Cats among the pigeons
I am an admirer of Chinweizu, the Nigerian writer, critic and political philosopher-of-sorts.
That does not mean I agree with everything he says, but rather that his courage in articulating so well that which he believes in is certainly worth admiring. Take for instance how he got his PhD. Chinweizu enrolled for his PhD at the State University of New York, but he had major differences with the dissertation committee, which simply did not want him to pursue the line of thought he was following.
So he took his dissertation draft to Random House in 1975 and it was published as a book under the provocative title “The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers, and the African Elite”.
The following year he took that book to the State University of New York and on reading it, the powers that be immediately gave him his PhD.
He is a headstrong man with some pretty uncompromising views on a number of issues.
Consider his unapologetic take on the black African-Arab African debate, or his assessment of power relations and the need for black African power structures to better project Pan-Africanism as a practicable way of life. Whether you agree with him or not, you will enjoy his clarity of thought and articulation.
I was this past week re-reading his paper on “Pan-Africanism – Re-thinking Key Issues”.
The paper was presented as part of the “Sustaining the New Wave of Pan-Africanism” workshop at the University of Namibia in December 2010.
He says, “To import the imperialist proposed MDGs and the Nepad agenda into Pan-Africanism would be to compromise it by accepting the objectives defined for us by imperialism.
“For example, poverty alleviation aims only to make poverty sufficiently tolerable to prevent revolt against the imperialist system that creates the poverty of our people. And that is not what Pan-Africanism is about. Pan-Africanism is for the abolition of the system that creates poverty in Pan-Africa, not for pacifying the poor with pittances and amelioratives.”
In just four sentences, he sums up a major argument against the ugly capitalism that we have been trying to put lipstick on since our largely disastrous experiments with Marxism in the earlier years of Independence.
Poverty alleviation, he rightly notes, refers to reducing the number of people who are poor, not eradicating poverty. It is a goal that acknowledges that the system we are putting lipstick on requires there to be poor people whose backs we beat and bend so that we can enjoy our middle class mediocrity. Like good Christian capitalists, we bow our heads and say, “The poor will always be with us…”
Chinweizu doesn’t stop there. He goes further to declare: “Global human issues such as climate change, world peace, global justice, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran; these have enough non-Africans to champion them. The rest of humanity can solve such problems as world peace while we focus on our peculiar problems.
“If a man’s village is mustering troops to go to fight the next village, the fellow whose house is on fire has to excuse himself from village duty while he puts out the fire in his home…
“In fact, the best thing we could do for world peace is to concentrate on building our own power so as to remove the standing temptation we present to the strong to attack us and thereby disturb our peace and thereby the world’s peace.”
He gives what he aptly calls a cautionary example: “In 1966, out of internationalist anti-imperialist solidarity, Nkrumah made world peace one of his Pan-Africanist projects: that was how he opened himself to overthrow by the CIA by leaving on a trip to Hanoi to help arrange for peace in Vietnam.
“That should be a pertinent lesson to us not to overreach ourselves, not to take on issues that are best left to others.
“We need to remind some Pan-Africanists that Palestine is not a Pan-Africanist issue. It is an issue between the Arabs and the Israelis, between two groups among our white enemies.
“As such, we should try to exploit their conflict to our own advantage, and if that is not possible, we should simply ignore it.” For him, these are all decoy issues that we should not waste our time and energy on because their outcome will not in any way change the way we live our lives as Africans.
And we are certainly falling for these red herrings and not least of all when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.
I have my own views on that matter (ie, should it be “acceptable” or not), but that doesn’t matter.
Getting on a high horse and speeding to the nearest pulpit to deliver a hellfire and brimstone sermon in the finest tradition of Southern Baptists about how evil homosexuality is will not bring clean water to urban slums, will not put food in empty bellies, will not school poor children and will not add to our collective security as an African people that are free to chart their own destiny.
Chinweizu says of this matter, “Back in 2006, I responded as follows to an African-American Afrocentrist who was aggressively campaigning against homosexuality: You see, from the paramount framework of Building Afrikan Power, I can’t quite see the Afrocentric relevance of these matters of sexual preference – whether homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian or whatever else – that obsess some Pan-Africanists.
“I can’t see how any particular sexual preference helped cause our powerlessness; or how it can help or impede the building of Afrikan power.
“So, for me, these are irrelevant, and even decoy, issues that would keep us diverted from where we should be focused – Afrikan power.”
Africa is in an immense struggle right now: we don’t control our natural resources, we have no power over what happens in our economies and our people are used as modern day chattel by multinational corporations. In what way will fighting endlessly about homosexuality change all of this? As Chinweizu asserts, it is a decoy issue. In April, the European Union was reportedly behind the placement of an advertisement in Zambia’s media to invite organisations working within the context of gay rights to apply for funding.
And now for a whole month the Zambian government has been preoccupied by this, filling up newspaper column inches and broadcast air time to denounce homosexuality.
Surely, the government has more important things to focus on than to wilfully chase a cat that the EU has so mischievously – but in a very calculating manner – thrown among the pigeons.
I am not saying legalise gay marriages, I am saying ignore the issue and focus on other things.
Chinweizu offers a simple rule with which to filter issues that should take primacy in our daily lives: does the issue advance our development cause in any way? If it doesn’t, discard it.