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Written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, this publication celebrates the birth of Black studies as a liberated academic zone. Professor Mũgo reflects upon the significance of Africana studies, specifically within the context of America’s predominantly White universities, revisiting the hers/his/torical context that birthed Black studies as a field of knowledge. She reflects on the ownership of knowledge, its production, dissemination and custodianship while proposing utu/ubuntu as imperatives in defining transformative education. The hypothesis and heart of the argument is that knowledge and scholarship can either be colonizing, alienating and enslaving; or, alternatively, they can be conscientizing, humanizing and liberating, creating new human beings with the agency to transform life and the world, for the better. The latter constitutes what Professor Mũgo calls utu/ubuntu rooted-scholarship which, she argues, should define Africana studies, research and scholarship, all of which needs to have both a mind and heart. This should be the mission and vision that led to the birth of Black Studies as an academic. She dismisses the false myth of dominating, colonizing and imperialist cultures that claim to have a monopoly of knowledge and whose purpose is to justify the dehumanization of the conquered, the attempted erasure of their knowledges, heritages and ultimately, entire cultures.
The essay urges us to reflect on a number of critical questions: What is the objective of Africana research and general search for knowledge? In whose service are teaching, research work and publications by Africana scholars? Do their conference papers bring any Africana knowledge systems to the round table of ideas? Is the knowledge they produce liberating and humanizing, or for the advancement of careerist ambitions? What does Black scholarship contribute towards what Paulo Freire called the ‘dialogical education for problem solving’?
It is hard not to be effusive about the author of this pamphlet. Let’s just say it loud: Mῖcere Gῖthae Mũgo is a legend in her own time. And ours. Ours because, as she would say, paraphrasing universal African wisdom: without us, there is no her. From her native Kenya, a source to which she returns continually for yet more ancient wisdom; to Zimbabwe, where she once found refuge on being forced to flee her native land in the face of political persecution; to the United States of America, to which she eventually emigrated; and beyond, way beyond, Professor Comrade Sister Mugo has been a lodestar and wonder—in the academy and in the community, locally and globally. This pamphlet is a discursive offering to Africana studies, a notebook on a field of study born of struggle, student-led struggle. The organizing principle is Utu-Ubuntu, the universal African moral conception centered on the paramountcy of the soul over material accumulation. It is a stinging rebuke to capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism and all the other antihuman isms, Utu-Ubuntu. Here, indeed, is an Africana studies manifesto, one that should be required reading for all students of the field, in and out of the academy. She never ceases to educate, to enlighten, to energize—this soul sister, this scion of Utu-Ubuntu, this magnificent struggler in the cause of African vindication and human liberation, Mῖcere Gῖthae Mũgo. — Michael O. West, Professor of African American Studies; History; African Studies, Penn State University
An insightful essay that insists that Africana research and scholarship has “to have both mind and heart” to be truly emancipatory — for that is the essence of the meaning of Ubuntu and of Utu, the Swahili equivalent. That is the basis for challenging the dominant colonizing cultures that seek to dehumanize our people. The inimitable Micere Mugo forces us to think about the purpose of teaching and research: whose interests do they serve? — Dr. Willy Mutunga, Chief Justice & President of Supreme Court, Republic of Kenya, 2011-2016
An excellent celebration of the contribution of Utu/Ubuntu – African Indigenous Knowledge – to Africana scholarship by Professor Micere Mugo, an icon of Africana Studies. This epistemological imperative for the creation of ‘liberated academic zones’ advances the post-modern and critical theory traditions, while firmly establishing Africa’s unique contributions, not only to Africana Scholarship, but also to the Global Academy and to humanity. — Filomina Chioma Steady, D.Phil. (Oxon.) Professor Emerita and Former Chair, Africana Studies, Wellesley College
People Resisting Xenophobic Violence: Understanding popular political responses to the South African identitarian crisis
The book is concerned with popular responses to the crisis of xenophobic violence in South Africa. It argues, that xenophobia itself is not primarily a reaction to poverty, inequality, or any other set of social conditions. Rather, xenophobia must be considered to be a collective political discourse which has arisen in post-apartheid South Africa from an exclusionary conception of state nationalism. Where this work may be distinguished from the majority of research on xenophobia in South Africa is in the fact that its particular focus is on instances where ‘ordinary’ South Africans have challenged and resisted xenophobic violence in their communities through collective political mobilisation. I suggest that these sites of resistance deserve careful consideration in their own right. I argue that they may demonstrate a subjective break with the oppressive politics of state nationalism through the affirmation of alternative political conceptions. Drawing on the political theory of Sylvain Lazarus, and his principal thesis that people are capable of thinking politics in ways which can subjectively think beyond the social and the extant (underscored by his political and methodological axiom, people think), the book will argue that these sites of resistance show that people – and especially those who are considered to be marginalised from the domain of legitimate politics – can and do think politically, and it is in the thought of people that new and potentially emancipatory visions of politics may emerge.
