Manfred and Anne Lehmann Foundation

Alice Farrakhan in African Wonderland

The New York Times recently reported a precious story of a trip to Africa, which to anyone knowing Africa, was a source of unlimited hilarity. This was the headline of the October 9 story: "Some Surprises Meet Nation of Islam Visitors on Ghana Tour."

It seems that Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, feeling secure from victories in the United States, set out to conquer Africa as well. For his purpose they planned their first convention outside the United States and chose Ghana 9formerly the Gold Coast) as its venue, because -- this was the only point they had right -- Ghana can be considered the cradle of Pan-Africanism.

Arriving in Accra, capital of Ghana, they set out to rediscover their long-lost African brothers by calling anyone in hearing distance "brother" or "sister," titles used in the United States but never heard in Africa. Next, they raided souvenir shops for African-looking attire and clothed themselves in the colorful "kente cloth," handwoven, large sheets in which Ghanaians drape themselves when they relax. The conventioneers could not understand why the Ghanaians viewed them "with a mixture of puzzlement, humor and even offense."

Had they asked for my advice, I could have explained to them why they met up with that sort of appraisal. Kente cloth is one of the richest forms of art craft, full of symbolism and tribal meaning.

First, there is "male" and "female" Kente. If the conventioneers had mixed the two up, they would have elicited hilarious laughter and mockery. Next, you must know exactly what "message" you want to express with the intricate design you dress in.

While no written letters have ever been invented by Africans, Ghana is a bit of an exception. While the people of Ghana, too, have failed to come up with a script -- while no other continent and people have failed to produce letter forms -- Ghanaians have come up with two substitutes for a written language.

Lack of Script

  1. They have the "talking drums," which come in pairs, male and female, and which professional drummers beat in endless sessions before large gatherings of village folk. The beats, which to the untrained ear all sound boringly alike, tell the most intricate stories and messages. Once when I attended a long drumming session in Ghana, my host explained that they had just heard the story of a 14th century battle between two tribes. Only the exceptionally developed sense of hearing of Africans could fathom this.
  2. They have developed certain symbols that express ideas, called "ideograms." The Kente cloth designs fall into that category. No wonder that the Nation of Islam failed that test!

Next, Farrakhan looked to Islam in the hope of finding a common bond with the people of Ghana, not realizing that most Ghanaians are Christians and animists. Only the people in the North, bordering on the Sahara desert, are Moslems. But Farrakhan only stayed on the coast, beholden to Christianity.

But even the Ghanaian Moslems doubted Farrakhan's stories of Allah's visit to Detroit in 1930. In fact they called the story heretical and blurted out: "They have come here to talk about Islam, but it seems we should be teaching them. Any true Moslem can tell you that Mohammed was our last prophet." There's no chance in Ghana for Elijah or Malcolm X or other "prophets" whom Farrakhan quotes.

Only a handful of Ghanaians attended the sessions arranged by the 1,000 Nation of Islam visitors. In fact, one group of Christian African women petitioned Parliament in an attempt to block the four-day convention.

Expecting utter primitiveness in Ghana, the visitors equipped themselves with modern necessities before they left the United States, including medicine and insect repellents. They were surprised to find that Ghana is one of the most modern African countries with most modern conveniences. Malaria had been stamped out long ago, so no mosquitoes had to be repelled.

Nkrumah -- Capitalism in Africa

When their attempt at finding common ground through religion failed, the visitors thought they could elicit some interest in their convention by decrying Western imperialism and white colonialism. Maybe their old textbooks said that such talk was used in Ghana -- but only 40 years ago under Marxist Kwame Nkrumah, founder of African independence.

American capitalism has long since been embraced and Marxism discarded. The visitors probably did not know that Ghana is the country with the greatest success story of American capitalism in Africa. The Volta River Dam, one of the largest producers of electric power in the world, was made possible by President John F. Kennedy and the financial and industrial support of Kaiser and Reynolds Aluminum companies. Russian contributions to African development have largely been nil -- except for some snow plows, which, as the legend goes, were shipped to Ghana and Guinea in the early '50s!

In order to flatter their hosts, I suppose, one American minister in the Farrakhan group told his convention audience that wide hips and prominent buttocks were signs of African superiority. If the New York Times had not reported this, I would not believe it.

