[ 2010-10-03 ]
AFRICA: Then, Now and Forever
Excerpt from Nigeria’s 50th anniversary lecture at
the Embassy of Nigeria, Paris.
Walk with me in memory to one of the greatest
celebrations, the end of the colonial era in
Africa. The day: October 1, 1960. The place:
British West Africa. The setting: a crowded
stadium in the Atlantic coastal town of Sapele.
School children are waving green and white flags
in honor of the birth of modern Nigeria, no longer
part of the British Empire.
I was six years old and was in that stadium. I do
not remember what was said because the concept of
colonialism was abstract to me. But I vividly
remember an incident that made me cry all that
day. I was waving my flag in excitement when a
faceless bully snatched it away and disappeared
into the crowd.
In far-away Lagos, the Union Jack was lowered.
Nigeria's Head of State, the Queen of England, was
dethroned and Nnamdi Azikiwe became Nigeria's
first black leader.
Fifty years earlier, the Union Jack had cast its
shadow across every global time zone, giving rise
to the saying, "The sun never sets on the British
Empire.” We had showed our pride in being part of
the empire by celebrating Empire Day on May 24th,
Queen Victoria's birthday, with parades and
sporting competitions. Later, Empire Day was
renamed Commonwealth Day.
As a country, Nigeria has existed for 96 years,
but it has only been independent for 50 years, for
just over half that time. We must critically
examine the 46 years of colonial rule over Nigeria
and the scramble for Africa that began with the
Berlin Conference of 1884, if we are to get
insights into how to chart our nation's course for
the next 50 years.
The Sankofa is a mythical bird of the Akan people
of West Africa. If flies forward while looking
backward, with an egg in its mouth to symbolize
the future. In order to understand its history, to
reclaim its past, and to enable its people to move
forward into the 21st century, Africa must look
back, back to the Berlin Conference of 1884 and
back to the Atlantic slave trade that spanned four
continents and four centuries. This will allow us
to understand how we came to be 54 nations instead
Like the Sankofa bird, Africa must look to its
past to predict its future. It must know how it
evolved in order to understand how it can be
recreated. Its people should know where their
journey began in order to understand which
direction to take to find their future.
The Berlin Conference is when Africa was divided
into roughly 50 colonies, and 1884 was when the
modern map of Africa was created. The Berlin
Conference was the beginning of modern Africa. In
1884, Africa was the agenda, but no African was at
This year, in 2010, 17 African nations are
celebrating their 50th anniversary of sovereignty
and post-colonial rule. Nigeria's journey, like
that of the other independent African nations,
began at the Berlin Conference 126 years ago with
no African in attendance. If colonial Africa could
be created in Berlin, then a future Africa could
be created in Beijing. Nations creating
technological knowledge are reinventing the future
and recreating Africa.
I believe that, by the end of this century, one in
two Africans will live outside Africa. I was
asked: "Why did you live in exile from Africa for
37 years?" Put differently, "Why don't you deliver
Nigeria's 50th anniversary lecture in Abuja,
instead of in Paris?" I have never visited Abuja.
But I am not at home in Washington, D.C., either.
I had an asymmetrical relationship with Africa and
America, as well as with science and technology. I
worked entirely outside the gates of science and
as an outcast, with outsider status. I was
honored, but will forever remain an outsider in
America. I was honored for retelling the
330-year-old story of the Second Law of Motion:
from the storyboard, to the blackboard, to the
motherboard, by reprogramming 65,000 subcomputers
to compute as a supercomputer, and to communicate
as an internet. I became my own ancestor in
physics, my contemporary in mathematics, and
descendant in internet science.
I experienced the usual in an unusual way. I was
an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary
circumstances. I decided to march forward, to come
home to myself, not to someone else's home. I
stayed in exile in America, feeling at home in my
alienation from the white community. My 37 years
of solitude allowed me to gather myself and to
find my power.
Philip Emeagwali has been called “a father of the
Internet” by CNN and TIME, and extolled as a
“Digital Giant” by BBC and as “one of the great
minds of the Information Age” by former U.S.
President Bill Clinton.
Source - Philip Emeagwali
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