The first chapter of the book sets out empirically the rise of xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa, with a focus on the ways in which state politics and practices have produced a hegemonic xenophobic discourse in the country. Chapter Two situates this discussion within a review of the academic literature, arguing that sociological explanations are by themselves unable to account for the phenomenon.
Chapter Three discusses three sites in which xenophobia has been effectively contested through collective political mobilisation: by Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Merafong Demarcation Forum (MDF) in Guateng in 2008, and in the Unemployed people’s Movement (UPM) in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) in 2015 (where I conducted fieldwork over a year). It is argued that the presence of collective political organisation before the outbreak of xenophobic violence provided the conditions for an effective challenge to xenophobic politics to occur.
Chapter Four is largely theoretical, drawing primarily on the work of Sylvain Lazarus, as well as Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière. The chapter argues that it is essential to insist on politics as subjective, as it is only in the thought of people that emancipatory modes of politics which exceed socially located interests may emerge and be constituted through collective mobilisation into political praxis.
Chapter Five sets out the methodological approach to my own research with members of the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown. The aim of the approach is to aid in the investigation of what Sylvain Lazarus has called ‘subjective singularities’, or specific forms of thinking which characterize a political sequence. Put simply, the approach endeavours to try to understand people’s thinking on its own terms, through the categories and idioms which are specific to that subjective singularity, and which cannot be sociologically reduced to external explanatory referents such as class, race, power, or identity. The aim is to be able to identify and elucidate the specific prescriptive thought which may emerge as people think and articulate their own struggles.
Chapter Six sets out my discussions with 18 UPM activists. Based on the methodological approach indicated above, the purpose of this empirical chapter was not to provide any form of ethnography or sociology of the movement, but to try and elucidate, through the activists’ own categories, the subjective singularity which underpinned the movement’s anti-xenophobic politics during a particular sequence. The aim is not to extrapolate from the activists’ statements concepts, cases or types which might have broader application for the study of xenophobia generally, but only to try to understand and elucidate the forms of thinking which characterised this particular sequence in its subjective singularity. These forms of thinking, I argue, are notable and important in their own right.
[Note: Additional material from the interviews with the UPM members, which I was not able to include in the MA thesis, will be incorporated into the book manuscript to extend and develop the investigation into the political thinking of UPM members and to delineate the character of the political sequence].
As African people most of us are brought up to believe many myths about ourselves. One of these is that we are poor because we never grew out of the dark ages. Another such myth is that we will always need European guidance because of our backwardness. Not only has there been a lot of research done within the last few decades disproving these myths but the constant forward and backward motions of various societies in the world proves that a new beginning is always “in the cards” when a forward-looking vision and a determined set of energies are released.
However, to be properly understood, all this must be put into historical perspective. This is what the author has done: starting from the early days of Egypt down to present day Southern Africa, he has analysed the long journey from development to underdevelopment and back towards development. The fact that European/North American domination has played such a large part in influencing the direction of this path, this manuscript is about both the history of African and European people as well as an economic analysis of foreign domination.
Given the extensive nature of this task the author has deliberately downplayed statistics as most of the empirical details stated are taken from the research work of reputable scholars, reference to which is constantly engendered, so that the reader could independently pursue the documentation of all aspects of the work.
Frederick Engels, the classical socialist philosopher, reflecting on the nature of scientific thinking stated:
“The analysis of nature into its individual parts, the grouping of the different natural processes and objects into definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organic bodies in their manifold forms, these are the fundamental conditions of the gigantic stride of our knowledge of Nature… But this method of work has also left us as legacy, the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, apart from the connection with the vast whole; of observing them in repose, not in motion; as constants, not as essential variables; in their death, not in their life.”[i]
Most of the facts and events have been documented in numerous scholarly writings. But one item of his concern is that most of these works have in one way or other fallen prey to Engels’s criticism, either on grounds of limited geography or of limited history (tackling only a short period). However, what is more usual for the more bourgeois–influenced scholars is to limit their scope to one or two of the arbitrarily imposed “disciplines” of Economics, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, etc.
