1. Ka-Soko’s contribution must be highly commended, particularly as Sobukwe’s name, memory and legacy continue to be side-lined and silenced in mainstream political fraternities, public discourse, media narratives and academia, even in this significant year commemorating the 40th anniversary of his orchestrated and systematic assassination under banishment in 1978. 

    Ka-Soko has well captured the intentions of the racist apartheid regime in attempting to silence, isolate and kill Sobukwe using the might of state machinery, the law, medical institutions and consecutive annual parliamentary processes.

    But Ka-Soko also makes a few unsettling points, particularly in relation to Sobukwe’s last days when his health deteriorated, as well as subsequent literature around his legacy. 

    In furthering Ka-Soko’s call for the affirmation of Sobukwe’s indelible legacy, let us speak to the serious errors and misconception perpetuated in his article, only for the purpose of setting the record straight and shedding more light on the calibre of the man, Sobukwe. 

    It is gravely erroneous to assert that white rulers, and the entire political system of white supremacy with its organised machinery for that matter, ever drove Sobukwe “mad”.

    Ka-Soko asserts that as a result of the ruthless indefinite incarceration and the solitary confinement imposed upon him by the racist parliament through the legislation and institution of the Sobukwe Clause, “Sobukwe’s psyche was severely damaged, resulting in extreme hallucinations, loss of memory, loss of language and delusions”. 

    Whilst the draconian Sobukwe Clause and solitary confinement were meant to destroy, break down and obliterate Sobukwe – to kill his mind, soul and spirit – Kruger, Voster and Pelser, all ministers of (in) justice, failed to kill Sobukwe. 

    They failed to break the spirit of the wonderful “Son of Man”, let alone reduce him to “hallucinations, loss of memory, loss of language and delusions” as alleged. 

    Solitary confinement, food poisoning, systematic mental torture, banishment, denial of access to medical facilities and white terrorism collectively conspired to try annihilating, not only Sobukwe’s body politic, but his entire ideas of Afrikanism, Afrikan Nationalism and Afrikan liberation. 

    The failed dismally.

    In fact, a letter dated 4 June 1969 from the office of Justice Minister Petrus Cornelius Pelser, in response to Sobukwe’s enquiry regarding results of state psychiatrists who had examined him on Robben Island, refutes the idea that apartheid ever succeeded in breaking down the spirit and mind Sobukwe. 

    The letter reads: “with reference to your statement that the report of the psychiatrists was not made available to you the Minister has directed me to advise you that they merely confirmed that you state in your letter to be the case, namely that you are not a psychotic case. They also found that your personality is intact; your volition is intact; your emotional responses are appropriate; and your behaviour does not reflect a break with reality”.

    The clandestine, overt and covert operations and machinations of white supremacy to wipe out Sobukwe from national memory and to systematically eliminate him from political activity failed.

    Although they tried, Sobukwe’s psyche was never damaged, he never suffered from hallucinations never lost his memory, language and had no delusions. 

    Yes, as a result of not being allowed to speak to anyone and having very minimal human contact during his incarceration on Robben Island, Sobukwe’s speech was affected. But not to the extent that Ka-Soko depicts.  

    Whilst making a genuine call to the Black intelligentsia with regards to their continued refusal to effect scholarship on the ideas, philosophy and political thought of Sobukwe, it is important to note the existence of a small pocket of the Black intelligentsia that has written and published exceptional works on Sobukwe.

    There are a few brave voices, equally marginalised, that refuse to remain silent about the unmatched contributions of Sobukwe in the political imagination of what could have been a liberated nation.

    Therefore the answer to the question “why have the Black intelligentsia not written books on Sobukwe as one of the great leaders of the liberation movement in South Africa?” lies in the places Ka-Soko’s eyes – and those of many other political analysts and intellectuals – refuse to see: in the dark and neglected alleys of the Black intelligentsia where intellectuals like Motsoko Pheko, Elias Ntloedibe and Zamikhaya Gxabe have produced written works on the life and political contributions of Sobukwe.

    Ka-Soko’s genuine appeal to the Black intelligentsia makes the erroneous assumption that the Black intelligentsia has not researched, written or published any literature on Sobukwe. But in 1985, Pan-Afrikanist intellectual and political activist, Motsoko Pheko, published the first biography on Sobukwe titled The Land Is Ours: The Political Biography of Mangaliso Sobukwe(not to be confused with the recently published book with similar title by Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi). And in 1995, Robben Islander and the Pan-African Congress (PAC) stalwart, Elias Ntloedibe, published the second biography on Sobukwe titled Here Is A Tree: The Political Biography of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

    Both these books were be re-launched on Tuesday, 31July 2018(Afrikan Heroes Day), by the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust, in partnership with the African Flavour Books and the Blackhouse Kollective, as part of the “Sobukwe 40 Years On: A Silenced Voice of Liberation” commemorative programme.

    Significantly the re-launch of these two books took place on 31 July, a day Sobukwe named “Afrikan Heroes Day” in commemoration of the death of his political and ideological brother, Anton Lembede. 

    But besides the books by Pheko and Ntloedibe, another Africanist intellectual, Zamikhaya Gxabe, also wrote an intimate biography on Sobukwe titled Serve, Suffer, Sacrifice: The Story of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

    These rare literary materials collectively constitute some of the most critical and organic literary materials, with in-depth analysis, on Sobukwe and his politico-philosophical ideas.  

    Moreover, the secretary for political and Pan-African Affairs in the PAC, Jakie Seroke is currently working on a coffee-table book project on Sobukwe titled Sobukwe: A Pictorial Biography; and former PAC firebrand, Thamie ka Plaatjie is also finalising his biography on Sobukwe titled Sobukwe: On A Class of His Own.

    So it is untrue that the Afrikan intelligentsia has written nothing on or has neglected Sobukwe altogether, although much more can, indeed, be done.

    The critical question is why political analysts like Ka Soko and many others, the black intelligentsia at large, educational institutions, politicians and media practitioners know very little or nothing about these books by Pheko, Ntloedibe and Gxabe; why are these books –written from various perspectives of insiders, colleagues, comrades, friends and disciples of Sobukwe – under circulated and marginalised from mainstream book stores, public libraries and the academia?

    These Sobukwe books are largely unknown, under circulated or out of print primarily because the South African publishing and book shop industry is controlled by white settlers, working in cohort with an African National Congress (ANC) bourgeoisie, which unrelentingly seeks to bury Sobukwe’s memory and contributions.

    Finally, at the end of his article Ka-Soko also makes another serious error in claiming that the aims of the Black Consciousness Movement (AZAPO—Azanian People’s Organisation), the ANC and PAC “collectively defeated apartheid using different strategies” and that “each of these organisations used different methods but they all had identical aims”.

    The system of apartheid, the political incarnation of white supremacy in Azania, was never wholly defeated; nor has racism white supremacy died. Apartheid’s cosmetic outer trappings and its explicit expressions and institutions were reconstituted, reconfigured and re-formed for the “new” dispensation: settler neo-colonialism. The reform and reconstitution of apartheid was negotiated in 1994.

    In fact, besides the obvious continuity of Black suffering evident daily, a white liberal journalist, John Pilger, published a book and released a documentary film titled, Apartheid Did Not Die, in which the systematic and institutional continuity of apartheid is illustrated. 

    Furthermore, the approaches, political strategies and programmes of AZAPO, ANC and PAC were fundamentally different, as they still are to date; they never “had an identical aim” as asserted by Ka-Soko. Equally irreconcilable are their visions of a liberated Azania.

    The current national discourse land attests to the resilience and relevance of the Afrikanist ideas Sobukwe championed more than 40 years ago. Unwavering in his Afrikanist position on the return of the land robbed, annexed and appropriated by settler colonialists, Sobukwe repeatedly proved the righteousness of his ideals to all state agents, journalists, and investigators who visited him on Robben Island and in Galeshewe during his incarceration and banishment. 

    In asserting and affirming Sobukwe’s legacy today, as suggests Ka-Soko, we must also go beyond the usual simplistic and narrow biographic approaches and narratives and excavate the depth of his intellectual prowess and engage with his ideological and philosophical propositions and fulfil his vision of a liberated Afrika. 

    It is not enough to lament Sobukwe’s calculated systematic and institutional exclusion and silencing, even under the so-called democratic “black government” – and it is not enough to recite his biography, however obscure it may be; we must delve into, interrogate, unpack and dissect his intellectual, political and philosophical ideas wherein lies his immortality.

    This is the challenge to the black intelligentsia, Afrikan scholars, political fraternities, contemporary activists and media practitioners alike. 

    We must affirm Sobukwe’s legacy, do justice to his indelible memory and dispel all the lies and misconceptions that obscure his noble character and Afrikanist personality. 

    Sobukwe is a visionary and a philosopher par excellence. No clandestine or overt political agendas can erase his name or blot out his memory.


    * Thando Sipuye is an Afrikan-centred historian and activist. He is an executive member of The Ankh Foundation and the Blackhouse Kollective in Soweto. He writes in his personal capacity.

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  2. On 19 June, the administration of President Donald Trump announced the United States withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

    This body was established in the aftermath of the founding of the UN in 1945. A UN Declaration of Human Rights was drafted and adopted in 1948 unanimously by the-then 48 members.

    As a justification for its resignation, the Trump administration’s UN representative Nikki Haley claimed that the UNHRC was biased towards the State of Israel. This statement was made while Palestinians were being massacred by the Israeli Defence Forces during peaceful demonstrations on the border between Gaza and the occupied territories.

    UNHRC and the General Assembly have issued condemnations of the blatant acts of aggression and violations of international law by Tel Aviv. The US move is indicative of its unconditional support for Israel, which is backed up by billions of dollars in assistance annually along with technology transfers of sophisticated weaponry and diplomatic support.

    Inside the US itself racism, national oppression and gender discrimination appears to be on the increase. Every week there are reports of police killings of African Americans where in most instances the law-enforcement agents are allowed to go unscathed.

    During ordinary interactions with Whites, African Americans and Latinx people are subjected to insults, prejudiced behaviour and the unwarranted summoning of the police. In 2018 alone 576 people have been shot and killed by police, many of whom are African Americans [[i]].

    The Washington Postbegan chronicling the number of police shootings and fatalities in 2015 since the Justice Department does not keep adequate records. 2017 saw nearly 1,000 people either wounded or shot to death by agents of the state.

    According to a report by, African Americans are disproportionately victims of police violence in comparison to whites: “Black people are much more likely to be shot by police than their white peers. An analysis of the available FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] data by Vox’s Dara Lind found that US police kill black people at disproportionate rates: Black people accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population. Although the data is incomplete because it is based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country, it highlights the vast disparities in how police use force. [[ii]]”

    The false notion that African Americans and Latinx people are more violent than Whites is utilised to justify such shootings and killings. These same rationalisations are also applied to the dismissing of claims centring on institutional racism within the criminal justice system involving the police, prosecutorial agencies, the courts and correctional facilities.

    This same above-mentioned report goes on to note: “The disparities appear to be even starker for unarmed suspects, according to an analysis of 2015 police killings by The Guardian. Racial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the US and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police. These disparities in police use of force reflect more widespread racial inequities across the entire American criminal justice system. Black people are much more likely to be arrested for drugs, even though they are not more likely to use or sell them. And black inmates make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population.”

    Racialised poverty and the capitalist system

    Another misnomer fostered by the administration in Washington is that the number of people living in poverty in the US is insignificant. This could not be further from the truth when government statistics indicate that over 43 million are living below the poverty line, accounting for 13.7 percent of the people [[iii]].

    At the same time other scholars estimate that there are tens of millions more living in a “near poverty” status. These figures add up to approximately 100 million, some one third of the overall population of the US.

    Even though the official unemployment rate is 4.0 percent for June 2018, these figures do not take into account the Labour Participation Rate (LPR), those people who are no longer pursuing work within the formal market. The LPR for the US at present is 62.8 percent meaning that over one third of the work force is not involved in the labour market [[iv]].

    African Americans have the highest poverty rate standing officially at 27.4 percent. While Latinx people are right behind them with 26.6 percent in comparison to whites at 9.9. A stunning 45.8 percent of African American children below six years of age live in poverty in comparison to 14.5 of Whites [[v]].

    The much championed job growth in the US is largely concentrated in low-wage labour. The service sector of the economy is notorious for the super-exploitation of workers. African Americans, Latinx and women of these oppressed groups often carry the brunt of these forms of employment, which reinforce poverty and class degradation.

    A vigorous national campaign demanding a US $15 an hour minimum wage has gained traction in several sectors such as retail and food services. Although this salary would not result in a significant advancement in the status of these workers, if adopted on a federal level it would move the US further in the direction of eliminating immiseration.

