The Sunday Mail
The landmark African Union 50-year blueprint, Agenda 2063, calls for the “repatriation and safeguarding of Africa’s stolen culture, heritage and artefacts”.
This is in recognition of the fact that part of the continent’s history is scattered around the globe in far-flung libraries and museums.
Through bilateral engagements, the return of some of these is ongoing, with the recent repatriation of Herero and Nama skulls from Germany, taken during the first genocide of the 20th century, being a case in point.
The Institute of African Knowledge (Instak), which is working on The Africa Factbook in association with the African Union Commission, has begun mobilising for the creation of a Museum of African Liberation History.
It’s a narrative Africa needs as a matter of urgency. It is easy to lose sight of issues relating to historical and cultural preservation, especially in a continent preoccupied with inequality, insecurity and skewed trade.
A lack of understanding of the history of wars that were fought to liberate Africa from its colonisers is detrimental to Africa’s future. When 33 independent countries came together in 1963 to form the Organisation of African Unity, the goal was not just to free the rest of the continent politically, but also to lay the foundation for economic development.
Genocide perpetrated against Africans has been covered up for too long and it is projects such as the Africa Factbook and the Museum of African Liberation History that can help preserve this history for posterity.
A people should never forget where they came from.
Africans must never forget who their true friends are; they must leverage on these historical ties forged during the liberation struggle for our development.
Africans must never forget how their neighbours chose to see no borders and came together as the Frontline States and the OAU’s Liberation Committee.
Efforts like the museum project are crucial in ensuring that Africans see themselves as who they really are — one people.
Ambassador Kwame Muzawazi, the CEO of Instak, is in Washington DC on a learning tour of how the African-American community managed to bring to reality the world-famous National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
Ambassador Muzawazi spoke to The Sunday Mail recently, saying a permanent celebration of African history through a museum was overdue.
“As it is the mandate of the Africa Factbook project to begin a movement of telling the African story from the African perspective, we have resolved to see through the establishment of musea in four African countries to tell the untold story of how African liberation movements struggled and eventually triumphed.
“It is, therefore, odd, if not unacceptable, that despite this rich history of victorious pan-Africanism, Africa does not have even one museum to preserve, promote and protect this heritage and legacy,” said Ambassador Muzawazi.
One of the seven aspirations for the “Africa we want” as espoused in Agenda 2063 is of “an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics”.
This means recognising Africa’s common history, destiny, identity, heritage and respect for religious diversity etcetera — an aspiration shared by Ambassador Muzawazi and company.
His team consists of seasoned historians and pan-Africanists like Professor Simbi Mubako, Phyllis Johnson and Baffour Ankomah.
Besides the AU, the team has engaged individual African governments — among them South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Algeria — for support for the initiative.
“Conceptually, we will have one African story of the liberation struggle but told at four different locations with local flavour to address peculiar regional experiences. The countries that are currently being asked to host the regional chapters will, therefore, only be custodians, not owners, of this collective experience,” said Ambassador Muzawazi.
Mr Lloyd Hazvineyi, a university lecturer, PhD candidate and historian, agrees that the idea of an African Liberation Museum is long overdue but warns against the danger of reproducing material originated by colonisers to perpetuate oppression.
“Let me speak about the Zimbabwe Liberation Museum in particular. The nationalists fought a protracted struggle using guerrilla warfare.
“There were no military photographers who went to the front to take photos of battles, guerrillas did not have diaries to document events. They did not have armoured cars or fighter jets that we can find today and display for ‘born-frees’ to see.
“Our war was very different even from the America-Vietnam wars, where specially assigned soldiers would document and even film realities as they unfolded. Today, they have photographs, video clips and fighter armoured cars and fighter jets to display in their museums.
This historical background is important to understand the challenges that will confront a liberation project for a country like Zimbabwe.
“Without due attentiveness, such attempts have a danger of reproducing and celebrating material used by the colonisers. Instead of telling a story about how nationalist movements fought colonialism, people may end up celebrating colonial relics such as archaic oppressor fighter jets and statues of colonial military generals. Nevertheless, there are many things to display about the liberation of Africa,” said Mr Hazvineyi.
He offered some advice to Instak: “We need to redefine a museum as the starting point. First, the Museum of African Liberation History can be very much helpful if it takes recognition of different places.
“Our struggle was fought in diverse spaces. I am sure most people who know their history will agree with me that Tanzania was home to many liberation movements in Africa (Umkhonto we Sizwe, MPLA, Frelimo, Zanla, Zipra).
“The dream of African independence came to reality because Tanzania was home to nationalism. Why not start from these places and establish liberation museums there?
“For example, bases which housed guerrillas can be turned into museums, they can be world heritage sites as well (Doroi, Mkushi, Magagao, Chifombo, Chimoio etcetera).
“These can be transnational museums which tell stories about the collaborative nature of the liberation movements, particularly in East and Southern Africa. The liberation struggles pervaded national boundaries imposed by Europeans —hence, a museum to cherish should not lose sight of this dynamism.”
Implementation of Agenda 2063 — with support from independent organisations like Iinstak, keen to see Africa stand on its own, proud of its history and forging its own developmental path — is imperative as only actions by Africans themselves can help the continent move forward and own the 21st Century.
With partnerships with regional institutions such as the Hashim Mbita Project, the Museum of African Liberation History must be a resounding success.