On The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela by Professor Kenneth P. Vickery (2006)

Book coverTo be honest, I’ve struggled a bit with writing the summation of this course, or at least what I learned about it, because it’s Africa, which is where [Some] black people come from. I say “Some” because Australian aborigines are dark skinned to the point they might be considered black and not merely southwest Asian brown and because Americans who are black can come from Australia, Africa, the Caribbean, America, or anywhere else. What a freaking loaded topic this is.

So anything disparaging or dismissive I might say about this course, African history, or anything else will undoubtedly mark me as a Racist. Although, to be honest, the fact that I grew up a minority in the housing projects of Milwaukee or the fact that I announced to a comely young lady who would later discover that she was an Indigo child as we left a mandatory university diversity thing that I was 21 the first time I could claim my best friend was white (Mike) does not factor in my Racism. Only the 21st century definitions and sensibilities will do.

Now that we’re all comfortable with that, understand some things I will say about sub-Saharan African history might be taken as disparaging or dismissive; however, that is not a factor of Race. It’s more a factor of history. Well, written history. Which is what we mean by history, ainna?


Well, I learned a lot from this course, certainly. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about sub-Saharan African history. I knew a bit about Egypt and Carthage, and I have seen Casablanca and know something of Algiers from reading Camus. But those are Mediterranean Africa. I am familiar with the more recent “history” from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda that happened in my lifetime. The course taught me a bit about the topography of Africa, its climate, and its diminished soils which certainly challenged the rise of civilization.

Sub-Saharan Africa was mostly prehistoric before the arrival of the Europeans and Arabic traders and colonizers in the middle of the second millennium. Prehistoric, of course, means no written history, and there really wasn’t. A couple sets of ruins, evidence of a couple of great kingdoms, but no long-running narrative until others came to write things down.

However, I’m a bit skeptical of the history of Africa as presented by modern historians as the “beginning” of the real history coincides with the colonial period which is by the default modern narrative evil, and the Golden Age of modern Africa falls in the mid-to-late 20th century when African countries gained independence through colonial powers letting them go or through bloody wars with settlers who had moved to Africa permanently. Which coincides with the 1960s, when modern historians were coming up through the schools, so the scintillating taste of revolution/freedom zeitgeist of their youth might be bound up in the student movements in Africa at the same time that really did lead to overthrowing the Man.

The series is called The African Experience, after all, which tips that maybe it’s more than mere history. The lectures include:

  1. Finding the “Lost Continent”
  2. Africa’s Many Natural Environments
  3. A Virtual Tour of the Great Land
  4. The Cradle of Humankind
  5. Crops, Cattle, Iron–Taming a Continent
  6. Kinship and Community–Societies Take Shape
  7. Like Nothing Else–The Ancient Nile Valley
  8. Soul and Spirit–Religion in Africa
  9. Ethiopia–Outpost of Christianity
  10. West Africa’s “Golden Age”
  11. The Swahili Commercial World
  12. Great Zimbabwe and the Cities of the South
  13. The Atlantic Slave Trade–The Scope
  14. The Atlantic Slave Trade–The Impact
  15. South Africa–The Dutch Cape Colony
  16. South Africa–The Zulu Kingdom
  17. South Africa–The Frontier and Unification
  18. South Africa–Diamonds and Gold
  19. Prelude to “The Scramble for Africa”
  20. European Conquest and African Resistance
  21. Colonial Africa–New Realities
  22. Colonial Africa–Comparisons and Change
  23. The Lion Awakens–The Rise of Nationalism
  24. The Peaceful Paths to Independence
  25. The Congo–Promise and Pain
  26. Segregation to Apartheid in South Africa
  27. The Armed Struggles for Independence
  28. The First Taste of Freedom
  29. The Taste Turns Sour
  30. The World Turns Down–The “Permanent Crisis”
  31. A New Dawn? The Democratic Revival
  32. The South African Miracle
  33. The Unthinkable–The Rwanda Genocide
  34. The New Plague–HIV/AIDS in Africa
  35. Zimbabwe–Background to Contemporary Crisis
  36. Africa Found

As I mentioned, the series really balloons when we get to the introduction of the explorers and the colonizers–you have six summary lectures on topics, you have a couple “ancient” history lectures, a single lecture on the Swahili commercial world, which involved colonization by Arabic peoples and a slave trade of its own, but we then get two lectures on the Atlantic slave trade and a pile of story of the European colonization of Africa, followed by a handful of lectures on the various nations breaking with the colonial powers and how awesome that was, but with acknowledgement that some of these nations returned to strongman rule at various times. We also get lectures about the Rwandan genocide in 1994, how Zimbabwe started to turn out, and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and a bit of why (because it got a good head start before it came to the West’s attention in the 1980s).

So the experience of the African experience has some good information in it, but a lot of contemporary flavoring. The “history” here is too much current events to be comfortable of the interpretations and meanings derived from the events. The author tips his hand to some beliefs when he calls Martin Friedman “far-right” and mentions, but glosses over, “freedom fighters” who targeted shopping districts–some less sympathetic chroniclers might call that terrorism. Time will tell if de-colonization was actually a good thing for residents of the varied and artificial African countries or whether they just exchanged one set of distant rulers for a closer set of oppressive rulers. This fifteen year old take does not.

So a lot of good information if you approach it with a bit of skepticism. Which, to be honest, is a good way to approach any contemporary or historical account of anything.

Well, there now, was that Racist at all? It’s so very hard to tell. I certainly wouldn’t be able to gauge it myself; I would need an official arbiter from the diversity industry to say that it was. But I can assume.

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