    Fast food workers are toiling in horrendous conditions, which are dangerous to their health, where people are subjected to sexual harassment and extremely insufficient wages at almost no benefits. Organisers of food service employees in the state of Michigan have linked the deplorable situation under which their constituencies work to the outbreak of a Hepatitis A epidemic, the largest in the US. In Detroit, with its excessive rate of water shutoffs due to high bills and low salaries, the lack of essential services provide a breeding ground for infectious disease and high levels of attrition [[vi]].

    Immigrant rights and a foreign policy of imperialist war

    The current administration in Washington ran on a programme of anti-immigrant racism and repression. However, it important to recall that the previous government of President Barack Obama, although appealing to Latinx people for electoral purposes within the framework of winning votes from both the Democratic and Republican parties, deported more people than any other head-of-state in US history [[vii]].

    Attention has been directed by the media to the separation of families while immigrants are seeking asylum within the country. Several thousand children have been taken away from their parents and placed in detention.

    Beginning in late June, hundreds of thousands of people protested these policies in cities throughout the country. Such a public outpouring forced the Trump administration to declare that they were halting the measures of family separation. Soon afterwards a federal judge ordered that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are housed, to reunite the children with their parents. In many instances the adults had already been deported without a hearing while the children are sent off to foster care facilities far away from the southern border areas [[viii]].

    Throughout successive administrations the US has maintained an aggressive war policy largely directed towards people in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Russia. The war in Afghanistan has continued over the course of three separate presidencies (2001-2018).

    Thousands of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops have died in Iraq and Afghanistan where millions of the inhabitants of these states in Central and West Asia have lost their lives directly resulting from the massive aerial bombardments, drone attacks, ground invasions and the consequent humanitarian crises leading to displacement, human trafficking and disease. Since 2014 the plight of migrants from Africa and Asia has worsened precipitously contributing to the largest number of people being driven away from their homes as refugees and internally displaced persons. In 2018 the number of displaced persons has exceed 65 million, the greatest number since the conclusion of World War II [[ix]].

    The rising repression inside the borders of the US has its parallel in foreign policy. These realities persist despite the claims by Washington that it is a paragon for human rights on the international scene.

    Mass opposition to US policy needed to reverse course

    Neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties are articulating a viewpoint, which would lead to more than mere surface changes in US human rights policy. The leading Democratic Party narrative in its present form does not repudiate the militarisation of oppressed communities while a cold war mentality is fostered in regard to relations with the Russian Federation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Republic of Cuba and other purported adversaries of Washington.

    A programmatic approach must emerge which challenges the notion that the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, DHS-CBP-ICE, local law-enforcement agencies and the courts have an inherent right to exercise arbitrary authority over the lives of billions around the globe. If the US ignores the fundamental human rights of people within and outside its borders, then other structures should be empowered by the masses of working people and the oppressed to put a halt to these atrocities.  

    Popular organisations, human rights groups, trade unions and revolutionary parties could unite around these questions. Requesting the re-engagement of Washington with the UN Human Rights Council would not be an adequate response. What is needed is a fundamental transformation in US domestic and foreign policy through the development of a new political paradigm and dispensation.   


    * Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor at Pan-African News Wire



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  3. Ends and means of democracy

    It would make sense for Ethiopia to distinguish between fundamental rights and instrumental rights.  The right to vote, for example, is an instrumental right designed to help us achieve the fundamental right of government by consent.  The right to a free press is an instrumental right designed to help us achieve the open society and freedom of information.

    We can also distinguish between democracy as means and democracy as goals.  The most fundamental of the goals of democracy are probably four:  to make the rulers accountable and answerable for their actions and policies; to make the citizens effective participants in choosing those rulers and in regulating their actions; to make the society as open and the economy as transparent as possible; and to make the social order fundamentally just and equitable to the greatest number possible.

    Accountable rulers, actively participating citizens, open society and social justice – those are the four fundamental goals of democracy.

    How to achieve these goals has elicited different means.  In making the rulers more accountable some democracies (like the United States) have chosen separation of powers as well as checks and balances, while other democracies (like the United Kingdom) have chosen the more concentrated notion of sovereignty of parliament.  These are different means towards making the executive branch more accountable and answerable in its use of power. 

    If the goals of democracy are the same while the means for achieving them differ, are there Ethiopian means of achieving the goals of democracy?  That is one of the challenges for makers of the future constitution of Ethiopia – how to keep the democratic goals constant while looking for democratic means more appropriate to Ethiopia.

    The iron law of ethnic loyalty

    One major characteristic of politics in Ethiopia today is that they are ethnic-prone.  The ethnic proneness of Ethiopian politics can affect not only who is elected but also how jobs are allocated.  It can also perpetuate ethnic nepotism as one branch of corruption.  But one thing as bad as nepotism is the phenomenon of counter-nepotism-the public officer who is so afraid of being mistaken for a tribalist that he is reluctant to recruit even deserving members of his own ethnic group for public service.  And another thing, which is even worse than nepotism and counter-nepotism is the tendency for a public officer to completely neglect his ethnic constituency but only to favour his own pocket.

    An ethnic check for the chief executive, which has been suggested elsewhere in Africa, is a regionally-rotating presidency.  Another one would be to require that a president is not electable unless he or she has a minimum of multi-regional support.  It is not enough that a head of state has a majority of the people of his or her side; that majority must also be distributed nationally.  Perhaps the president should demonstrate a strong support in at least three regions out of Ethiopia’s current nine regions

    Institutional checks and ethnic balances

    Can Ethiopia find new democratic means, which combine a new concept of sovereignty of parliament and an even newer concept of checks and balances?  Is it possible, for instance, to combine ethnic checks and balances with gender checks and balance?

    Ethiopia could make the speaker of the house of representative always a woman.  That is one option.  A modified version is to make the position of speaker alternate between a man and a woman.  If the present speaker is a man, the next one has to be a woman regardless of the party in power.  Another scenario is to have two vice presidents – one a man and the other a woman, from two different ethnic groups and both ethnically different from the president.

    While the case for ethnic checks and balances is ultimately to avert the destructiveness of ethnic conflict, the case for gender checks and balances is ultimately to promote greater androgynous creativity and development. Better gender relations are necessary because the alternative is waste of talent as well as injustice.

    No ethnic checks and balances can endure unless women are also involved in a serious discussion. The next Ethiopian constitution should more systematically define, protect and promote the participation of women in the political destiny of Ethiopia.  We must go to the extent of reserving seats for women.          

    Two-party or multi-party system?

    A system which encourages different ethnic groups to coalesce into a few political parties remains much more desirable than a system which gives a larger number of ethnic groups the possibility of having political parties of their own.  What this means is that from the point of view of ethnic pluralism a multi-party system is less desirable than a two-party system.  The Anglo-Saxon model of two major parties confronting each other at least enforces coalitions and alignments between groups, which would otherwise have separate political organisations of their own.  A multi-party system would aggravate ethnic affiliations and antagonisms if ethnic groups and parties coincide too neatly.  A multi-party system would help to mitigate and even eliminate tribalism from politics if parties and ethnic groups crisscrossed.

    There is one idea, which has never been tried.  Can we have a multiparty parliament combined with a no-party executive president?  Can we have a constitution in which candidates for president belong to no political party and are required to be non-partisan as executive heads of state– while parliament operates on the basis of a multiparty competition?  This would enable the head of state to be truly above the inter-party squabbles and attain a higher level of political objectivity.  The disadvantage of this system is that only very rich individual candidates would be able to launch a presidential campaign without the support of party functionaries all over the country.

    Electoral polygamy

    There is also the novel concept of electoral polygamy which in principle dis-ethnicises politics and creates strong ethnic checks and balances.  It requires that every member of the house of representative have two constituencies – one primary which may be his or her own ethnic group and the other constituency distant from his or her own roots.

    Each candidate would need a plurality of votes in his or her primary constituency, and a particular minimum percentage of votes in the other.  The idea is to help each candidate to enjoy the trust and confidence of the nation as a whole and not merely that of her ethnic group.  Surely, this is perhaps the most challenging approach to pursue in the Ethiopian context.


    We started this article by distinguishing democracy as ends from democracy as means.  The same ends of democracy can be realised by different means.  Ethiopia should embrace the four ends (or goals) of democracy – accountable rulers, freely participating citizens, the open society and the pursuit of justice, but should explore what democratic means would work for Ethiopia in pursuing those goals.

    Given that political behaviour in Ethiopia today is strongly susceptible to ethnic forces, Ethiopian democratic means should take that paramount factor into account.  No one should be in denial about ethnicity.  The ethnic genie is already out of the bottle.  Since ethnicity will remain with Ethiopia for at least many decades, political de-ethnicisation is not an option.  But ethnic checks and balances of a creative and constructive kind are needed.  We should shed off the superstition that in order to foster national consciousness we must have a unitary state.  Regional loyalties should be compatible with national patriotism provided the whole system is inclusive and accommodates difference without marginalising smaller groups.


    * Doctor Seifudein Adem is the intellectual biographer of Ali Mazrui (1933-2014).  He currently teaches at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan.  He can be reached at <>.

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  4. The centennial celebration ought to have encouraged the world to think strategically about the need for authentic leadership, so responsibly exemplified by Mandela. Given the gross inequalities and injustices, which are spawned by poor governance and leadership, it is imperative that the world endorses the icon’s legacy especially in terms of his visionary leadership style.

    It is a critical juncture in global history to reflect on the issue of contemporary leadership. It is an unfortunate epoch when the world’s leaders are failing in epic terms. The failure is palpable, quantifiable, self-evident, and glaring. Economies are stagnating, societies are declining and regressing, nations are fracturing, a generation of young people is lost, and mother earth is in serious distress.

    The world has never wanted leaders less, but needed leaders of the calibre of Mandela more. It has never mistrusted leaders more, but wanted direction so desperately. It has never been more cynical about leadership, but been more in accord that things should not continue just as they are.

    What then are the critical qualities and abilities that political leaders need in today’s rapidly shifting world? In a world characterised by disruptive political and social transformations, there has never been a greater need for authentically responsive and responsible leaders. Yet today’s dominant models of leadership struggle to reconcile both qualities. If technocratic leadership privileges responsibility over responsiveness, populist leadership is all about responsiveness.

    Embracing populism seems irresistible, especially by some leaders in the last decade and this has wrenched open the so-called “Overton window” of acceptable ideas and language. There is a growing illusion amongst demagogic leaders that politics can simply collect people’s preferences and mechanically turn them into a reality, which threatens to override the very bedrock of responsible leadership and democracy.

    In any democracy human rights exist to protect people from malevolent leadership and governance especially from abuse and neglect. Yet today a new generation of populist leaders is turning this protection on its head. Claiming to speak for “the people” they treat human rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils.

    Instead of accepting human rights as protecting everyone, they privilege the declared interests of the majority, encouraging people to adopt the dangerous belief that they will never themselves need to assert rights against an overreaching leader claiming to act in their name. 

    The appeal of the populist leaders has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo. Many people feel left behind by change, the global economy, social injustice and growing inequality. Horrific incidents of terrorism generate apprehension and fear. Some are uneasy with societies that have become more ethnically, religiously and racially diverse. There is an increasing sense that populist and charismatic leaders and the elite ignore public concerns.

    In this cauldron of discontent, certain political leaders are flourishing and even gaining power by portraying rights as protecting the majority. They scapegoat refugees, immigrant communities, and minorities. Truth is a frequent casualty. Nativism, xenophobia and racism, are on the rise and go hand in hand with populist leadership.  

    This dangerous trend threatens to reverse the accomplishments of modern human rights enshrined in the constitution of most democracies. Protecting these rights was understood as necessary for individuals to live in dignity. Growing respect for human rights laid the foundation for freer, safer, and more prosperous societies.

    Encouraged by racism and ethnicism in an expanding coterie of countries, including South Africa, a segment of global political leadership sees rights as protecting only these “other” people, not themselves, and thus as dispensable. If the majority wants to limit the human rights of refugees, migrants, or minorities, the populist leaders suggest, the majority should be free to do so.

    It is perhaps human nature that it is harder to identify with people who differ from oneself, and easier to accept violation of their rights. Some populist leaders such as the United States of America’s Trump, South Africa’s Malema, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe and Syria’s Assad take solace in the hazardous assumption that the selective enforcement of human rights is possible and that the rights of others can be compromised while their own remain secure.

    But little do they know that human rights by their very nature do not admit a blanket approach. You may not like your neighbours, but if you sacrifice their rights today, you jeopardise your own tomorrow, because ultimately human rights are grounded on the reciprocal duty to treat others, as you would want to be treated yourself. To violate the rights of some is to erode the edifice of rights that inevitably will be needed by members of the presumed majority in whose name current violations occur. 

    We forget at our peril the populist leaders of yesteryear, such as the fascists, racists, apartheid-based ideologues and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into either the majority or the minority interest but ended up crushing the individual. When populists treat human rights as an obstacle to their vision of the people’s will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.

