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AFRICA LIBERATION!!:Celebration or commiseration-some reflections by Baaba Sillah mu Sabel!

Jun 29, 2016, 2:08 PM | Article By: Baba Sillah

(Issue Tuesday 28, June 2016)

I often find myself in a dilemma as to where to begin when I write about and refer to events in our contemporary world. However, given that editors are often constrained by space and the fact that I am writing for in this instance an audience of a highly literate elite on the pages of a newspaper, I will assume that they have a good working knowledge about Africa. I will further assume that they can skim through the surface of the text and ignore the issues omitted even though they can be critical to the debate on Africa’s way forward in the present century. Do pardon the omissions! They will be retrieved as the debate progresses and interrogated in order to ascertain their merit or otherwise in the discourse.

In spite of the above, you will appreciate that I am caught in between a rock and a hard place trying to condense such important matters of life, living, our stories and of our destiny within a few pages while at the same time, trying to chronicle the full import of seventy years of the past, present and probable future events.  The ghost in my machine tells me that things must be fully contextualized while reality presents me with its own fait-accompli- brevity. I will accept reluctantly the practical reality that besets me with tremendous humility!

In this article, I will begin by heeding Big brother Chinua Achebe’s advice on where to begin,  ‘what we need to do is look back and try and find out where we went wrong, where the rain began to beat us. Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse, to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the years of denigration and self abasement’.

The past three months in The Gambia have been interesting for me and I want to begin by sharing some impressions and some thoughts with you as curtain raisers. I believe each one of them has some affinity or some bearing on, (however remote), with the debate I am hoping this paper might generate in relation to the African narrative we need to re-appraise.

I can then go on to delve on the more substantive issues that appertain to the several visions of Pan Africanism and Africa liberation. I will argue in the conclusions of this paper that, there is a new scramble for Africa and our liberation is still a pipe dream unless, we screw up the courage to change course. Finally on a more positive note, I will advance the notion of ‘delinking from international finance capital (imperialism in other words), as an alternative to the existing status quo. Delinking is not a new phenomenon! However owing to the precipice Africa has been landed on, and without hope for rescue, gives new and alternative thinking the impetus to review some other ideas we have overlooked and hardly taken notice of.  It is to this that I proffer one possible approach that could be added to our quiver of means in our quest for freeing ourselves from the stranglehold of imperialism. A part of this approach did work on a small scale before our economies and politics were subsumed and consigned irrevocably to an appendage status. I am convinced that it is possible to apply and adapt it in larger settings. It is thus time for review.  

In February, this year 2016, a video documentary was released on the life and times of Edward Francis Small, Gambia’s patron saint and founding father of Gambian nationalism, the trade unionist, the anti-colonial struggler, the educator, the freedom fighter, the pioneer par excellence of journalism and the list is long. His pride of place in our contemporary history has never been accorded to him until recently. Even there, more beseening accolades are due to him. After the release of the video, many people approached and confided in me and said, they have never known about this luminary but more so that Gambians of those times had the gumption to challenge and debate with the colonial authorities with such; frankness, openness, in such wide and varied ways and more astonishingly, considering the level of education and the limited tools of analysis that were available to them at the time.

I had also attended the Roots home-coming festival’s symposium on Africa’s past, present and future in relation to her future politics and economics. After the sixties, with the exception of a few robust and sincere scholars, the debate on Africa was first put on the back-burner by emerging leaders and their stalwarts for their own class interest. Later on it became confined to the dusty tombstones of times past. Interestingly enough, the Pan African agenda was finally picked up and salvaged from neglect and atrophy by the same petit bourgeois radical intellectuals. Oddly enough, these rarefied individual nationalists, often castigated and dubbed as mavericks ‘harboring foreign ideologies’ continue to sing a lonely swan song without an audience to listen or applaud them.  Now, they are few and far between. For the masses, nothing has changed and nothing has visited them to give them a little glimmer of hope to ease their burden even though, they bear the brunt of the ravaging and rampaging consequences of neo-colonialism, poverty, disease, debt servitude,  superstition, immisiration and hopelessness.

Some pretty interesting ideas emerged out of the symposium. Especially noteworthy was Juka Jaabang’s paper that suggested that Africa should begin to look inwardly and open discussions with fellow sister-states. I agreed with her but did not get the chance of articulating fully my vision of the future for Africa beyond expressing my favour for the phenomenon of unhinging our economies from the global finance capital.  However, owing to the limitations of such fora, none of the issues raised were dealt with beyond the depth of our skins.  Will there be other such assemblies that are all inclusive and engaging so that civil society throughout Africa can reclaim their voices and choices. This way, among other things, these budding ideas could be addressed exhaustively and tangible plans of action evolving out of them or will it be business as usual?