One of the very few Ghanaian professors attending one of the sessions was a linguist, who made the profound pronouncement that all human languages originated from the Twi dialect in Ghana. He got "thunderous applause," for this revelation, says the New York Times. If you ever heard Twi, as I have on many occasions, you would seriously question whether, say, English, Greek or Hebrew, descended from the gibberish of the Twi language. The Ghanaian linguist ended the session by saying, "The Europeans -- they don't even know their roots. They are lost. They are all Africans."

There was no indication whether Mr. Farrakhan applauded this profound statement.

The Nations of Islam convention was a total non-starter, if you know anything about the history of the relations between true Africans and American-Africans. I have often observed the failure that black or semi-black Americans experience when, as Farrakhan, they come to Africa expecting to be immediately engulfed in brotherly love like long-lost brethren. Actually, there is nothing but contempt -- not brotherly love -- on the African side. And the Reason?

True History of Slavery

It all goes back to the history of slavery. Slavery was practiced in Africa many centuries before the first white man showed up there. Tribal warfare has engulfed the continent since its birth. Wherever you go in Africa there are deep-running differences between tribe and tribe, language and language. For example, in Nigeria -- Africa's largest black country -- there are said to exist 250 main tribes, with many lesser sub-tribes. They all have totally different languages, religious practices and beliefs. When one tribe fought against another, the vanquished tribe had to serve the victor as slaves. The victor would sell these slaves or abuse them at will.

When in the 15th century the first Europeans arrived -- mostly Portuguese -- the strong African tribes, who had won their tribal wars, decided to sell their slaves to the Europeans. For this purpose the slaves were transported to the coast, where the Europeans built forts with special areas to hold the slaves until ships came to carry them away.

Now that the Africans see the descendants of these slaves coming back to visit them after hundreds of years, their reaction is, these African Americans descend from weak tribes whom our forefathers defeated in battles. That is why they ended up in America. In short, the confrontation is between the descendants of strong tribes and the descendants of weak tribes. There is no love lost between them.

This is the reason why there can be no integration or even accommodation for African-Americans coming to Africa. In the few cases where it was tried -- and I watched a few cases -- they failed.

One highly qualified, semi-black American came to Ghana in the late '50s and took a job with the minister of finance. He even married a native woman, who was highly qualified in African art. The man moved to his wife's village, hoping he would be accepted there as a member. A year later, I met him in New York. He had given up his job, had divorced his wife and, in fact had abandoned any idea of "making aliyah" to Africa. The two worlds simply are not compatible. Farrakhan should have learned this before he came to Ghana. He could have saved his followers lots of disillusionment and embarrassment.

He should also have learned that no Jews were involved in the slave trade. In fact, as I said, no European of any sort ever caught any slaves in West Africa. That was done by the Africans themselves. The situation in East Africa was very different. There Arabs penetrated deep into the continent with ferocious dogs and weapons and captured slaves, who were dragged to the coast in chain gangs and then shipped to Arabian countries to populate the harems and work places of rich Arabs. That slave trade goes on until this day, especially in Saudi Arabia.

In West Africa the slave forts were built by Swedes, Germans (Brandenburgers)), Dutch, Danes and Portuguese -- not Jews. Hundreds of years later, some Christians who converted to Judaism -- such as Aaron Lopez of Newport, Rhode Island -- practiced, to a minor degree, what their Christian ancestors had taught them about slavery. They did not learn it from Jews.

Black Zionism

I hope that Dr. Jeffries was in that group that went to Ghana. He would have looked in vain for signs of Jewish slave traders. If he had studied his history without prejudice he would have found that slavery was abolished in England in the 1830s by a team of Jewish bankers, Moses Montefiore and Nathan Rothschild, who raised the astronomic sum of 15 million pounds to compensate slave owners so they could free their slaves.

Would Farrakhan and Dr. Jeffries be interested in such facts? Hardly. But after their disaster in Ghana they must discard some of their fantasies -- among them, their hatred for Zionism. Surely they are aware that Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican father of Pan-Africanism, called his movement "Black Zionism," since he could not find a nobler name for a movement, which, as Zionism, sought a return to ancestral soil.

I wonder which Wonderland Alice Farrakhan will want to conquer next.....




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