chapter  1
19 Pages

Past and present

A decade ago an eloquent Namibian intellectual called for more ‘Africanness’ to be put back into Africa, with whatever consequence (Diescho 1995). But what is ‘Africanness’? Is there an African identity that transcends the differences which distinguish one African culture from another? Or are there no commonalities over and above those that have been imposed by one form of domination or another? In short, is there more that divides Africa than unites it? These are difficult questions and the possible answers rest upon particular perspectives and time-frames. Africa’s history as a whole is varied and stretches back through millennia. North Africa is awash with antiquity from ancient history and buildings and artefacts of that period appear in other countries. Pyramids and archaeological evidence are present in Sudan and would be sought out by tourists and travellers if the country were at peace with itself. Strong links existed between pre-colonial Africa and the Middle East, especially after the Arab empire extended its conquests in ad 656. Trade, intermarriage and conversion spread Islam across sub-Saharan Africa,1 and according to Jean-Francois Bayart, as a trans-regional religious movement, was a ‘powerful means of social rapprochement.’ In essence, a ‘process of assimilation between communities occurred’ (Bayart 1992: 177).