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August 13, 2009

What if Europeans hadn’t ‘discovered’ Africa? (Part 1 – A Southward Crusade)

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

Dr. Mohamed ElmasryAfricans can forgive, but they cannot afford to forget.

It all started in Portugal in 1412. The three sons of King João I proposed that they start a war “for the glory of Portugal and a service to God.” They told their father they had chosen to attack the Moroccan city of Ceuta, across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Ceuta had an international community of 20,000 merchants, mostly Africans, who traded in spices, fabrics, carpets, gold and precious stones. It was a peaceful city with no defense system. The Portuguese force consisted of 19,000 soldiers and 1,700 sailors, 240 invading ships, 59 war galleys and over 60 empty cargo boats.

Soon after the city fell, a looting party started that lasted for weeks. For his sons’ efforts, the King knighted them in the local mosque. Today, Ceuta is still under occupation, but by Spain.

“This was a venture financed by, and for, the enrichment of the Order of Christ,” said Martin Page in his book First Global Village. “It was not the Portuguese flag, but the Order’s symbol, the Templar cross, which emblazoned the sails and the pennants. The Pope sent a message of commendation and encouragement. The basic policy of the Church then was that almost anything which harmed Muslims was pleasing to the God of the Christians.”

Shamefully, one of King João I’s sons was considered a hero by European and British historians —he had a British mother—and came to be called Henry the Navigator. The era he started was, and still is, called the “Age of Discovery,” but it could properly be called the Age of Slavery. “[Henry was] the midwife who brought to life the European trade in black African people as slaves,” said Page.

The Portuguese started a Southward crusade into Africa, and were soon followed by the Dutch, British, French, Germans, Spanish, Italians, Danish and Belgians. Wars among these Europeans raged as they competed to see who could enslave the most of Africa.

When Portuguese missionaries first set foot on African soil they facilitated and enabled a slave industry by taking Africans as slaves to Brazil, a Portuguese colony across the Atlantic.

Today, Brazil has a population of some 80 million Africans, more than all African countries except Nigeria.

Portuguese slavery led to the depopulation of an area the size of France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.

Following in the footsteps of Portugal, Europeans committed crimes against Africa over the next 600 years that until today had no parallel in history. They got away with murder, literally, and committed genocides.

Yet, Europeans still refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes, or pay reparations.  They even have the gall to lecture Africans, and blame them for their condition.

One small sign of change, however, comes from Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury, who came under fire for hinting that the Church of England had a role in the slave trade. Slaves in the Caribbean were branded with the initials of his church, which claimed that slavery was ordained by God. Williams vowed that the Church would attempt to atone for its past, but he stopped short of pledging reparations.

Recently, Antonio Guterres the Prime Minister of Portugal, the country that set the example for the rest of Europe, offered up these platitudes: “I would like to see both Africa and Europe, as areas entirely devoted to peace, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, values that cannot be denied to anyone. Democracy is not a privilege of the rich. It is a universal right.”

Talk is cheap, as can be seen by the high cost Africa continues to pay for its colonial past:

• More than 20 per cent of African children die before age five.

• Children account for half of all civilian causalities in civil wars.

• Africa has half of the world’s poorest people and the 25 poorest countries.

• Africa has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates.

• Millions of Africans have no access to clean water; face life-threatening drought; and subsist on less than a dollar a day.

Despite this impoverishment, Professor Ali Mazrui said Africa is a “treasure island,” rich in oil, gold, diamonds, manganese, chromium, cobalt, uranium, and millions of acres of arable land.

Yet African nations are some $500 billion in debt to the same European thieves that started robbing them of their resources 600 years ago. The entire continent has gone from colonization to recolonization without ever enjoying a period of decolonization.

Now, it’s the Americans’ turn to “discover” Africa.

Before he left office, George W. Bush established a new U.S. Military Command (AFRICOM) to consolidate the military’s ability to work across the continent, but not for the sake of Africa, that’s for sure!

“AFRICOM will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and to promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth in Africa,” he said.

If Africans think that an African-American president would do better for Africa, they should think again. In his book The Betrayal of Africa, Canadian author Gerald Caplan shows that Barack Obama considers the relationship between Africa and the rich world to be a one-way street: “Africans are screwing up, and if they want more American aid, they’ve got to get their act together. This is Obama’s analysis—simplistic, myopic, patronizing, implicitly threatening—just what we expected and got from Bush. Like Bush, evidence-based reality takes a back seat to whatever reality a president chooses to concoct.”

During his last trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI displayed his own version of myopia. He told the people of Angola that no matter how potentially rich African countries may be, they are never going to be richer than God, at least the Roman Catholic God. Angola is the second-richest sub-Saharan country per capita, yet the vast majority of its people have not benefited from their country’s oil boom. In fact, Angola never fully recovered from the trauma of the slave trade, or from the civil war that erupted when the Portuguese left in 1975.

So, what if Europeans hadn’t “discovered” Africa? What if Africans had been left alone since 1412? What level of human development might they have achieved by now?

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