by Runoko Rashidi ~
Four days ago I returned to the United States from a week long trip to
Harare, Zimbabwe where I was a guest of UNESCO and the Government of
Zimbabwe. The purpose of the visit was to help prepare curriculum content
and a teacher's guide for the teaching of history in African public schools.
The goal is to complete the project within the next eighteen months.
The UNESCO gathering was a wonderful experience and a big honor, although the
African Diaspora itself was not well represented. Indeed, of the sixty-five
participants at the gathering I was the only African-American in attendance.
There was one diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago, although he was actually
based in Paris. A three person Brazilian contingent came also to talk about
the Brazilian mandate that African and African-Brazilian history be taught in
Brazilian classrooms. In this endeavor Brazil is more progressive than many
African countries and most of African Diaspora.
The UNESCO effort here substantially adds to the work of the Nigerian-based
organizations CBAAC and Panafstrag, which have been in the forefront of such
struggles for years. The UNESCO project is rooted in the multi-volume UNESCO
General History of Africa. One also has to reference here the marvelous
anthologies edited by Ivan Van Sertima and others focusing on the outstanding
historical issues of Africa and the Diaspora.
My contribution in Zimbabwe was largely to remind everyone that the history
of the African Diaspora should not be confined to the enslavement experience
and that African people are so scattered around the world, and not just in
Europe and the Western Hemisphere, that perhaps we should be thinking less in
terms of a diaspora and more in terms of a Global African Community. This was
my major contribution and its success will only be seen through time. We
In a letter from Zimbabwe last week I wrote about the early stages of the
UNESCO gathering and the opening speech by President Mugabe. The purpose of
the current letter is to briefly summarize the highlights of the rest of my
I visited Zimbabwe at the end of their winter time, and Harare, the capital
of Zimbabwe, was dry and rather arid. The city of Harare itself did not
really stand out to me. I did not find it to be spectactular in any way. I
did find it interesting that the currency of Zimbabwe is now the United
States dollar. The Shona are the dominant ethnic group in Harare. The
overall atmosphere itself I found to be rather relaxed. People were
generally friendy and polite, and I had no unpleasant experiences.
The UNESCO gathering itself, which can only be described as historic, was,
nevertheless, tedious, dull and meticulous. To my rescue came Professor Saki
Mafundikwa—the noted Zimbabwean film maker, author, and educator. Through
brother Saki I was able to escape from the five star resort that I was was
staying at and see something of the real Harare. Through brother Saki I got
to talk to a wide range of Zimbabweans. I ate the local food and drank the
local brew. He really came through for me.
Brother Saki also organized on very short notice what turned out to be a
well-received presentation-lecture at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe.
I spoke on the theme of the Global African Presence and engaged in a lively
question and answer period that focused less on history and anthropology and
more on the current political situation in Zimbabwe. We talked about
President Mugabe (including his health and concerns about his succession),
the current sanctions against Zimbabwe, prevailing attitudes towards
African-Americans, the African seizure of white-owned farmlands, and the
general direction that Zimbabwe seems to be heading in. I learned a lot and,
as always, tried to be a positive bridge between Africans at home and abroad.
Following dinner, after the presentation, I was met in the lobby of my hotel
by a chairwoman of one of the UNESCO working committees. She was a very
beautiful and noted educator from Botswana. She told me that I had been
missed during my absence and that I could have added something substantial to
the discussion. I was impressed by the fact that although it was already
late in the evening the sister was still up working along with three or four
others. She seemed delighted when I asked if I could still contribute, and
five of us worked for another four hours. I told her that it just did me a
world of good to feel wanted.
The composition of the working group that evening was a reflection of the
diversity of the larger gathering. Among the five participants late that
night was a man from Egypt, a woman from Lesotho, a woman from Swaziland, the
chairwoman from Botswana and me from the Diaspora. That night our discussion
ranged from the evolution of humanity in Africa, the significance of Nile
Valley Civilization, the fact that civilization in Africa was not confined to
any one region, and the destructive and dehumanizing nature of the
enslavement experience. It turned out to be an extremely productive evening.
One of the real highlights of my visit to Zimbabwe was a day trip to the
ruins of the archaeological zone known as Great Zimabwe. It was on my last
full day in Zimbabwe. Most of the participants from the UNESCO gathering
came, and this meant an entire day of informal discussions among Africans
from every part of the Continent. It was just an incredible learning
I talked that day to numerous Africans from former French, Portuguese and
British colonies. There were also a number of people on the bus from Arab
North Africa. It was a rich mixture of people. The person who did most of
the talking to me that day, however, was a young film maker from Zimbabwe who
had recently spent several years studying in Russia. He talked a lot of the
racism and racial attitudes that he encountered in both Russia and Ukraine.
It was fascinating.
Great Zimbabwe itself was spectacular. The former hilltop residence of
mighty kings and the Great Enclosure, made of granite stone, were
magnificent. That day us Africans laughed and talked and walked and shopped,
and had a great lunch at a local hotel. It was wonderful way to cap off a
wonderful and historic trip.
Before concluding here, I must profusely thank Mr. Ali Moussa Iye, Chief of
the History and Memory for Dialogue Section, Division of Thematic Programmes
for the Diversity, Development and Dialogue at UNESCO. Ali, you were truly a
brother and a friend. Your staff was most helpful throughout and I am
extremely grateful to you.
I am so glad that I went to Zimbabwe. I helped make history and can I add
another feather in my cap. I seem to be on a roll. In August 2010, I
inaugurated the first Global Black Nationalities Conference in Oshogbo,
Nigeria. In December 2010, I was the President of the Diaspora Committee and
the opening keynote speaker at the historic FESMAN Conference in Dakar,
Senegal. In February 2011 I gave a series of historic presentations in
Toronto, Canada. In March 2011, I gave big presentations in Montreal, Canada
and Hamilton, Bermuda. In July 2011, in Jamaica I was a keynote speaker at
two big commemorations for Marcus Garvey and gave a standing room only
presentation at the University of West Indies, Mona. And now, in September
2011, I have participated in the first meeting of the drafting committee
entrusted with the development of common pedagogical content and accompanying
teacher’s guides based on the General History of Africa convened by UNESCO
in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Sisters and brothers, I am blessed. And I tend to see it all as part of
fulfilling a sacred mission.
In closing, I say God bless Zimbabwe. God bless Africa. God bless African
people. And, echoing the words of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, I remind African
people that we can accomplish what we will!
In love of Africa,
15 September 2011