Proximity to madness.
21st May: I am seated here in Kajulu, sipping my sip. It is raining. The air is pungent and acrid. This is a new smell, relatively speaking. Pollution of our air, river and soils first became noticeable after 2007 when Kibos Sugar factory was established. When I visited Kibos school for the Blind last year with Presidential aspirant Reuben Kigame, the thick dust, fragments of bagasse and other impurities floating in the air stung my eyes. I remember wondering about its effect on the students of this school, most of whom lack visual sight or who have severe eye complications. Separated from the factory by a road, the students of Kibos School for the Blind, one of the few schools dedicated to students with visual disabilities, suffer the most.
Now they are talking of relocating the school. They do not find it ironic that the factory, commissioned in 2007, found Kibos School for the Blind school here. Established in 1963, the school today has more than 350 students in the primary and secondary school sections. The arrogance of capital is equally blind to the people of Kajulu – a people who settled along the banks of the river behind the factory more than a century ago.
The rain is now subsiding and I hear some music in the distance. Must be one of the clubs in Mamboleo, arguably the biggest market in Kajulu. Kisumu is packed, and clubbing! The Africities conference at Mamboleo Show Ground, a few kilometres outside the heart of Kisumu City, ended today. I remember my late grandfather, Awili Nyakinya Sungu, telling me the show-ground used to be the home of Olago Aluoch’s father. That was before the people of Kanyakwar were moved out of their ancestral land in 1978 to create room for the expansion of Kisumu municipality – the homes and graves of their ancestors erased from visibility. The land that was Olago’s father’s home was to later become part of the Mamboleo Show Ground where the Agricultural Society of Kenya holds annual agricultural exhibitions. The rest of the land was subdivided a few decades later by the municipal council and sold to individuals, some of whom took up high-interest bank loans to put up beautiful homes and apartment blocks. A good number of these buyers have over the years defaulted and banks have repossessed their property. Countless others have been conned by unscrupulous land dealers here. The people of Kanyakwar, meanwhile, have been in and out of different courts for the past four decades, engaged in a legal battle to challenge the dispossession of their ancestral land. Their struggle is intergenerational.
I am seated in close proximity to all this madness, both historically and in the present.
Flashback: African Liberation Day
The First Conference of Independent African states held in April 1958 in Accra, Ghana, called for the founding of an African Freedom Day to “mark each year the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolise the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation”. The years that followed provided a glimmer of hope in a sea hitherto marked by the dark forces of slavery and colonialism, those brutal systems that were used to subjugate and extract from the periphery to fatten the cold and insatiable centre. With the colonial state now in retreat, representatives of thirty independent African states met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 22nd May 1963 for a meeting that culminated on 25th May with the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). That meeting also resolved to rename Africa Freedom Day to African Liberation Day, which has since then been commemorated annually on the African continent and its contingencies.
Africa Liberation Day is today a reminder that African people engaged in struggles for self-determination and prevailed
Africa Liberation Day is today a reminder that African people engaged in struggles for self-determination and prevailed. It is a reminder that our struggles against colonialism and imperialism did not begin last week, or in the 20th Century. Ethiopia defeated the Italians at Adowa in 1886. Before that, the Zulu people had defeated the British in the battle of Isandlwana in 1879, while Queen Nzinga fought and resisted slave trade in the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms (today’s Northern Angola) in the 17 century. Africa Liberation Day is thus a reminder that Africans have a history and ways of being that precede slavery and colonialism. Most importantly, it is a moment to reflect on this rich history of struggle and resistance, and plan meticulously, then put in the hard work needed to move Africa on a forward march of political and economic advancement as we navigate the fourth industrial revolution.
Africa Liberation Day is thus a reminder that Africans have a history and ways of being that precede slavery and colonialism
In the almost six decades that have passed since 1963, various moments and movements in our shared history as a people have given hope and added impetus to the original aspirations of Africa Liberation Day. Nkrumah reminded us that we (Africa) neither look East nor West, we look forward. Nyerere, dreaming of self-reliance, put Tanzania on the paths of Ujamaa, which CLR James, in that historical epoch, described as ‘something new coming out of Africa’. Cabral, viewing cultural resistance as an act of National Liberation, reminded us that culture is both a seed and a determinant of history. Today, like all days, is a day to affirm great figures like Dedan Kimathi, Thomas Sankara, Winnie Mandela, Joe Slovo, Garang’ De Mabior, Kinjeketile wa Ngwale, Cheikh Anta Diop, Queen Nzingha, Julius Malema and the countless heroes and heroines in our communities as both seeds and determinants of history. They remain an eternal inspiration to millions across the continent and its dispersed diaspora. In different epochs, the past becomes the present, and the present an illustration of what is to come.
