Africa’s New ‘Radicals’: Notes from Thomas Sankara and Frantz Fanon
Liberation Deferred: From Liberation to Early Reformers
On the 25th of May 2019, Africa celebrated over half a century since the original meeting in Ghana, under Kwame Nkrumah, which set the course for the historic formation of the Organization of African Union (OAU), now transformed into the African Union (AU). For all its flaws that Pan-African project achieved the historic objective of decolonization, de- settlerization and apartheid was banished. However, contrasted to East Asia, Africa’s political economy remains disappointing especially in relation to young people and the exploitation and margination of women. Yet in less than that time countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea (Asian Tigers) collectively moved out of poverty, became industrialized, are now major exporters and have become critical players in finance and technology. The Pan-African political economy has remained agrarian, economic growth has stalled, inequality has been increasing, raw material exports remain and there is no hope for industrial change. In addition, despite Africa having an estimated 40% of the world’s arable land, food security remains precarious. Ever since the gaining of independence of most African countries, the Pan-African dream has been and continues to fail, pointing to a bleak future.
This failure of the liberation generation or what Professor John Saul called the ‘strange death of liberation’, stirred a generation of ‘early reformers’ who sought to re-configure state- society relations in favour of more liberal –democratic orders. In Kenya this battle pitted Arap Moi against civil society and he was eventually carted off; in Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was also dispatched off the stage by the Fredrich Chiluba led Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD); in Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe was placed on notice by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai; and in Uganda the Forum for Democratic Change (FC) led by Dr Kiza Besgiye tried to remove Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Yet, looked at broadly the progress of the ‘early reformers’ has been a mixed bag with both progress in some areas (constitutional reform, for example, women’s rights and so on) but slow progress on economic transformation and keeping the state accountable. Importantly, this generation of labour, social movements, student and women’s movements in some cases carted off the ‘big men’ philosophy, challenged the ‘one-party state’ and began a battle to expand the democratic space and this often involved pro-longed contests for multi-party elections, term limits for presidents and more liberal constitutions. The early reformers paved the way and showed that the liberation generation was going wayward, they spoke truth to power and some of them paid with their lives. Their supporters suffered at the brutal hands of Africa’s new rulers, experiencing torture chambers, being exiled, expelled from universities, sometimes assassinations and detention without trial. That generation re-ignited civic and political activism which the liberation movement was no longer interested in and while state institutions were used in an authoritarian manner these courageous men and women went to work to expand the democratic space. But the ‘democratisation wave’ of the early reformers has not been enough to erode the often-authoritarian character of the liberation movements and this is now slowly giving way to the ‘new radicals’.
Julius Malema, Nelson Chamisa and Bobbie Wine: New Radicals?
In the 2019 election in South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa and the African National Congress (ANC) won the election but the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) gained considerable ground; in Zimbabwe the MDC Alliance held its Congress and a youthful leadership under Nelson Chamisa has taken over; in Uganda the discontent with Museveni has given rise to the popularity of Bobi Wine; in Kenya, though overshadowed by the early reformers, a younger generation within opposition and in civil society is stepping up against corruption and state coercion; in Sudan Al Bashir was carted off by a youthful activism. What many might have missed is that at the Gweru MDC Alliance Congress there was Edwin Sifuna the young Secretary General of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in Kenya; Babu Owino the outspoken former University of Nairobi Student Union leader and MP in Kenya, and from Uganda there was Bobi Wine who has been a regular ‘guest’ of police stations in Uganda. Outside the political parties younger activists across the continent are stepping up to the platform and they need to build strong alliances that expand the democratic space. But these ‘new radicals’ are still too ahistorical, too scattered, too thinly organized, too timid on radical ideas, too present only in urban areas, too present on social media and too given to ‘celebrity statuses’. Perhaps some brief notes from Thomas Sankara and Frantz Fanon can point to some very important ideas that these loosely related ‘new radicals’ can take seriously.
Note I: Renewed Pan-Africanism Solidarity
Firstly, these ‘new radicals’ in their variegated forms need to take Pan-Africanism very seriously. Let us remember here that Frantz Fanon warned that ‘African unity’ is not
‘inevitable’, that African solidarity is not merely ‘verbal’ but precisely that ‘inter-African solidarity must be a solidarity of fact, a solidarity of action, solidarity concrete in, in equipment, in money’. In this vein the ‘young radicals’ need to grasp very thoroughly the decadence of the nationalist -liberation movements and how that class became anti-people, anti-democratic and increasingly relied on the coercive state apparatus to rule. In real everyday politics and practice, this means that these movements need to re-link their aspirations, mobilization, organization, tactics and strategies to the Pan-African project of decolonization, freedom, justice and people-centred development. There is still an architecture of the Pan-African liberation project; the African Union, the Charter of People’s Rights, the Pan African Parliament, the African Peer Review Mechanism, Africa Free Trade zone, and Thabo Mbeki’s almost ‘dying’ ideas of “African Renaissance” (under NEPAD). But these need to be rebuilt with bold imagination, meaning the doing away of visas, the deliberate re-building of Pan-African solidarity and Julius Malema’s stand against Afro-phobia has been a bold step in that direction and a borderless Africa must become a reality.
