Book Reviews–“Of Africa,” and “The U. S. Senate

– L. Arthalia Cravin

map of africaMy usual trip to the downtown Amarillo Public Library to look at the “new book” shelf was well worth the effort. Plenty of new books to bring home and read—but I decided on new books by Wole Soyinka entitled, “Of Africa,” and “The U. S. Senate” by former U. S. Senator Tom Daschle.

Soyinka is a Nigerian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He is also a playwright and poet. I did not realize until I read his bio that I had actually seen his play, “Death and The King’s Horseman” many years ago at a New York Theater. “Of Africa” is both revealing and painful to read. One sentence alone describes how the world has historically treated the Motherland Africa –“Actualize power, then fictionalize the people.” What Soyinka then proceeds to describe, with insightful description, is how the continent of Africa, and its peoples have been denigrated and subjugated. We know that what Soyinka describes is true. If you are older than 50 you know that history books of every stripe have always described Africa and its peoples as ignorant cannibals. I distinctly remember history books that portrayed Africans, not as kings, queens, rulers and scholars, but as half-naked, facially distorted, people-eating, uncivilized savages. Soyinka explores the roots of this negative portrayal to the early European writers and “explorers” who did not actually explore Africa but instead chose to fictionalize what their own notions of racial superiority desired. What these writers, explorers, and other invaders did was to set the stage early for the rape and pillorying of Africa and its assets, including, colonization and carving up the country for the benefit of whites, and establishing transnational corporations that fomented internal dissension and wars by installing puppet rulers who sold out their own people for a dollar.

Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent with about 11.7 square miles of surface, including adjacent islands. Africa covers six percent of the earth’s total surface and 20 percent of the total land area with over 1 billion people, or about 15 percent of the world’s human population. The continent includes the countries of Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Mali, Kenya, and an additional 50 plus countries, yet it is viewed as one monolith. The history of African internal strife, massacres, genocide, and mass murder can be traced directly to the early depictions of Africans as a peoples who “never invented anything” and whose only purpose seemed to be a perennial source of black labor ripe for exploitation. Soyinka even describes current anthropologists who are dead set on removing any notion that human beings originated in Africa. They want to finish the job of ascribing nothing of value to Africa. What Soyinka asks in his book is for those who know better to dare to speak the truth about the Mother Land. Soyinka’s book asks us to now look backward and then forward and to set the record straight about how Africa has been treated by those who still view the continent, not for the human resources and possibilities that lie within, but as a place to extract the natural resources for the benefits of foreigners. Soyinka quotes from the 2001 Millennium Commission report that says this: “Africa must come to terms with her past. Only this will enable her to establish an honest and mutually respectful relationship with the outside world enabling all parties in this dismal history to inaugurate a new era of interaction. To this end, we must establish the total truth of slavery—both the TransSaharan and the TransAtlantic; the partition of the continent; colonization; even the secretive dumping of toxic waste on the African continent, and call attention to the deleterious effects of these experiences on Africa’s presence.”

Did you know that every U. S. Senator has a number that began with the first two senators, William Maclay, number 1, and Robert Morris, number 2, both elected from Pennsylvania in 1788? When Daschle joined the senate in 1987 his number was 1776. Did you know that at one time you could write to your U. S. Senator, using his name, and the letters, S.O. B, (Senate Office Building) Washington, D. C? Did you know that the word, “senator” has the same root as the word, “senile” meaning “old?” Daschle’s book is a fun read, each chapter being a short 2 or 3 pages about the history of the U. S. Senate and how it functions today. He even explains, “crossing the aisle” meaning all the Democrats Senators and all the Republican Senators sit on opposite sides in the senate, and for either side to approach the other meant they had to walk across an aisle. The Senate and the House of Representative together are called Congress which is Latin for “coming together.” The Senate is also known as “the World’s Most Exclusive Club,” and “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.” Washington and Jefferson referred to the senate as the “saucer that cools the tea,” meaning it was the “cool heads” of the senate that kept some restraints on legislation that originated in the House of Representatives. Daschle’s book is a “firsthand guide to the Senate, with particular attention to such key elements as committees, rules, legislation, holds and filibusters, coalitions, vetoes and overrides, the federal budget process, oversight and investigations, nominations, impeachment, declaring war, and treaties, and on opportunity to serve.” It is a well written book and well worth reading.

Copyright 2013 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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