The questions we won’t ask
Dr Cornel West – one of America’s foremost contemporary philosophers –used to be one of Barack Obama’s closest buddies.
But things have changed in recent years, and in 2012 he made a stinging attack in which he said Obama was “obsessed with being on Mount Rushmore” and more worried about his “legacy” than about delivering on all his many high-sounding (but ultimately empty, I might add) promises.
And then he drove the dagger in by calling Obama a “Rockefeller moderate Republican in black face”. In essence, West’s assessment of the Obama Presidency is not original; it is something that was said by some critics even before his first inauguration. Many people have always believed that he is a black front of capital, which has historically tended to be white. Perhaps it will make West feel better to know that the problem black Americans face with Obama is one we in Africa have long become used to.
Frantz Fanon referred to such Rockefeller moderate Republicans in black face with the term “black skin, white masks”, while Amilcar Cabral spoke of the “comprador bourgeoisie”.
The role of such agents of under-development was perhaps most vividly captured on the then Zaire’s Independence Day back in 1960. Belgium – through a veritable rogue called King Leopold – had raped the Congo for many a decade, but with the efforts of the likes of Patrice Lumumba, the imperial power gave in and signed an independence pact of sorts.
On that June 24 day of 1960, King Baudouin arrogantly told the Congolese people assembled for what should have been a joyous celebration that: “The Independence is the outcome of King Leopold's ingenious works.
“King Leopold did not come to conquer you but to civilise you and free you from slavery and tribal infighting.
“Look well after the spiritual, moral, religious values and the state institutions we are now handing over to you. We will always be there if you need us.” How about that? But if you think that was terrible, pause and consider the response by President Joseph Kasavubu, who had attained that ceremonial post because Prime Minister Lumumba wanted to maintain ethnic and regional harmony in the country. Before we quote Kasavubu’s words, it would be of interest to note that Prime Minister Lumumba had not been allocated a speaking slot on his own country’s Independence Day and yet his ceremonial President, a known friend of Belgium, was billed to speak after the Belgian King.
Anyway, Kasavubu responded to the King’s arrogance with an even more nauseating sycophancy:
“Your august majesty's presence here this day is yet again a shining and new testimony of your solicitude for the Congolese people whom you loved and protected.
“Eighty years of contact with Belgium has brought us but a lot of goods: language, legislation and culture. We are going to build on this foundation for future progress.”
Talk about a Rockefeller moderate Republican in black face! Fortunately, Lumumba – the bold man that he was right until the moment that he was murdered by Belgian and Congolese agents less than a year later – stood up to set the record straight on what the oppressed felt about Belgium.
Lumumba was an incisive and passionate speaker. But he went further than just talking: he acted. He set about trying to reform how the country was run so that the people of the Congo could start to benefit from their abundant natural resources. He went about restoring that essential commodity for individual and national development that we call dignity.
Lumumba knew that without pride in ourselves as Africans, we would always be a Rockefeller moderate Republicans in black face, forever consigning us to the status of hewers of wood and drawers of water. In Lumumba’s vision, people like Kasavubu had no place. There could be no co-existence with men who invite oppressive neighbours into their homes to enjoy their wives and exploit their children.
And because there could be no co-existence, the Rockefeller moderate Republicans in black face killed him. Today, such comprador bourgeoisies have invited the French to do as they please with Mali, the same way they did in Libya before that, Cote d’Ivoire before that and many other countries over the centuries.
ECOWAS brazenly says that it will only be able to deploy in Mali in the second half of the year. Meanwhile, France rapes Mali as it did Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. The African Union will meet as scheduled in Addis Ababa and there shall be much wringing of hands, self-righteous denunciations of imperialism, and declarations on how the continent must be allowed to solve its own problems. Everyone present will know who the Rockefeller moderate Republicans in black face in their midst will be. But there will be no direct finger pointing, no outright condemnations, no sanctioning of the guilty.
No one will stand up to ask ECOWAS how the hell they think they will solve their problems with French guns. No one will ask Uganda and Rwanda what they are doing in the DRC.
No. Instead, the only direct finger-pointing, outright condemnations and sanctioning is done by the guilty themselves when they want to destroy the work – and lives – of those who refuse to be part of the comprador bourgeoisie class.
They did it to Lumumba, to Biko, to Sankara, to Chitepo. They are doing it to Chavez, to Mugabe, to Correa. So Dr Cornel West, I understand your frustration with Obama. It is a frustration with Africa’s leadership we have had to deal with since the first slave ships arrived on our shores.