Africa: Stop the laughter

By Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni

PART of the poverty of post-colonial thinking is the fallacy that slavery and colonialism ended and Africa must now take total responsibility of her political and economic problems. Not only that, a post-colonial fiction is emerging among some intellectuals that slavery and colonialism, looked at dispassionately, were after all a necessary evil for Africa and the entire Global South.

Tragically, these post-colonial fallacies are not peddled by whites or the perpetrators and beneficiaries of imperialism, but are being circulated by what Jacob Zuma famously and meaningfully called “clever blacks”, the Smart Alecks within the black intelligentsia, who have intelligently appointed themselves to the position of spokespersons for white supremacy and imperialism. These intellectual native informants among us have taken to entertaining white supremacists by ridiculing and lampooning Africa and other Africans in the name of journalism, scholarship and public intellection. This intellectual treachery against Africa and blackness has mainly been for the sweet jingle of coins and the melody of notes.

The white Empire rewards handsomely every Judas, who invents new insults and profanities against his own continent and fellow people. For the opportunistic doctors and professors in the black and African intellectual community, the easiest way to cool dollars and to the pinnacle of academia is to come up with new grammars and vocabularies of describing what exactly is supposed to be wrong with Africa and Africans. As this happens, Africa remains the continent of happy and laughing people. As white supremacists and racists laugh at Africa, Africa laughs at herself as well. Africa is the continent that laughs at its own funeral and laughs with its pall bearers and undertakers.

Making Example of Garvey

The reason why Marcus Garvey built a ship bigger than Noah’s and wanted to ship all Africans out of America back to their motherland is because he observed that the American dream was a nightmare for the former slaves. Hope for black peoples in America was in getting into the Black Starliner and sailing back to Africa.

Marcus Garvey, however limited and unrealistic his strategy was, he thought decolonially and had looked at Empire in the eye. It is for that reason that Empire cruelly punished Marcus Garvey and made an example of him to silence present and future spokespersons of blackness and Africanity. The philosopher and prophet of black liberation was framed with fraud charges and jailed. Many decades after the example of Garvey, in 1997, Keith Richburg, an African-American, who works as a correspondent for the Washington Post wrote a forceful book: ‘Out of America a Black Man Confronts Africa’.

The book was the fruition of a journalistic trip that Keith Richburg made to Tanzania soon after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. It begins with the sentence: “I watched the dead float down a river in Tanzania.” Part of the narrative wealth of the tale is the condition of the many dead bodies that the journalist saw floating along the river, their disfigured shapes and the loud smell that they emitted. Chief among the messages and meanings of the book is that Keith Richburg thanks his God that his ancestors were shipped from Africa as slaves, an eventuality that allowed him to be born an American, not an African.

In other words, Keith Richburg washes himself of the curse of being African and celebrates that he is American and his black skin is only an accident of pigmentation, otherwise his soul is now as white as snow.  The enslavement of Africans, that crime against humanity that was committed by white capitalists and supremacists, is re-imagined by a black man as a blessing that rescued him and his like from the evil and darkness of Africa. Of the many things Keith Richburg complains about in Africa is the “smell” of Africa. In contrast to the home sweet home scent of America, Africa stinks in the post-colonial nose of Keith Richburg and others. If white explorers and supremacists like Joseph Conrad wrote shocking descriptions of Africa and Africans, Keith Richburg as a black man in America has taught them fresh lessons in the demonisation of the continent of his ancestors.

Stop the Laughter

On July 27, 1998, before an audience of the Second Southern African International Dialogue on Smart Partnership for the Generation of Wealth in Swakopmund, Namibia, Thabo Mbeki delivered a speech. The speech bore the simple title: ‘Stop the Laughter’. After announcing that he was a descendant of African liberators and a proud child of the African liberation movement, a cut from the old decolonial and liberatory cloth, Mbeki went on to beseech Africans to stop the laughing and begin the new war of restoring Africa to her power and dignity.

There are two laughters that Thabo Mbeki wanted stopped. The first laughter is the play and merriment found in Africa where populations and the liberation movements themselves have resigned to Africa’s marginal fate and are laughing and relaxed as the continent sinks further into the abyss. The second laughter is that of Europeans and Americans, who on a daily basis are treated to many comic stories and spectacular narratives about life and events in Africa, narratives and tales presented by clever blacks of the likes of Keith Richburg, who win awards for their racist descriptions of Africa.

The white supremacist no longer has the trouble of inventing myths and fictions about Africa, there are now clever blacks who are issuing a flourish of stories on and about Africa for the entertainment and polishing of the ego of the white supremacist. Mbeki’s was a call to arms, away from laughter and play, Africans of conscience must awaken to the ongoing struggle for the economic and political liberation of Africa.

African Critics of Africa

In his cleverness, Richburg blamed African primitive people and their backward politics for the bodies of the dead that were floating down the river in Tanzania. In his cleverness, Richburg did not care to remember the millions of bodies of blacks that floated in the sea, fallen from the slave ships. The multitudes that died in Iraq and elsewhere where Europe and America had decided to wage war against the poor and powerless. To Richburg’s limited and limiting mind, genocide is only committed by blacks in Africa. The many blacks that died in American slave plantations and in the colonial mines and farms in Africa did not die in the view of the likes of Richburg. Mass murder and genocide are black inventions to post-colonial imaginists.

In 1963, another black American thought it and also put it better. Malcolm X said as blacks in America, “we must stop airing our differences in front of the white man, put the white man out of our meetings, and sit down and talk shop with each other”.

African and black scholars and journalists have a duty to critique African governments and liberation movements. It is the role of the intelligentsia to call African leaders to order, and not for European intellectuals and academic tourists. What matters is the attitude of the criticism: it must not be criticism for the entertainment of Americans and Europeans but for the economic and political liberation of Africa.

l Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni writes from South Africa