In reference to Angelou’s quote above, Angelou describes courage as a trait that can help many to avoid the pains of the past. In other words, courage in the present will yield less painful thoughts of the past in the future. Africa’s recent past, unfortunately, is riddled with pain from varying perspectives, for courage – in all of Africa – did not exist after colonialism arrived and exited the continent. Colonialism virtually prevented the growth of courage among African individuals by dictating African national borders and manipulating African national identities for the sake of colonial interests.
Courage is hard to grow when power dynamics cause one to succumb to another’s agenda. European colonialism on the African continent put the interests of European economies over native populations across Africa. Europeans, in hopes of exploiting African resources without damaging European diplomatic relations, consensually carved the unrealistic borders of Africa that are still recognized and used today. These borders do not represent the realities within the demographics and cultures of respective lands, and thus dissimilar peoples have been forced to work with one another in maintaining a state drawn by European powers. The differences between such peoples put interests and cultural affiliations in conflict. Subsequent African governments favored certain groups of people by means of ethnic favoritism, corporate interests, and the lack of self-sufficient economic structures that were leftover by colonial powers. Such governments did not satisfy their governmental roles in distributing their respective country’s resources. These carved borders prevented successful acts of courage (activism, legal trials, doing things that one would fear to do, etc.) that would voice political unfairness, human rights abuses, and calls for economic opportunities. At the same time, these borders provided unequal economic distribution and, as a result, unequal power distribution was rampant. Native groups who already had their own methods for extracting and trading local resources were either cut off from local supplies of those resources or given authority over the resources that adjacent groups of people once heavily relied on. Furthermore, if the borders were shaped by the virtues of self-determination, courage would have easily been fostered more effectively by the self-sufficiency and independent activism that would have inevitably accompanies self-determination and familiar power platforms. Ultimately, courage was not cultivated because it was suppressed by unfamiliar colonial forces relative to the perspectives of a myriad of African peoples.
In a different light, African populations were not provided the opportunity to gain courage by means of self-determined nationhood. European colonialism brought about racism, different forms of ethnic favoritism, and ethnocentric social systems that classified many indigenous populations as laborers and low ranked colonial subjects. Moreover, Europeans would further define African races in stricter and subjective senses that damaged the sovereignty and identities of different African ethnic groups. Actions like this accelerated the risk for future conflicts. The Rwandan genocide happened for a variety of reasons, with one of them regarding Belgian standards behind Tutsi and Hutu relations. The conflicts in Sudan (Darfur, pre-South Sudanese independence, incursions from the Sahara, etc.) that ultimately led to the creation of South Sudan, a state that is bluntly different from Sudan itself (they were one country at one point, causing volatility in the region), resulted from British negligence over nationhood standards between an Afro-Arab state (Sudan) and a soon-to-be diverse African state (South Sudan). Finally, as time progresses, these constructed nationhood concepts become more rigid as a result of already existing international interests and the fear that self-determination movements would start a domino effect across Africa and beyond. Having the courage to recognize and call out the status of minority populations distributed across different African states would initiate a chain reaction-like pattern of continued courage to fix the conventional faults behind population marginalization and economic mishap. Corrupted systems and divide-and-rule concepts used by colonial administrators are still practiced today within the realms of African authorities. These practices prevent the people from participating in the politics of their essentially European crafted country and ultimately displaying feats of courage within their societies. The courage to let legitimate groups of people pursue legitimate interests was nearly extinct at the spawn of European colonialism. It is a well-known fact that continuous marginalization and lack of self-determination leads to difficult cases of political and social turmoil. Lastly, due to the leftover single resource dependent economic systems and the careless nationhood concepts that colonial powers disseminated, courage in today’s Africa and courage regarding today’s Africa is hard to foster. When faced with the difficulties present in Africa today, more courage that requires more thought and time to develop is required for us to outlive the pains that Africa has experienced in its recent history. If you want the best for a group of people, have the courage to let them do what they want to do within the limits of international law.
Courage is a tool that allows groups of people to surpass the pains that history is known to serve. It is used by activists, intellectual thinkers, daring politicians, smart lawyers, and ambitious civilians to speak to appropriate audiences and yield desirable circumstances. Unfortunately, the Scramble for Africa erased prospects for African courage. European powers ignored calls for self-determination by manipulating important national borders that represented desired European spheres of influence instead of actual cultural spheres. Additionally, courage behind nationhood was discouraged by colonial administrations and leftover African governments, thus perpetuating the historical pains brought about by exploitative powers and the present pains that have already erupted. If European colonialism did not craft Africa, Africa would have crafted itself with its own informed, courageous individuals that already proved themselves as effective leaders and administrators throughout history.