Emeritus Professor in Humanities, Rhodes University, South Africa; Distinguished Visiting Scholar University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, United States; Visiting Professor, WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
Transcending our Colonial Place: Africa and the dialectics of emancipation
Fanon exhorted us (his posthumous comrades) to abandon Eurocentric thinking and to reconnect with dialectical thought in order as he puts it to “work out new concepts” and he insisted that “if we want humanity to advance a step farther […] then we must invent and we must make discoveries”. I propose to take Fanon at his word and to return to the dialectic as subjective thought rather than as motion of history; as a specific political subjectivity rather than as an objective development. Dialectical thought should be considered as the core feature of any politics of emancipation, a politics that is founded on what is common to humanity, an egalitarian alternative to the existing neocolonial racist capitalist organisation of society.
This book seeks to outline and assess the thinking of emancipatory politics in Africa as it changed in different historical periods. It also contrasts such politics to state political subjectivities which, by their very nature, reproduce given social placements or stated differently the allocation of people to hierarchical locations in society. Emancipatory politics always affirms a rejection of the place allocated to the oppressed and therefore contradicts and transcends the regular state subjectivities embodied in culture which ultimately attempt to justify such placement. Emancipatory politics is exceptional and therefore rare, and it is dialectical because it combines in a contradictory manner the culture of placement from which it emanates with the idea of universal freedom.
Dialectics is not the affirmation of historical necessity; it is a subjective political possibility opposed to (neo)colonial capitalism which has relegated the majority of our population to conditions of perennial impoverishment, oppression and gradual alienation from any Idea of being Human. This work illustrates the fact that dialectical thought has existed in Africa over millennia, with its earliest manifestation being in Ancient Egypt. The text also draws on the universalist content of African proverbs to show the possible dialectical content of African modes of thought, illustrating the emancipatory potential already in existence in some African cultures.
The contemporary attempts at achieving freedom on the African continent – the liberation struggles of the twentieth century – failed fundamentally because they rapidly abandoned any idea of universal humanity and held that emancipation was to be achieved through the medium of the state. It was the desire of the oligarchy that inherited independence to be accepted and integrated into the global capitalist economy for the purposes of state-led ‘development’. The effect, after a short nationalist interlude, was not an inclusive form of ‘nation-building’ but rather the building of a neocolonial state by a Western-oriented oligarchy unable or unwilling to meet the basic needs of its own people. To succeed in this endeavour, the newly independent state retained many oppressive features of its colonial predecessor remoulding them to suit its needs. The book shows how in an overwhelmingly neocolonial context, it is of little consequence to the oppressed masses in Africa whether their political system is formally labelled as ‘democratic’ or not. In fact, given the endemic corruption among the oligarchies in power, military dictatorships can garner mass popular support for shorter or longer periods if they are seen to resist (however mildly) neocolonial domination. The recent examples (early 2020s) of proto-nationalist military coups in Francophone West Africa (Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger) are cases in point.
This book develops theoretical arguments that redirect intellectual thought away from Euro-American liberal conceptions as well as from neo-nativist fashions and vulgar Marxisms, so as to reassert the importance of latent ‘African potentials’ that are frequently embodied in collective popular statements for rethinking, dialectically, a true politics of emancipation on the African continent.
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.
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