‘Mwalimu’ is the Swahili word for teacher and the modest Swahili I speak, I learned from Mwalimu James. Someone recommended him to me when at the arrival of my first stay in Nairobi, I wanted to learn the local language. I must immediately add that my Swahili is not modest because Mwalimu James was a bad teacher. It is so for two different reasons: First, contrary to Tanzania where Swahili alone is the official language, in Kenya, English joins Swahili as official language and much of public life happens in English. Official publications of the government, the leading newspapers, and much of TV and social media are in English. Practically everyone speaks it, and, in the vernacular, it is ingeniously mixed into Swahili. Second, after some time, my Swahili lessons with Mwalimu James turned into ‘Africana’ lessons, as we called it. He taught me the ABC of African life, African culture and values, and African politics. And then our relationship became friendship, we went out together a few times and he showed me some Nairobi night spots. And we watched football together, he was an Arsenal man. But above all, we had the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges on the different places in both our cultures of music, masks, family and friends, sexuality, tribe, jokes, politics and – you name it. All in English. James was a great teacher! When I left in 1993, we vowed to stay in touch and, of course, we didn’t. When I returned to Nairobi for the UN and Somalia a few years later, I looked him up and was told that he had emigrated, left Africa.

Those Homo sapiens who today populate the world outside the continent left Africa some 60’000 years before Mwalimu James. Not emigrating as individuals for a better future somewhere else, but rather migrating as members of a group of a few dozen people. All they were doing was to follow the basic survival needs of all living organisms: Move toward nutrients and sources of energy; Move away from harm and danger; Remember and learn; Reproduce. On top of that, Homo sapiens was now in transition from the Middle to the Late Stone Age, producing more sophisticated tools and developing mental senses, greater consciousness, and tighter social organization.

Of course, they did not know that they were leaving Africa, they were just moving on. But already then, migration was a conscious human decision: Do I stay, or do I go? For hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age, finding enough food for survival is a good reason to move on. But other reasons may enter account: A hostile encounter with another group of humans, the threat of a territorial animal predator or a natural disaster, a wildfire, a flood, or a drought. Maybe curiosity. Or simply the human search for the promised land, the happy place where dreams and hopes come true.

The Earth was in a cooling period, reaching its glacial peak. Much of the atmosphere’s water was bound in ice and ocean levels were low. Leaving Africa at the Strait of Bab el Mandab, the migrating humans might even have found a land bridge onto the Arabian Peninsula. And again, this migration was not continuous and in masses. Initially, it was one or two groups who did the crossing. And from there, it became a generational affair. Over time and generations, people and groups multiplied. Having grown too big to be sustained, groups had to split. Some groups back tracked. Some stayed in Arabia and others left the Tropic of Cancer and moved north-east, into Persia. And some of those moved on to India, South-East Asia, and Australia. Yet others to northern Asia, and ultimately, along the Bering Land Bridge and south, into the Americas. Long, slow, generational migration of Homo sapiens to the East.

To the West, archaeologists and geneticists agree that by 40’000 years ago, Homo sapiens had colonized Europe. But why the migration to Europe came so late and what its routes were, is debated. Groups of Homo sapiens had migrated down along the Nile and into the Sinai as early as 130’000 years ago, or maybe even earlier. From there they moved on into the Levant and the Fertile Crescent, into Mesopotamia or today’s Iraq. Maybe they just stayed there or those that did move into Europe couldn’t establish themselves. The genetic distance between Europeans and Asians is significantly smaller than the one between Europeans and Africans or the one between Asians and Africans. This suggests that Europeans stem from the same Homo sapiens that left Africa across the Strait of Bab el Mandab. Leaving Arabia, after moving north and east into Asia, they would have turned west and into Europe, at a given point.

Altogether in that wave of 60’000 years ago, only a few hundred people left Africa. In effect, this makes a very small number of East Africans the ancestors of all modern humans who populate the world outside Africa. Today, that would be 7 billion out of the 8 billion people we are on Earth.

And there is a feature of the out-of-Africa Homo sapiens I need to draw your attention to: Populating the rest of the world, they carried with them an ominous set of genetic variants. Scientists have traced these back to their people of origin in Africa. And they discovered that the African relatives of the out-of-Africa humans had developed a more belligerent culture than usual on the continent. They engaged in ritualized fighting, such as wrestling, stick fights, and even headhunting. In everyday life, they had a higher tendency to use violence and aggression, killing and warfare, to resolve conflict. This may have given the out-of-Africa humans an advantage on their way to populating Europe and the rest of the world. But imagine what the world and global politics could be today, if more peaceable groups of Homo sapiens had colonized the world outside Africa. No colonialism? No Wars? No destruction of the environment? Not that Africa, with a much broader, more diverse, and maybe more peaceable genetic base of her one billion people, doesn’t have any problems of her own.

