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Waiting for a new day

Africa through the eyes of her revolutionary seers

27/10/2016 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
The late Francois Mitterrand with Captain Thomas Sankara
 
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THE vision of a united Africa with no boundaries is both necessary and laudable. But we need to go beyond the mere pronouncement of intentions and put measures into place to make this happen. The challenge is to attain a buy-in from all concerned. For this to happen a meeting of the minds is necessary.

Vision 2063 is a good starting point, but that’s a story for another day. Meantime, as we move towards 2063 Africa has to unshackle herself from the bonds of neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism is alive and well in Africa. During the independence referendums, most French colonies chose to remain in a French community with limited independence. Only Sekou Toure campaigned against the limited independence offered. He coined the now famous slogan: We prefer poverty in liberty to riches in slavery. Guinea was then ostracised but in true Pan- Africanist fashion Ghana under Nkrumah came to Guinea’s aid.

When defining neo-colonialism Nkrumah has this to say:

The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.

The scenario so vividly painted by Nkrumah is nowhere as true as it is in the majority of ‘former’ French colonies in Africa. Many years ago when I attended the annual World Children’s Book Fair in Bologna I had the disconcerting experience of seeing a white French woman give per diems on a daily basis to exhibitors from ‘former’ French colonies in Africa.

What made it worse for me was that the brothers and sisters involved seemed to savour their humiliation, lining up cheerfully to receive their daily crumbs. At the end of the day however, closer scrutiny of the situation reveals that something much more extensive and sinister is actually going on all the time. Neo-colonial states have no real autonomy and remain client states while the skewed relationship lasts. The manner of subjugation and control takes a variety of forms. In this regard, what Nkrumah observes next is quite instructive:

…neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial State may be obliged to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere.



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When addressing sceptics who asked him where imperialism was, Thomas Sankara, popularly known as the Che Guevara of Africa because of his ideological affinity to the legendary Argentinian had this to say:

Just look at your plates. You see imported corn, rice and millet.

Not surprisingly, Sankara ate millet, like the peasants in his country and travelled around in a small car. Unless dressed in military fatigues, Sankara wore traditional dress. Being unashamedly ascetic, he had no personal property to speak of and did not earn much in terms of his salary as President. In this regard, hardly any statesman in the world matched his simplicity and abhorrence of excess and material trappings.

Sankara was surrounded by dangerous pretenders like Blaise Compaore, a man driven by dreams of self-aggrandizement and, therefore, one out to enrich himself. There are eye-witness accounts of Compaore personally shooting Sankara and Sankara asking him why he was doing this given that he, Sankara, regarded him as his best friend and brother even. The ‘Et tu Brute’ cameo was played all over again in another country and another time by another man.

Like Brutus afterwards, Blaise Compaore wept aloud and openly wondered why he had killed Sankara, his friend. But time always swings full cycle for flawed characters like Compaore and, to an extent quite against expectations, the man was forced to resign on 31 October 2014. Now there seem to be many who would want him brought to justice for slaying an African icon, hence his seeking refuge in the Ivory Coast, a country led by Alassane Quattara, a French protégé said to be Burkinabe by origin.


Blaise Compaore is now being sought over the death of Thomas Sankara

Willy-nilly, his flight to the Ivory Coast became apt testimony of the veracity of the adage about birds of a feather flocking together. Compaore promoted French interests in the region, just like Quattara in the Ivory Coast. By the time of his overthrow Compaore had become one of the richest people in Africa, something quite at odds with the poverty of Burkina Faso and definitely inimical to the vision that Sankara had for the country. He is now ‘wallowing’ in his ill-gotten thirty pieces of silver and other foreign largesse in a country that will probably host him temporarily and ask him to move on when the going gets tough for his current host.

The contrast between Compaore and Sankara is amazing. In a matter of just over four years before his assassination, Sankara was able to successfully embark on infrastructural construction involving roads, railways, schools and hospitals. Agricultural production also went up dramatically with land being reclaimed from the desert. His goal of at least two meals a day and ten litres of water a day per family was also achieved. The Burkinabes are now counting the costs of Compaore’s brutal 27 years in power and wondering what things might have been like if Thomas Sankara’s vision had persisted.

Somewhere in the background I keep hearing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and he is asking again and again that irksome question: How long shall they kill our prophets while we aside and look?

To paraphrase the words of Bob Marley, we need to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because none but ourselves can free our minds. To be able to do that, we may have to be less diplomatic and much more forthright and explicit in the fashion of Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti, the Nigerian musical maestro and trend-setter.

Fela Kuti’s pronouncements are hard-hitting and true. For me one of his most belligerent songs is the one he called VIPs (Vagabonds in Power). Fela’s lyrics in this song capture the transience of all power at whatever level and in whatever guise, hence his definitive line, ‘Everyone get him power everywhere’. The problem as Fela sees it is that once an individual attains high political office:

Him no know hungry

Him no know homeless

Him no know suffering

Him no know jobless

These words are in themselves a political manifesto and an action programme. A nation must indeed feed its people and guarantee them shelter. Any suffering in the land must be mitigated and people must be empowered through proper employment. This is a song about the emancipation of black people everywhere.

Fela being a Pan-Africanist through and through exhorts Africa to unite because unless unity is attained there can be no freedom and there will be no justice and happiness. The solution is to keep talking and protesting until those in power are forced to hear the pleas of the people. This song by Fela has the Yoruba title – ‘Kwansa, kwansa’ a word meaning to wear resistance down through agitation and unceasing talk about socio-political ills and shortfalls.

In ‘Cross-examination of the African colonial soldier’ Fela sets up a metaphorical court with the learned judge being none other than ‘the great wise chief,’ Kwame Nkrumah. He himself is the prosecutor. What Fela is saying is that yesterday, today and tomorrow are all linked. The past is the genesis, the present is the existential moment and the future is the envisaged destination. He is saying that history matters and must never be relegated to the outer realms of a people’s consciousness.

This is probably the same as what Tanga Wekwa Sando, the Zimbabwean jazzman whose song ‘Stars on a Saturday Evening’ was used at an international beauty pageant says when he berates reactionary persons for allowing their sense of history to be lulled to sleep. Tanga says the British and the Americans have their history, the Australians and the Indians too! He can’t fathom a situation in which someone then tells you to ditch your own history.

Fela abhorred pretentiousness and officiousness. It was in this vein that “Power Show” was composed by the man whose home was once razed to the ground by the military government of the day. But the indefatigable Fela did not stop. When friends and relatives, fearing for his safety, asked him to tone down and not ‘talk truth’, the essence of his response was that he loved truth more than he feared death. That was what brought about the song ‘kwansa kwansa’.

The man who gave the world the iconic song ‘Lady’ had a wry sense of humour. When addressing a German audience in Berlin and having introduced himself as an African, he went on to debunk racist stereotypes of Africans. In response to the unspoken question about his ‘European’ dress, Fela said clothes were a matter of history and a subject for a possible future symposium.

Long live Fela and Africa’s departed and living visionaries!


 
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