Texts by Astrid Toda
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A new book by Astrid Toda (2009)
You can order it for € 14,50 plus shipment
Herr Dr. Wolfgang Rieve
by mail: Neue Bergstr. 7, D-50181 Bedburg
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Two stories by Astrid Toda
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Please send your order to:
Herrn Dr. Wolfgang Rieve
Neue Bergstr. 7
Fax ++49(0)2272-90 14 43
o o o
Please send your order to:
Herrn Dr. Wolfgang Rieve
Neue Bergstr. 7
Fax ++49(0)2272-90 14 43
o o o
Entwicklungshilfe - Westafrika
(Development Assistance - West Africa)
A school project as contribution to pay the debts of industrialized nations towards Afrika
by Astrid Toda
“Hello! I discovered your web site while surfing the Internet for projects. How exciting that you’re doing what I have always dreamed of! I also want to help the poor. Is there any possibility of joining you in your work?”
This is a typical example of the many e-mails I receive via my homepage. They are mostly sent by young people who are trying to find meaning in their future. I am touched by such evidence of idealism and humanitarian feeling. At the same time the realization makes me sad, that even today we reflect so little on our actions and their results. I do not accuse the young people but our society as a whole.
What do we know about African cultures?
We willingly accept that the magnificent Greek culture borrowed the concept of pillars from Egypt for their own buildings. As early as 2660 B.C., at the time of the third dynasty, pillars were used by Egyptians for architectural expression. But do we Europeans see the Egyptian culture with its architecture and excellent science as a colored culture? Or, do we pretend that it was white?
Have we heard that as early as Neolithic times (until 2500 B.C.) Africans from the southern areas traded across the Sahara with North African countries? Then, around 100 A. D., with the introduction of camels as a means of transport, this South – North trade increased tremendously.
During Antic times Europeans already were enjoying African art and wealth. Between 770 and 800 A. D., the ancient kingdom of Ghana, located further northwest than today, was the main actor in the gold trade and was well known for it. (Karenga, 90-92)
Do we know that the Moors, who conquered southern Spain around 711 A. D. (we could say “colonized” the south of Spain) and were responsible for the 800 year golden age of the area, were mostly Africans of Sudanese descent? In the name of Islam they built schools and universities, libraries and baths, introduced strawberries, ginger, sugar cane, and cotton. Magnificent relics of that time enchant us when we visit Seville, Granada, Cordoba and other towns of the region. Do we understand that the culture of the entire region collapsed and was destroyed by Catholicism when the Moors were expelled at the end of the 15th century? The Spanish crown did not liberate the southern region of the Iberian Peninsula, as we try to pretend, but brought suffering, repression, and persecution. (Karenga, 97)
Have we ever heard of the ancient kingdom of Mali, which had its roots in Kangaba, a small state within the kingdom of Ghana? At the time of its greatest expansion its borders reached from southern Algeria to northern Nigeria and touched the Atlantic coast on the west. King Musa, its most famous ruler, reigned from 1312 to 1337 A.D. Reports of his pilgrimage to Mecca relate that he traveled with 60,000 people and 90 camels. On his way to and from Mecca he passed through Cairo where the Sultan of Cairo provided lodging for his esteemed guest in one of his own palaces. King Musa offered gold to his host and distributed gold dust to the citizens of Cairo in such an amount that it took the city 12 years to recover the gold price. On his return to the city of Timbuktu in Mali, King Musa brought with him scientists, architects, and artists.
Cultural diversity and equality of opportunity
Shortly before the first German university was constructed in Prague, the University “Sankore” was built in Timbuktu at the upper level of the Niger River. King Charles V of France (Charles I of Spain) had the Catalan Atlas drawn with King Musa depicted on the West African territory, seated on a throne, wearing a crown and a beautiful robe, and holding gold nuggets in his hand. (Karenga, 92) There was not much gold mined in Europe even though the European kings used stamped golden coins. For this reason gold from Mali was much sought after.
What have we heard about the magnificent Sudanese empire of Songhay which was rich in culture and which defeated Mali in the second half of the 15th century? It expanded far across the boundaries of Mali and cherished contacts with the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. Its king, Askia Muhammad, made peace with the peoples who had been conquered and subdued by his father. He viewed diversity of culture as indispensable for good government and valued learning and honest piety more than tradition. Any qualified intelligent citizen was able to hold high office no matter his ethnic background. In this way Askia Muhammad created a highly professional service of public officers. The empire was divided into provinces with leaders trained in an organized form of governance, uncorrupt and efficient. This was the basis for the much needed inner stability which enhanced trade and ensured the wealth of the country.
Due to excellent government, the arts and sciences flourished in a way that surpassed anything that had heretofore existed in West Africa. Timbuktu was the first city of science and the center of West African literature. In 1796 Mungo Park, the Scottish doctor and African explorer, described the city of Segu on the bank of the River Niger with its many canoes, cultivated lands and a civilization and magnificence that he had never expected to see in the heart of Africa. (Koslow, Songhay)
Are we aware that the cities of Africa are as old as those of Europe? There is no need to talk about Memphis, Axum, Alexandria, Tripoli, Luxus, or Carthage. Just compare the founding of Timbuktu (850 A.D.), Benin City (1000 A.D.), Kano (750 A.D.), and Katsina (800 A.D.) with Munich (850 A.D.), Berlin (700 A.D.), or Düsseldorf (700 A.D.).