    To counter these trends, a broad reaffirmation of human rights is urgently needed. The rise of the populist leaders should certainly lead to some soul-searching among mainstream politicians. Equally, responsible leaders should be committed to respecting human rights and serving their people better by being more likely to avoid the corruption, self-aggrandising, and arbitrariness that so often accompany rule by demagogues.

    It is important to remember that if the appeal of these populist leaders and the voices of intolerance prevail, the world risks entering a dark era. We should never underestimate the tendency of demagogues who sacrifice the rights of others in our name today to jettison our rights tomorrow when their real priority is retaining power at all costs.

    A body of responsible leaders in any society can have a powerful positive impact on development of that society. The new responsible leadership cadre must have the obligation to use their skills, talents and capabilities to create an impact on the socio-political issues being faced by their fellow citizens. The current socio-economic conditions, globally, require these new leadership pathfinders to create building blocks for achieving inclusiveness in society.

    Sadly as a result of populist and irresponsible leadership nations begin to lose hope for a better political dispensation. Political hope is distinguished by two features. Its object is political: it is hope for social justice. And its character is political: it is a collective attitude. While the significance of the first feature is perhaps obvious, the second feature explains why it makes sense to speak of hope’s “return” to politics.

    When political movements seek to rekindle hope, they are not acting on the assumption that individual people no longer hope for things, they are simply building on the idea that hope does not currently shape our collective orientation toward the future. The promise of a “politics of hope” is thus the promise that hopes for social justice will become part of the sphere of collective action, of politics itself. This is what Mandela offered to a newly democratic South Africa. And as responsible nation we need to build on this foundation and legacy.

    Mandela’s message is clear to the world. In sincerely seeking to break out of our quagmire of negative governance and poor leadership, we need to engage in collective action to make sure that we identify and create strategies and programmes that will have an impact on the critical socio-economic and political problems and challenges and make a positive contribution towards shaping inclusive societies.

    Authentic leaders make great sacrifices and for the better good of all, make compromises. Let us not forget that we owe our freedom to those who sacrificed for our liberty.

    It is in this spirit that Mandela must always be revered in the consciousness of South Africa and the world at large. Let us build on the foundation and scaffolding that Mandela and his compatriots struggled to bequeath to a fragile and dislocated nation and not be misled by a narrative, which emanates from demagogues who wish to destroy the collective hope of a country. 

    As Gracia Machel so elegantly uttered at Mandela’s centennial celebration, “The long walk to freedom has just begun”. “ThumaMina” – send me!


    * Professor Dhiru Soni is Director for Research and Innovation at REGENT Business School, Durban, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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    Joburg Post
  5. Assassination rumours


    The Indian Ocean Newsletter reports that French intelligence warned Yoweri Museveni that Kagame was plotting to have his plane shot down over Rwanda, causing him to cancel a flight from Uganda to Burundi for a summit. If the said plot had come to fruition, it would have been Kagame’s second presidential assassination by plane shoot-down over Rwanda. In 1994, his men shot down the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira from Arusha, Tanzania, to Kigali, Rwanda. That shoot-down triggered the infamous hundred days of ethnic massacres known as the Rwandan Genocide.


    Is the claim credible? No hard evidence has been proffered. The Indian Ocean Newsletter is one of several regional reports included in Africa Intelligence Report, an online journal that describes itself as “the first information site on Africa for a professional audience” and charges substantial fees for all site access or per-article access. Credible or no, Kagame has his online “attack dogs” busy denying it.


    Are relations between Kagame and Museveni tense? No doubt about that. The two have been both partners and competitors in crime for many years, with recent emphasis on the competition. The most notorious moment of this partnership occurred in 2000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where invading Rwandan and Ugandan forces fought each other over the gold and diamond smuggling trade.


    More recently Kagame has been in the habit of kidnapping or assassinating Rwandan refugees whom he considers his political enemies in Uganda, triggering Museveni’s recent crackdown on Rwandan spies. He has also been trying to force Rwandans who have crossed into Uganda fleeing famine to return home. He knows from first-hand experience that significant numbers of refugees outside Rwanda may return as an insurgency, maybe even an insurgency backed by Uganda, like his own.


    Speaking of insurgencies


    An armed insurgency against Kagame has been reported. All the Rwandan exiles that I know seem to believe this, but no one knows or wants to say how serious it might be. My own guess is that an insurgency could succeed only if significant numbers of Kagame’s own troops turned against him. He has been seen wearing a bulletproof vest in Rwanda. A video identified as Rwandan insurgents in training appeared on Facebook, where it was shared 237[263 now] times.


    Political prisoner Victoire Ingabire in peril


    According to her political party, the United Democratic Forces of Rwanda, internationally celebrated Rwandan political prisoner Victoire Ingabire was moved into a cell with a former military officer whom she feared would kill her. The party said that the threatening cellmate has been removed for now. Ingabire attempted to run against Kagame in the 2010 presidential election but went to prison instead. The African Union’s highest court, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ruled that Ingabire should be freed because Rwanda denied her the rights guaranteed by the Rwandan Constitution, but the current President of the African Union scorns its highest court. In 2010, Victoire Ingabire’s courage radically changed international perception of the Kagame regime, exposing him as a totalitarian military ruler and war criminal. Congolese historian and activist Bénédicte Kumbi Njoko calls her African sister “a force of nature.”


    7000 Rwandan churches and mosques shut down


    Kagame has shut down 7000 Rwandan churches and mosques during the first six months of this year. This is not a matter of rumour or speculation; it is reported by Reuters, Associated Press,the British Broadcasting Corporation,and Christian journals including Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News Service, World Watch Monitor,and Christian Persecution News.  


    One hundred twenty-three religious leaders have gone missing, pastors have been imprisoned, and Human Rights Watch has been expelled from the country—again. Rwanda’s population of 12 million is roughly 60 percent Roman Catholic, 26 percent Protestant, 11 percent Seventh-day Adventist, and 3 percent Muslim, so it is safe to say that the vast majority of those targeted are Christians of one sort or another.


    This has caused shock around the world, and in the US Senate and State Department, making it one of Kagame’s most puzzling paranoid expressions yet.


    Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared in the Senate, where Arizona Senator Jeff Flake asked him, “The country of Rwanda, right now, and you may be familiar with this because of this week’s focus on religious freedom, has indicated a move towards severe restrictions on religious freedom, particularly from outside groups. What are the plans of the State Department to let them know that that is not in their interest or ours?”


    Pompeo responded, “Senator, I share your concerns. I’ll need to get back to you in terms of what actions we think will fit. I know we’ll call it out. I know we’ll label it for what it is. We do need to see. It is tragic and anyway, I share your concerns. It’s a huge challenge for us.”


    Indeed. Rwanda has been a longstanding US ally, military proxy, and geostrategic lynchpin in East Africa, Central Africa, and the rest of the African continent.


    How will Christians and Christian Zionists react to this? Paul Kagame’s Rwanda has been hand in glove with Israel ever since he seized power in 1994. Both claim victim’s license to invade their neighbours—Congo and Palestine—and the US has staunchly supported that license politically, militarily, and financially. The US is Rwanda’s top bilateral donor.


    Mike Pompeo attended last week’s Christian persecution exhibition in Washington, DC, which prominently featured the case of Rwanda, alongside those of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. So did Sam Brownback, the Trump Administration official assigned to look after the interests of Christians around the world, although his actual title is “Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.” The Kansas Republican extremist is the first Catholic to hold the position. He is also a prominent member of “The Fellowship,” also known as “The Family,” which was the subject of Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Sharlet characterised Brownback himself as “God’s Senator” in a frightening 2006 Rolling Stone profile.


    David Himbara, former economic advisor to Paul Kagame, and Justin Bahunga, Spokesman for the Rwandan Democratic Forces, and others say that Kagame shut down the churches, using building code violations as an excuse, because they were the last spaces in Rwanda where people felt safe from his totalitarian grip.


    Wasn’t this an extraordinarily foolish move, especially given the theocratic tendencies of the Trump Administration? Didn’t Kagame know that even his staunchest defenders, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, couldn’t give this a positive spin? I asked David Himbara, who responded, “Totalitarian regimes aren’t always smart. They tend to shoot first and ask questions after.”


    It is hard to imagine the State Department and the Pentagon cutting Kagame loose while he is still of greater use than not, but how much longer will that be? And what will it take to tip the balance?



    * Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area, United States of America. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at @AnnGarrison or

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    Kanyarwanda News
  6. The level of media and popular chatter on the topic of nuclear power increased noticeably in South Africa following Russian President Putin’s recent visit. It has been reported that President Ramaphosa told President Putin that South Africa couldn’t afford nuclear power right now. According to the chatter that has been generated, this spells the end of the country’s nuclear ambitions. I am, however, sceptical of this simplistic explanation and do not believe that this is necessarily the case. I have outlined some of the main reasons why I do not subscribe to this belief.

    President Ramaphosa’s reported negative reply to President Putin’s enquiries about the government’s progress on its nuclear plans have led many citizens to presume that the final word on the future of nuclear power in South Africa has been spoken. His reply seems to give credence to a sentiment that has been growing, in popular circles at least, ever since the resignation of President Zuma earlier this year.

    Contrary to the prevailing sentiment, however, the belief that nuclear power is a dead letter and that expanding nuclear power generating capacity is no longer an option for South Africa might be misplaced. In fact, as will be argued, the nuclear deal may now be more appealing to politicians than ever for a number of political reasons. It might, therefore, be premature to write off the government’s nuclear plans just yet.

    To see why this is the case, consider two factors; the infighting that racks the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and growing popular frustration with the pace of socioeconomic transformation; that have come to define contemporary political and economic discourse in South Africa. Popular disenchantment with socioeconomic inequality is growing. Given South Africa’s divided racial history and the current distribution of national income, this disenchantment has fuelled racial tensions and fomented frustration with the slow pace of racial redress. As a result, calls for Radical Economic Transformation to break the power of White Monopoly Capital have become more incessant of late. On the other hand, infighting within the ruling ANC at all levels appears to have become endemic and is certainly more acrimonious.

    Divided loyalties have given rise to factions, which threaten party unity. Consequently, President Ramaphosa and his supporters’ grip on power within the party is assailable and probably more tenuous than they would like. Under these circumstances, undertaking a large-scale public infrastructure project such as that envisaged in the government’s nuclear plans would permit the state to direct resources to an influential lobby, black capitalists, who have been demanding a larger share of the economic pie.

    This would help the government defend itself against accusations that it is pandering to White Monopoly Capital or is beholden to its interests. It will also blunt the rhetoric of those inside and outside the ANC who have recently taken up the call for Radical Economic Transformation. Increased public spending and the power to dispense largesse it gives holders of the public purse may also enable supporters of President Ramaphosa to purchase the loyalty of party dissidents and other presidential detractors.

    Granted, with national elections looming next year, voters can count on seeing members of competing factions engaging in public displays of unity, wary as they all are of eroding the ANC’s support any further in future. Presumably, rivals might also agree that it is prudent for the party as a whole to distance itself from a project which has become tainted by its strong association with former President Zuma especially as more details of the extent of the rot at the state electricity utility Eskom have begun to emerge. Thus, one would expect that public announcements to this effect would not be forthcoming in the foreseeable future and definitely not in the run-up to next year’s elections. The net effect thereof is that the propensity for policymakers to cut backroom deals is likely to increase.

    Turning to international affairs, policymakers would no doubt have noted the erratic behaviour of the present administration and growing isolationist tendencies in the United States, along with the apparent acquiescence thereto of other partners in the West, the former colonial overlords in Africa who have traditionally held much influence across the continent in particular. Policymakers may well calculate that, given the unreliability exhibited by these partners, the need to forge and deepen economic ties with key emerging powers such as Russia and China, which appear to be more steadfast in their dealings is more acute than ever.

    Purchasing nuclear technology from the former, a country, which is keen to showcase its technological prowess in this area, with finance obtained from the latter, a country, which is keen to translate its economic power into diplomatic influence, is the ideal way to do this. Incidentally, this logic may well explain why a host of African countries which seem, on the face of it, to have no need for nuclear power have been so keen to enter into nuclear energy deals in particular, and infrastructure deals in general, with the Russians and Chinese.

    For these reasons, one contends that nuclear power remains firmly on the South African government’s agenda. Subsequently, the need for greater transparency on the part of officials involved in nuclear dealings and for citizens to hold their public representatives to account thereon is more urgent than ever.


    * Gerard Boyce is an Economist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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    Graphic Online
  7. Good afternoon everybody. I must thank the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Creative Arts, Catherine Afeku and the Government of Ghana for working together with the Emancipation Committee to ensure that we have such a large turnout of young people to celebrate and reflect on emancipation.The theme chosen by the Committee is: Our Heritage our Strength, Celebrating the African Resilience.

