Learn From The Wisdom of Africa – Mzati Nkolokosa

This wisdom is unique to Africa. It is a kind of philosophy that President George Bush and his friend Prime Minister Tony Blair did not master. The aim of war is to win, not to kill. But the wars in Iraq and the fighting in Libya have been about killing, not winning.

Some 20 Mandinka boys of West Africa were about to become men, to pass through the last part of the rite of passage into adulthood.
The story, in Alex Haley’s book, Roots, says the boys had to master the ways of their tribe first. That was Africa of centuries ago. Some of the issues had to do with wealth, marriage, family and war. The story of Africa’s past, in book and film, is powerful.
“On how many sides should you surround an enemy in war?” Asked the teacher. “Four,” answered one of the initiates. “Wrong,” said the teacher, adding: “Never completely encircle your enemy. Leave him some escape, for he will fight even more desperately if trapped. The aim of war is to win, not to kill.”

This wisdom is unique to Africa. It is a kind of philosophy that President George Bush and his friend Prime Minister Tony Blair did not master. The aim of war is to win, not to kill. But the wars in Iraq and the fighting in Libya have been about killing, not winning.
The idea of killing as is or was the case in DR Congo, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Central African Republic and Darfur is not African. These are conflicts that have a heavy alien influence that is using unpatriotic Africans. The challenge for Africa is that some people are willing to be used, even abused, to kill fellow Africans.

The Mandinka boys also learned that battles should start in late afternoon, so that any enemy, seeing defeat, could save face by retreating under the cover of darkness. The idea of long wars is not African. Almost all African wars—typical African wars—in history were brief. Wars lasted less than a week, no more than two weeks. This idea of a war that seems endless as is the case in Iraq is not African.

Often a war between African tribes lasted hours. The wars of Shaka Zulu were many but each was brief. That wars should start in late afternoon and let the defeated enemy run away under the cover of darkness, with his dignity intact, is truly lacking in today’s world where people are defeated physically and psychologically in broad daylight; in a world where Muamar Gaddafi is killed brutally with celebrations. All in all, the understanding was that even the defeated have dignity.

It is a lesson that Nelson Mandela got in his boyhood, that enemies should be defeated with their dignity.
“I learned my lesson one day from an unruly donkey. We had been taking turns climbing up and down its back and when my chance came I jumped on and the donkey bolted into a nearby thorn bush. It bent its head, trying to unseat me, which it did, but not before the thorns had pricked and scratched my face, embarrassing me in front of my friends. Like the people of the East, Africans have a highly developed sense of dignity, or what the Chinese call ‘face’. I had lost face among my friends. Even though it was a donkey that unseated me, I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them,” writes Mandela in his book Long Walk to Freedom.

This wisdom is for the people of Africa, and this is what has made Mandela the world’s greatest man now living. Apartheid was evil in all senses. But when Mandela came to power, he did not embarrass the white South Africans who perpetrated apartheid. He extended forgiveness to people who had just been oppressing him and his people. Mandela invited the whites into a government of national unity. This is one great thing that Mandela got right. It is a lesson that has stuck with him from childhood days, from playing with animals. Which is why children should be left to play around with friends, even if it means away from home. The challenge is that today’s world is so unsafe that once children play away from home, parents fear they may be defiled.

Even if Saddam Hussein were evil, hanging him without dignity was also evil. Opening fire at people in public is not African. Keeping children without parents away from home, in their own places called orphanage is not African. In Africa one is never an orphan because there is always a family — what some call extended family system, that takes over the responsibility of looking after children whose parents died. Announcing that ‘we have assisted so and so or orphans with this and that’ is not African.

Longtime ago, when some 20 Mandinka boys were about to become men, to pass through the last stage of the rite of passage, they learned wisdom of the people, wisdom of Africa. This is the wisdom lacking in what are turning to be modernized societies. One real way of making Africa a better place is to go back to the wisdom of the people, wisdom of Africa.

“When we are at our best, history and heroes enable us to look ahead, not backwards,” says Jon Meacham, former editor of Newsweek.
History, true history of ourselves, is what Africa needs today.

Mzati Nkolokosa is a Malawian journalist working for the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. www.mzatinkolokosa.com Email: mzatinews@yahoo.com.

  1. Deja Dinh Reply

    Im thankful for the blog.Thanks Again.

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