Algiers is impassable
The slopes of Nyandarua are inaccessible
Tete is hot
And before it,
The P-A-I-G-C has exploded!
It is true that many of our leaders and their organisations had grave shortcomings, but we must never allow their shortcomings to be deployed as part of a matrix of psychological warfare deployed against African people – such that these shortcomings then become convenient excuses for failing to engage in concrete analyses of their ideological stand or real progress achieved in the course of the struggles their movements immersed themselves in. That would be to deprive ourselves of the right to thoroughly interrogate significant components of our historical trajectory or the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary currents of different historical epochs. Anyway, who are they to define our heroes for us?
Is Africa ready for the world, or is the world ready for Africa?
23rd May: I am in a matatu (public transport van) headed to Nairobi from Kisumu, seated next to a Physics professor who dabbles in small talk as he attends to his phone every few moments. Having sat next to him for about five hours now, I can confidently say he is a very busy man. He seems to receive more phone calls than the average Nairobi socialite. As we approach Naivasha, I call Alieu Bah, my friend and comrade at MWAMKO. He recently sent me a copy of Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution. In this phone call, Alieu tells me that an essay he is writing, titled African Liberation Day and Freedom Blues, will go out on May 25th – the same day as this one. I can’t wait to read Alieu’s article.
After attending Ghana’s Independence celebrations, CLR James wrote Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, reminding us that ‘’All political power presents itself to the world within a certain framework of ideas, and in any estimate of social forces in political action it is fatal to ignore this. Modern critics of literature and the dabblers of psychology lay great stress on the creation of myths and the great role that myths have played in the lives of early peoples… It is not sufficiently recognised that this creation of myths, universal throughout the ages, has never been more prevalent than at the present time.” CLR James was writing in the late 1950s, the twilight of the colonial era – an era pervaded by myths justifying colonialism. An era that had incubated and propagated myths of ‘civilizing missions’ and the ‘white man’s burden’. This era also being the dawn of independence for many African states, James, with illuminating foresight, cautioned that while it was at the time common belief that colonialism in the modern world was dying, colonialism was in fact very alive and only reinventing itself.
Despite some fundamental steps made at the dawn of decolonisation like ‘national independence’ for the nation-states, or the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), most of Africa was to remain firmly in the grip of neo-colonialism in the decades that followed, its forward march greatly impeded by forces both internal and external to Africa. Colonialism had left our house through the front door, only to return through the back door, the open windows, ventilations, and even through cracks on the wall, however small. Colonial patterns of economics became more vicious, extraction of raw materials was heightened, the screws of cultural imperialism tightened, and hegemonies of thought were created to encourage conformity, while the conveyor belts of violence for the ruling class, the police and military forces were ‘strengthened’ and ‘capacitated’ to deal with dissent across the African continent.
The neo-colonial state is today even more adept at creating and propagating myths and designs that cloud our eyes, obscure our visions and act as roadblocks to the African Revolution
And just as the colonial enterprise was anchored in myths of ‘civilizing missions’ – the neo-colonial state is today even more adept at creating and propagating myths and designs that cloud our eyes, obscure our visions and act as roadblocks to the African Revolution. In this mix, many intellectuals in the neo-colonies, with their endless debates that have no concrete way of impacting the lived reality and material conditions of our people, remain mere appendages of the neoliberal global order.
You will find some of them trying to justify why Kibos School for the Blind should be moved to allow the factory to operate freely. Or how Kibos Sugar factory is benefitting the local community by creating jobs, despite most of us knowing that menial jobs and the low wages that come with them can never be a trade-off for the devastation being meted on our land, water, air, and ultimately, our people. This devastation will be intergenerational, just like the devastation visited on the people of Kanyakwar in 1978. When Comrade Boniface Akatch and other comrades organised a protest against the pollution a few years ago, some of these so-called intellectuals hired goons to stop the protest, and ensured that police were heavily deployed to prevent ‘interruption of business’. These intellectuals represent some of the greatest counter-revolutionary currents our generation will ever see walking the African soil. They are present in our towns, villages, bureaucracies, organisations and movements, both by default and design.