Of course, it is understandable that the two types of limitations (geography and history) are not made without reason, as no one person could hope to cover a broad enough scope in a detailed and rigorous manner especially within easily readable limits. However, the need of scientists especially when covering as important a topic as the development process, to produce a work covering the broadest possible perspective.
Given limited resources, the author has attempted to do just that – albeit in an introductory manner. It is his hope, however, that more people start viewing development as a broad, holistic process and not just a phenomenon limited in space and time to economics or even political-economy. In this regard, the annual compilation of The Human Development Index by the UNDP whereby countries worldwide are ranked, not merely by GDP per capita – as is usually cited in classical bourgeois economics – but by Life expectancy, Fertility and Under-five Mortality Rates, Combined School Enrolment, Adult Literacy Rate, Urbanisation, and (generally) by a Human Poverty Index. This approach can only be viewed as a step in the right direction.
An extra bonus for readers is that I have included quotes from a cross-section of classical scholars on the development process. Hence, readers can follow up on these references to further edify themselves.
[i] Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892), 406.
What is to be Thought? The Dialectics of Emancipation and Africa: political theory and political practice
Beginning from the understanding that it is imperative today to develop new concepts for the thinking of an emancipatory politics on the African continent (Fanon), this book proposes to focus on dialectical thought as the core subjective feature of all emancipatory political experiments on the African continent in particular. It traces a dialectical thinking to its origins in Ancient Egypt that arguably influenced Plato, and notes its opposition to the idea of representation in state politics during various historical sequences right up to the present. Starting from the fundamental conception that all people are capable of universal thought, and that an idea of universal humanity is central to popular thought during experiences of collective emancipatory struggle, the argument traces and analyses a number of emancipatory historical political sequences and their attendant contemporary narratives. Currently it is proposed to include
1) the Ancient World: Ancient Egypt (The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant – 4000 BCE) and Plato (as read by Alain Badiou);
2) Pre-colonial Africa and resistance to slavery: the Donsolu Kalikan (in the Manden/Mali, 1222), the Antonian Movement (in Kongo, 1684-1706) and its continuation in the Lemba Movement, and the Haitian Revolution (undertaken by slaves from Africa),
3) The National Liberation Struggles of the 1960s as thought by Fanon and Cabral, and
4) The mass popular struggles in South Africa during the 1980s.
The core of the political dialectic in each case differs and creates, during a limited sequence, what can be called a subjective political singularity that always combines dialectically a particular thought of resistance emanating from its specific social location with one of universal humanity during what is a process exceptional to hegemonic social relations.
It is further argued that whereas the political dialectic is not a given feature of African cultures as such, the latency of universalistic conceptions of humanity is identifiable within many African cultures. This means that rather than having to be invented ex nihilo, conceptions of the human universal in Africa have the potential to be (re-)activated in practice. Ato Sekyi-Otu and Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba are discussed as major contemporary African dialectical thinkers.
Coming to the present period, the book elaborates a theory of neo-colonial state politics through unpacking the core idea of representation and the absence of popular sovereignty. It is argued that the neo-colonial character of the state must be understood beyond binaries but rather, following Gramsci, as structured by objective dialectical relations characterising fundamentally distinct modes of rule. This objective dialectic is assessed, in addition to Gramsci, through a discussion of a number of well-known contemporary thinkers of the dialectic (Lenin, Mao, Dunayevskaya, CLR James, Carchedi, Anderson, etc).
These modes of rule enable the neo-colonial state to reproduce itself and social relations in conjunction with popular responses to such rule. Differing modes of state rule are identified and the formation of distinct domains of politics corresponding to them and founded on different forms of representation are elucidated. These domains amount to three types:
1) civil society (where the state rules through a relation of citizenship and the right to rights),
2) uncivil society (where the right to rights is inexistent and thus state violence is dominant), and
3) traditional society (where the state rules through custom and tradition itself the object of struggle).Using various cases from Africa, contradictions and struggles within each of these domains are analysed and the potential to draw on latent cultural conceptions of universality (when in existence) is discussed.In this manner both the dialectic of emancipation and the character of state power are thought conjointly and dialectical thinking is opposed to the idea of representation in politics as well as in social science. The concepts and categories used are explained in a simple manner understandable by all.
Finally and as a kind of concluding argument, it is proposed to rethink the idea of representation through a critical engagement with the political practices of what could be called the “heroic figures of liberation”. This will be undertaken via an assessment of the politics of Toussaint Louverture and Nelson Mandela in particular regarding the “colonial question” as identified by Aimé Césaire.