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Ama Mazama: An Intellectual Warrior-Part ll

Sat, 18 Jan 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

Ama Mazama, one of the African world’s most influential, vibrant, distinguished, and productive scholars, is more than an individual Iroko tree. She is an institutional tree with many groundbreaking research and publication branches as well. Indeed, Mazama comes in a complete package, of which the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, Temple University, and Afrocentricity International, constitute the three most significant institutional roots in her verdant garden of creative work. In other words, we can only constructively and positively trace out the intellectual and research contours of Mazama partly through these institutional structures, of which, again, the first and third represent the first of their kinds in the history of the world.

Meanwhile, Ama Mazama, a Saturday born, had been to Benin twice where she took the “Fa” in 2003. The concept “Fa” roughly means an “envoy or messenger of Voodoo.” However, we shall not dedicate time and space to her role as a distinguished, dedicated, and respected religious leader in Voodoo. We did this in the prequel and shall pick it up again in later installments. That aside, what is Afrocentricity International? What is its mission? What is its purpose? Mazama, like Asante, is all three. Its website reports: “Afrocentricity International remains one of the few international African organizations seeking to define what the African Renaissance will look like once it is completely instituted in the African world…Thus, Afrocentricity International invites members from all over the world who are committed to advancing the ideas of African philosophy, ideologies, symbolisms, myths, and indigenous knowledge as the foundation for creativity to participate in the general rise of Africans.”

Take note of the following revolutionary ideas: “Creativity,” “rise of Africans,” “advancing the ideas of Africa,” etc. The website continues: “Similarly, those who know that with the force of will that emanate from a strong conviction that Africans can transform themselves are the key actors in the dance toward genuine renaissance. The drums that beat in the hearts of Africans must be centered on a new enlightenment that uses the principal understanding of community grounded in ancestral relevance as the source of rebirth. This is our mission.” Again, take note of the Garveyite and Nkrumahist concepts: “”Strong conviction,” “Africans can transform themselves,” “new enlightenment,” “the principal understanding of community,” etc. These are all integral to the philosophical scaffolding we termed Afrocentric humanism, an idea we introduced in “What Amiri Baraka Said About Kwame Nkrumah (2).”

Interestingly, these progressive ideas tie into Pan-Africanism, Nkrumahism, and Garveyism, three deviceful systems of thought which happen to find themselves in the same ideological space of political synonymity. Garveyism was one of the potent ideological weapons Nelson Mandela used to dismantle Apartheid. Kwame Nkrumah, Cheikh Anta Diop, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Julius Nyerere, and many of the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity and of African nation-states, one way or the other, fed edaciously on the philosophical innards of Garveyism. This acknowledgment puts us in a better position to appreciate the ideological itineraries of Ama Mazama, Cornel West, Malcolm X, Molefi Kete Asante, Maulana Karenga, Burning Spear, Kwame Nkrumah, Marimba Ani, Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela, Peer Tosh, and Steve Biko on the meandering road to national and continental forwardism.

However, moving forward with our central thesis, we may as well want to advance the notion that the philosophical constitution of Afrocentricity International, in and of itself, had been anticipated, in bits and bobs, in the creative corpus of works, be it literary, institutional, and musical, distributed among the forecited collection of names. In the main, the Afrocentricity International of Mazama and Asante, indeed, of the African world, markedly differs from the collectivized corpora of works ascribable to those we have mentioned above, a concession based primarily on its verdurous leafage of heavy research and intellectual focus as well as on its ideological earthing. In fact, the warm-bloodedness of Afrocentricity International as an ideological thermometer for gauging the temperature of the African world as it shifts radially from the gravitational axis of cultural rootedness as well as for restoring it to its primordial cultural centeredness, purely as a corrective measure, is aptly captured by the expression “African Renaissance.”