    Greetings and salutations to all Members of the Diplomatic Corp, Heads of Departments and especially to the youths who are gathered here with us at this Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum. I can see that while for some diplomats it was perfunctory to turn up at the wreath laying ceremony at the Du Bois Centre some of our brothers and sisters from different embassies in Africa are still with us. The job of organising the celebration as a three part event of going to the Du Bois Centre, the Padmore Library and now the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park was a good idea because it showed that this work that brought us where we are today to stand in this place right where Kwame Nkrumah is interned and that this work has always been a collective work.

    When I followed the Minister through the tomb of Du Bois in the wreath laying ceremony, I asked W.E.B Du Bois, what should be a central message. Du Bois said, make sure that you carry a message that this is not just a formal occasion. Du Bois said to me this morning that remember where we are coming from.Of the writings of W.E. B Du Bois that came to me at that moment was his pamphlet on the African Roots of War.This was a short pamphlet that Du Bois had written about how the first world was basically a continuation of the partitioning of Africa 1884-1885.

    In her prepared remarks at the Du Bois Centre earlier this morning, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Creative Arts, Catherine Afeku asked us to get young people to understand what is meant to go through the Door of No Return. As many of you know, the door of no return is that last door that the captured passed through on their journey into enslavement. For the Ministry of Tourism, it will be important to continue to train the tour guides so that they explain the barbarity of what awaited the Africans after the barbarity of the slave dungeons at Cape Coast and El Mina. That experience was very much in the forefront of my consciousness as I prepared for this presentation. The title that I gave the presentation is emancipation from enslavement yesterday, today and tomorrow.  The teaching of the meaning of emancipation is so important because so many young Africans do not fully understand what happened in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

    This is not by accident because those who were accomplices in the trade yesterday have bequeathed their ideas to a generation that is acting very much like intermediaries for slavery today. The urgency of the education campaign on the meaning of Emancipation Day was driven home this morning when a young person came to me and inquired whether Du Bois is actually buried here – at the Du Bois Centre. We ought to use the educational system so that Emancipation Day is not just one event but that Emancipation Day is brought into the curriculum of all schools in Africa as it is done in the Caribbean.

    What is emancipation?

    On 1 January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared, “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation also called for the recruitment and establishment of black military units among the Union forces. An estimated 180,000 African Americans went on to serve in the army, while another 18,000 served in the navy. This war changed the history of the United States.

    So when we talk about the theme of resilience and struggle we remember our brothers and sisters who fought in the United States of America to end slavery.

    Twenty nine years earlier on 1 August 1834, there was the legal emancipation of all slaves in British colonies, but it was a case of freedom with conditions. The Emancipation Bill had been presented in the British Parliament by Thomas Buxton in 1833 and the Act came into effect on 1 August 1834.

    Slavery was not abolished outright. Under the proclamation of 1834 there was to be a period of apprenticeship of six years 1834 to 1840.  The tenets of “apprenticeship” stated that the ex-slaves would work without pay for their former masters for three-quarters of every week (40 hours) in exchange for lodging, food, clothing, medical attendance and provision grounds in which they could grow their own food during the remaining quarter of the week. They could also, if they chose, hire themselves out for more wages during that remaining quarter. With this money, an ex-slave-turned-apprentice could then buy his freedom. But those who had fought for their freedom rejected this apprenticeship and after their resistance the period was reduced from six to four years. Outright enslavement was abolished on 1 August 1838.

    Every year Emancipation Day is celebrated in the Caribbean and I am pleased to share my reflections on the context of the celebrations of Emancipation Day in Ghana. Emancipation emerged out of protracted struggles yesterday.

    Tomorrow the emancipation project is about whether you are going to be human beings and I want to direct my statement especially to young people who are here today because we want to say that from the global African family the most important resolution for us in terms of emancipation is to repair the damage that has been done by enslavement and to repair the damage that has been done by enslavement requires that we bring the concept of reparations to the forefront of the discussion on Emancipation Day.

    Emancipation and freedom arose in the Americas as central components of the project of the humanisation of the African person. This was a project to recover the dignity of the peoples who had been treated like chattel by the system of slavery from the 16th century to the present.  This emancipatory project assigned itself the tasks of restoring the humanity and dignity of the indigenous and African persons and indeed all humans.

    Suffice to say, that in the Caribbean, and Latin America, the projects of slavery and colonialism were always clothed in the robes of white supremacy. In other words, a whole intellectual culture was developed to justify slavery. The words and writings of Aristotle were invoked, that Humanity is divided into two, masters and slaves. Important chapter in the book by Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade 1440-1870.

    In the 19th century the ideas that humanity was divided into two were reproduced as Social Darwinism. White supremacy was only one of the many contradictions of the relationships in this planet. The other glaring contradictions were the exploitation of the labour power of the majority of the citizens. There is the obscene situation where the world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population. This contradiction is reinforced by the racist and sexist hierarchies of the international system. Today the emancipation project carries the same urgency as it did 170 years ago with the added responsibility of stopping the new slave trade from Agadez, Niger to Europe through Libya.

    The search to resolve some of these contradictions has gone through many iterations from the period of enslavement to the current period of domination by transnational capitalism when corporations have given themselves the right to patent life forms. The biotech companies are threatening to introduce new slavery in this century. There are already pressures to repeal the 13th amendment of the US Constitution that rendered slavery illegal

    The 13th Amendment of the US Constitution had stated,

    Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    The thirteenth Amendment in the US abolished slavery. While the Emancipation Proclamation had been a statement by the President, the Amendment to the Constitution carried the force of law. 

    The 13th Amendment of the US constitution said that black people were full human beings and no longer 3/5ths of a person. Now in the 1980s the United States Patent Office gave the companies the right to patent life forms and to say that you can have life that can be created in a laboratory. That means that it is in the interests of the biotech companies to repeal the13th amendment of the US Constitution. The long-term logic of the economic activities of Big Pharma is to repeal the 13th Amendment so that other people can own other people so that in the 21st century we must understand the struggle against bondage, enslavement and dehumanisation of human beings is not over.

    This struggle over enslavement in the present and the future sets up the scene for the current emancipation struggles. This is against the struggles against the new slavery. If you go to Niger, there is a town called Agadez, which is the headquarters of the current slave trade where thousands and thousands of Africans are shepherded as human bondage persons to Europe. The trade in Niger and Libya is today a mufti million-dollar industry and there are reports from journalists how the traffickers are protected by police and soldiers as the traffickers travel from Agadez in Niger to Sabha in Libya. As an article in The Washington Post had noted,

    “Perhaps the most glaring sign of the complicity comes each Monday, when the smugglers and their migrant cargoes leave Agadez in a loose convoy led by a military escort,” The Washington Post, 20 July 2015.        

    “On the road in Agadez: desperation and death along a Saharan smuggling route, [[i]]”the military escort from western countries who are supposed to be in Niger in the war against terror are complicit in this current slave trade.

    Why is it that on Emancipation Day, we are not raising our voices against this new slave trade when there are hundreds of people who are dying in the Mediterranean Sea on Emancipation Day 2018? According to numerous reports, in 2015 there were more than 5,000 persons who died in the Mediterranean Sea.

    Why is there no massive outcry in Africa against this new enslavement?

    How could Africans sell their own into slavery? These questions are not entertained because some leaders in Africa still celebrate their 500-year relationship with the enslavers such as the British or the Dutch. Walter Rodney in identifying the class distinctions in Africa before enslavement and colonialism pointed to a class of African rulers who considered profit over the fate of their brothers and sisters.

    Today, I am so tormented when decent persons refer to other Africans as their slaves. Class distinctions are so entrenched that the African ruling classes today have no hesitation in referring to the working classes in language that is so disparaging.

    Slavery yesterday and Black lives today

    Today when we celebrate Emancipation Day and we talk about resilience, heritage and strength, we must remind the young people that in North America, in the Caribbean and in South America Black people are fighting for their lives and they have a movement called Black Lives Matter.Black Lives Matter is saying that black people should not be shot down in the streets. Today I am pleased to be the Kwame Nkrumah Chair at the Institute of African Studies and as my sister Professor Jessie Sutherland has always said, we cannot go forward without understanding the culture of resistance and how there was a fight against slavery.

    As a young boy, I grew up in Jamaica and as I was preparing this lecture for today I was listening to the lyrics of Bob Marley, Slave Driveron the album, Catch a Fire:

    “Every time I hear the crack of a whip

    My blood runs cold

    I remember on the slave ship

    How they brutalize our very souls

    Today they say that we are free

    Only to be chained in poverty

    Good God, I think it’s illiteracy

    It’s only a machine that make money.”

    Our consciousness continues to be refurbished by these cultural leaders such as Bob Marley so every Caribbean leader and intellectual must reject the ideas that underwrote the enslavement of Africans. We just came from the George Padmore Library and in an unusual presentation we had the General Manager of the Republic Bank speaking. That is not usual because bankers do not get to speak at Emancipation Day celebrations, but there is a reason for that. The reason is that in Trinidad and Tobago, the history of the fight against slavery is very strong. The former Prime Minister of Trinidad, Eric Williams, wrote the important book entitled, Capitalism and Slavery.

    Every major Caribbean intellectual grew up with the images and knowledge of the meaning of enslavement. That generation of Caribbean intellectuals exposed the full workings of international capitalism with Eric Williams, C.L.R. James Richard Hart, Walter Rodney, Elsa Goveia, Bridget Brereton, Hilary Beckles, and Verne Shepherd among scores of others doing world class scholarship to reject the idea that Africans were being civilised by enslavement. My own scholarship had been inspired by the energies from the grassroots as manifest in the movement called the Rastafari. The study, published as a book, Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney, chronicled the resistance to enslavement then, and the implications for the continued struggles for the dignity of the African person.

    C.L.R. James in his book on the History of Negro Revolts wrote about the struggles of black people for freedom and that tells us that the end of slavery did not come about as a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln or by acts of the British Parliament. The end of slavery came because people fought for the freedom and in Trinidad and Tobago they only had 17,000 enslaved people as compared to a country like Jamaica that had 300,000 but in Trinidad the people have been recently coming from Africa so they understood what freedom and independence meant.  The consciousness of emancipation and struggles for freedom remains very high and as the representative of the Republic Bank stated, the independent government of Trinidad was among the first to declare Emancipation Day a public holiday.

    So the question for the Caribbean everywhere was that people do not accept the idea that Africans are second-class citizens; that Africans are human beings like everyone else. So that whether it is Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser on all levels, we know the struggle for emancipation came from our people.

    The first fighters for emancipation were opposed to the robotics of yesterday when the forms of enslavement on the plantations in the Americas treated Africans like “machines to make money”. The book by Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, has documented this phase of the dehumanisation of the African person. This book elaborated on how Africans were treated like machines to enable American society to accumulate immense amounts of wealth to become the preeminent industrial power that it is today. The availability of cheap land and the shortage of labour led to a ruthless system of exploitation called the “pushing system” that enslaved people and which Baptist aptly describes as “innovation in violence”. It was the vibrant emancipation movement of the grassroots of stalwarts such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, and Gabriel Prosser at the grassroots that precipitated the rebellions against that form of robotisation.

    Abraham Lincoln had been pressured by war. The enslaved that ran away had precipitated a break in the US military and it was the hundreds of thousands of African soldiers in the federal army that decided the fate of the US Civil War 1861-1865.

    Today, the fate of the USA is being decided by the new freedom fighters and by the Blacks and Latinos in the US military.

    I want to tell the young people that one of the reasons they want us to think that Abraham Lincoln freed the people is because they do not want us to teach you about Harriet Tubman, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the other freedom fighters who made emancipation possible, C.L.R. James in the book, The Black Jacobins had written about the victory of the people of Haiti for freedom. Haiti remains the most important symbol in the struggle of African people for freedom because people of Haiti in one blow struck against slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

    We cannot talk about Emancipation Day today without opposing all forms of colonialism and in the Caribbean and in Africa we still have colonies. France holds on to colonies in Martinique, Guadeloupe, Cayenne and in the Comoros; so we cannot talk about fighting against slavery yesterday, without fighting against colonialism today. Rebellions against enslavement had been the most constant aspect of the period of enslavement. The first black republic had named their country Haiti after the name that had been the name given by the original peoples, the Taino.

    The physical destruction of the lives of the original peoples of the Caribbean along with the destruction of the peoples of Africa ensured that the transatlantic slave trade was an unparalleled crime in human history. There was the destruction of the productive capacities of the environment and of whole societies. This destruction and unconcern for human lives continue.

    Hilary Beckles in Chapter four of the book Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide noted the complete dehumanisation of the African body occurred by the 17th century when as the British state and private industries realised the potential to profit from slavery and by the end of the century, “enchained African bodies became the national policy of England, an initiative that was considered in national interest” (40-3). This Chapter is entitled, “Not Human: Britain’s Black Property,” Africans never accepted the dehumanisation that had been inscribed in practice and in law.

