Sunday, March 3, 2024

Why history matters. Part 2

Part of the reason why History is mocked is largely because it is misunderstood – or perhaps – understood in part. There is a very narrow understanding of History – which is largely seen as uninteresting stories of chiefs and their tribal battles in some dark forgotten past. When some people think of history, they think of Shaka with a spear, half-naked, running across grassy plains of southern Africa stabbing his enemies and stealing hundreds of their cattle.

The critic dismisses these stories and says: What use is the past? After all, we live in the 21st century characterised by sophisticated computing and technological advancement. What value could be derived from such stories? In our quest to transform into a knowledge economy wouldn’t it be better if we invested much energy in teaching our children financial literacy, computational coding and engineering so that they could compete internationally with the world’s best?

Well, try that on Israel. Israel leads the world in much technology and engineering and yet it has not forgotten the World War II genocide of the European Jews known as the Holocaust where over six million Jews were slaughtered. The History of Apartheid South Africa helps explain the current economic anomalies where 10% of the population owns 80% of the land. Arguments for land repossession, black economic empowerment and the need for the development of a solid black middle class in that country is better explained within a historical context.

The reason why the history of southern African people is written predominantly by whites can be explained by making reference to the South Africa’s educational history itself. A systematic disintegration of black families in the last 50 years is better accounted for by making reference to history. The reason why we have Ntlo ya Dikgosi and not the House of Lords is better explained by reference to the fact that much of what constitutes modern Botswana state used to be private tribal land owned by different merafe led by dikgosi.

There is however more to history than just the story of merafe and dikgosi. History also deals with business (such as the history of banking or the history of mining in Botswana), security (the history of the police service and the army). There is history of education in Botswana, history of the road transport, history of the beef industry, the history of the Botswana currency, the history contagious diseases in Botswana, history of Tswana architecture, etc. History should not be conceived in a narrow sense. The reason why we lose much memory and sometimes failure to celebrate our successes is in part because we lack an appreciation of history.

History is also essential to tourism. Travel and tourism contribute over 80,000 jobs and over P24,5 billion to the GDP of the country annually. Tourism is more than just about seeing wildlife and enjoying spectacular sights on a boat. What captivates visitors are stories of local people and how they have survived in unforgiving terrains. Tourists are interested in souvenirs, the arts, crafts, photographs, music, local books, music, movies, legends etc. What makes Tsodilo Hills – which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – unique is not just the spectacular rock – but the unique record of human settlement in that area over many millennia. It is the rock paintings that weave complicated stories of human faith and survival. Not far from Gaborone, near Manyana, are the spectacular Dimawe hills where Sechele of the Bakwena, with Bakaa, Bangwaketse, and Bakgatla defeated the Boers.

These are stories of human conquest and pride. Not far from Dimawe are the Mma Sechele caves in Manyana which sheltered Sechele’s pregnant wife during the war. They have some spectacular rock paintings which bear testimony of a vibrant life in these parts of the country thousands of years ago. This is the economic value of History. The economic value of history is woven in the history of the three dikgosi monument – right here in the city. It is in the shocking story of how the University of Botswana was built by peasants through their contribution of beasts, eggs and sorghum because they had what seemed like an impossible dream of a better tomorrow for their own children, and their children’s children.

History is central to the creative industry. We know that in the US the arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, much more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing. In Botswana we are yet to explore the full economic value of history and the arts. Much money is to be made in paintings, music, movies, theatre, consulting, writing, directing, book writing, photography and many such areas. History is not just important; it is essential to the very soul of our society. It has great economic potential and lies right at the heart of a knowledge economy.


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