On their way into Europe, the scarce groups of Homo sapiens, the modern humans, would encounter scarce groups of archaic humans, Neanderthals. These had evolved out of Homo erectus who had already ventured out of Africa, some 500’000 years earlier, through the Sinai. Homo sapiens was moving into new and unknown territory and could not have known that what he was running into was his evolutionary predecessor. Imagine a group of hunter-gatherers, speaking their primitive language and carrying their kinds of tools and weapons seeing another group of hunter-gatherers, speaking their primitive language, and carrying their kinds of tools and weapons. Imagine their brains computing: Reptilian brain, mammalian brain, cortex. Fear and curiosity, recognition of resemblance, maybe an attempt at communication – but surely survival. Fight or flee. It is obvious that such encounters would not always play out peacefully. And it is obvious who would win any clash or fight. Homo sapiens was the super predator and monster among the animals. Nevertheless, some of the encounters must have ended friendly and some Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals. Today, humans of Eurasian ancestry carry as much as 2.6 percent of Neanderthal DNA in their genome. But with the arrival of Homo sapiens in its territory, the Neanderthal population shrank and then disappeared altogether. The Neanderthal thus became another of the many dead ends of human evolution.

Moving out of Africa and colonizing the outside world was a defining moment for humankind. Henceforth, human evolution would take different paths not only between Africa and the rest of the world but also among the various regions of the world outside Africa. The different natural environments with different landscapes and climates, and different plants and animals would lead on to humans developing different survival skills, different communities, different cultures and values, and over time, biological differences. Look out! ‘Biological difference among population groups’ is a line of scientific battle.

Geneticists attest that, as much as genetic differences between men and women exist, there are differences among human population groups. The great majority of such differences established so far, are far less profound than the ones between males and females. They concern skin color, bodily dimensions, or susceptibility to diseases. But differences among humans by genetics, inheritance, and biology can no longer be ignored.

Sociologists seem reluctant to fully engage in this debate. They warn that explaining a natural biological division of humankind by genetic differences among population groups was used in the past to justify the slave trade, eugenics, and genocide. And, of course, racism. They uphold the principle of universal human equality and challenge the geneticists to prove that any found biological differences affect human cognition and behavior. On their side of the argument, they also have the gender feminism and social justice activists who are fudging the scientific debate with ideology and beliefs. – However, one thing is for sure: Africa, Africans and African Americans know what it means to be at the receiving end of racist theories – be they scientific or ideological.

Europe never had indigenous crocodiles, but fossil finds prove that African crocodiles had populated Europe some four million years ago. That was long before Lucy, the current Ice Age, and Homo habilis. We don’t know what the crocodiles thought about the humans’ migration out of Africa and into Europe. Already having been there and now staying behind, they will have anticipated with glee that Homo sapiens would learn their own lesson of the cold and hostile environment they would encounter there.

The Europeans, on the other hand, could never really let go of their oldest companion and competitor in evolution. To this day, they shed crocodile tears and sing about them. John Mayall, the ‘godfather of British Blues’, sang a song called ‘Crocodile Walk’: “… And he’s feeling very bad, He’s got a long way to walk, Looking for a home, See the crocodile walk”. This was 1965 and just months before Eric Clapton joined his ‘Bluesbreakers’. Sir Winston Churchill showed that he knew a few things about the true nature of the crocodile when he warned: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last”. The United Kingdom also has a crocodile zoo. Spain, Italy, and France all have crocodile farms and parks, for recreation and learning. One in France boasts over 350 South African Nile crocodiles – imported from Italy – in a 4’000 m2 greenhouse heated to 30 degrees by water from a nearby nuclear plant. Still in France and notwithstanding all the crocodile farms in Europe, please note that the famous ‘Hermes Birkin’ ladies’ handbags are made of crocodile leather sourced from a commercial farm in Australia that hosts 50’000 crocodiles. And the logo of ‘Lacoste’ sportswear is a crocodile because the founder of the company, the very successful French tennis player of the period between the world wars, René Lacoste, was nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’. Some say this was due to his tenacious and enduring play which was based on never relenting baseline strokes. Others say it was because he once won a crocodile leather briefcase as reward of a bet that he would beat a strong opposing player.

Like the crocodiles, most of Homo sapiens stayed in Africa and went on with their lives there. Sometimes their migrations would lead them through the turf of crocodiles, those cruel predators of humans. But according to folk memory, the crocodiles were sometimes supportive of Homo sapiens’ movement through their territory: On the way from the ancestral homeland in Ghana into Côte d’Ivoire, the Baoulé – the tribe of which I am an honorary chief in Bringakro – had to cross a river. The river god told the queen who was leading our migration, that to cross, she had to sacrifice her only child. When she did so, the crocodiles of the river lined up, side by side and formed a bridge, allowing the whole tribe to reach the other side and our home of today. For river crossings without divine intervention, we have a proverb which says: ‘When crossing a river, do not insult the crocodile’.

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