    Beckles starts by saying, “The British legally defined Africans as ‘nonhuman,’” which helped them to be identified as property (56).  Slaves were often seared on the chest or shoulder with the same hot iron brands used to brand cattle, which set them apart from white slaves, who were typically working off a debt and still considered human.  Laws were created giving British slave owners absolute ownership and authority over their slaves, which legalised the wholesale slaughter of a slave owner’s slaves if the slave owner so desired.  These laws also set in motion a series of punitive punishments for slaves who were found to be threatening in any way, or who broke laws. 

    While all of these punishments were exorbitant, the favoured form of punishment, castration, was particularly crippling as it left the slave population even more incapable of reproducing and replenishing (61).  That castration was such a popular form of punishment and speaks to the level of fear that slave holders had towards their enslaved men, both as men who could possess their wives and daughters (even though they were not usually on the islands), and as strong and therefore capable of overpowering the slave owners themselves.  Beckles writes, “It was not until 1805 in Barbados that the murder of an enslaved person by a white person became a capital felony” (62). In the USA, blacks could not be full citizens and were designated as three fifths of a person. This was overturned by the Amendments to the constitution after the Civil War.

    The form of barbarity outlined by Beckles had been practiced by all of the enslavers whether they were British, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Danes, Swedes or Portuguese. For a long time there had been the mistaken ideas represented in European textbooks that the enslaved in the Portuguese, Spanish and French territories were not as harshly treated as the enslaved in territories under the British.

    C.L.R. James in his book The Black Jacobins demolished these arguments and spelt out how enslavement as a form of coercion and bonded labour reinforced labour coercion and social control in all territories. The level of capital of the slaveholders had an impact on the nature of their economic activities, but the dehumanisation was clear whether it was Brazil, Trinidad, Cuba, Colombia or Barbados.

    What was clear in all the territories was the resistance to enslavement.

    Resistance to enslavement

    The title of my book, Rasta and Resistance took its inspiration from the resistance to slavery that had been part of the culture of the Caribbean and the Americas. This culture of resistance was manifest in every sphere of life. Richard Hart in the book, Slaves who Abolished Slavery noted that the rebellions of the great leaders such as Tacky, Cudjoe and Nanny along with the Maroon communities of freed persons were not the only form of rebellions.

    There were rebellious every day, everywhere and in every way. Beckles wrote about the Natural Rebels, about the role of the enslaved women who opposed enslavement with every fibre of her being. The emphasis on the centrality of African women in the rebellions against enslavement emanated from the fact that the women knew that it was from their very bodies that the system of capitalism was sustained. These women reared their children to see themselves as humans and sung lullabies to their children, you were not always enslaved, and one day you will be free. This inspiration for freedom supported the morality of the emancipatory ideas that were translated into everyday acts of rebellion against an unjust system.

    It was a consciousness of rebellion. The Haitian revolution had taken these rebellious of everyday life to a formal attack on the social system and birthed freedom for the entire American continent. Not much is known in Africa how the enslaved in Haiti contributed to the independence of the entire South American continent. This freedom and militant opposition to enslavement was episodic and every person in Africa ought to study the heroism of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian revolutionaries. Caribbean youth and African youth will need to study Zumbi of Palmares in Brazil and the courageous alliances made with the indigenous peoples

    Full scale rebellions broke out everywhere in the world of slavery, with—Tobago 1802, The Bussa rebellion in Barbados 1816, Demerara (Guyana) 1823, and the Sam Sharpe rebellion in Jamaica 1831. These great rebellions, and the terrible reprisals which followed, helped to convince the authorities in Britain that it was simply too dangerous to maintain slavery in the colonies. This is what we are celebrating today, the victory of the Bussa rebellion, the Demarara rebellion, the Sam Sharpe rebellion and the rebellions that occurred in every island territory of enslavement.

    Economic arguments on emancipation

    For a long time there had been the economic arguments about the end of slavery by pointing out that the transition from mercantile capitalism to industrial capitalism meant that Britain wanted the enslaved to earn a wage so that they could buy the products coming out of the industrial heartland of Britain. However much it may be true that there had been economic motives for the end of slavery, the main point that should be borne in mind was that the end of slavery came from the actions and rebellions of the enslaved.

    The other cogent point was that those who fought for freedom in the English speaking Caribbean were well ahead of those in other territories. Slavery was abolished permanently in the French Empire in 1848, in the Spanish Empire in 1880, and in Brazil in 1888. Opposition to slavery in Africa and Asia was not as strong as it was in the Caribbean, Europe and the United States.

    The Emancipation Proclamation, 1834

    As a boy, when I passed through Spanish Town, which was the capital of Jamaica in 1834, we were always reminded of how the people gathered on the steps of the governors house to hear the Emancipation Proclamation. We knew then that the slave masters were compensated and the enslaved were not compensated.

    Richard Hart in the book Slaves Who Abolished Slavery provided the specific figures of how much was spent in each island [[ii]].

    The figures about the numbers of enslaved in each island became important in the context of the payment to the slave masters. The names and figures are important for the current reparations claim. It is from these claims where we know that the family of David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of Britain was a recipient of money after emancipation.

    Religion and the fight against enslavement

    Let me move to conclude by talking about what kind of prayers we pray. In Chapter 1 of the book, Rasta and Resistance, I dealt at great length Spiritual World and the Material world.  In order to dehumanise a human being, it is first necessary to chip away at their spiritual essence. During the fight against slavery we had two kinds of religion. We had the religion of the masters and the religion of the people who wanted to be free. The masters prayed to their god so that their god could give them the strength to keep some people in slavery. The African people prayed to their god, the god of freedom and the goddess of liberty and the goddess of love and the goddess of joy. These two different religions existed side by side and it was the religion of freedom that triumphed.

    The history of the Baptists in Jamaica is replete with the struggle to convert the slaves while maintaining some sense of dignity in being African. In Jamaica there is a church called East Queen Street Baptist Church. This church was started by George Lisle and Africans from Savannah Georgia who came to Jamaica to support the fight against enslavement so the religion of freedom among Africans was a religion of yesterday, a religion of today and a religion of tomorrow. That religion says that god is a just god and god does not support those who want to be prosperous while keeping others in slavery.

    Emancipation and reparations

    It is because the Caribbean people and the black people support that god and that goddess for whom the Caribbean people say that religion of resistance means that not only should we resist, but also we should repair. So the reparations movement today from Africans everywhere are saying that slavery constituted a crime against humanity and that we should oppose all forms of denigration.  

    In the Black Lives Matter in the United States of America in 2016 they came with a six-point program:

    1. End the war on black lives
    2. Reparations
    3. Invest and divest. Invest in the black community and divest from the military
    4. Economic justice
    5. Community Control
    6. Political power

    Everywhere black people live in the world they can identify with these points of the Black Lives Matter. In the Caribbean all Caribbean governments have agreed to the Caribbean Reparations Commission.

    The Caribbean Reparations Commission is a direct result of the work of the emancipation committees in Barbados, in Trinidad, in Jamaica and in all of the territories of the English speaking Caribbean. One of the good things about the British is that they kept very good records so when the slaves were freed they paid the slave masters £20 million, which today is equivalent to £200 billion dollars and the point was for every one of those slave masters to know how much money they got. So when we call for reparations we know exactly which families in Europe were benefitting from the enslavement of African people.

    The Caribbean Reparation Commission has a ten-point programme. Namely:

    • A full formal apology from all the European powers that kept Africans in slavery. The British government have refused to apologise and instead they say we regret enslavement because this was an unfortunate part of European history. We do not accept regrets; we want the British and all governments in Europe to say they carried out crimes against Africans.
    • Repatriation, pointing out the legal right of the descendants of more than ten million Africans, who were stolen from their homes.
    • An Indigenous Peoples Development Programme. We do not only talk about enslavement we talk about genocide against the indigenous people.
    • Cultural Institutions
    • Attention to be paid to the “Public Health Crisis” in the Caribbean.
    • Eradicating illiteracy
    • An African Knowledge Programme to teach people of African descent.

    (So yes Minister we agree with you that we should be bringing young people from the Caribbean to teach them of going through The Door of No Return.)

    • Psychological Rehabilitation
    • Technology Transfer
    • Debt Cancellation

    The Caribbean Emancipation Committees and the Caribbean government are calling on African governments to support them in the call for reparations. To support them in saying crimes against humanity were carried out. We support the resilience of the people of Ghana. This resilience comes from long struggles to uphold the dignity and the unification of Africa. We believe that the struggle to be humans in the 21st century is the most important of the struggle for emancipation and we want all the young people to grow up and remember that Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves but rather it was the people who fought for their own freedom.

    Thank you very much.


    * Professor Horace G. Campbell is the Kwame Nkrumah Chair at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. He is on leave from Syracuse University where is holds a joint professorship in the Departments of African American Studies and Political Science.

    * This is an edited version of his keynote address at emancipation wreath laying at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park on 25 July 2018

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  8. The centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution, a world-shaking historic event, was an occasion for celebration throughout the world.

    Many diverse interpretations are advanced as to its success in achieving a radical transformation of society, both in terms of its history and its overall impact. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this event altered forever the course of history.

    For Black peoples, this revolution arrived just over a century after the victory in Haiti in 1804. That event was the first massive and successful revolt of Black slaves, and an important step toward the long-overdue abolition of slavery worldwide.

    The establishment of the first Black republic in the Northern Hemisphere emerged from an extended process of resistance to oppression, marked by massive slave revolts on the plantations of Jamaica, Brazil, and elsewhere. Even today, Haiti continues to pay the price for its audacity and steadfastness, for which it has never been forgiven by proponents of the slave system. This dramatic breakthrough later contributed to achievement of a collective consciousness among Blacks.

    Indeed, these events demonstrated that freedom comes only through struggle. That is how Blacks laid the foundations for Pan-Africanism throughout the African diaspora. Brought to the fore by figures such as the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Edward Blyden, and many others, this movement was linked to the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples across Europe and beyond, which culminated in two historic revolutions:

    • The French Revolution of 1789,
    • The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.

    During this process two historic currents, the International Communist Movement and Pan-Africanism, established strong ties, forged through suffering and resistance. This is not to deny that there were occasional conflicts, resulting from the exigencies of episodic struggles and underlying strategy.

    In what follows, we will attempt to illustrate how these two currents, which evolved almost simultaneously over the course of almost a century, became interrelated. This inquiry will reveal a perspective for a transition toward a world with increased justice and greater capacity to assure the survival of the human species and of our planet – in a word, a better world, free from the system of domination that victimises Black peoples around the world. Most of oppressed peoples live in countries at the periphery of the world capitalist system, but they also are present as layers of common people in the metropolitan countries.

    Communism and Pan-Africanism: a zigzag relationship

    Let us note first of all that Pan-Africanism emerged within the African diaspora, that is, outside the continent. The dire conditions faced by Black peoples during several centuries of slavery provided a fertile ground for emergent revolts. These uprisings in turn gave rise to Pan-Africanism as an ideological tool for the liberation of oppressed Black peoples. It should be noted that millions of Blacks worked for hundreds of years without any form of payment – that is, for nothing. This servitude made possible the industrial revolution and the acceleration of capitalism’s development as a global system, spreading out from its initial strongholds in Europe and North America.

    The International Communist Movement, from its foundation in 1919, was committed to the struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited worldwide. It thus took note of the conditions of Black peoples and solidarised with their struggles, not only in the African continent but also in countries like the United States where racial segregation was at its peak from 1920 to 1924. Brief passages in the Communist International archives take note of the struggles carried out by Blacks not only in the diaspora, but also in countries subjected to colonial domination in Africa. The Communist Movement’s statement on African liberation, adopted in 1922, was markedly pan-Africanist in inspiration. Indeed it was written by Black delegates who were strongly influenced by the movement led by Marcus Garvey.

    In the years that followed, however, this principled position was subject to several mutations, caused by contradictions internal to the socialist movement. In addition, the difficulties were aggravated by complications imposed on national liberation movements in the Cold War context, where conflicts both between and within alliances often took priority over ideologically principled positions with respect to unconditional support for the struggles of colonial peoples for self-determination. These struggles continued throughout the rise of fascism in Europe, grew more intense in the 1930s, and found expression in the anti-colonial wars and the defeat of Apartheid in Africa. The outcome of these wars played a central role in dismantling colonial structures and heralding a period of decolonisation.

    During this development, a crucial role was played by the large number of Africans that took part in freeing Europe from Hitler’s claws. Conscript soldiers from across all of West Africa were organised in the Tirailleurs sénégalais(Senegalese sharpshooters).  Their courage and their decisive contribution have never received their proper reward. Quite to the contrary, and upon their discharge form service, when these soldiers at the end of 1944, asked to receive their demobilisation payment, the French colonial authorities on 1 December, massacred dozens –  hundreds  of these protesters. This crime took place at the Thiaroye camp a few miles from Dakar, capital of Senegal, and is known today as “the massacre of Thiaroye.”

