New approach to African Liberation
On May 25, 1963, independent African states established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Having done that, the OAU declared that this date should be commemorated by people of African origin all over the world as a Day of Solidarity with the struggle to free those African countries still under colonial yoke or under racist rule in southern Africa. It was a momentous decision that had far reaching implications all over the world.
Thus was born African Liberation Day (ALD) setting in train an unstoppable wave of solidarity which swept away Portuguese colonial rule and eventually, not only freed Nelson Mandela and his South African patriots, but destroyed the notorious system of apartheid itself.
In our part of the world, African Liberation Day helped to increase black awareness as well as the need to struggle against injustice and for equality. It brought about a greater sense of identification with Africa and, as we say, “our roots”. Now that European colonialism and racist minority rule have been driven from Africa, (indeed the OAU has been renamed the African Union and it has changed ALD to Africa Day), it is important that we take a new look, a new approach to Africa.
It is all well and good for us to echo Becket’s unforgettable “I am an African”, for some of us to advocate repatriation (going back) to Africa, and of course, we must continue both to develop links of all types and maintain solidarity with Africa. Yet we must also face up to new realities.
In the first place, we have the herculean task of trying to change the image of Africa among our own people, an image instilled since colonialism and maintained by the mass media of the west. News about Africa is fundamentally bad news- of starvation, pestilence, poverty and war. Yes these exist, but that is not Africa, fullstop. The more that the continent from which the vast majority of Caribbean people trace their origin is considered as backward and even in some quarters today, ”uncivilised”, the more that we ourselves are considered inferior.
Many of us still do not realise that not only is Africa the second largest of the continents, but that it is both the birthplace of the human race and the cradle of African civilisation. Black scholars have done and published extensive research about the invaluable contribution of Africa to human development, science and culture but in the absence of information and education in that respect, those facts are yet to seep into our consciousness.
Nine of the largest 255 countries in the world are on the African continent and its range of resources is mind-boggling.
Yet when we think of Africa, the underlying image is of villages of mud huts and starving children. How many of us are aware that Africa has large modern cities like there are on other continents; that Cairo, the capital of Egypt is bigger than new York, or that Kinshasa in the Congo (the one with the volcano erupting) and Lagos in Nigeria are both larger than London and Paris?
It is the continuing plunder of Africa’s enormous resources by outside forces which is at the root of continuing African underdevelopment and the suffering of so many millions of its people. In this, and here we must call a spade a spade, many African leaders are accomplices in the rape and plunder of the African people.
Such is their level of corruption that virtual dynasties have developed, lording it over Africa’s poor. Nearly one-third of the countries of Africa have since independence, been subjected to the rule of a single party, often headed by a single family. Their rule whether in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, or Uganda has in several instances extended for over 30 years, marked by bloody repression, fraudulent elections and the ruthless plunder of rich resources, investing their ill-gotten gains in Europe and North America.
Some of these and their children have become filthy rich while their own people wallow in poverty and underdevelopment. Even after the massive campaign to free South Africa, some of the leaders of the liberation movement compromised on the principles which brought them to power, and have become rich overnight through spectacular corrupt deals. Nelson Mandela must be ceaselessly turning in his bed.
Yes, we need to build and develop all kinds of relations with Africa, but we cannot turn a blind eye to what is taking place there, the needless wars and genocidal conflicts, the continuing plunder and ruthless repression. If liberation from colonial rule was our lodestar under the African Liberation Day banner, then today liberation from war, poverty, pestilence and oppression must be our focus as we mark Africa Day. Good governance, justice and equality must be installed over the whole continent. The time for romanticism is over. We have a responsibility to speak out for justice.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.