R. Rose
May 22, 2015

African Liberation and Black Power

With the end of the odious system of apartheid and European colonialism in southern Africa, the global commemoration of African Liberation Day (ALD) has become much more muted. The mass rallies, demonstrations and solidarity activities which used to characterize ALD on May 25 are largely a thing of the past, though in several countries the Day has not been forgotten. {{more}}

Africa has entered a new phase and, although Africa continues to be pillaged by foreign elements and its people still have to battle racism, poverty and underdevelopment, the focus is not as clear as it was two decades and more ago. Then, the sheer inhumanity of apartheid and white minority rule attracted a broad spectrum of support worldwide. Black, white, brown and yellow, the peoples of the world united in solidarity with the oppressed people of southern Africa.

Today the cause of African liberation is much more complex to figure out for most people. How does one reconcile Black majority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe with the grave economic and social situation facing millions of Blacks in those two “liberated” countries? What is our reaction to the disgraceful attacks by some South Africans on workers from neighbouring countries, countries which had given succour to many South Africans in the struggle against apartheid?

Can we talk African liberation in 2015 and ignore the factors leading to thousands of African people fleeing their homelands in desperation and facing the prospect of death by drowning in the Mediterranean? Those of us who fell for the campaign to oust Gadaffi in Libya, what do we say today about the chaos and carnage forcing Libyan women and children to try and escape on leaking boats, preyed on by desperate human traffickers?

Where do we stand on issues which render this resource-rich continent into one with the worst examples of poverty and human degradation? A continent still plagued by military coups from soldiers trained in western academies, who act in the interests of foreign investors.

On a positive note, how many of us know that Africa also has countries with impressive development indicators, not just the poverty and misery portrayed in the international media? Are we aware that three cities in Africa, Lagos in Nigeria, Cairo in Egypt and Kinshasa in the Congo, have larger populations than either New York, London or Paris?

For us, African liberation cannot be just about emphasizing our “blackness” and African roots, we must be concerned about the challenges facing its people, and the connections between the factors perpetuating African underdevelopment and those which place obstacles in our own path to progress.

Black Power and African Liberation

Those connections were central to the identification of the Black Power movement of the sixties and seventies in the western hemisphere with the cause of African liberation. Rooted in the racial discrimination and injustice against Blacks in the USA and colonial rule and oppression in the Caribbean, the Black Power movement sought not only to inculcate a sense of self-worth and racial pride in Black people, but also to understand the connection between our plight and that of our even worse off brothers and sisters in southern Africa.

It was a movement which, while appealing to the increasingly alienated and radicalized youth, did not initially find favour with the insecure middle classes. These found themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, in concert with the colonial authorities, the planter and mercantile classes and foreign investors.

Black Power was portrayed as a “threat,” and all kinds of lies and fabrications were peddled in attempts, some successful, to smear the reputations of those who raised the Black Power banner. There are still people in our society today who believe the lies against early Black Power intellectuals like the late Kerwyn Morris and PR Campbell about “burning the Bible,” without a shred of proof.

Some of us were accused of far worse “deeds”, nothing but figments of imagination. Those were the same tactics that led to Mandela and the South African patriots being jailed for a virtual lifetime and to Lumumba in the Congo being assassinated by the enemies of African freedom. Yes, we too in the Caribbean suffered. The irony is that it is the very struggles of the Black Power Movement which contributed to national independence for so many Caribbean colonies and from which the same middle classes were to be the chief beneficiaries.

I will conclude on the contribution of Black Power to Caribbean development in my next column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com-mentator.