Author: Emmanuel Funtih
How relevant are the questions: who is behind existence? And why is existence as it is? Or in a more Aristotelian sense the questions: what is behind matter and existence? And how did existence come to be what it is?
Perhaps an even more interesting enquiry would be just how the above questions do directly concern or relate to the state of the Dark Continent, as it is known in some circles, or the African continent as it is more formally known. The well known perennial issues of who and why relating to existence or of the what and how behind existence seem to perpetually validate the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling’s question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
The two classical answers to Schelling’s burning question can be summarized as firstly the philosophy of “oops” and the answer that something else is going on: behind the happenstance drama is a wider or deeper or higher pattern or order or intelligence. With the philosophy of “oops,” it is purported that the universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it’s all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens – oops! And advocates of this orientation often have the same basic answer to Schelling’s question, namely, “Don’t ask.” The other classical answer asserts that the universe is not quite what it looks like. Underlying the something that can be observed is another something else, a symphony, a Deeper Order, a something quite other than oops that frames the happenings.
Beneath the skies of the African continent, a plethora of schools and views exist, which can all be ascribed either to the school of the philosophy of “oops” or to the view that asserts the deception of appearances, the view that hails a Deeper Order of some sort. If indeed the philosophy of “oops” is the canon, how then is it that after the “oops” is said, one is left with an Africa that begs to see more glorious days? How can one explain the fact that the aftermath of the “oops” is characterised by an Africa rife with conflict, either in its history or in actuality? How does one account for the deplorable standards and lamentable situation of the majority of African dwellers?
If by contrast, the reality of an existing Deeper Order, a Higher Intelligence, is advocated, does it make sense, then, to purport that this Deeper Order or Higher Intelligence has erroneously negotiated a generally less than satisfactory reality for the African dweller? Or would it sound more common sense to conclude that by some means this Deeper Order either neglected Africa, or that it chose to use Africa as a balancing scheme in the endless chorus of duality in existence, with Africa bearing the bitter brunt and manifesting the opposite of so much of the goodness and progress that is to be observed elsewhere on the planet?
Perhaps then, it now befits this account to give an ever so perspective-laden recount of what has happened to the African condition and situation hitherto.
From the time of the great university of Timbuktu to the advent of Google, Facebook and Twitter, Africa has not exactly been known as a powerhouse of finished, processed and engineered products. Being a natural fountain of raw materials of every kind: coal, timber, platinum, gold, diamond, bauxite, iron ore, naturally occurring hydrocarbons and rubber, just to name a few, the fortunes have unfortunately never favoured the African continent to be the location of a large scale systematic processing of raw materials and production of products.
The industrial revolution and the establishment and development of the internal combustion engine seemed to have come to pass with Africa’s major contribution being the provision of forced labour that aided the advent and development of these canonical technologies in the history of human beings and their artefacts. The other important contribution from the African perspective was, of course, the provision of an abundant source of raw materials.
With the start and the conclusion of the cold war, Africa, as an integral location in its own right, was nothing much more than additional territory available for the grabs, and for the spoils, in the face of a conflict that brought overall technological advancements to seemingly every continent but the African continent…
With the dawn of the information age, and with the pervasiveness of the new world order of globalisation, however, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the significant role that pockets of African powerhouses have crafted for themselves and played in humanity’s ongoing quest to engineer her way through her existence in her habitat.
This role can be observed from the largely unsung, but high level of contributions made by, among a very short list of African countries, South African companies in the broader world industry of cars and car-parts, ship equipment design and production, radar systems and communications technology, medical equipment design and manufacture. From the large number of West to Central African scientists, technologists and engineers centrally involved in top-notch, state-of-the-art design and production everywhere from the Silicon Valley to Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island; to the many African hawkers, technicians, painters and rural health workers who daily find ways to forge solutions to problems in many innovative ways, it stands out clearly that the role of Africans in general innovative engineering is becoming ever-more conspicuous.
Not irrelevant then would be a mention of the quest of the young, enthusiastic business man from Central Africa, who, making use of the tools of his time, sets up a barber’s shop and a youth centre in the middle of one of Tropical Africa’s big cities. With Facebook and Twitter being the main venues for his publicity, and with a rich blend of African interior design at his premises contrasted with office and tool room equipment designed by contemporary Western Industrial Design firms, as well as plans on the way to have local jobless Designers and Engineers to be involved in a design partnership with a South African design company, his may well be the golden example of the new face of Africa’s engineering endeavours: making use of all available sophisticated technology, small-scale but capable of impacting significant social changes, unsophisticated but far-reaching in effect.
Hence, if in concluding one asks a modified version of Friedrich Schelling’s potent question, namely: “Why is the something that is Africa’s reality, what it is, and not what it is desired to be?” Could one answer that question by stating in various ways that if the “oops” were the driving force behind reality, then it has just decided to play in Africa’s disfavour, pending a turn of events that might well be around the corner, that is, after the next “oops”? Or could one argue in the sense that a Deeper Order which mediates the powers that be is involved in an involution-evolution cycle which sees self-creating, self-organizing (autopoiesis) systems in existence become intricately influenced by discontinuous, non-linear changes, so that these systems sprout to more levels of order and embrace from a previous contraction, implying that Africa might well be animatedly (with the many untraditional African engineering endeavours being useful pieces in the puzzle) awaking from yet another cyclic slumber in its very long multi-millennial history?
Aurobindo. n.d. The Life divine and The synthesis of yoga. Pondicherry: Centenary Library, XVIII – XXI.
Habermas, J. 1971. Knowledge and human interests. Boston: Beacon.
Schelling, F. 1978 (1800). System of transcendental idealism. Trans. P. Heath. Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia.
Wilber, K. 2000. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston: Shambhala.
The views expressed in this article are entirely the views of the author or authors and are not necessarily those of DWA or its associates.