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Statement by Almami Taal at the African Liberation Day Celebrations

Jun 1, 2009, 8:02 AM

Thank you dear friends, sisters and brothers, it is with much emotion that I respond to the honour of being invited to speak at this Africa Liberation Day celebrations organized jointly by FLARE and PAC.

ALD is an appropriate day to take stock of where we are as Africans, what systems we have in place, what is the efficiency level of these systems and find new and or alternative systems to further our liberation. However we must never lose sight of the systems that seek to dominate Africans. What is clear in the history of world is that modern capitalism has established an ascendant position that has created unprecedented prosperity in countries that are culturally dissimilar. Capitalism as a system has proved it credentials as a viable economic system. 

I was out of curiosity looking at the  website of the Nobel Prizes and found that in the categories of Economics, Sciences and Literature, there are few winners from the Developing World: in economics Sir Arthur Lewis and Amartya Sen and in Literature, Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott.  This discovery sums for me the current sterility in the development discourse about Africa. Africans are not creating systems, economic as well as cultural systems that are appropriate to needs and conditions of Africa, to make their liberation meaningful.  The continents that have submitted their economies to market discipline have reap the benefits of shared prosperity and development, whilst African continue to accept to exist on the periphery. What strategy should we put forward from where we are? That is the most important and relevant issue. Assuming that the overall analysis of the global capitalist system at this point in time is correct - then what can we do?

Firstly, one must never resuscitate the past. Things have changed. The systems are changing and the challenges are changing. One can never respond to new challenges by trying to reproduce the responses which had their efficacy in a previous period. If we look at what I think are the challenges, we ought to develop the struggle at all levels: national - meaning the boundaries of the state (a political reality); regional and sub-regional; the Developing countries -with all the internal limitations and contradictions; and at the global level.

At the national level Africans should stress fundamental principles which have always been true, even if it is under different conditions: the autonomy of organisation of the people, of popular classes, as far as is possible. That is the meaning of democracy. Democracy should not be reduced as the West wants it to be to a formula with multi-party elections or pseudo-elections, not necessarily absolutely fabricated but without much meaning - and in some cases meaningless! Low intensity democracy and nothing more. Long live democracy provided it changes nothing! The market changes by itself so if you move this way or that way the result is the same if you are powerless.

Therefore  understanding how markets function that is what Africans should dedicate their intellectual firepower and create credible and workable alternatives.

Therefore the question is how to relink democratic demand to social progressive change. And it is a very complex problem with cultural dimensions - how to democractise the society, not only the higher strata of political management of society. That is crucial! More than ever before because at earlier stages, national populism could indeed achieve something - not now.  Now we need to link democratic change to social progressive change. That is the challenge. We have to take into consideration the concrete conditions which are different from one country to another and from one period to another.

Although all Africans have a responsibility, even the smallest and weakest countries, we have also to take into account that this has to be reinforced by action at regional level. That is why the ideology of Pan-Africanism while still relevant, is not enough by itself. It is not useful to repeat a general wishful thinking rhetoric of Pan Africanism. Here we have to look at the challenge of regionalism in another way: that the elite - at the global level or the leaders at various levels in Africa and elsewhere- look at the problem of regional integration in terms of common markets but we should be very critical of this view. It is presented as follows: that if even the Europeans with strong national economies need to unite by building a common market, we should do the same. African liberation should be about thinking out of the box and focus on creating alternatives to build a future that works.

The world is moving towards polarisation that is no longer based on industrialisation vs. non-industrialisation, but on the five monopolies of the modern capitalism:

a)         The monopoly of science and technology;

b)         The monopoly of controlling financial systems at the global level;

c)         The monopoly of access to (not ownership of) the resources of the globe;

d)         The monopoly of communication, and through communications interfering in politics, culture, etc; and

e)         The monopoly of armaments.

 In that framework a number of countries of Asia and Latin America - and in this way you get more than half the population of the globe - are moving and quite successfully into industrialisation and towards the capacity to be competitive in the global market. Therefore we should look to regionalisation as a means of engaging the world from a position strength fighting globalization policies and reducing their impact. In the political dimension of regional security the question of armaments is very important, the cultural dimension - the monopoly of communications is very important. That why it is so ironic that MO Ibrahim's Prize for African Leadership which gives millions of dollars to African Leaders who do what their constitutions require them to do, instead of strengthening the people by creating an African communication infrastructure that will provide information to the people at same level of accuracy and usefulness that CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera are doing now.  That would have been better way to empower Africans to control their destiny,

That is the pattern of regionalisation around which we should organise. Not that I have disrespect for the rhetoric of Pan African ism but it is not enough by itself. It may turn into a pure rhetoric with little effect if it is not accompanied by a vision of the region very different from the dominant vision - which includes the vision of intellectuals on the left, nationalists, progressive people of Africa - people like ourselves.

We also need to engage on a global level. We have tasks and responsibilities and there are not only reactionary but also progressive forces everywhere, including in the West, who also has their responsibilities. We have to be internationalist and look at how to link progressive struggles in the North and South. I don't think it is surprising that with the internationalisation of capital, people should respond with more local nationalism - whether it is national chauvinism, ethnicism, or culturalism of one sort or another. Therefore there is a struggle we have to develop at a global level; we have to take up the challenge to open serious and continuous debate between progressive forces of North and South.  When we are active at these three levels and the alternatives will crystallize.

Certainly Africa needs Pan Africanism but I don't think the cultural rhetoric on Pan Africanism will do the job. It has to be supportive of meeting the real challenge: actually existing capitalism, not European culture but actually existing capitalism. That is the challenge; we need to discuss it in terms of programmes, policies and paradigms but not exclusively in terms of culture. I tend to think there is not an African culture. There are African cultures, in Europe there are European cultures, we should look at moving from our cultures towards universal culture, the universal dimension of the future we want for all humankind.

Almami Fanding Taal is Legal Practitioner with interest in Human Rights, Media Laws, and Good Governance & Institutional Development.