chapter  32
The African Experience (Vincent Khapoya, 1944–)
Pages 7

Khapoya was born in Kenya and educated initially in Catholic mission schools. He came to the USA for higher education and took a

Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and political science at Oregon State University, a Master’s degree in international studies at the University of Denver, and went on at the same institution to finish a doctorate in political science. He has taught at the universities of Nairobi, Denver, and Wayne State. His specialties are African politics and foreign policy. He is the author of numerous articles on African affairs. He is currently professor of political science at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. The African Experience is based on a college course, Introduction to Africa, he has taught for many years. It attempts a very difficult task. The “history” of Africa does not lend itself to readily coherent

exposition. In Khapoya’s account, the more than 50 countries presently comprising Africa, including island satellites like Madagascar, occupy a continent 5000 miles in length and 3000 miles in width. The topographical variety includes the world’s largest desert, the Sahara, the world’s longest river, the Nile, a mountain higher than any in the USA, Kilimanjaro, an immense rainforest in Congo, the world’s second largest fresh water lake, Victoria, and hundreds of square miles of open savanna, some of which still has abundant wild life. Inhabiting the land is a bewildering variety of ethnic groups speaking up to 800 different languages in four major language families. Languages are so plentiful in many nations, up to a half dozen in one country, that European tongues are declared “official,” mostly English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, to head off disruptive claims and debate about what native language should be official. Amidst this kaleidoscope of cultural diversity, the problem for Khapoya is to find a coherent center around which lesser details can be gathered. Roughly a third of his work is on African culture before colonial

intrusions, a second third on policies and effects of the colonial period, and the final third on African nationalism and problems after the departure of colonial powers around 1960, including a long chapter on South Africa, which “in some peculiar way until now represented the failure of African nationalism and a brazen humiliation of Africans purely on account of their race and color” (xiv). We must be content to sample what he offers, with South Africa left out altogether. Khapoya aims to “overcome the temptation to present Africa as

though only its politics, or history, or language matters and nothing else. Africa needs to be understood in its totality” (xiii). This totality has a historical dimension, but Khapoya wishes to suggest the unfolding and consolidation of an African “experience” that rises

above a multitude of particulars. In seeking that end, his work undertakes to tame the diversity. The question raised for historiography is how Africa’s immensity and the profusion of its languages and cultures and the complexity of its history can be focused as an “experience.” The methodology and use of sources is interdisciplinary by necessity:

Africa needs to be presented comprehensively: in its physical attributes, its history, its social structure and culture. The accumulation of evidence about African history in pre-colonial times has been remarkable and opened wide vistas once obscure: ‘ … new kinds of historical techniques and data made it possible for Africans and Africanists … to seriously begin reclaiming the rich African past … linguists developed techniques for indicating ancient historical connections between different African language families, and historians … developed increasingly rigorous techniques for collecting, transcribing and evaluating different kinds of oral traditions from medieval African kingdoms.’