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The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization

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The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization. Toyin Falola. University of Rochester Press, Rochester NY, 2013. Pp. 446. ISBN. 978-1-580464529 (hb). £55.

In this twelve-chapter book (excluding the Introduction and Postscript), Toyin Falola, one of Africa’s most published contemporary historians, examines the connections between the Atlantic slave trade and contemporary voluntary African migrations to the Americas and their impact on black struggles for rebirth, progress, justice and racial uplift all over the world particularly in the United States of America. The book is divided into three broad parts with a separate Introduction and a Postscript. The Introduction is devoted to analysis of The Old and New African Diaspora while the Postscript assesses United States Foreign Policy on Africa in the Twenty-First Century. As stated by the author in his preface, the book is a product of various public lectures given by him over a period of time in universities in Africa, Europe and United States.

The central theme of the book is assessment of the historical and contemporary connections and impact of slavery, migrations and contact with the West on Africans living in and outside Africa. It is established that African Diaspora extends beyond the United States as peoples of African descent are found in such places as the Caribbean countries, South and North America, Asia, the Middle East, and European countries.  In these parts of the world, peoples of African descent living there are of two categories – the old and new Diasporas. The old Diaspora refers to forced African migrants of the Atlantic slave trade era while the new Diaspora points to contemporary voluntary African immigrants in the United States. There is also a fusion of both Diasporas resulting from marriages between the old Diaspora and the new Diaspora like that of Maurice Soremekun/Bessie House and Colemar Nichols/Bisola Falola (Figures 1.8 and 1.9 on pages 15 and 16 respectively). The old and new Diasporas have continued to search for progress, development and equal opportunities in their transnational contexts.

The first part of the book which is focused on slavery, identity politics and the African roots of the old Diaspora has four chapters which discuss such issues as the transnational context of the Atlantic slave trade linking the major continents of the world in its heyday, slave revolts exemplified by the Amistad rebellion of 1839, the abolition movement, race relations in the Americas, the reinvigoration of African consciousness and intellectualization of blackness and the ultimate culmination of all these in Diaspora Pan-Africanism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is shown that the Atlantic slave trade represents the most significant historical event that ties Africa to the Western world particularly the Americas and that it is a major determining factor in African socio-economic and political status in contemporary global system.

As re-emphasised by Falola, the Atlantic slave trade resulted not only in the colonization of Africa but also the continuous attempt to colonize every aspect of the lives of the African Diaspora including their consciousness, mind, memory and intellect. The slave rebellion, abolitionism and struggle for equality by the American blacks resulted in a renewed African consciousness and solidarity among them culminating in Pan-Africanism. The Pan-African activities of the leading activists and intellectuals among the people of African descent in America proved a major influence in African nationalism from the 1920s and independence struggles and attainments in the middle of the 20th century. Black intellectuals and activists like Martin Delany, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Williams, Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Aimé Césaire and a host of others stand out in the intellectualization of Blackness. The activities of these people ignited African cultural fire in early African nationalists like J. Africanus B. Horton, Edward Wilmot Blyden, James Agrey, Herbert Macaulay and their successors who ultimately led the various African states to political independence in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the second part of the book which has three chapters, the author singles out the Yoruba ethnic group as an African case study in the Diaspora (both old and new) and discusses how they have influenced and have been influenced culturally and religiously in the Atlantic world. The Yoruba are one of the most widely spread African ethnic nationalities and they have become global as they are present in different parts of the world. More important is the fact that the Yoruba as a culturally conscious people move with their culture to anywhere they go. Therefore, wherever the Yoruba are found in the world, either as members of old or new African Diaspora, various aspects of their culture such as religion, philosophy, worldview, art, economies, music, dance, dress, cuisine etc are reflected in their daily activities. Everywhere they are today, the Yoruba (old and new Diaspora) maintain their Yoruba cultural and political identities. At home in Nigeria, they seek to promote their interest in a multi-ethnic country to attain power at the national level and secure positions and favourable allocation of revenues and resources. In the Diaspora, cultural and political consciousness manifests themselves among the Yoruba new Diaspora in hometown associations, professional groups and guilds, and socio-cultural societies. As to the old Diaspora, the Yoruba cultural background reflected in the slave revolts like the 1739 Stono Revolt in South Carolina, Haitian Revolution of 1804 and the 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba.

Significantly, some of the Black communities in the Americas also have semblance of Yoruba religious cults such as the Candomble in Brazil, Osun, Sango, Yemoja in different parts of South America, Orisa traditions in as state religion in Oyotunji, South Carolina, Santeria in Cuba and so on. An important area where Yoruba cultural resilience is reflected among the old and new Diaspora in the Americas is music and dance. Among the old black slaves in the heyday of the Atlantic slave trade, music and dance served as agencies of resistance and cultural nationalism. Today, the old and new Diaspora use music and dance to reinscribe their Africanness and black identity in racialised American societies. Yoruba Orisa music and dance have become a global tool of preserving and transmitting the collective African heritages such as gods and goddesses, religions, orality, worldviews, etymology, festivals, mythologies, sexuality, feminism, etc. in the Diaspora. Thus, every Yoruba Orisa is celebrated with its kinds of costume, music, drums and dance in places far away from Yoruba homeland. All the Yoruba Orisa music and dance have Diaspora elements from host societies and have been reinvented to create new modes and to adjust to myriad forces of globalization and voluntary migrations.

