By WILLIAM OCHIENG'
I have been reading the history of Egypt and the Nile Valley, stretching some 6,000 years back, in preparation for my teaching lectures, and I must say I am thoroughly impressed.
Diehard racists can say what they like, but there is no doubt, from solid evidence, that the Nile Valley was the cradle of human civilisations.
While Western Europe was still steeped in slumber and darkness, the communities of the Nile — Egypt, Nubia, Kush, Aksum and Meroe — were teaching their children reading and writing, mathematics, philosophy, algebra, trigonometry and fine art.
For a long time, the truth about African history was hidden, because those in Europe who explained it had not put their prejudices behind them.
But the truth is that while the European civilisation was later built on the achievements of ancient Greeks, the Greeks, in their turn, owed much of what they know to the ancient Egyptians, whether in the field of ideas or practical skills.
Having said that, we must also lament that the slave trade and slavery were the darkest blot of this wonderful civilisation. Throughout the Pharaonic, Greek, Roman and Islamic eras, black folk were hunted throughout the plains of Lower and Upper Nile for sale and servitude in the Mediterranean crescent.
Some were sent to southern Europe and to the Near East, while many were used in Egypt itself for agricultural and military purposes.
In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries AD, the Arabs from Egypt had began to infiltrate the Shilluk empire of Funj in the north and central Sudan, destroying property, capturing slaves and robbing the inhabitants of land and livestock.
It was very similar to what has been happening in Darfur in recent decades. It was because of these Jihadist depredations that a large number of Luos left the Sudan to settle in Uganda and Western Kenya.
Slavery, by itself, might not be reprehensible, except when it was accompanied by vicious cruelty, torture and random death. Is it not sad that certain north-west Saharan African states still practise slavery to this day?
But my ire in this article is with the present day Egypt — supposedly the most advanced and enlightened of African states with preponderant Arab population.
Forgetting, or simply ignorant, of shared historic glory, Egypt has been cruel and extremely unfair to Africans who visit or attempt to pass through it.
Unlike during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser when Egypt was a safe passageway for Africans being persecuted by the imperialists, today Egypt is incorrigibly lethal. Stray into Egypt and you are a dead man.
These are economically and politically hard times for many Africans, particularly the Somalis, Zimbabweans and Ethiopians. Some want to cross over either to Europe or to Israel, for all sorts of reasons.
Indeed, illegal border crossings in Africa are commonplace and everywhere. It could be Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa, Somalis crossing into Kenya, Sudanese crossing into Uganda, Ethiopians crossing into Eritrea, Burundians crossing into Tanzania, name it.
Illegal though most of these crossings are, they must be handled with human dignity and within appropriate international law.
The Egyptian regime, under President Hosni Mubarak, has been murdering any Africans who strayed into Egypt, or who are seen at their border.
Indeed, since May this year alone, Egyptian troops have shot and killed 12 African migrants at its strategic Sinai border, who were claimed to be heading for Israel. I have read so many such shootings in the past.
The question is: Why this savagery? Who is President Mubarak attempting to please? Is he the only African leader besieged by opportunity-seeking migrants?
Africa is facing gigantic problems like poverty, droughts, famines, pestilence, unemployment and civil strife. We must desist from cheapening our lives by killing our people like one might kill pigs.
It is disturbing that both the United Nations and the African Union are tight-lipped as Egypt kills innocent African fortune-seekers.
Prof Ochieng’ teaches History at Maseno University.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
By WILLIAM OCHIENG'