With the passing years since Africa began to shed it’s colonial oppressors, and decades since the defeat of fascism, we can celebrate many victories and strides forward made by both Africa and the world. But it is also clear that it was no simple matter of overthrowing colonial rule and then moving on seamlessly to the awaiting African dream.
In unpacking the themes and purpose of the book “Promoting Progressive African Thought Leadership”, the Book Launch speakers and panellists alluded to the complex history and legacy of colonialism, the continued entanglements with persistent imperialist agendas, and the ups and downs of African states as they try to establish themselves in this terrain.
Each speaker led us through a different aspect of this journey, but as Professor Chris Landsberg highlighted, the common thread is a commitment to negotiated solutions.
70 years on from the defeat of Fascism, we can be glad that there have been no more world wars, Former Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad told us. However, since then other kinds of threats have reared their heads. Since 9/11 the US has steadily been increasing its overseas military interventions, in the name of combating terrorism for the sake of national security. We must make no mistake that US exceptionalism has an impact on the rest of the world. Aziz Pahad noted numerous conflicts and regime changes that could be linked to US-driven agendas, including the negative repercussions that Africa has faced. He stressed the importance, therefore, of Africans creating alternatives to western systems.
Essop Pahad shared the sobering reality of the US military Africom mission – a clear expression of the US imperialist agenda that Aziz Pahad alluded to. While Africom was originally only un-apposed by Liberia, it has been gaining ground across Africa, and can be linked to regional instability. Punted as an initiative in the interest of the African people, a closer look at it’s stated strategy and conditions reveal undertones of control and a strategic intent to further US domination. Opposing the US military industrial complex makes states vulnerable. However, there has been very little reaction to Africom from nonviolence movements in the West, and Essop Pahad urged Africans to form alliances and solidarity movements with nonviolence movements in the West. In order to fight militarism, he said, we need to unite with progressive forces in our countries, the continent and also across the world.
A challenge for Africa’s development, according to Garth le Pere, is what he defined as global structural vulnerability – the state of turbulence, inequality and insecurity that characterises global relations. In the face of this situation, Africa is hampered by state weakness, as defined by various different indices. There are several factors we should consider when thinking about how to address this, including the politics of oil – the fact that African oil has recently become attractive to US investors, yet oil-rich countries show no economic growth. Africa also has insecure coasts, suffers from high levels of armed conflict, has a low adaptive capacity to climate change, has been afflicted by severe disease pandemics, and has around a 60% youth population that puts tremendous pressure on food production and service delivery.
Alinah Segobye highlighted the paradox of a rich Africa that is poor. Although Africa became independent from colonial rule, rather than disengaging, colonial powers have deepened their grip even further since independence, and this situation has contributed to the thwarting of African attempts to develop. What is needed, she said, is to re-imagine and re-write the postcolonial plan. An essential component of this would be to take a serious look at how African development is financed – in order to change the power dynamics, Africa cannot have its development financed by international aid. She also called for a new way of engaging citizens and the state, paying particular attention to the voices of women, children and the youth.
Pulling into focus some of these issues through the lens of the Sahel region, Alioune Sall explained the significance of Mali for a progressive African agenda. Apart from its centrality, enormous size and the many countries it borders, Mali has a special history of clashing with colonial powers. It was of no political significance to the French colonists whose focus was on Ivory Coast at the time, being just a camping ground for French armies. But it became the cradle for liberation struggles, eventually attracting people like Saleh Amin who was the architect of the first development plan in Mali. Mali de-linked from France, but since then it has regressed, with French troops once again reviving abandoned military bases there. The Sahelian states are now vulnerable and afflicted, and seeing cases of what he referred to as “Political Entrepreneurship”, where anybody and everybody is starting a political movement in order to be included in the political discussions taking place. At the same time there is also a blurring of the line between political and criminal activities. So he called for an alternative approach that would move from state-lead integration to people-lead integration.
Professor Barney Pityana rounded off the night, with the observation that when we discuss these matters we should also ask ourselves: to whom are we talking? Too often we address our concerns to the West, but we need to address ourselves, to reconsider systems that aren’t working, and to theorize based on the indigenous African knowledge available to us. Our leaders should listen to us first, and as Africans, we need to commit to be the catalyst for change in Africa.