African History Should not Be Compressed into One Month
Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished historian, wrote in his book “Miseducation of The Negro”, that a man receives two educations, one that is given to him and the other that he gives to himself. You may have heard that Africa is steeped in tradition and history. So why then is such a rich heritage confined to one month? Indisputably, African History Month typically celebrated in February, is an important time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of African people and their rich history.
However, the impact of African personalities and communities extends far beyond one month, and it is imperative that their legacy is remembered and celebrated all year round. Recognizing African icons and influencers throughout the year offers a more comprehensive understanding of the contributions and influence of African people throughout history, and provides opportunities for education and reflection.
By highlighting a unique figure each month in this new series, we can delve into their experiences and accomplishments, and consider how they have shaped the world we live in today. Celebrating African history in this manner is an important step in understanding the past, and creating a more inclusive and equitable future. This first article celebrates 3 iconic African figures each month from January to March.
African History January: Thomas Sankara
“Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt.”
Thomas Sankara was a revolutionary leader who served as the President of Burkina Faso from 1983 until his assassination in 1987. He is often referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara” for his charismatic leadership and socialist policies, which aimed to reduce poverty and improve the lives of ordinary people.
Sankara also sought to promote self-sufficiency and independence and to free Burkina Faso from dependence on foreign aid. Thomas Sankara is widely considered an African icon and influencer for his revolutionary leadership, commitment and socialist policies during his tenure as the President of Burkina Faso.
Notable among his achievements was his focus on self-sufficiency and independence, as he sought to free Burkina Faso from dependence on foreign aid. He also implemented policies to improve the lives of ordinary people, including a literacy campaign, a vaccination program to eradicate polio, meningitis and measles, and the construction of dams and irrigation systems to improve year-round access to water. He also promoted the rights of women and sought to reduce poverty and inequality.
Thomas Sankara also believed that the fight against imperialism and neocolonialism was an essential part of Pan-Africanism, and he was a vocal critic of the exploitation of Africa’s resources by foreign powers.
He believed that the continent’s resources should be used for the benefit of its people, rather than for the profit of foreign companies. As a pan-Africanist, he was one of the key architects of the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) decision to change its name to the African Union (AU) with the aim of reducing the economic dependence of developing countries on developed countries.
Thomas Sankara’s legacy continues to inspire and influence people today, particularly in Burkina Faso and Africa. His ideas about Pan-Africanism and the importance of unity, self-reliance, and cooperation among the people and nations of Africa are still relevant today and continue to be studied, debated, and implemented in various African countries and around the world, making him an inspiration for many African leaders and activists.
African History February: Nanny of the Maroons
Nanny of the Maroons, also known as Nanny of the Windward Maroons, is believed to have lived in the 18th century in Jamaica. Her birthdate and early life are unknown, but it is believed that she was born in the then Gold Coast, West Africa and was brought to Jamaica as a slave.
She is considered the leader of the Windward Maroons, a group of enslaved people of African descent who had escaped from the British colonies in Jamaica and formed independent settlements in the island’s mountainous interior.
She is known for her strategic military tactics and her ability to unite her people and keep them together in the face of British aggression. She is said to have been a skilled leader and military strategist, who led her people in a number of successful raids against the British.
Her leadership also extended to the preservation of the culture and traditions of the Maroons, and her work to maintain their autonomy, as well as their African heritage in the face of British colonialism. She is also known for her spiritual and religious leadership as an Obeah woman, an important figure in the Afro-Caribbean spiritual tradition.
Nanny’s legacy continues to inspire and influence people today, particularly in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Her memory is celebrated every year on the 6th of October as Nanny Day to commemorate her legacy. She is celebrated as a symbol of resistance against slavery and oppression, and her story continues to be an inspiration for many people who have faced similar struggles.
African History March: Yaa Asantewaa
Yaa Asantewaa was a renowned Ashanti queen, whose bravery and fearlessness are woven into the history of Ghana. Although her exact birthdate is uncertain, it is believed she was born in the 1840s in the Ashanti Confederacy, now part of Ghana.
Asantewaa was appointed as the Queen Mother in the 1880s by her older brother, the Ejisuhene, Nana Akwasi Afrane Okpase, who was a prominent ruler at the time.
In 1896, the Ashanti people revolted against the British presence in their territory and their attempt to establish the “Gold Coast” colony. In response, the British arrested and sent into exile King Prempeh I of the Ashanti and other Ashanti leaders to the Seychelles Islands as part of their efforts to obtain the Golden Stool. In this midst of the chaos and uncertainties, following the exile of the Ashanti King, Yaa Asantewaa arose and proclaimed:
“If you, the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then I shall call upon my fellow women, we will fight till the last one of us falls in the battlefields”.
She assumed the role of the commander in chief of the Ashanti Kingdom and rallied both men and women against the British in a war known as the War of the Golden Stool. This was a decisive battle against the British from 1900-1901, which aimed to preserve Ashanti culture, tradition, and autonomy.
During the Yaa Asantewaa War, 1,000 British and allied African soldiers perished, along with 2,000 Ashanti. Both figures are said to have exceeded the cumulative death toll of all prior conflicts between the Ashanti and the British. Yaa Asantewaa was taken prisoner during the uprising and banished to the Seychelles, where she passed away in 1921.
Asantewaa is known for her courage, her strategic military tactics, and her ability to rally her people to fight against the British. She is also known for her political acumen, and her ability to negotiate and make alliances with other leaders to join forces against the British.
Her leadership extended beyond the battlefield, as she was also a strong advocate for the education and empowerment of Ashanti women. She encouraged women to take an active role in politics and in the resistance against the British.
Her life and legacy emphasize the power of unity and solidarity which can be applied to current struggles and challenges faced by different communities and countries, as they serve as a reminder of the importance of standing up against oppression, promoting women’s leadership, preserving culture and tradition, working together, and empowering the youth.
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