The African youth gathering in The Gambia is another case in point. Could it be reified as a youth-led initiative to fire the imagination of their elders or is it a part of Africa beginning to come off age at last by initiating baby-steps towards a genuine intergenerational dialogue with herself, her family of fifty four states and her own trajectory?  Time will tell!

It will be remiss of me as a social scientist if I do not mention the U D P opposition’s marches for electoral reform.

Many such events like the demand for constitutional reforms had occurred in the past especially during the build-up towards our independence. The general strikes of 1929 and 1961 are examples to go by among umpteen strikes by the stevedores, students, teachers, even night-soil workers and so on. All of them were resolved through dialogue. In my humble opinion, these are small touchstone events that I figure are nudging reminders that could be adduced as evidence to all for the need to initiate and promote dialogue both at the intra and the extra political levels.  I must not miss the economic dialogue as well, for it is economics that determine society, culture and politics only define it! I stress this more so because our battle cries in the sixties for independence did not include an economic and social agenda as to who will eventually expropriate, own and control the means of production and the surplus created by the people?  

It is to this pertinent question of where Africa is heading that I proffer some modest thoughts a small contribution to the debate. To some, what I present below    may be unsettling.  To others, I hope it will find resonance in their hearts and finally, if it ruffles any feathers to the extent that it provokes some opposing thoughts or even spurs them to action, then I will have accomplished my objective. I crave that the level and quality of the debate be continually raised and maintained.

It is often argued and I belt along to say that I subscribe to the view that, one of the best things to have happen to The Gambia is the establishment of a university. This is the citadel of hope; the loci of research, learning and the bastion for excellence, the seat of independent, critical thinking and the hub for our future development.

 I have met and spoken with a good number of the students, graduates and lecturers of this fledgling institution. There are obvious problems of a teething nature but I cannot but say that with time and with conscious effort, these issues can be addressed in enabling and innovative ways so that so many of us who are leaving and languishing in the greener pastures in the elsewheres of others can have reason to want to stay in our own grazing lands. One thing is clear among the youth; there is hunger for knowledge, a thirst to change their material circumstances and doubts as to how to satiate these expressed needs without resorting to desperate actions? The infamous mass hijra known otherwise as the ‘back way’ by the youth cannot be swept under the carpet as a nonentity. What are the causes; Consequences and long term effect on our demography and future development? 

Perhaps this might be a trigger to ginger-up the atmosphere so that we can begin to see some interesting and seasoned discussions on the plight of Africa from the university lecturers and students. Above all from the diasporians, politicians and civil society, all of whom could input in the discussion-the more, the merrier! A quick gentle reminder is necessary here as what is hindering our development is beyond partisan politics and personages. The concerns of Africa are larger than the sum of all of us put together. It will be good to have politicians of all colours and hew to join in. 

I hasten to add that scores to settle, slagging matches or vendettas are least called for so, do let us engage fruitfully, maturely, let us allow others to show us our blind spots! Let us transcend our egos and see the value of engagement for what it is.

Africanist scholars have posed the same question about the future of Africa differently in a more declamatory and exploratory manner -‘Whither Africa-‘which way Africa all point to the same phenomenon?

1945 was a great watershed in the history of the African liberation movement. It was a period of great excitement and hope for all Africans, diasporians included.

It is  seventy one years ago when Gambia’s very own Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa and other Pan Africanists  such as; Nkrumah, Kenyatta, George Padmore, Awolowo, Ras Makonnon, Amy Ashford Garvey,  William E. B. du Bois and Wallace-Johnson heeded to the cries of Ujamaa, Uhuru, Harambee We want bread and butter. The answer to these urgent demands by the masses jolted these fine sages to Chorlton town hall in Manchester, England under the banner ‘African liberation’ now!

These sons of Africa stood together on the same platform on common ground and exchanged viewpoints about the future of Africa.  They designed and shared and maintain this common vision for Africa. That vision was for Africa to come together, unified and strong, an Africa sans frontier. Pan-Africanism, for them was a trope for an unreduced and an unbroken totality and completeness. It advocated comradeship, unity in diversity, a people who shared a common destiny, above all, for Africans all over the world to free themselves from the trammels of colonialism and the fetters of necessity.  Africa needed to find her own way in the modern world. She needed to grow strong and develop her industries. This is a challenge that the delegates left with to address with their masses back home.

At the end of World War II there were only three independent African countries, but by the mid 1960s the vast majority was independent.

These were hopeful times especially for those who Fanon refers to as the ‘wretched of the earth! Most of the African colonies had attained ‘flag’ independence, a euphemism for constitutional independence. Britain and France quickly read the writing on the wall and ceded independence to their colonies (in most cases, with a struggle for emancipation).  Portugal still held on to her Colonies. The peoples of Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique embarked on a bitter and afflictive Armed Struggle.