    Cold War, national liberation movements, and internationalist solidarity

    Among the precursors of the pan-Africanist movement was George Padmore, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who came to the United States as a young student. He quickly joined the US Communist Party and played a significant role in the International Communist Movement, where he worked for the goals of Pan-Africanism. Assigned as a revolutionary cadre to work in the Soviet Union and Germany, he nonetheless cut his ties with this movement in 1934. Profound disagreements had arisen with regard to the decolonisation of Africa, still under the yoke of the old colonial empires, above all those of Britain, France, and Portugal.

    During the 1930s and after, the Communist Movement sought to align its course regarding decolonisation with its own interests in terms of positioning itself in the contest under way among the Western powers. This process convinced progressive pan-Africanists of the need to take their distance from the Communist Movement, achieve autonomy of thought and action, and steer their course in conformity with the interests of oppressed Black peoples. In a word, they had to rely above all, on their own strength.

    This is the context that led Padmore, who had enjoyed a measure of success in keeping the colonial question on the agenda of the Communist Movement, to leave it in 1934 and return to Britain. There he met C.L.R. James, his childhood friend, who was quite active both in Trotskyist circles and in the Black community in London.

    In 1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia, which along with Liberia was the only African country that had succeeded until that point at avoiding colonisation. The Italian attack had great symbolic significance. It alerted the African diaspora within Europe to the need not only to mobilise against this invasion, but also to hasten the organisation of nationalist movements with a pan-Africanist outlook in order to speed the end of colonialisation

    The Black students in Europe were already active during this period and were laying the foundations for “returning to their roots” – that is, of going back to Africa in both the cultural and political sense for the liberation of their peoples. Among the more prominent currents was the FEANF (Federation of Students from French-Speaking Black Africa). In Portugal, there were students that united around the “Case Africa,” among whom were the majority of leaders who organised and directed national liberation struggles in the then-Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde (Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral).

    In Britain, this current was based on figures linked to a structure called IASB (International African Service Bureau), among whom were C.L.R. James; Ras Makonen of British Guyana; Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah, father of Ghana’s independence, whom James had introduced to Padmore; and others.

    The outbreak of World War II led to a breach between the pan-Africanists and the Communist Movement. The official line advanced by Moscow from 1941 was to support the war against the Nazi forces and to postpone anticolonial struggles until a later date. Ironically, the Soviet Union had been diplomatically aligned with Germany from 1939 until 1941. Obviously, this approach could not win favour among the pan-Africanists, given that almost all the African colonies were under the yoke not of Germany but of the countries that Moscow now viewed as its allies against Hitler.

    Once again, the specific conditions in which the struggle developed globally made clear to the pan-Africanists the path to follow and the need to retain a degree of autonomy, seeking to base the liberation struggle on their own forces, without closing the door to forms of internationalist solidarity that were truly disinterested.

    Somewhat later, after the end of World War II, close and deep ties with internationalist solidarity movement were re-established to support the African peoples in the struggle against colonialism’s last bastions in Africa. Che Guevara’s revolutionary mission in the Congo (1965) fell short of success, as did his expedition to Bolivia (1966-67). Yet these setbacks did not dissuade Cuba from remaining true to its ardent desire to support Africa in its moments of peril.

    This tradition also found expression some years later in Cuba’s close collaboration with Burkina Faso during the short revolutionary experience led by Thomas Sankara and his comrades between 1984 and 1987.

    The historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1987-88), in which Cuban soldiers fought side by side with guerrillas of liberation movements in Southern Africa, succeeded in routing the army of the racist apartheid system in South Africa. This victory opened the road to Namibian independence, freedom for Nelson Mandela, and South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994. 

    South Africa’s racist regime, backed by consistent support from the Western imperialist powers of Europe and by the USA, then posed a mortal danger to the African peoples. The victory in Angola constituted an initial decisive step toward removing this danger. Yet despite this victory’s importance, it did not end the struggle, given that the power of large-scale capital in South Africa has not been ended and still controls the decisive sectors of its economy.

    Cuba demonstrated to the world its celebrated generosity, despite its limited resources and vulnerability as a state under siege by imperialism. Cuba thus brought back to life, a half-century after the fact, the initial vision of internationalist solidarity that prevailed in the first years of the International Communist Movement after the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution.

    During those years, prominent progressive activists and pan-Africanists such as Lamine Senghor (Senegal), Guarang Kouyaté (Mali), and Messali Hadj (Algeria) took part in the Brussels Congress of the Anti-Imperialist League (1927), whose honorary president was the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein and which spoke in the name of all the colonial peoples oppressed by imperialism. The Congress already prefigured, in embryonic form, the Movement of Non-Aligned countries that was launched by the Bandung conference in 1955. The Non-Aligned Movement brought together the most prominent leaders of dozens of African and Asian countries, including Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Soekarno (Indonesia) and Zhou Enlai (China). The gathering marked a decisive step in the decolonisation of the Global South.

    It must be noted, however, that during this entire period of anticolonial struggle by national liberation movements in Africa, they suffered from the impact of ideological rivalries within the Communist Movement. Sometimes liberation movements acted as mouthpieces for this or that Communist current. Nationalist, pan-Africanist, and progressive movements in Africa became fragmented along the lines of cleavage that then prevailed in the so-called socialist camp. These currents failed to overcome their differences and to unite their scattered forces in a massive movement capable of undertaking the sweeping decolonisation needed to make possible the transition from a colonial state to an independent state. Even today, the aftermath of these divisions represents a continuing barrier to the urgent unification of forces in a united front capable of countering imperialism’s aggressive restructuring and responding to present-day challenges.

    Left-wing forces in Latin America have succeeded in creating such united fronts. This surely should convince pan-Africanists and progressives of the need to overcome the wounds inflicted by past divisions. A new era in the struggles of our peoples must be opened up by forces that transcend the limits of the neo-colonial states. The fact that many activists span both these two historic movements can be an asset in unifying the existing pan-Africanist and socialist nuclei. Such a reorganisation is a basic precondition in advancing toward new horizons of progress and – why not? – a post-capitalist transition.

    But what is the present state of the pan-Africanist movement and of the socialist and communist forces in Africa and in the diaspora?

    The left and the pan-Africanist movement: their present reality

    Before addressing the prospects for such a transition, we must first carefully assess the present state of pan-Africanist and socialist forces. The torch of resistance in Africa to the capitalist system and its expansion was carried for a time by the national liberation movements in southern Africa and the former Portuguese colonies. Here we saw promising attempts at a radical transformation beyond the limits of the neo-colonial state. They were disrupted, however, by murderous destabilisation organised by imperialism acting through local agents. Samora Machel in Mozambique, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau, Steven Bantu Biko and Chris Hani in South Africa, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo – all were cut down by imperialism. This halted temporarily every effort at radical transformation. The systematic assassination of every anti-imperialist leader created a vacuum, a lull that has lasted several decades.

    During this period capitalism’s great financial institutions recovered their vigour and, little by little, dismantled all the gains that had been achieved through the sacrifices of courageous patriots loyal to the ideals of Pan-Africanism and socialism. The only exception to this extended lull was the leap forward registered by progressive forces led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada (1979) and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (1984). Ultimately, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) further disoriented and finished off forces already weakened by internal disputes regarding ideological positioning and by the inadequacy of their roots among the popular masses of Africa.

    Nonetheless, the South African Communist Party, one of the oldest on the continent, succeeded in playing an important role in destroying the apartheid system (1994) and in forging a fruitful partnership with nationalist forces (the African National Congress) and the workers’ movement organised in strong unions such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

    The present state of the pan-Africanist and socialist forces – enormously fragmented into still embryonic nuclei – is not favourable for the emergence of a movement capable of mounting a serious challenge to present-day imperialism. New struggles have arisen; popular revolts have broken out that overturned the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Tunisia and of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso.

    Will we see the emergence of new leaderships capable of doing the necessary to build political movements sufficiently prepared, organisationally and ideologically, to face the dangers posed today? That task remains to be accomplished. In the meantime, the absence of vanguard movements sufficiently rooted in the masses could well explain in part the inability of the various popular revolts mentioned above to grow over into full-fledged revolutions.

    The Sankara experience: a model for our future.

    During the period following the national liberation movements, the revolution in Burkina Faso stands out as the most relevant case of an attempt to break away from the colonial/capitalist system. This revolution drew its strength from both its anti-imperialist orientation and its deeply pan-Africanist inspiration.

    Burkina Faso is a small country of the West African Sahel, characterised by extreme poverty. It is wedged into a region often afflicted by periods of drought that drive its population to emigrate into Ivory Coast and other countries. For many years, Burkina Faso was mired in political upheavals stemming from the fierce struggles among elites for control over the state apparatus and the personal enrichment that it brings.

    From the moment of revolution on 4 August 1983, when Thomas Sankara became president, the revolutionary leader and his comrades showed their colours through their solidarity with all struggles of oppressed masses around the world (Palestine, Western Sahara, etc.). They invited the people of Burkina Faso (the Burkinabé) to roll up their sleeves in building a foundation for endogenous and autonomous development, relying on their own efforts.

    Although the revolution lasted only four years, it continues to provide a model to all youth in Africa and the world over who seek a better world, one based on humanism and solidarity, in a contest against imperialist dominance sustained by military or economic coercion and by devastating neoliberal policies that enable the masters of global financial capital to control the world.

    The central goal of the Burkinabé alternative lies in meeting the needs of the African masses impoverished by decades of the punitive International Monetary Fund’s “structural adjustment programmes,” which impose continual payments of so-called debt to sinister “funding agencies.”

    Oftentimes, any project of revolutionary transformation encounters major obstacles. Nonetheless, many projects spearheaded by Sankara were not only accomplished, but qualitatively changed the Burkinabé population’s conditions of existence. With the help of Cuban volunteers and within the space of a few months, more than 2.5 million children were inoculated against the infectious diseases that plague the very young. Access to education more than doubled and increased to 22 percent from ten percent in three years. During the same period, intensive efforts were made to counter desertification by planting ten million trees.

    The event that had the greatest impact on consciousness was the institution of “Women’s Wednesdays,” in which men carried out women’s traditional household tasks. This initiative helped modify popular modes of thought previously shaped by traditional beliefs. It sought to make men more aware of the difficult conditions that women had to contend with every day in order to enable the family to live in decent conditions. Without such a change in thinking, the revolution cannot possibly embrace the population, since almost half of it now lives in conditions of servitude.

    Many dikes were constructed to retain water, enabling the rural population to cultivate their land throughout the year and thereby increase their income. Ouagadougou, the capital, was transformed through the construction of new revolutionary housing developments and by an ambitious program to upgrade slum areas that had formerly been virtual ghettos. As regards culture, the emergence of people’s theatre and cinema made it possible to rally the population for the tasks of national reconstruction.

    This promising experience had a tragic conclusion: the assassination of Sankara and the end of the revolution in October 1987. This outcome should lead us to reflect more deeply on the type of organisational framework needed to carry such a radical project for the transformation of African societies to a successful conclusion.

    In our view, there is no way around the necessity of building a broad progressive alliance, based on the project of an alternative society carrying out a radical transformation of a capitalist and/or neo-colonial society. To achieve this goal, we must break with the dogmatic positions that often obstruct efforts for consensus around what is essential. By unduly exaggerating such minor and/or secondary contradictions, such dogmatism contributes to undermining worthy initiatives, as in Burkina Faso and Grenada.

    In addition, a systematic struggle is required against the elitism of petty bourgeois groupings made up of an intelligentsia cut off from the masses and popular culture, groupings that wallow in theoretical battles disconnected from concerns of the population. Finally, although every social experience has aspects that are universal, we must break with mimicry – the desire to impose such specific experiences on a social environment with its own historical reality.

    For this reason, the present renewal of the pan-Africanist movement both within the continent and in the African diasporas can fulfil its great potential only if it unifies the task of rallying pan-African forces once more through popular struggles around the challenges faced by the popular masses, such as on-going land seizures, economic partnership agreements, sovereign control of the currency, and resistance to heightened militarism and economic degradation driven by climate change.

    Toward a post-capitalist transition? Tasks and perspectives

    One hundred years after the Bolshevik revolution and fifty years after the end of colonialism in the formal sense, we still face the challenges of bringing a new world into being and making the transition to a post-capitalist society.

    With the stagnation of the anti-imperialist movement in the south, free-market ideologists seized on the brief lull in radical struggles to declare and present neo-liberalism as the final victory of capitalism. Yet the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are still intact and continue to pose the same fundamental questions that will determine whether or not humanity survives. This period is characterised by a rapid deterioration of our ecological system and a deepening of disparities among different social layers – both within countries and at a global level; both within the countries of the South and in the advanced centres of the capitalist system.