The word “renaissance” means “rebirth, renewal, or awakening.” Admittedly, our ancient Egyptian forebears used the African scarab in place of “rebirth,” a concept which the Afrocentric psychologist, Dr. Na’im Akbar, sufficiently explores in his groundbreaking work “Light From Ancient Africa.” Among other useful conclusions, Dr. Akbar proves scientifically that human psychology was and still is indubitably African. Therefore, why does the West call the African scarab, a symbol of rejuvenation, Dung Beetle? Let’s move away from the stultifying shame and bruised conscience of Eurocentrism and deal with more important philosophical questions! As a matter of contextual necessity, the mission of Afrocentricity International hovers around the “awakening” of the African world from its tortured slumber, from its tired smugness, into the creative spotlight of Afrocentric consciousness, what Nkrumah otherwise referred to as “consciencism,” Thiong’o “moving the center,” and Bob Marley “Wake Up And Live!”

This is exactly how Marley put it: “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t you complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts; put your dream to reality.” Alternatively, let’s see how the mission of Afrocentricity International is elaborately defined: “In carrying out its mission Afrocentricity International honors the champions of our freedom, the geniuses who gave us the language and rituals of victory, and the struggle that continues to be necessary for us to establish strong economic and social relations among African people.” In other words, it seems as though both Marley and Afrocentricity International are alternately offering us a plateful of self-conscious serenade at a tryst, where, to make matters simpler, a convergence of self-empowerment and self-autonomy, together, represent a rhetorical romance of self-initiative on the part of Africa!

Having said that, what does Marley’s “ruts,” “don’t complicate your mind,” “put your dream to reality,” and “flee from hate, mischief and jealousy” mean? Let’s first complete the above quote and then begin to attempt some answers: “Afrocentricity International is not a mere repository of information, but an active, energetic, and dynamic movement seeking to protect African interests and to safeguard the gains we have made in the world.” In these immediate and remote contexts, Marley’s “ruts” may quite represent a stream of challenges we are likely to encounter as we embark on the journey of racial and psychological self-recovery, that is, of African Renaissance. It may also connote psychocultural de-centering, neocolonialism, self-defeatist attitudes, racial inferiority complex, and Eurocentrism. The phrase “put your dream to reality” is creativity, innovation, or, simply, renaissance. This is also what the line “active, energetic, and dynamic” means. On the other hand, we many want to replace “put your dream to reality” with African Renaissance.

More inclusively, though, the Harlem Renaissance, Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts Movement, the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, the Organization of African (African Union), and Afrocentricity International, to name a few, are a composite function of the conscious stream of African Renaissance, a vehicular idea which drives us unswervingly back to the mission of Afrocentricity International. Arguably, this necessarily makes both the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies and Afrocentric International more intellectually ambulatory, as far as their impactful globality on the African world is concerned, than the WEB Du Bois Institute for African and African-American research, say. Furthermore, the last line “flee from hate, mischief and jealousy” is probably the most gripping. Fortunately, it’s, however, nullified by Ubuntu, an ancient African cultural concept underlining philosophical Afrocentricity and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Yet again, the line “free from hate, mischief and jealousy” somewhat recalls the ideological hostility between WEB Du Bois and Marcus Garvey on the one hand and then between WEB Du Bois and Booker T. Washington on the other hand. Let’s also resurrect the pendulum of ideological strain that swung between Kwame Nkrumah and Kofi Abrefa Busia, JB Danquah, and Julius Nyerere. The ANC and PAC may be another one. The Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies and Afrocentricity International are working hard to make sure “hate, mischief and jealousy” do not seep through the cultural perineal raphe of the global African community resulting in its internecine fragmentization. Perhaps ethnic nationalism simultaneously results from and leads to Marley’s “free from hate, mischief and jealousy.” Therefore, in theory, we argue that the progressive and nationalistic contours of these sister institutions deny upholstered accommodation to antagonistic differences. We have belabored this point elsewhere!

In other words, the theory of Afrocentricity acts as a moral counterpoise to social and political potentialities of ethnic Balkanization. This is not to say ethnicity is an irrelevant parametric input in reference to the philosophical equation of Afrocentric theorizing. It’s merely to say ethnicity should not be grounds for disharmony, conflict, hatred, or disunity in the body politic. In fact, Afrocentricity celebrates ethnic diversity in the same way it celebrates the beautification of the skies when rainbow takes over the place of cumulus clouds. That is, Afrocentric theory considers ethnic diversity part of nature’s creative DNA fingerprint, an enigmatic appendage to human consciousness. Admittedly, while Eurocentrism takes full advantage of vaginal cracks in Africa’s ethnic diversity and even goes on to appropriate them as luxuriation sites for the exclusive benefit of its syphilitic phallus by setting one group against the other, the theory of Afrocentricity largely considers ethnic diversity a unifying plaster of Paris.