And so as we commemorate this 59th African Liberation Day, we see little to smile about across most of Africa. Severe devastation occasioned by floods is wreaking havoc in Southern Africa, repression and conflict are rife across the continent, religious intolerance is bubbling in several corners, while the nation-states continue to commodify the commons and dispossess people of their land, as we recently witnessed in Ngorongoro. The countries most responsible for climate change do not want to bear any responsibility for the effects of more than a century of their continued pollution of the environment. Accords and resolutions arrived at in successive global climate conferences are thus torn apart by the ‘richest and most powerful’ nations. Like in the colonial era, foreign military bases are again commonplace in most corners of the African continent. Let us be clear, these foreign military bases were not established to protect you or me.
We commemorate this 59th African Liberation Day in an era of corporate capitalism, where some transnational corporations have annual turnovers much larger than the GDP of many African countries, and they leverage this economic power to ensure that political spheres and decisions align with their interests. A nudge here, a kickback there, a threat in this corner, an action that undermines national sovereignty in another corner. Such are the behavioural patterns of our enemies, as always, deeply shrouded in myths of commerce, friendship, partnership, globalisation and whatever words are in vogue at the moment.
The beaming and projection of power are tilted toward those who wield it, and so the white man is projected as powerful, intelligent, well-behaved and rational. This projection has a powerful psychological effect on the minds of our people. Many of them believe he is to be respected, if not feared. Things associated with him and his culture, language included, are considered superior by many of our people. In several set-ups, you will find our people almost dislocating their tongues in an effort to twang like the English, and millions of other Africans almost dislocating their poor throats in a bid to speak fluent French. Woe unto you if you have an African accent that just won’t go away… fellow Africans may laugh and sneer at you, not knowing that their laughter just might be the projection of deep-seated inferiority complexes. Such is the tragedy of the educated fool.
Every year, the brightest of our youth are lured into attractive programs that effectively serve as bases for indoctrination
Our future has not been spared either. Every year, the brightest of our youth are lured into attractive programs that effectively serve as bases for indoctrination. The Young African Leaders Initiative(YALI), for instance, claims on its website that it is ‘an American effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders’. The 3-track programme identifies promising future leaders in government, the private sector and civil society. Annually, these young Africans are plucked and congregated in various places across the world to ‘receive further education’. In the decades that follow, when occupying higher offices in the three sectors, many of them will act as interlocutors between the failing core in Europe and America – and the periphery, marked to a large extent by the unviable nation-states of Africa. In enabling this chain of events, the neo-colonial state is already reproducing itself, by constantly and actively reproducing the conditions, frameworks and hegemonies that enable its existence.Given this matrix of events, African people must every day remind themselves that our greatest responsibility is to our people. The people, in the words of Amilcar Cabral, are our mountains. Our organisations and movements must immerse themselves in political education that enables a concrete analysis of the concrete situation. How do we conceptualise and work toward the realisation of education powerful enough to emancipate, and build Africans who are ready to engage the world in the midst of this 4th industrial revolution? Are there things we can borrow from the past, and contextualise to fit the needs of the present? We must study Nkrumah, Fanon, Cabral, Nyerere and many others who came before us. We must study historians and thinkers of our times, like Maina wa Kinyatti, Shiraz Durrani and Issa Shivji. We must study ourselves, and the vast knowledge that exists among our people in oral form.
This African Liberation Day provides a platform to educate ourselves on what is happening in our communities, and how the enemies of Africa are slowly and consistently chipping at our ways of being and existence. We must be methodical and thorough in our endeavours to protect our motherland, for current times necessitate urgency, not haste.
And 59 years later, the people recall their history.
Demanding their dignity and humanity,
they listen to grandma again…
“Start there, there where you are standing,
The disenfranchised gather to express dissatisfaction
The dispossessed march for social justice.
Our youth march for their lives.
The people’s march continues!
Emboldened by impunity, the anti-people march on too.
But one day, not far from today,
the people will out-march the anti-people.
The people, will keep on marching!
*Sungu Oyoo is a writer and organiser at Kongamano La Mapinduzi, a political movement in Kenya. He is also a member of MWAMKO, a vanguard of a way of thinking that aspires to another order of being and doing within the African continent and her dispersed diaspora.