From Gabon, “Bantu international” radiates the universal African soul – Jeune Afrique
It is not well known to the general public in Africa, including Gabon, where its headquarters are located. However, the International Center of Bantu Civilizations (Ciciba) forms an international research center. It is preparing to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, with the aim of boosting its visibility, like the “Bantu international” it embodies.
The idea of creating such a center sprouted in the mind of Omar Bongo Ondimba in the early 1980s. The Gabonese president dreamed of highlighting Bantu cultures and traditions by initially building a Gabonese national association.
Eleven Member States
Sure of the interest his idea could arouse worldwide, Omar Bongo Ondimba opened up to his counterparts in the region and on the continent. Some heads of state are enthusiastic about the idea of embarking on this venture, others have promised to join without actually taking action, and some, it is said, are secretly seeking to torpedo this project for fear that it will be exposed a little more. the image of the Gabonese president.
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Never mind, Ciciba gave birth to what some call “the Bantu international”. It now has eleven member states: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Gabon, The Equatorial Guinea, DRC, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe and Zambia. They will soon be joined by twelve other countries that fueled the reflection before the creation of the center more than forty years ago and that, since then, have been dragging their feet to join. Ciciba continues to try to convince these “lukewarm states” to ratify texts that would make them full members.
An identity that is present from Nigeria to South Africa
The Bantus do not form a monolithic block or a people as such. Nor is it a group of people with common physical characteristics. Authoritative researchers speak of a group of populations with common languages, cultures and traditions. “The thing [singulier de bantu] is the intimate being, that element, in man, that holds his identity. The muntu is the African creature that lives in African communities and is defined by a certain number of languages”, explains Professor Antoine Manda Tchebwa, Director General of Ciciba.
Bantus: the search for origins
The appearance of the Bantus in Africa dates back 5,000 years. Their original home is said to be in what is now Benue State in eastern Nigeria. Some studies, however, point to an earlier focus in ancient Egypt. This thesis is confirmed by emblematic figures of the African academic world, such as Théophile Obenga (Egyptologist, historian and linguist from the Congo) and Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegalese scientist, historian and anthropologist, who died in 1986).
On the continent, the Bantus’ sphere of influence extends from Nigeria to South Africa, where it is praisedubuntu, a humanist philosophy that promotes well-being and living together within the community. It was mainly members of the Xhosa ethnic group, from which Nelson Mandela hails, who put forward this concept, which encompasses the notion of cooperation between people within a community. Ubuntu will enable the Rainbow Nation to better deal with the tensions arising from the abolition of apartheid, which led to the end of the privileges of the white minority, which held the reins of the national economy.
Bantus: from Tempels to Mandela, the spring of philosophers
In the Bantu space there are also other communities (Pygmies, semi-Bantu, Nilotic, etc.). Thanks especially for the book Ubuntu – I Am Because of You – African Wisdom Lesson (HarperCollins, 2019), of Mungi Ngomane, grandson of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, this philosophy now “speaks” to millions of people who do not live in the Bantu area. Artist exhibitions in the same theme also helped establish its reputation in the world.
Afro-descendants in search of roots
Today, Ciciba has left its dilapidated headquarters in Akanda, north of Libreville, to live in a modern building in the heart of the Gabonese capital. It has the world’s largest database on Bantu civilizations, in the form of microfiches. This database contains the results of work carried out in several countries by African, European and Asian researchers, among others. At the academic level, the center has collaborated with various foreign universities for the development of research on Bantu civilizations and cultures.
Bantu people are everywhere!
It wants to be a space for international cooperation between Africa and its diasporas, where we can include people of African descent, in a context where Afro descendants are more and more likely to find their origins, and make pilgrimages to the continent. It is with this in mind that Libreville hosted, in 2017, the first meeting between people of African descent, now scattered around the world, mainly because of the slave trade and slavery.
Ciciba shines in particular in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, where it has opened a representative office that covers all of Latin America. Thus the Bantu international expanded its presence in “Meso-America”(cultural area occupied by the civilizations of Central America before the Spanish colonization), but also in North America: in the United States, in Canada and in the Caribbean islands, where it has informal partners. However, talking about the latter who will be “formal collaborators” from 2023. “, emphasizes Antoine Manda Tchebwa.
However, this ambition is still fighting the difficulties associated with the delay in the payment by some Member States of their contribution – but when we know that the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of Central African States (Ceeac), the Southern African Development Community (Sadec) and other regional or continental organizations are also complaining about these delays… To avoid this pitfall and find new sources of funding, the Bantu international intends to turn to philanthropists and foundations sensitive to the Bantu question around the world. An approach that is further encouraged as it is provided for the founding texts of Ciciba.