By the way, the latter also invariably implies tacit acknowledge of the social and political volcanicity of ethnic nationalism on the part of our sister institutions. Pointedly, on a more philosophical plane, Eurocentrism’s attitude toward ethnic diversity recalls the glaring structural contradictions inherent in Eva Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” There is no respect there. Afrocentricity, therefore, brings much cultural and philosophical respect to the plate of ethnic diversity within an African context. There is a question of contextual situationalization here. Culture’s Joseph Hill sang (“Tribal War”): “Tribal war can’t solve the problem; tribal war can’t solve it at all…We should live in love. War can’t do a thing. The arms of gun is helpless…We don’t need no war. Can’t you hear what I say?” Fundamentally, the lyrics of this beautiful song incidentally sums up the motto of Afrocentricity International “Unity is our aim, Victory is our Destiny.” Marley’s “Africa Unite” and “Zimbabwe” speak the same radical language of Afrocentricity!

Mazama and Asante say unity renders disharmony potentially useless. This is Diopian, not Hegelian or Marxian, dialectic. But how do we win the culture war without another war? Love and unity are what Joseph Hill believed could help us win the war, not ethnic chauvinism, mob justice, intimidation, or intolerance. Yet, we need a good, experienced, and courageous “soldier of love,” to borrow Sade’s latest title track by way of re-contextualization, to wage the culture war on behalf of the African world. Again, this is why the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, Ama Mazama, Molefi Kete Asante, and Afrocentricity International are important. Let’s recall the purpose of Afrocentricity International here: “Afrocentricity is a philosophy that is dedicated to seeking African agency in every area and sector of society. Thus, the idea of Afrocentricity puts an end to African marginalization through historical and cultural misrepresentation and ends the negation of African agency and requires Africans to exist on African terms.”

The intellectual soldierliness of Mazama is what makes her a suitable candidate for the formidable task set by both institutions. She is a well-respected student of African history, culture, religion, languages, and politics. Mazama has chains of degrees. She has a General Studies Degree, a BA in Linguistics, and an MA in Linguistics (with High Distinction), all from the University of Bordeaux, France. Mazama also has another BA in French and Francophone Literature and a Degree of Advanced Studies in Linguistics and Phonetics (with High Distinction), both from the University of La Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris lll, France. Finally, she acquired a doctorate in Linguistics (with Highest Distinction) from the University of La Sorbonne, Paris lll, France, at age 26! One of her most influential discoveries is demonstrating a scientific link between the languages, such as Creole and Ebonics, spoken by people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere and African languages!

In addition, Prof. Claude Hagége, one of France’s leading authorities on linguistics and a polyglot who speaks nearly fifty languages (Wikipedia), served as her doctoral dissertation advisor. Still, the surprising aspect of Mazama’s education is that she took just seven years to acquire all her degrees, six in all. She is the intellectual type one called “Renaissance woman.” She is presently the Graduate Director in charge of the Department of African American Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Mazama has been an Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies, Temple University, from 1993-present. In 1993 she served as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Afro-American Studies, Howard University, Washington, D.C., as well as in the Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., the former home of the Ghanaian-born policy analyst, ex-Executive Director of African Action, and founder of the Democracy And Conflict Institute, and current home of Prof. Michael Eric Dyson.

Finally, she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies/Linguistics Program, Pennsylvania State University, as well as a lecturer in the Department of French and Italian/the Center for Afro-American Studies, the University of Texas (Austin). Ama Mazama has authored seventeen textbooks. She has nearly hundred published essays to her credit, with about sixty-four of them making appearances in encyclopedias, etc. Among other scholarly responsibilities, Mazama has done some translations of textbooks from English into French. She has appeared in two films. Last but not least, she has reviewed twelve major textbooks published abroad as well as in America.

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis