It’s a hard ask, sometimes, trying to refer to a revolutionary Africa in contemporary times. Even more so when it comes to our annual 25 May Africa Day commemorations. The latter’s ebbing historical meaning to subsequent generations of Africans who still view the North as better than home remains a sore point. Including the sad tales of those who would sooner risk life and limb crossing the temperamental Mediterranean sea only to meet watery deaths in the vain quest for acceptance and integration in fortress and increasingly intolerant Europe.
If one adds to this the tragic circumstances that continue to unfold in various parts of the continent such as in Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan, to mention a few, one would be forgiven for thinking that Africa is functioning as of old and is in fact, as given by colonial narrative, in ‘regular need of saving from itself’.
Narratives in affirmation of the latter point have been with us, particularly since the tragic Rwandan genocide. Counter-narratives have also regularly emerged that seek to place the African as being capable of solving his/her problems without undue interference let alone assistance. Hence there was reference, which gets muted with each passing year, to the one time popular ‘African Renaissance’ African Union-backed project.
In both, there resides the past, either by way of colonialist attitude toward the continent or the idealistic one of the revolutionary intent exhibited by those who were at the heart of the anti-colonial struggles to liberate the continent.
Outside of these two narratives has emerged another that is basically a pretence at looking at the ‘hard facts’ of Africa’s backwardness. It claims, among other things, that Africa is merely refusing to accept its ‘backwardness’ and must stop assuming the world owes it anything. Even if on the basis of the historical injustice that was colonialism.
It is an argument that has been a sensation on the internet and also in the African Diaspora mainly because it is argued from the citadels of the West, and also because it resonates with the biased argument that Africa needs to follow development models as determined by Western epistemology in order to get out of its seemingly never-ending poverty/crises. Where it accepts such knowledge and implements its dictat, then it will rise in the manner that is partisanly preferred by global publications such as the Economist.
In all of these arguments, the intention appears to be to de-link the African continent from its revolutionary history and struggle against imperialism and colonialism. Given the broader undemocratic tendencies of most post colonial African governments as well as the bifurcation of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) by the vicissitudes of the Cold War, the intentions of such an argument are easier to achieve. In fact, the end results of it have become more self-evident than what many a Pan-Africanist would prefer.
From the ineptitude of the African Union in dealing with continental crises or the under-performance of African members of the United Nations Security Council through to the general lack of a clear African success story in narratives deemed African, there appears to be little to be optimistic about.
This however does not take away the fact that there is a living umbilical cord connecting revolutionary Africa to contemporary Africa. For Africans, the continent cannot be imagined in the ‘now’ without reference to its revolutionary past. There has been no need to amend the principles and intentions of those that first sought to link all of us together, even if those same individuals have been betrayed by current and former political leaders.
The problems faced by Africa may be numerous and in most cases not of its own making. Indeed we may be complicit, either via our recalcitrant political leadership or our easily prone disposition to external goods and services ‘markets’, but there are always remedies to a crisis.
The first such remedy requires that we, as Africans, embrace fully the historical trajectory that has been the African continent. We cannot nitpick our past. Instead we must understand it in its fullness in order to better tackle contemporary and future challenges.
This would entail seeking more to define our African being on our own terms and beyond the geographical or the age-old ‘native’ other. Admittedly this does not solve our myriad problems, but having a clearer mind of being goes a long way in assisting us to get our desired democratic results.
In the same vein, we cannot resist technology as it visits us, either via the internet or increased mobility and cheaper goods and services as they arrive at our borders. What we must however do is harness these technologies and new knowledge systems to our context in our best democratic and public interest. So for example, information communications technologies (ICTs) cannot merely be applied on the continent in mimicry to their application in their places of origin. Our lifestyles may be poorer, but that does not make them any less important within their own context or universal human rights values.
Or where we are asked to apply neo-liberal economic policies in return for direct aid or foreign investment approval, we must take into account our local contexts and not just our electoral cycles. Our policies must reflect posterity and not ‘hand to mouth’ cyclical frenzies. Moreover, we must continually understand that the task of acting for posterity no longer relates only to those that were in the liberation struggles. But more to those that have been referred to as ‘born free’. They too must take up the mantle of continuing the revolutionary intentions of the struggles against colonialism and imperialism, even without having to hold a gun. They must learn the significance of their own values despite having to navigate a much more connected world or even latter day African dictatorships. As would have been said by the Guinea Bissau and Cape-Verdean revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, we must return to the historical path of determining a democratic future for our societies.
We need to speak more to ourselves than to the rest of the world. Our socio-economic and political values need not always find approval elsewhere than on our very own continent. From our football, music, through to our political and economic development models, we need to reaffirm that being African transcends mere identity or geographical placement. Instead, it exudes values and principles that are passed from one generation to the next in the pursuit of continuing democratic progress. All for posterity.
You can read Kwame Nkrumah’s African Liberation Day 1963 speech here.