it worked out okay.
        The international airport is a huge place. I was a little concerned by
        the fact that I was traveling by myself, spoke no German and had only
        passed through Frankfurt once before. At is turned out, however,
        English was widely spoken, people were generally friendly and I was
        surprised at how many Africans worked in the airport. I was even able
        to walk outside a bit and do a little exploring of the adjoining area.

        After almost two days of travel I finally arrived in Windhoek early on
        the morning of May 23, 2000. From the moment I touched down, collected
        my luggage and went through customs I went straight to work. Jet lag and
        fatigue were not allowed to become factors. Just out of customs I was
        met by Mr. Bankie Forster Bankie, who was to be my almost constant
        companion during the Namibian leg of my African journey. Mr. Bankie
        turned out to be a very good brother. Himself a strong and ardent
        Pan-Africanist and something of a career diplomat, he turned out to be
        business like and very detail oriented and kept us on a tight and
        disciplined schedule. It would even be accurate to say that much of the
        success of the trip is due directly to Bankie himself. I salute him.

        Right after greeting me at the airport we hit the ground running and
        Bankie informed me that we were on our way to tape a television program
        and handed me a nice freshly pressed African shirt to change into.
        Although it not bother me I do not recall receiving an invitation to
        stop for breakfast or to check into the hotel for a nap. There was
        simply no time. I was brought to Africa to work! Well, as a soldier in
        the army of African victory I was up to the job. The tv program went
        well and was subsequently broadcast all over Namibia. Indeed, at the
        risk of sounding vain and with all due modesty, it was not unusual for
        me to turn on the tv at seemingly any hour and see images of myself
        lecturing and being interviewed. Actually it was kind of nice. It got
        to a point that wherever I went it was common for people to see me and
        say, "I just saw you on tv!" All things considered I got very good
        reviews.

        Early on the afternoon of May 23 in a government owned car and with our
        own private driver Bankie and I headed off to Walvis Bay for a lecture
        in the Black township there. It was the first of three trips outside of
        Windhoek. After driving for several hours across what seemed like
        mostly uninhabited country I was able to give the first of my
        presentations. Before the presentation I was introduced to the regional
        governor. In fact, at each presentation that I gave, each in a
        different regional capital, the governor of the respective region was on
        hand to welcome me and offer every possible assistance. These governors
        were present at each program from beginning to end and all expressed
        great satisfaction at the results. I quickly and happily realized that
        the brothers and sisters in Namibia were hungry for history and thirsty
        for greater knowledge of themselves.

        The Walvis Bay presentation, a general presentation entitled "Unexpected
        Faces in Unexpected Places: The African Presence Globally," went well
        and was followed by a lively discussion period. Indeed, PACON insisted
        that significant room be left at the end of each presentation for
        dialogue with the audience. Although we were in a Black township quite
        a number of White people showed up, including several White teenage
        students enrolled at the local schools. As a matter of fact there was
        not a single presentation that I gave in Namibia where at least one
        White person did not show up. Well, just because there were White
        people in the audience I wasn't going to compromise my message or change
        my focus. As a matter of fact PACON kept assuring me that they wanted a
        straight-forward approach and a non-compromising delivery. They urged
        me to speak my mind and not hold back. Well, they got their wish.

        It was obvious to me that theWhite people that I encountered in Namibia
        were rather nervous but remained arrogant. Although Africans
        effectively run the country White people dominate the economy and own
        much of the land. With the reclaiming of African land in Zimbabwe now
        taking place, however, there is a great concern in Namibia that the same
        phenomenon inevitably is going to spread beyond the borders of Zimbabwe
        to effect the rest of Africa.

        I was also struck by another category of people in Namibia. These
        people are called Coloreds and are the descendants of mixed African and
        European unions. Many of these unions were obviously not of a voluntary
        nature. During the pre-independence apartheid years these Coloreds
        occupied an intermediary status between the masses of conquered Blacks
        and the descendants of White invaders. They seemed to take great pride
        in their status as collaborators to apartheid and I generally found them
        to be more hostile even than the Whites themselves. During the
        discussion after the Walvis Bay presentation one such student asked me
        what I thought of the concept of White Africans? I told her that I
        considered the notion absurd. She became highly indignant and pointed
        out that while I had just arrived in Africa that day that she and "her
        foreparents had been in Africa for four-hundred years and that she was
        an African by birth!" Again I responded by saying that her White
        foreparents had invaded Africa and stolen the land. I told her that
        both her culture and pedigree were European and that the Boers had not
        been invited to Africa. This unsettled both the Whites and the Coloreds
        in the audience. The Blacks, on the other hand, were delighted. I
        finished it off with a quote from Kwame Ture who used to like to say
        that "just because a cat has babies in an oven you don't call the babies
        biscuits." Place of birth by itself doesn't determine nationality.

        On the long drive back from Walvis Bay in Namibia's Erongo Region I was
        startled by how cold it got. In fact, I was absolutely shocked at how
        dramatically the temperatures in southern Namibia dropped at night.
        Riding back through the desert, in what seemed like the only car on the
        highway, I was also dazzled by the brightness and seemingly closeness of
        the stars in the Namibian skies. It seemed that all I had to do was to
        reach out and touch one. I have never seen anything like the skies of
        Namibia at night. Even the moon seemed be brighter than I ever
        imagined. I will never forget these cold and star lit Namibian nights.
        They were quite simply magical and awe-inspiring.

