Celebrated Tanzanian artiste Nasibu Juma Issack, popularly known by his stage name, Diamond Platnumz, is once again the subject of online debate in Kenya. This time it’s not about his marriage, which most of his fans have keen interest in; it’s about his mastery of English.
In a barrage of criticism, some Kenyans have expressed their dissatisfaction with Diamond’s disregard for basic rules of grammar. And it’s not the first time. According to them, Diamond “embarrasses” Africans whenever he speaks English.
It is not difficult to understand why Africans increasingly regard command of English language as the measure of ultimate sophistication. One of the legacies of colonialism is the collective “dehumanisation” of African languages. The thought that English language is superior to African languages is a colonial folly.
Western philosophy has a history of perpetuating the racist notion that European languages are superior to African ones. And Africans have and are helping its sympathisers in doing so. In examining the history, languages and culture of the Bantu people, Alexis Kagame, one of the most respected symbols of the African intelligentsia, noted that languages of the Bantu family are spoken in at least 19 African countries.
Why is it that Africans who want to move to Europe must prove their ability to speak English while, for instance, Europeans who come to Africa are not required to prove their mastery of, say, Kiswahili? The answer is simple: African neo-colonial comprador bourgeoisie rejoice in institutionalising imperial capitalist culture in the national memory. Since neo-colonialism thrives through slave consciousness, victims of colonialism – Africans, in this case – increasingly use Western culture as a measure of what is right and acceptable.
The imperial Kanu government destroyed Kamiriithu Community Educational and Cultural Centre – a theatre centre started by among others Ngugi wa Thiong’o – in 1977 because of its influence on the rising national consciousness, at that time. Through an avenue of their own, Africans found a platform through which to correctly reflect their lives, future, fears, hopes, dreams and history of struggle.
Lack of collective consciousness among Africans – particularly Africans living in Africa – can be ascribed to the legacy of imperial capitalism, colonialism and generally in the injustices of White hegemony under which we live.
As Congolese French philosopher Valentin-Yves Mudimbe brilliantly notes in the Invention of Africa: (a) each created essence in the universe is a force and an active force; (b) everything being force, each essence is thus always part of a multitude of other forces, and all of them influence each other; (c) every essence can always, under the influence of another essence, increase or decrease in its being, and (d) because each created being can weaken inferior beings or can be weakened by superior beings, each essence is always simultaneously an active and fragile force.
Only one who is ontologically superior is able to lord it over those considered to be inferior. Europe is considered developed – history of its development is a story for another day – whereas Africa is widely considered underdeveloped.
Ouma is a freelance writer.