The emerging so-called independent African Countries had several bequests. Salient among which were:  an Anthem,  a flag,  a Constitution raked-up from Marlboro House or Paris, the borders, the Mace, the white paper, Mr. speaker sir,  the front and back benches and an education system that had no  bearing on the economic base of the countries. The African scholar Ali Mazrui has argued cogently that ‘Missionary education has had a special role in Africa...the Gospel was not a manual of technology.

Missionaries instructed us into the three R’s; writing, reading and arithmetic’. The fourth R was religion and this was their hidden agenda. Furthermore, the system of education has had devastating and enduring effects on our values and mind-sets. Western education placed a high premium on elitism, the acquisition of literary skills at the expense of technological skills. The result was a total technological arrest and a deep seated psychological precipitate that continues to dog and distort our self-image, our self-perception and a perception of ourselves in relation to others. Do you all remember that even in our drama, we said things, especially through the voices of female actresses that ‘I will never marry a man who washes his hands after work’ (duma sey ak wacca raxasu; Kii kapinta rek la, Xay yow, kii di masong)! I need not belabour this point but you can see in such a simple slice of life, we have been taught to deride and debase ourselves in such manifold ways that depict psyches that are held captive and are in continual crises.    

Mazrui continues; ‘We learnt to wear western, dance western, drill western, and speak western.

What we did not learn was to achieve western in this temporal world’.

Lest I forget, among our other   bequests are no economic independence agenda for total emancipation but they were gracious enough to teach us their democracy and how to rule ourselves and remain loyal and servile producers of primary products for their industries. They also failed to bequeath to us the knowledge that democracy died the day after it was born!  , at independence, we had inherited countries whose irrational boundaries were pegged on extraction and predation and a neo-colonial state apparatus that Ngugy very fittingly calls ‘the negation of Africa’s progress and development’. 

That very same state apparatus was revered and cherished dearly by the new leadership of Africa. This is not surprising as they were all moulded in the crucible of colonialism with all its ramifications.  Looking back, nothing good could have really come out of a system whose rule is inimical to the interests of the newly independent states. The consequences of these are what are now felt today and known as Neo-Colonialism - a state which was not geared to the development of the people, but one which coerced and condemned them into accepting an appendage and servile status.

Now that the whole of Africa including the sit-tight white-ruled Azania, Namibia, Zimbabwe were in the fold of new imperialism and would never let go off them. Countries like Libya and Ghana took the lead in supporting the struggle and gave them assistance to free themselves. In fact the whole of Africa agreed that apartheid and white minority rule were moral evils. Consequently, they all rallied around them to support these countries even if some of the assistance were mere token gestures.  They fought against white domination and established black majority rule. This was what Ian Smith of Rhodesia could not contemplate ‘in a thousand years’. The armed struggle coerced both Smith and the apartheid regime in Azania to accept black majority rule.

Lumumba was brutally murdered and with him went the aspirations of the people of the Congo. But this was in the early sixties! Half a century later, we have the same situation or even worse. Thousands have been killed in the fratricidal struggle for the control of valuable commodities, resulting in new terms being coined today, such as “resource wars,” “conflict diamonds” ‘ethnic cleansing and so on. Remember the tragedy in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Algeria, Egypt, now Libya etc?

 It gave imperialism the chance to dig its heels into the rich mineral resources of these countries. Nkrumah of Ghana the (beacon of light for Africa at the time),   was overthrown thanks to the British, American, German, Israeli Agents and his own inherited colonial super-structure. . He was lured to Hanoi to mediate between the Americans and the Vietnamese. He never made it to Hanoi because the coup happened while he was in China. This Hanoi mission was very much encouraged. To lure him on this mission, the Americans even promised to stop the bombing of Hanoi to make sure that his plane arrived safely. The coup took place just 48 hours after he left. The British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was in favour of Nkrumah being assassinated at Accra airport before he left for Hanoi, just to make sure. The Americans were against it. They thought it would act against them to make a martyr of him. They thought it would be sufficient to get him out of the country and that they would never hear from him again. From the point of view of Nkrumah’s foemen, Wilson was wrong because several attempts were made on Nkrumah’s life and the overthrow of his government in Ghana -previously all of which failed dismally. Yes! Nkrumah was left to languish in a sad exile, away from his family and friends and away from the country and continent he loved.  

The story repeats itself throughout the African continent. In independent Africa there have been well over eighty coups. The Western technology of destruction still decimates Africa with all her aspirations. At the high-noon of the independence of Azania, imperialism insisted that this great African country must first of all be disarmed because they cannot trust Africans with a nuclear bomb. Azania they disarmed indeed.  The next on their agenda was Libya. Briefly, Gaddafi may invoke conflicting judgments upon all of us. However, in spite of this, which country in Africa had better social welfare provisions than Libya? Which country in Africa showed solidarity and sympathy to the liberation of Africa more than Libya? Which leader in Africa refused to have others plunder her country’s resources?

Which country in Africa allowed other Africans to come and make a decent living within her borders?