History Opinion

The way this crooked smile became a nation

I’m writing this as I stay and journey through the beautiful Gambia. The country is nicknamed the smiling coast of Afrika due to its shape and the way it cuts through Senegal. There is, however, nothing laughable or remotely funny about the way this crooked smile became a nation.

The Portuguese were the first White Europeans to come to West Afrikan coasts and settle. They were then followed by others like the Spanish, Dutch, British, and French. All these nations controlled or tried to seize the Gambia River at one point or another. When it was Britain’s turn, they earned crucial access and trade point of the utmost importance for the slave trade. The river guaranteed the transportation of enslaved Afrikans and though the surrounding land surface was small, the profit was unimaginable. France, on the other hand, had the interior part of West Afrika under its domain and the two colonial powers fought for access to water. So much so that France was prepared to give Ivory Coast in exchange for the Gambia. Ivory Coast is similar to Ghana: a big country with vast vegetation, fertile ground to grow cocoa and coffee, and soil rich with minerals. Transporting enslaved Afrikans was more lucrative than all of the gold, coffee, and cocoa that the Ivory Coast could have produced.

Today, we can still see the remains of the slave house on Kunta Kinteh Island. And although the island is slowly disappearing because of erosion, and the ruins are falling into pieces, the effects of slavery are still very much visible and present.

Let’s not lie nor romanticize Afrika: life is hard here for no other reason than the legacies of the slave trade and colonialism. Point. Blank. Period. Anyone telling you otherwise is blatantly and disrespectfully lying to your face. So much of this struggle is utterly unnecessary and there is no glory about it. I saw a guy transporting bread and because the piece of road connecting the bakery to the main street wasn’t paved but bumpy, one box fell with all the bread in it. I used to live in a village in Italy and even there the bread person would use a motorbike equipped with a basket tightly secured to the vehicle. Here in the Gambia, the foodstuff was put in cartoon boxes held with ropes and by the driver’s hands.

“Let’s not lie nor romanticize Afrika: life is hard here for no other reason than the legacies of slave trade and colonialism”

Bodies have to do what machines would, but there are no means and tools since they’re constantly stolen. In an era where more and more things are automized, manual labor is still the main source of work in many parts of Afrika and the South of the globe. Afrikans are ingenious and they can fix everything which makes them great problem solvers. The issue is that after a while the thing becomes unfixable and they can’t get a new replacement. And when you can’t replace an important boat or car part, accidents happen and lives can be lost. So many disasters are easily preventable and it’s that simplicity that makes injuries and deaths even more painful. You must work hard when you live in an environment that doesn’t provide you with tools or resources to make you work smart.

The opulence of the West comes from the theft of the Rest. It’s that simple. Then they add insult to injury by apologizing without repairing the damage. What account number are you using to make a direct deposit into the accounts of the descendants of enslaved people in Curaçao, Suriname, Aruba, Sint Maarten, dear Willem-Alexander? You apologized, pay up.

Wearing radical-colored glasses allows me to see things for what they are. It is tiring and upsetting, but we must be reminded of this material condition always. There is no reason for life to be this hard and stressful. It took me one hour to print my return ticket in Dakar in 2016. My local Mail Boxes Etc in Italy would have printed books in the meantime. There was barely any water to flush and wash your hands at the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, Morroco. Meanwhile, in Bergamo-Orio or Milan-Malpensa in Italy, the water keeps running for ages after your hands have stopped activating the sensor. There was no A/C at the airport in Lagos, but in Amsterdam, all of the lights were on and the A/C ran non-stop. Everything we have in the West is directly linked to what is missing in Afrika.

“Everything we have in the West is directly linked to what is missing in Afrika”

In the past, most people lived outside of Afrikan kingdoms. We forget about them but they made up most of the population of any area on the continent. They lived in cities, towns, and villages sometimes far from the core. No matter how poor they were (and what’s poverty anyway if you can grow food and build you a house?) as time went on, they would have built bigger houses, expanded towns, and grown more plants and animals to sell. There is always room for improvement under normal circumstances, and Walter Rodney pointed out that Afrika was steadily in the process of transformation from communalism to a feudal system. However, this evolution was stunted by two very abnormal, unnatural, and inhumane phenomena called slavery and colonialism. Europe stole our room to grow by taking people and resources away. They stole our potential, future, and possibilities as Aimé Césaire said. This is how Europe underdeveloped Afrika.

Ama Ata Aidoo who has now joined the ancestors said: “Since we met your people five hundred years ago, look at us. We have given everything. You are still taking. In exchange for that, we have got nothing. Nothing. And you know it”.

The West is leaving us in a constant loop of stagnation because the cycle of theft hasn’t stopped.

“Since we met your people five hundred years ago, look at us. We have given everything. You are still taking. In exchange for that, we have got nothing. Nothing. And you know it”

Ama Ata Aidoo

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