Kalamu is Swahili for pen and our tag line “the pen of African history” means just that. We are the Web publication that will primarily and continually present to you the history of Africa and African people around the world. And in doing so it is inevitable that we will confront and debunk many false and stereotypical ideas about the continent, its people, and its descendants.
Africa is the least understood and most trivialized of all the continents, and its role in human history is the most ignored and distorted. Two reasons for the misconceptions, besides outright bigotry and racism, are that there has been too little historical information frequently available to the general public and the educational institutions have not included true African history in their curriculums.
History is a benign word, a harmless word, yet depending upon the climate in which it is mentioned it can carry a lightning charge. Many people fear that a rewriting or restating of history will stir up old antagonisms, breach an uneasy peace, and it is better to not alter what has been written or what has been commonly taught. To such folk the accuracy of the current beliefs is irrelevant. Yet people, groups, and societies sometimes operate on false premises and make horrific decisions based on those premises. This dictates that the record must be corrected. To do nothing is the same as living in a house teetering on an unsteady, shaky, foundation which threatens the well being of all its occupants.
African historians have long stated that “you must understand where you came from to understand where you are going.” Many news commentators and media ordained experts merely scratch the surface by explaining a crisis or event only in relation to what has occurred recently, or they simply say that the roots of the situation are centuries old and very complicated. This type of analysis serves well for only superficially informing the general public, yet policy makers too often impose solutions based on an incomplete examination of the “here and now” while ignoring today’s connection to the realities and complexities of the “there and then.” The fuzzy, bumbling, hazy explanations of the recent crises in Somalia, the Congo, Sudan, and Kosovo illustrate such thoughts and actions.
It is often stated that history is the viewpoint of either the writer or of those in power. Unfortunately this is true concerning much of what is taught as history. But that approach has no place in the writings that will appear in Kalamu magazine. There are four words to which we abide. The first is “honesty.” For in confronting the negative misconceptions and lies about Africa, it is mandatory that honesty be a guiding principle; especially since it was mostly dishonesty, not mistakes, that caused and continue to perpetuate the negative opinions. Kalamu magazine is also well aware that on the other side of the coin, the hunger of Africa’s descendants for the truth of their history has sometimes led to a tendency to obscure the total reality of all that occurred in the continent.
Like any continent, not everything that happened in Africa was praiseworthy. There were Africans who betrayed their people, who aided European slave traders, and participated in other injustices. This should not be too surprising, for the history of Africa is the history of people who, like any other people, are diverse and have flaws and faults accompanying their outstanding traits.
Thus, Kalamu magazine and the historians whose words will grace its pages realize the importance of “truth" and "accuracy,” the second and third words guiding this publication and any responsible representation of history. Honest history must be based on truth, and truthful historians know that what is accepted today as truth will often change given the uncovering or discovery of new evidence. If the recording of history had always incorporated truth and honesty a common occurrence would have been avoided: that of history often being reduced and relegated to an intellectual wrestling match between opposing viewpoints. Accuracy comes into play for it , like honesty, represents a person or event as clearly as possible based upon available evidence. There should be no disagreement about what happened and when it happened unless the evidence is unclear or inconclusive. Only then should opinion and conjecture enter the historian’s vocabulary. Kalamu magazine will not offer opinion and conjecture as fact, and we shall note when something is indeed opinion and conjecture.
The fourth guide word for the history presented in Kalamu magazine is “context.” People have a tendency to praise or condemn based on their own morality and beliefs. Judgment is always being rendered regardless of all the facts being known. Yet, the perpetuation of desireable events and the prevention of those that are not can only be assured if we understand the context in which things occur. The original label given to the event may not change, but people will be in a much better position to recognize when the same thing is prone to happen again.
“The world is a smaller place” is no longer a cliché but a reality given the speed and preponderance of travel and the media. Interaction across racial, ethnic, and geographic boundaries is the norm. If the species called man is to move forward, “tolerance” must become passé and be replaced by “justice and respect.” Hence, the more true facts people learn about other people—and treat them as equals—the more they will respect those not like themselves. Also, the more people know about themselves—and treat themselves and others humanely—the better able they are to contribute to their own well being and that of the species.
Although they may be thought of only in terms of courses of study and classrooms, historians are actually vital contributors to helping people obtain either a true or false sense of reality. African historians are also vital contributors toward helping others develop a true vision of Africa and her descendants, and a more realistic and honest view of their own past and current realities.
The shrinking world and its increasing contacts will implode and explode if misconceptions, miscues, and gross distortions remain the norm. The hidden messages behind the almost apocalyptic headlines and news reports scream that much of humankind needs a complete psychological and spiritual overhaul if we are to avoid destroying all that is around us. These are two of the principal requirements for a constructive, humane, peaceful future that seems to be slipping away. Helping to achieve that future is the mission of Kalamu magazine.