    Just as Karl Marx predicted, the capitalist mode of production has reached its limits and has today become a barrier to human development. Far from liberating working people by qualitatively reducing their hours of work, advanced robotisation is pushing millions of proletarians into the army of the unemployed and the ranks of the lumpen proletariat.

    Africa, whose fate is so central for Pan-Africanism and for the world, is currently witnessing the massive seizure of the continent’s natural resources. This pillage is sustained by increased militarisation, including through the presence of dozens of foreign military bases, which serve to protect the geostrategic interests of the imperialist powers. The post-colonial state’s very nature testifies to the fact that the process of independence remains incomplete. Added to this are questions of collective survival posed by so-called jihadist movements that, in fact, are all too often a creation by the very forces that claim to be combatting them.

    In reality, the instigators of the present organised pseudo-chaos act as “pyromaniac firemen” – ready to seize on sinister forces crouching in the shadows and press them into action. In this way, the imperialist forces seeking a new mode of domination, strive to make themselves indispensable on the continent in order to attain unfettered control of the continent’s immense energy resources. Countries of the “triad” – Western Europe, North America, and Japan – are dependent on their on-going ability to draw on these resources almost without payment in order to maintain their countries’ standard of living.

    In the Caribbean, the diasporic African population experiences a dependence on foreign food that grows day by day as a result of climate change, rising sea levels, and salination of their soils. Meanwhile, their economy is controlled by an outward-oriented tourist industry, foreign banks, and cruise ship companies. Added to that, agreements for unequal partnership with the European Union still prevent the emergence of local industry capable of competing with foreign multinationals.

    US imperialism has renewed its aggressive expansion with the goal of increasing the isolation of the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) through a well-orchestrated strategy of encirclement. Meanwhile, imperialism extends its tentacles in Africa by installing a host of military bases (United States Africa Command plus French, German, Turkish, and Chinese bases). All this underlines the urgency of mounting a credible alternative that can lead the world to think in terms of going beyond present-day capitalist society. Even though weakened by the emergence of new blocs, the monopoly enjoyed by the Triad is not going to collapse in its own right.

    On the other hand, during the past century, the world has achieved significant advances in scientific knowledge that, if oriented to the urgent needs of humanity’s majority, will enable us realise the advent of a new society, capable of transforming the world of work and, consequently, of the social relations that arise from the division of labour. However, despite the potential for a qualitative transformation, present technological progress – and above all the present revolution regarding tools such as artificial intelligence – bears within it seeds that could produce quite the opposite effect. These tools could be focused above all on achieving increased and permanent control of citizens through cyber-surveillance and manipulation, minimisation of productive labour, concentration on financial speculation, and the like. This control is exerted not only in the physical but also in the mental domain in order to stifle any thought of questioning the established order.

    In sum, the nature of social life in the post-capitalist era will be determined in large measure by the way in which these recent technological advances are utilised.

    It is thus imperative for both socialists and pan-Africanists to reconnect with the traditions of radical struggle on a transnational level for the emergence of a new society. We need to reconnect with viable forms of transnational solidarity in order to promote the class struggle of oppressed layers of the population. This course requires that the Eurocentric Left recognise that such deep-going shifts in the international relationship of forces will involve a lowering of the standard of living in the richest countries. These living conditions have been made possible only through the systematic pillage of resources from the countries of the South and from Africa in particular. Is the new Left prepared for such an eventuality? The future will tell.

    On the other hand, these struggles will necessarily take new forms, given the capacity of the capitalist system to assure its survival through continual adjustment. Sources seeking an alternative must therefore also display the same capacity for adaptation in developing the tactics and strategies needed to attain their goals.

    For Africa and the Caribbean, such a transition should involve a deepening of Pan-Africanism, which must pose again the urgency of decisive steps toward creation of a federal state – a federation of Africa and its diaspora – which alone can counter the dynamic of domination that draws strength from the fragmentation of our peoples. The weak neo-colonial states into which they are now divided are equally incapable, individually, of assuring their own survival or of exercising the flexibility needed to negotiate in sovereign fashion how their country is inserted into the world system. Such a federation will also offer the sisters and brothers of the African diaspora in the Northern countries a chance to go back to their roots in Africa, if they so desire. Their contribution will be decisive in terms of their daily experience as an oppressed Black minority in the countries of Europe and North America.

    All other approaches are illusory and incapable of seriously challenging the alliance of the bourgeoisie in imperialist countries, sustained by their multinationals, with the African elites charged with managing these pseudo-states. The masses are held hostage by the comprador elites, acting as a supplementary force and a buffer between the dominant forces of world capitalism and the popular classes engaged in struggle.

    The outcome of these struggles is far from settled. We face a transition in which advances will be made at a varying tempo, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. But this tempo can only arise from the capacity of peoples in struggle to manage their development. If one thing is certain, it is what was said a few decades ago by the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “Freedom comes only through struggle.” So A Luta Continua! The Struggle Continues.


    *Ameth Lô is a member of Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa, Toronto, Canada.

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  9. Republic of South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted the tenth BRICS Summit where strong opposition to the burgeoning trade and currency wars initiated by the United States administration of President Donald Trump was assailed.

    Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) want to expand international cooperation and seek avenues of development independent of the western industrialised states.

    The gathering comes at a time of rising acrimony prompted by the imposition of tariffs by the US against Canada, the European Union (EU) and the People’s Republic of China. Although Trump said he was amending some of his measures during a meeting with EU President Jean-Claude Juncker on 25 July at the White House, it was not clear what the actual outcome of the putative truce would involve.

    On 23 May Trump ordered an investigation by the Department of Commerce under Section 232 on whether the importation of vehicles was a threat to national security. A conference of non-US automobile producers took place on 31 July in Geneva, Switzerland where a possible strategy to counter the Trump policy was discussed.

    Attending the gathering in Geneva were the deputy trade ministers of the EU, Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea. Altogether these nations account for approximately US $1 trillion in automobile exports to the international market.

    However, in South Africa the tone of the discussion was quite different. The tenth BRICS Summit was convened under the theme “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

    The bloc of member nations and observers represent the so-called rapidly expanding “emerging economies.” These states have been marked by phenomenal economic growth over the last decade although they are facing profound challenges from the Western industrialised governments who are obviously threatened by the potential erosion of their global power.

    A statement from the South African presidency said of the gathering that: “The Summit is focused on the need to strengthen the relationship between BRICS and Africa. In this regard BRICS leaders will also interact with African leaders on how best to bring about inclusive growth and shared prosperity through heightened collaboration. In this context, leaders of the Republics of Namibia, Gabon, Angola, Senegal, Uganda, Togo and Rwanda will participate in the BRICS-Africa Outreach session.”

    Prior to the Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited for the first times the West African state of Senegal and Rwanda in the eastern region of the continent. Discussions with Senegalese President Macky Sall and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame resulted in the deepening of economic relations between these African Union member states and China. Following the BRICS Summit, President Xi stopped over in Mauritius where he held talks with Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth. 

    In a media advisory issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs it says: “The visits will promote the further deepening of political mutual trust, mutual development assistance, mutual learning on each other’s concepts between China and Africa and the building of a closer China-Africa community of common destiny. They will jointly witness the signing of a series of cooperation agreements to elevate China-Rwanda practical cooperation to new highs.”

    Outcomes of the Summit

    At the conclusion of the meeting, there was a 102-point declaration issued by the participants addressing a wide range of concerns from the role of the United Nations Security Council, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), along with encouraging international cooperation in the fields of cinema, sports, culture, peacekeeping and economic development. The scope of the declaration is so broad that it encompasses the various political characteristics of the member states and observers [[i]].

    Although the final document does not directly criticise the protectionist and hostile economic posture of the US, it is obvious that the general tone of the proceedings poses a rebuttal to the efforts by the Trump administration to reclaim an uncontested dominant role for Washington and Wall Street in the present world situation. Ruling class interests in the US clearly view the role of the Russian Federation and China as imperilling the existing international division of labour and financial power, where the leading imperialist nation is responding with threats of trade and currency wars, which could easily lead to intensified military conflict over the control of the land, resources and waterways of the planet.

    At the opening session of the BRICS Business Forum, President Ramaphosa emphasised: “We are meeting here, ladies and gentlemen, at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges. We are concerned by the rise in unilateral measures that are incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules, and we are worried about the impact of these measures, especially as they impact on developing countries and economies. These developments call for thorough discussion on the role of trade in growing and promoting sustainable development, particularly in inclusive growth. [[ii]]”

    President Xi spoke after his South African counterpart sounding a similar alarm stressing the need to oppose the Trump administration’s unilateralism. China, by far the largest economy among the BRICS grouping, and the second only to the US, is seeking to build a different type of inter-regional coalition aimed at countering US influence.

    The Chinese president said of the contemporary crisis in international relations related to Washington and the rest of the world that: “Unilateralism and protectionism are mounting, dealing a severe blow to multilateralism and the multilateral trading regime. We are facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation, between [an] opening up and a closed doors policy, between future benefits and the beggar-thy-neighbour approach. The international community has indeed reached a new crossroads.”

    New avenues of cooperation and development

    BRICS has established a New Development Bank (NDB) whose aim is to establish an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Its goal is the accumulation of US $100 billion in capital to disperse among member states and others in the global South. By the end of 2018, the NDB will have loaned US $7.5 billion to various countries.

    South Africa has received US $180 million toward the state-controlled ESKOM Holdings SOC Limited for a renewable energy project. Another loan of US $200 million has been allocated for the reconstruction of the Durban container terminal.

    China on its own announced during the BRICS Summit that it is willing to invest US $14.7 billion into ESKOM, which has suffered immensely over the last few years. This is part and parcel of a policy by Ramaphosa to attract US $100 billion in new investment into South Africa over the next five years [[iii]].

    Beijing pledged to support a planned investment summit in South Africa scheduled for October of this year. On a continental level, another Forum on China Africa Cooperation will take place in China during September.

    A preliminary meeting of scholars from African Union member states and China met in Beijing on 3-4 July to determine ways in which cooperation can be enhanced.  The convening of The Seventh Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum brought together three hundred scholars from China and Africa [[iv]].

    According to an article published by Xinhuanews agency in June: “Dazzling achievements in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up set an invaluable example for growth-hungry African countries, African experts have told Xinhua. They believed that China’s rise to one of the world’s economic powerhouses results from a carefully pursued strategy over the four decades. They argued that China’s development path of reform and opening-up, without sacrificing core ideological principles or its independence, holds many of the critical elements that can help Africans harness its vast human and natural resources to build the continent into an economic and political powerhouse.[v]


    * Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor at Pan-African News Wire.



    Issue Number: 
  10. Uganda’s experience since independence

    Uganda became “independent” in October 1962. In October 1969, President Obote announced the “Common Man’s Charter”as a set of “First Steps for Uganda to Move to the Left” – not, if I may add, “ultra-left” but “centre-left”.  Obote was a nationalist. He argued that the country’s resources were needed to develop the people of Uganda. In May 1970, he nationalised 85 private enterprises, including the three British banks, which, directly or indirectly, controlled some 80 percent of commercial assets in Uganda. Obote promised to compensate them. But this was not enough for the British Empire. On 25 January 1971, Obote was removed from power by a military coup engineered by Britain and Israel – a fact whose evidence is now available in public documents.

    That was my first real-time experience of neo-colonial imperialism. I was then still a young radical nationalist … and naïve. I had helped Obote draft the “Common Man’s Charter”, and had imagined that political independence opened the doors to economic independence. It is possible that Obote, though a very astute and mature nationalist, had thought the same. We were both wrong. Britain and Israel took advantage of ethnic and historical divisions among the people and leadership of Uganda, carried out a “regime change” using Uganda’s army, and restored British control over Uganda’s resources and economy.

    As for my family and I, we were forced out of Uganda by the military regime of Idi Amin. I joined the democratic struggle against Amin’s brutal regime. In 1979, eight years after Amin’s installation into power, he was ousted by the combined action of Tanzanian and Uganda guerrilla forces. I went back to Uganda, now as member of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). In May 1980, there was yet another military coup – backed by underhand imperial forces – that ousted the UNLF government. I was forced into my second political exile.

    I will not go further into this story. The point is made. Uganda is a small country, physically almost the same size as England. But England controlled the destiny of Uganda – of course not without resistance from the people of Uganda. But it is a struggle. After the Second World War, British imperialism was replaced by the collective imperialism of Europe over Africa. Europe has used the threat of trade sanctions to force on the East African Community an unequal treaty – the Economic Partnership Agreement – that would seriously damage East Africa’s prospect for industrialisation.

    But now – to make a point to connect with the main thesis of this paper - the rise of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) gives Uganda and Africa options to attempt to decouple from the Anglo-American Empire.

    Strategic distinction between primary and secondary contradictions

    In the brief experience narrated above, one major theme comes to the fore. It is the distinction between primary and secondary contradictions. It is a strategic distinction. “Strategic”, because it relates a long term planning, which guides the immediate to short term “tactics” of the struggle. Africa’s principal contradiction is with the Anglo-American Empire.Russia and China might become “imperialist” in relation to Africa. They might; but for now they are “tactical” allies of Africa.