Note II: Women Emancipation
Secondly, these movements must take the question of women emancipation seriously in the
sense in which Thomas Sankara said ‘The revolution and women’s revolution go together’ and that “We do not talk of women’s revolution as an act of charity’ but as a ‘necessity for the revolution to triumph’. The ‘new radicals’ movement must there steer off the patriarchal character of the liberation generation, avoid the ‘talk gender, act misogyny’ type of politics which infected the early reform movements. It has to be a qualitative commitment and must also pay very close attention to a very abrasive type of evangelisation which dehumanises women in the name of religion and preserving culture, for this is anti-transformation. By taking women liberation seriously the “new radicals” can unleash the creativity of almost 52% of Africa’s population. But in the case that these new radicals let the ball down, the women in these movements must follow Sankara’s advice that ‘emancipation, like freedom, is not granted, it is conquered’.
Note III: African Agrarian Political Economy
Thirdly, the new reformers need to pay close attention to the African agrarian political economy because the question of land and justice are cardinally inter-locked because much of the Pan-African political economy is still dominated by a dependence on the agrarian economy. Often the separation of the agrarian question from the ‘democracy wave movements’ was the proverbial Achilles heel and as such many of these movements remained closeted in the liberal rights/urban labour movement terrain – against courageous warnings from the late Professor Sam Moyo. But this is not only a rural economy question because any cursory look at the emerging typical trends of urbanisation in Africa reveals the painful question of landlessness and continued dispossession linked to land ownership questions especially in the ghetto/slum political economy. What was called the ‘third wave’ of democracy was pushed into the cul de sac of ‘neo-liberalism’ in which economic questions were relegated to the back burner and political reform was primarily limited to civil and political rights. Such a partial misunderstanding will drive a wedge between the urban citizens, often looking for employment, and the rural population often demanding land reform and it seems the EFF in South Africa have grasped this dilemma in a very radical way.
Note IV: Democratizing State-Society Relations
The young ‘radicals’ will need a very deep commitment to democratising state-society relations. The liberation movements and to a limited extent the ‘early reformers’ have skirted around the issue of fully democratising political movements and this can be seen in the way often political leaders become ‘cults’ and some of them have died with the political parties they started. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, the liberation political parties became so captured and beholden to private interests that it took a painful process to undo the damage. In the case of Zimbabwe, the coup of November 2017 was carried out to try and resolve succession issues as factional agendas took precedence over the national interests. In reality, democracy has to revolve around the placing of power participation, people power and people directed institutions at the disposal of the transformation and political movements that respect accounting to the people as a cardinal principle. This implies building political platforms, institutions and movements that make democratic contests the norm and deliberately shy away from the cult of personality that infected the liberation movements and lingered into the early post-colonial reform movements.
Note V: Inequality, Industrial Change, Technology and Natural Resources
The colonial, settler and apartheid state structure fashioned the economy in such a way that it benefited a privileged and limited white elite. That political economy was unequal, super-exploitative, and non-industrial and raw materials oriented as a matter of its logic to profiteer for the settler-white class. The post-colonial political economy has followed this structure religiously and the liberation political class has not transformed the inequality, the enclave non-industrial political economy. Franz Fanon (and Walter Rodney) had warned that that nationalist will become typically ‘comprador’ and not produce anything. Fanon was more scathing saying that this ‘middle class’ will continue being part of a ‘racket’ exporting raw materials, not setting up industries, yet agitating for advancement under ‘Africanisation’. As such the ‘new radicals’ must place on their agenda a concrete political economy transformation program which seeks to transform Africa’s enclaved economies and move away from exporting raw materials. Importantly, the ‘new radicals’ must tackle the problem of an ‘Africa rising’ in which a few billionaires are being created at the expense of the ‘bottom pyramid’. This newly found billionaire class has been anchored on very extractive financialization, commoditisation of basic social services like water, education, communication and health. At the end of it all, by re-looking seriously at the historical trajectory of the Pan-African project of liberation the ‘new radicals’ can become more coherent, more organized, build strong alliances but importantly boldly re-imagine Africa beyond the Afrophobia, limitations, parochialism and decadence that fatally infected the liberation movements.
*Tinashe L. Chimedza is Co-Editor of Gravitas, a Political Economy Bulletin of the Institute of Public Affairs in Zimbabwe (IPAZIM)