Given these facts, why do we Europeans believe that the African continent was uncultivated and uncivilized until we liberated it and good heartedly colonized it? What kind of doctrine needed to be spread in Europe to quiet its citizens and create acceptance for the planned looting and exploitation of Africa? How does this propaganda continue to influence our current perception of Africa and its inhabitants? Is the end of colonization really history? Do we realize that the independence of African countries is younger than the end of the Second World War? And are these countries really independent?
Who offered and continues to offer aid for development to whom?
We talk about the indebtedness of the developing countries but when will we begin to talk about the indebtedness of the industrialized nations? Is this debt erased by the passing years or does it increase continuously while we close our eyes? Is it possible for the industrialized nations to offer HELP at all?
Without neglecting our own efforts we should realize that our wealth and well being is based on poverty and misery in the developing world. The developing countries do not need pity but responsible and honest solidarity to build their own structures. They do not need the transfer of our values and ideals which have proven worthless for solving our current problems. It is time for us to learn modesty and respect towards others. Perhaps mental development aid from underdeveloped countries could lead us to a better world?
Often I am questioned by Africans about my opinion of the situation and whether I feel that Europeans are capable of reflection. I do not know. The fact is there is very little sound discussion of realities. Either to obtain higher sales quotas or due to political pressure the European media practices planned disinformation. Still, I am holding in my hands proof of consternation and heart felt solidarity, letters from children with whom I have talked in schools. Children and young adults in Europe who are brave enough to face reality and ask: what can be done now?
Help for self-help
Thus, the “entwicklungshilfe-westafrika.de“ is standing on two legs. Public relations in the industrialized nations occupies more and more of my time. But equally I value the importance of maintaining a channel that makes the flow of solidarity visible. I am proud of my friends and collaborators in the developed world who have supported this project year after year. This is my hope for an honest growing together of our world.
Deliberately I decided to construct schools. Even though we regard the proverb “knowledge is power” as leftist, we know for ourselves that it is true. This is why governments both past and present want to control their educational systems. As a result the reverse statement is also valid: the educational system is a reflection of our government.
While working in Africa I and my colleagues do not appear as a master race or “know-it-alls”. The communities plan their own projects. The villages offer whatever they have for construction. The land is donated by the communities; sand, gravel, water, or wood are offered if available in the villages. For each work unit I pay one African specialist (mason, carpenter, iron worker, etc.), who then involves the young villagers in the work process, giving them the chance to build up experience in these professions. All other labor is donated by villagers free of charge. This cooperation provides the opportunity for the financial donors from northern regions and the village communities of African countries to meet each other on equal terms. The schools are not a gift from the rich to the poor. From the beginning they are the property of the village communities. This frees the African villages of any responsibility for feeling grateful.
As far as possible we use materials produced in the country itself, or we import them from other African countries. Thus I try to prevent the flow of well meant funds for Africa back to Europe where they would provide development aid for our own European industries.
I do not remain with a project since this creates a new dependency by the communities. I view myself as a catalyst who enhances an already started process and who can move on to a new project once the old one has been completed.
The “entwicklungshilfe-westafrika.de” is a private initiative, not a registered organization. I wanted to prove that every single person can move something. I wanted to encourage those who hesitate due to fear and doubts.
Quod erat demonstrandum!
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Christine Flon (ed.), “The World Atlas of Architecture”Chancellor Press, LondonISBN 0-75370-065-4
Kwame Anthony Appiah, Henry Loius Gates Jr.,“Africana : The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience”, First Ed. Basic Civitas Books, New York.ISBN 0-465-00071-1
J. D. Fage, “A History of Africa”, Zweite Ausgabe
Century Hutchinson Ltd,.London
Maulana Karenga, “Introduction to Black Studies”, Second Edition.
The University of Sankore Press, Los Angeles, California
Roland Oliver, “The African Experience”, Icon Editions
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York
Na’im Akbar, “Light from Ancient Africa” Erste Ausgabe
Mind Productions & Associates, Inc., Tallahassee, FL
Malcolm X, “Malcolm X on Afro-American History”, Neue Ausgabe
Pathfinder Press, New york.
Matthias A. Ogutu, Simon S. Kenyanchui, “Introduction to African History”
Nairobi University Press
Philip Koslow, “The kingdoms of Africa“ Serie, Chelsea House Publishers
- Ancient Ghana (The land of gold) ISBN 0-7910-2940-17
- Mali (Crossroads of Africa) ISBN 0-7910-3127-6
- Songhay (The empire builders) ISBN 0-7910-3128-4
- Kanem-Borno (1000 years of splendor) ISBN 0-7910-2944-1
- Yorubaland (The flowering of genius) ISBN 0-7910-3132-2
- Hausaland (The fortress kingdoms) ISBN 0-7910-2945-X
- Benin (Lords of the river) ISBN 0-7910-3133-0
- Senegambia (Land of the lion) ISBN 0-7910-3135-7
- Dahomey (The warrior kings) ISBN 0-7910-3137-3
- Asante (The gold coast) ISBN 0-7910-3139-X
- Lords of the Savanna ( The Bambara, Fulani, Mossi, Nupe, and Wolof)
- Building of a new World (Africans in America) ISBN 0-7910-3143-8
(Aus: „Wechselwirkung & Zukünfte“, Nr, 117/Jg. 24, September/ Oktober 2002, S. 55ff.)