    Africa’s struggle for political independence was a long struggle and was won mainly because people subordinated their inter-ethnic and inter-class “secondary” differences in order to fight the principal enemy – the European imperial powers. In this struggle – for some 30 years, and in the case of South Africa, nearly 50 years – the Soviet Union and China were “tactical” allies. They provided diplomatic support (for example, in the United Nations) as well as military support to Africa.

    Did the working classes of Europe and America come to our support in Africa?  No, they did not. Coming to the present, the working classes in Europe and America are NOT our “tactical” (let alone “strategic”) allies in our struggle against Euro-American military and economic domination of the continent. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), for example, benefit the working classes of Europe just as they benefit their corporations. Consciously or unconsciously, the workers and capitalists in Europe and the West are in cahoots to exploit African working classes, and oppress African nations as nations. (There is no space in this short paper to clarify the distinction between “exploitation” and “oppression”). 

    Within the United Kingdom and France, the working classes are fighting against their capitalist exploiters. But when it comes to receiving “refugees” from Africa and the Middle East – victims of military interventions by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – the working classes do not have an ounce of “proletarian consciousness” to open the doors to these victims of imperial invasions.  If anything, they are more likely to join neo-fascist populist political parties to shut the doors to the “migrants” and “refugees” that are trying to escape from the tyranny of imperial military interventions.

    Whose capital, whose state?

    There is much confusion on this important issue. Let us take two examples from Africa – Kenya and South Africa.

    Let us look at Kenya’s industry first. Here are a few examples. [[i]]

    • CMC Motors Group Limited is in automobile business owned by CMC Holdings Limited. In 2014, it was acquired by the Al-Futtaim Group, which is a large conglomerate operating in the United Arab Emirates, and is now not only in automobiles, but also in property development
    • East African Breweries, whose majority shareowner is Diage Public Limited Company – a British multinational alcoholic beverages company, the world’s second largest distiller with headquarters in London.
    • Eveready East Africa is an affiliate of the American Eveready Battery Company. In addition to manufacturing and marketing batteries, it also distributes a wide range of products such as shaving razors, blades and accessories under brand name Schick and Clorox household products.
    • KenolKobil Limited is a downstream oil company, owned by Kobil Petroleum Limited, Delaware, USA. In 2008 Kenol acquired 100 percent shareholding of Kobil Petroleum Limited, hence the current company name KenolKobil. The group’s operations span seven countries across Eastern, Central and Southern Africa and encompass the supply, storage, distribution and retail of a wide range of petroleum products.
    • The Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation is a Kenya government-owned parastatal whose primary objective is to facilitate the investments in the economy and provide financing to businesses and manufacturers. However, you have to look at its sources of funds, for most of it is owned by foreign investors and banks.

    Let us turn to South Africa.

    In a piece I wrote for Pambazuka News on 31 August 2017, I argued:

    “Briefly stated, my view is that it is not in the parliament or even in the ANC where the real problem (or its solution) lies. In other words, even if President Zuma were to leave (and replaced by say Cyril Ramaphosa), the country is nowhere near getting out of its political crisis.  Why not? It is because the problem lies, essentially, in the captured polity of the South African state and economy.  This has deep historical and systemic roots…”[[ii]].

    In this piece I also referred to my debate in the 1970s with Joe Slovo – for a long time the leading Marxist theorist in the South African Communist Party. Joe maintained that the capital in South Africa was South African, owned by global capitalists but only temporarily.  Once apartheid was defeated, this capital would be nationalised. I agreed that the capital should be nationalised, but contended that this was not such an easy matter as Joe seemed to suggest, because that capital was not “South African”, as he contended, but imperial capital, owned and controlled mainly by British and American banking and industrial corporations.   

    The liberation from apartheid was only the first step. The next step was to tackle the challenge of imperialism. The “independent” government inaugurated the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme. Up to a point the imperialist capital played ball by offering shareholding (and even selling off minor assets) to Africans, including, for example, Cyril Ramaphosa. But the BEE is nowhere near creating “national” capital. In fact, according to my analysis, there is really very little “national capital” in South Africa.

    Now that Ramaphosa has taken over from Zuma, as the President (as I anticipated in August 2017), let us see if he can tackle the imperialist capital. In my view he is seriously handicapped, precisely because he is now part of not “national” but global capital.  He partly “owns” McDonald’s South Africa, and on the board for MTN and Lonmin, formerly the mining division of Lonrho and listed on the London Stock Exchange. In other words, Ramaphosa has been “compradorialised”. [[iii]] His estimated net worth is over R6.4 billion (US $550 million) as of 2018. [[iv]]

    I said that Ramaphosa is now part of not “national” but global capital. However, I would maintain that politically he is a “nationalist” and has always been. It is in the economic domain that he is compromised.  The question is: would his political identity overcome his compradorial identity?   On 20 December 2017, he guided the African National Congress (ANC) to adopt a resolution calling for the nationalisation of the central bank and land expropriation without compensation.  This is a blatant confrontation with imperial capital. Mugabe had succeeded in his nationalisation of land, but he lacked a strategy to follow through partly, I would suggest, because the ruling party – Zimbabwe African National Union – was never a vanguard party.

    The ANC is also not a vanguard party. 

    The question is: Can South Africa learn from the experience of China?  Can it find support from BRICS?

    BRICS Summit in South Africa

    Some comrades advocate “Bricks from below thrown at BRICS from above”. [[v]] But that is a gimmicky hyperbole, which lacks any understanding of strategy and tactics in the larger geopolitical context and contradictions. I have no wish to engage in this debate again. [[vi]]

    Before we get to BRICS, there is an important issue that we must address – that of imperialism. Imperialism is a historical phenomenon created during the rise of capitalism and its by-product, colonialism. China and India traded with Africa for a thousand years but never colonised Africa. There are undoubtedly asymmetrical power relations between China and African countries, just as there are asymmetrical power relations between the US and Europe. But in terms of their relationship, the US does not have imperial relations with, for example, the United Kingdom. In the same vein, Chinese (and Russian and Indian) relations with Africa are not imperial, nor sub-imperial. 

    To repeat a point made earlier, for some 30 years, and in the case of South Africa, nearly 50 years – the Soviet Union and China provided diplomatic as well as military support to Africa to fight against imperialism and apartheid. Western imperialism at all levels – political, economic and military – is still the principal enemy of the people of Africa.

    The New Development Bank: An alternative to OECD and the World Bank

    The theme of the 2018 BRICS Summit was “BRICS in Africa”. Perhaps the most important issue discussed was the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) – a bank of the global South, one without the OECD members (OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The OECD was founded in 1960 to stimulate development – in particular in the global South. The facts on the ground belie its promises. Let us be clear: the OECD is a Euro-American imperial instrument of domination and “underdevelopment”. [[vii]] The only members outside the Euro-American geographic sphere are Chile and Turkey. It is interesting to note that Turkey was the only OECD country present at the tenth BRICS Summit; Turkey may be aspiring to break from the OECD and also NATO, and join BRICS.  

    The World Bank (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is one of the Bretton Woods institutions founded in 1944. It too is essentially a Euro-American imperial institution committed not to development but “underdevelopment” of the countries of the South. There are exceptions in the North such as Greece that has become a virtual colony of the “Troika” – namely, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission and the European Central Bank. [[viii]]

    The BRICS NDB is based on a different set of principles than those of the OECD and the World Bank.  There is no space to go into this in detail, but a couple of points need to be mentioned.

    The 1973–75 recession was a period of economic stagnation in much of the Western economies. By contrast Russia, China and India managed to survive; not only that but they also rapidly developed in the ensuing years. It is interesting that in 2014, BRICS made up for 21.2 percent of the world gross domestic product, but only 11.04 percent of the IMF’s voting rights. Ergo, BRICS was obliged to create its own development bank given the hostile environment of the Western-dominated global financial and development institutions.

    BRICS NDB is founded on different principles from those of the WB and the IMF. Two of these principles are notable. One: unlike the WB/IMF, the NDB does not impose austerity measures on the borrowing countries. [[ix]] The NDB allows considerable policy autonomy to the borrowing countries. Two: unlike the IMF/WB, the NDB lends money to the borrowing countries of the South with a view to investing back in those countries for long-term development goals. [[x]]

    Summary of the argument and conclusions

    In order to properly understand the historic significance of the rise of BRICS, you need not only to locate the rise of BRICS in its proper geopolitical context, but also to challenge some of the basic analytical tools used by the “Ultra Left”. Their analytical tools are essentially unhistorical and Eurocentric.

    In this paper, I drew upon my experience in Uganda since independence to show that the Western Empire remains the dominant player in the political-economy of African neo-colonies, and to make the strategic distinction between primary and secondary contradictions without which you cannot work out a long term strategy not short to immediate term tactics of the struggle.

    Africa’s principal contradiction is with the Anglo-American Empire. Russia and China might become “imperialist” in relation to Africa. They might, but for now they are “tactical” allies of Africa. In this struggle – for some 30 years, and in the case of South Africa, nearly 50 years – the Soviet Union and China were “tactical” allies. They provided diplomatic as well as military support to Africa.

    The working classes in Europe and America are NOT Africa’s allies in our struggle against Euro-American military and economic domination.  I gave the example of African peoples’ struggle against the EPAs, which benefit the working classes of Europe just as they benefit their corporations. If anything, the workers are more likely to join neo-fascist populist political parties to shut the doors to the “migrants” and “refugees” trying to escape from the tyranny of imperial military interventions. The workers and capitalists in the Empire are in cahoots to exploit African working classes, and oppress African nations as nations. The concept of the so-called “unity of the world proletariat” must be challenged, even – indeed especially – if you are a Marxist. Marxism is a living science, not a dead Eurocentric dogma.

    On the section on “whose capital, whose state?” I drew on the examples of Kenya and South Africa to show that these are in essence neo-colonial states whose citizens do not own or control the resources of the country.  These are effectively owned and controlled by the financial and industrial imperial corporations. South Africa’s BEE programme did not lead to the creation of “national capital”.  Cyril Ramaphosa may hold a big pot of gold courtesy of the imperial capital, and is – at the economic level – compradorialised.  I do not know him too well, but in my few meetings with him, I know that he is – at the political level – a “nationalist”. Which particular identity – comprador or nationalist – will triumph is for the future to tell.

    Coming to the 2018 BRICS summit in South Africa, I focused on BRICS NDB, and drew a sharp contrast between the principles of the NDB and those of the OECD and the Bretton Woods institutions. The NDB definitely offers a positive alternative to OECD and the World Bank.

    People may hedge their bets between the US and China. The USA, though declining, is an economic – but more significantly military – powerhouse.  But as “little” North Korea has shown, the “giant” United States is a paper tiger. [[xi]] Most objective analysts of the global geopolitical shift know that with all the economic and military might, the US is a waning power and China a rising power.

    I would conclude this essay by laying down my case that for Africa and the global South, BRICS offers a promising tangible alternative to the declining Western powers and their institutions of global economic and political governance. These have lost their credibility and legitimacy.

    As for the “Ultra-Left” comrades, you may throw bricks at BRICS but these will land, surely, on your own feet.


    * Professor Yash Tandon is from Uganda and has worked at many different levels as an academic, a teacher, a political thinker, a rural development worker, a civil society activist, and an institution builder.



    [i] For a more extensive list both in agriculture as well as industry, see: Yash Tandon, “Reflections on Kenya: Whose capital, Whose State?” accessed on 6 August 2018

    [iii] A comprador is a person who essentially works for global financial and industrial (i.e. imperial) capital.

    [v] See: BRICS Politricks new subimperial power plays: A brics-from-below reader for the Johannesburg Teach-On 23-24 July 2018.

    [vi] See my piece “On sub-imperialism and BRICS-bashing”, accessed on 6 August 2018

    [vii] I put the word “underdevelopment” in inverted commas as a reference to the underdevelopment or “Dependency theory”. It is a theory argued by critics of the mainstream economic theory. They argue that resources flow from the “periphery” of poor and underdeveloped global South to the rich countries of the North, further enriching the latter at the expense of the former. Take note that this concept is absent from the vocabulary of the Ultra-Left.

    [viii]  See: Yanis Varoufakis (2017), Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment, London: Vintage

    [ix] Austerity measures refer to the conditionalities the IMF and the World Bank impose on the borrowing countries – such as budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, privatisation of state-owned assets, and opening up the domestic market to external global corporations

    [x] For further analysis of the BRICS’ NDB, see Riaz Tayob, Lecture on New Development Bank at the BRICS meeting, July 2018 accessed on 6 August 2018.

    [xi] For a more detailed analysis, see: Yash Tandon, “Lessons Africa can learn from North Korea”. accessed on 6 August 2018

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