The third part of the book is on the impact of transnationalism and globalization on the new Diaspora and it has five chapters. The central argument in this section is that proper education is the key to successful African cultural, economic and political emancipation from Western exploitation and domination. To this end, the concern for black education has been an age-long and recurrent theme in the history of African Diaspora since the days of abolition up till today. Either in Africa or outside it, Africans were exposed to knowledge or ideas that minimized their resentment to white racism and the school system socialized them into a world of inferiority. Black intellectuals have continued to agitate for decolonisation of the syllabus and introduction of black studies and expansion of black access to education. Due to similar educational experiences in Africa and in the Americas, there have been continuous links between Africa and African American education because both have complementary relevance to each other. Knowledge about Africa is necessary for African           Diaspora and knowledge about African Diaspora is important for Africans. The integrated body of knowledge on Africa and African Diaspora can be used to achieve dismantlement of colonial powers in Africa and to attain racial equality in the Americas. Therefore, black people in Africa and African Diaspora must exchange ideas and share knowledge informally and formally at institutions on both divides particularly at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The contribution of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to achieving closer       interactions among the Africans based in Africa and African Diaspora cannot be over-emphasised. The internet, cell phones and satellite television transmissions have aided tremendously in facilitating daily contact and erasing boundaries between the Diaspora and Africa with far-reaching consequences. The home-based Africans are easily constructing the Diaspora and those in the Diaspora constructing Africa while their interactions are mediated by the large issues of blackness. The U.S.A.-Africa Dialogue, an internet-based discussion/debate medium where thousands of subscribers can share ideas on socio-economic and political issues affecting Africans in the United States, is an example of such an online community of African Diaspora.

The new voluntary African immigrants into the United States in the post-colonial period constitute an integral part of the new Diaspora. These transnationalists are found in various sectors of American life such as education, health, business, industries and factories, transportation, etc. This category of people pursues a set of Africa-oriented and African-driven practices and they seek integration and incorporation into the host societies. They live in both Africa and the diaspora; they identify with both and they contribute to both. Typical examples of in this regard are three Nigerian voluntary immigrants in the United States: Professors Tanure Ojaide and Akin Ogundiran and Dr. Aderonke Adesanya.  Professor Tanure Ojaide is a Nigerian poet and literary critic while Professor Akin Ogundiran is a Nigerian historical archaeologist, both based in the United States but shuttle between Nigeria and the United States. On her own part, Dr. Aderoke Adesanya, a Yoruba academic, poet, artist and cartoonist based in the United States use her writings and paintings to depict, advance and promote aspects of Yoruba culture such as religions, customs, festivals, ceremonies, womanhood, etc. These three scholars who are key members of the new African Diaspora are using knowledge acquisition and dissemination to reveal useful ideas on culture, race, people and aspirations of the black people for the purpose of their global recognition, appreciation, emancipation and development. Their activities become important because intellectual power is a pre-condition for economic and political power desired by black people in the contemporary global system.

Another important area where African culture continues to manifest outside Africa is the spread of African movies. A good example in this regard is the popularity and wide acceptance of Nigerian movies tagged Nollywood in many European and American countries. These movies, particularly the Yoruba productions, due to their rich African contents, sell the Yoruba to the world and transport their culture and worldviews to different parts of the world. Apart from this, several African immigrants in the Western world have also transported African cultures to this region by operating businesses which emphasise African items such as African movies, art works, food items, beauty materials, textiles and fabrics, etc. They also organize social, cultural and political events similar to what is obtained in African countries and cities. These have enabled Africans living outside Africa not only to keep their Africanness intact but also to solidarise with the old Diaspora.

In the concluding chapter of The African Diaspora, the impact of globalization on contemporary cultures and identities of peoples is explored. The central argument in this regard is that identities and cultures are being redefined as peoples travel, migrate and mingle with other peoples around the globe while nations and individuals are becoming transformed. The book closes with a postscript which examines the thrusts of the United State foreign policy on Africa in the 21st century with an African-American and black president Barrack Obama. It underscores the fact that Atlantic slave trade, racism, colonization, cold war, nationalism, sovereignty and other development issues have continued to affect relations between Africa and the United States. In contemporary global politics, African leaders must be proactive and ensure that the continent is at the centre (not at the periphery) of global politics and that Africa’s destiny must be controlled by Africans and not by non-Africans.

In all, the strength of The African Diaspora lies in the fact that it documents the historical and contemporary experiences of African descent living within and outside the shores of Africa by connecting black history with black identity and politics. Written by someone who himself is a member of the new Diaspora, the book discusses the roots, travails and dimensions of African forced and voluntary migrations to different parts of the world from the 15th century Atlantic slave trade to the 20th and 21st centuries African exodus to the West. It reveals that the old and new African Diaspora have successfully blended their Africanness in a transnational and globalized world and have continued to maintain their black identities wherever they find themselves. However, Falola stresses that for Africans and African states to attain the desired positive change and all-round development and transformation, more still needs to be done in the area of achieving a mental revolution and emotional stability for individual people of African descent in any part of the world.

As good as the book is in terms of content and analysis, it is not without some inadequacies. As a study on the African Diaspora, the historical quality of the book would have been more enhanced if it has drawn examples from some other African peoples in the Diaspora along with the Yoruba who have been the focus. Also, showing the experiences of members of the new African Diaspora in other Western countries apart from the United States would have added spatial and geographical grandeur to the book. Beyond the USA-Africa dialogue website mentioned by the author, one would have also expected some discussions on other aspects of contemporary African Diaspora such as e-diaspora (technology, internet, youtube, e-mail, skype, face book and other social media) which has become known as virtual Diaspora.

Nevertheless, in whatever way one considers Toyin Falola’s The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization, it remains not only a significant scholarly contribution to African-American studies but also an invaluable addition to existing studies on globalization, international politics and development. Because of its accuracy of facts and simplicity of styles, this book is a must-read for scholars and students of African and African-American studies as well as people seeking general knowledge on contemporary global history, government, economics and politics.

 

Reviewed by: Saheed Amusa, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 75 (Winter 2013/14), pp. 132-133]

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