        In Namibia I gave five separate major presentations in five provinces
        over a period of five days. Following Walvis Bay on May 23, on May 24
        we headed southeast to Keetmanshoop near the South African border in the
        Karas Region. Like the previous evening we were joined by the regional
        governor who I thought bore a strong resemblance to Nelson Mandela.
        What made this presentation stand out was that it was heavily attended
        by Namas. These very interesting brothers and sisters, sometimes called
        Khoikhoi and pejoratively known as Hottentots, came and introduced
        themselves and gave me considerable background as to their history and
        present status in southern Africa. They had suffered greatly at the
        hands of the Germans and had fought a heroic resistance. Their mere
        presence fascinated me and I was tremendously honored by their
        attendance.

        Back at the Safari Hotel on the afternoon of May 25 in the Namibian
        capital of Windhoek the biggest Africa Day program was held. Africa Day
        celebrates the founding in 1963 of the Organization of African Unity.
        The ruling party of Namibia, the South West African People's
        Organization, prides itself on its Pan-African principles. My job that
        day was to show that African people exist all over the world and that
        our emphasis therefore cannot be confined to just continental African
        unity but, rather, the global unity of African people. My presentation
        that day, the last presentation of a very long program, was one of my
        best. On that day I spoke before ambassadors, ministers, diplomats,
        students and just plain folks and really lit the auditorium up. The
        response was so good that I became very emotional and sometimes spoke
        with a faltering voice. I spoke considerably longer than I was
        scheduled to speak but nobody interrupted. The entire program for that
        day, of which my presentation was a central part, was broadcast
        repeatedly across the nation. I knew that on least that one day that I
        had indeed succeeded in helping making African people proud of
        themselves.

        Following the official Africa Day commemoration in Windhoek on May 25 I
        was not allowed to rest on my laurels. In fact, on May 26 I had to get
        up earlier than ever, check out of the hotel, and embark upon my longest
        journey in Namibia, northeast to Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Region. I
        was working hard but I was enjoying it, learning a great deal, trying to
        absorb everything and savoring the experience.

        From Windhoek to Katima Mulilo is distance of more than 500 kilometers.
        It was a long ride. The Caprivi Region shares a common border with
        Angola and during part of the journey we had to ride in a military
        convoy. This convoy system of travel was deemed necesary because at the
        time of my trip in late May UNITA's renegade army led by Jonas Savimbi
        was launching violent incursions across the border into Namibian
        territory and slaughtering innocent civilians. This trip took so long
        that May 26 was the only day in Namibia that I did not lecture. It was
        a day devoted almost entirely to travel. We arrived in Katima Mulilo at
        night and were fortunate to find a series of nice log cabins. For once
        I had a quiet, peaceful and relatively early evening and took the
        opportunity to peruse through two excellent books written in French on
        the life of Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin that had been loaned to me by
        Brother Bankie. I learned a lot from this man and I am happy to say that
        by this time Bankie and I had really begun to bond and had developed a
        very good relationship. By this time we didn't just respect each other;
        we believed in each other.

        On May 27, my last full day in Namibia, I lectured at Caprivi College in
        Katima Mulilo, just across the Zambezi River from Zambia. The governor
        of Caprivi Region was there and this time, in the college gymnasium I
        spoke in front of a large group of mostly children. The adults,
        however, during the discussion period, grilled me with really serious
        questions. Some of the questions that came up repeatedly during my stay
        in Namibia focused on the image of Africa in the western media, the role
        of African-Americans in the African freedom process, the current status
        of Africans in America, my general impressions of Africa, and whether
        there would ever be an African-American president. I tried to address
        every single question thoughtfully and honestly.

        The evening of May 27 I gave my last and best presentation in Namibia.
        Maybe because I knew that it was my last Namibian presentation, at least
        on this go around, I was forceful and yet relaxed. I had enjoyed my
        stay in Namibia and wanted to end it on a high note. This was a fairly
        small audience in a rather small room and provided the gathering with a
        pleasant kind of intimacy. It was a Saturday night in an African
        township in the city of Rundu in Kavango Province, with only a small
        river separating it from Angola. This time not only was the regional
        governor in attendance, but the national minister of education John
        Mutorwa. It was a real honor when he sent me a handwritten note
        welcoming me to Africa. The program began with a series of performances
        by the Kambundu Cultural Group. They were excellent dancers and
        exceptionally graceful. A regally beautiful and enthusiastic African
        woman moderated the program. We had an excellent translator and the
        slide projector worked perfectly. The slides seem to speak to all of
        us, and the sense of communion on this last evening of my Namibian
        journey was profound. That night everybody went home happy and
        inspired, full of hope for the African future and proud of our African
        history and heritage. On this night, one of thosecold, magical,
        star-filled Namibian nights, more than at any other time on this
        wonderful trip, I would like to think that the Ancestors were truly
        satisfied.

        *Runoko Rashidi is an historian, public lecturer and writer engaged in a
        love affair with Africa. He is currently organizing educational tours
        to Kenya and Tanzania in April 2001 and Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand
        in November 2001. For information on the tours, to schedule lectures
        and order audio and video tapes contact Rashidi at RRashidi@...
        or call (210) 648-5178. Please visit Rashidi's Global African Presence
        web site at http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/runoko.html
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