Africa: A future beyond war and poetry

By Mkhosana Mathobela Mabhena

THERE is more to being African than just being black, having an African identity document and being geographically born and located on the African soil. While black people everywhere in the world are reminded now and again, and through all manner and acts that they are African, there are as many white people in Africa and outside who are dying to be known as Africans. There is a scramble to be African and for Africanity inside and outside Africa.

Helpfully, Ghanaian scholar, Kwesi Kwaa Prah noted that “if everyone can be an African, then no one is an African.” Kwesi Prah uttered this statement in response to thinkers of the “African Commitment School.” These are thinkers, mainly white and some Arab who believe that anyone who has a serious commitment to Africa and in Africa can be an African. To Kwesi Prah and others, thinkers of the African Commitment School of thought are at best mischievous and at worst wicked.

For instance, Cecil John Rhodes gave his name, Rhodesia, to what is now called Zimbabwe because he had a serious political and economic commitment in that part of the African continent, but his economic and political commitment were evil, genocidal and nihilistic. Slavery, colonialism and imperialism at large were serious commitments that were carried out with prodigious gravitas but were essentially racist, evil and Africa has for centuries been in the receiving end of these evils.

Further, in this post-independence era in Africa, there are those from outside Africa who become African by their investments and their businesses that they champion in Africa – Africans by profit. Thinking seriously about economic and political liberation in Africa requires that liberation movements and liberation thinkers consider in depth the kind of commitments and responsibilities that Africanity and its futures demand. This is even more serious given that globalisation as the new imperialism, culturally, economically and politically has turned many black people into Europeans in black skins, lackeys who live and work in Africa but serve European and American interests.

Among the Marxists, Communists and even some nationalists in Africa, there are few but important white people who have thought, said and done so much for African liberation than some black Africans, and this reality surely complicates identities and the business of liberation and search for African futures. It is even more important to reflect in depth, not only about who and what is an African, but what demands African liberation and African futures place before those who believe themselves to be Africans.

Warrior and Poetry Traditions

To slavery, colonialism and imperialism at large, Africa and Africans did not sheepishly submit to slaughter, they mounted resistance and fierce struggle. Even to the present stage of globalisation as the new imperialism, the liberation movements in Africa, in one way or another continue to resist, protest and struggle.

In 1977, the gifted Kenyan historian, political scientist and philosopher Ali Mazrui identified “the warrior tradition” in Africa as one way in which Africa and Africans reacted to conquest and domination by enslavers, colonialists and imperialists. In the Warrior Tradition, armed struggle and militant insurrection became the revolutionary language and activism of choice for African guerillas and their liberation movements.

The Mau Mau guerillas of Kenya for instance, fought to the death, for liberation. Besides the forceful Warrior Tradition that gave impetus to the struggles for liberation Africa, in 1995 the versatile Ali Mazrui observed that there had been, in Africa, a powerful liberatory “poetry tradition.” In the Pan-Africanist “poetry to power” tradition, Africans used cultural weapons, music, poems and art to resist imperialism and insist on African culture, traditions and spiritualities. Rebelliously, Africans revived their cultural and spiritual traditions to resist subjugation and the hegemony of Euro-American culture.

Pan-Africanism, Rastafarianism, Negritude, Gurveyism and even Nationalism itself became forceful cultural and spiritual movements for African liberation. Admittedly, the warrior tradition and the poetry tradition took Africa to decolonisation and the dethronement of administrative colonisation and apartheid. Liberation leaders and thinkers of today have the task to generate insights and ideas that will propel African economies and polities to full liberation, for decolonisation was not necessarily liberation.

The New Domination

In response and in reaction to the warrior and poetry traditions of African resistance and struggle, colonial and imperial administrations retreated and exhausted themselves, giving African countries political independence, but they had not been defeated. The Bretton Woods Institutions of the Washington Consensus, the IMF and the World Bank that were originally built to rebuild the world after the destruction of the Second World War, did not necessarily aim to rebuild but to recolonise Africa. The Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes that they enforced on Africa got the African states to minimise social welfare programmes, privatise national industries and service delivery including education and healthcare.

Because of the cruel and anti-people IMF and World Bank programmes, by the late 1970s and the 1980s all African liberation movements had been turned into enemies of the people, all liberation leaders had become unpopular because the states that they led had become clouds that could not deliver rain, could not deliver education, healthcare and food to the masses. The friction between the liberation movements and the African masses degenerated into conflicts between the governments of Africa and the people.

Europe and America funded NGOs, civil society organisations that pretended to monitor human rights abuses, provided food aid, health care and educational support. Power moved from post-independence states to NGOs. The African liberation movements had become true enemies of the people and Europe together with America, true to their civilising mission pretences, had become the new saviours of the people. Recolonisation was almost complete. The global media became the witnesses that publicized the civil wars and the horrors of Africa and made news out of the failed states and outposts of tyranny.

Presently, the commodification of education in South Africa has set the poor black students up against the black government and the liberation movement. White monopoly capital hugs onto its ill-gotten billions, the Democratic Alliance gains in popularity. It is really not the fees that is falling but the liberation movement, under the supervision of the new domination of the market forces, structured and powered by the IMF and the World Bank.

Reloading Liberation in Africa

At the present stage of recolonisation, the warrior traditions and poetry traditions of struggle are not enough to recover Africa from this coloniality. Militarily, the NATO alliance uses what Ali Mazrui called a “ nuclear apartheid” where they monopolise weapons of mass destruction and are ready to do a Libya on any rebellious Africa state and country. Culturally and intellectually, Africa has become westernised, full of black people with black skins but having Euro-American sense and sensibility. There is no sufficient cultural capital or poetry tradition to counter western hegemony.

The military weakness of Africa and the cultural poverty of the continent demand that the liberation movement must reload liberation consciousness in the continent or else wallow in misery and wait for complete recolonisation to take place. Being an African today, therefore, is not simply being black or being white but as Abiola Irele, the Nigerian philosopher argues, Africanity is an experience and an aspiration for liberation.

Urgently, Africa needs a decolonial turn. From pre-school to university, peasants to professors, villagers to urbanites, Africans need to be awakened to a new consciousness of the struggle for liberation. Already, within the Africa Decolonial Research Network (ADERN) and the Decoloniality International (DI) scholars have begun researching on strategies and tactics of reloading Africa’s new liberatory consciousness. Life and struggle can no longer be business as usual.

Mkhosana Mathobela Mabhena writes from South Africa