Afrikan Liberation Day and the Commitment to an Anti-imperialist Pan-Afrikan Solidarity

May 25, 2014 is the 56th anniversary of Afrikan Liberation Day (ALD) and it should be observed as more than a commemorative event. ALD was institutionalized by the emerging independent states in Afrika to give focus, direction and resources to the struggle against colonial domination. However, the work of emancipating Afrika and Afrikans from exploitation and domination is still a work-in-progress during this post-colonial or flag independence moment. ALD started out as Africa Freedom Day (AFD) on April 15, 1958 at the Conference of Independent Afrikan States in Accra, Ghana, which had in attendance the eight states that won their independence. The anti-colonial and decolonization process progressed to such an extent that there were thirty-two independent states on May 25, 1963 when the Organization of Afrikan Unity was created and it renamed Afrika Freedom Day as Afrikan Liberation Day.

Some observers might be impressed with the rapid pace at which the states were becoming independent of European colonialism. However, the progress was a quantitative experience and not a qualitative shift from the oppressive economic, political and social structures of capitalism and colonialism. By 1961, Frantz Fanon was already documenting his observation of the betrayal of the people’s aspiration and expectation of independence:

The peoples of Africa have only recently come to know themselves. They have decided, in the name of the whole continent, to weigh in strongly against the colonial regime. Now the nationalist bourgeoisies, who in region after region hasten to make their own fortunes and to set up a national system of exploitation, do their utmost to put obstacles in the path of this “Utopia.”…. This is why we must understand that African unity can only be achieved through the upward thrust of the people, and under the leadership of the people, that is to say, in defiance of the interests of the nationalist bourgeoisie. ((Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 164.))

Horace Campbell is unsparing in his condemnation of “former freedom fighters [who] have used the history of the liberation struggles to hold on to political power, to enrich themselves and diminish the meaning of independence and liberation.” ((Horace Campbell, “African Liberation Day: the people must prevail,” Pambazuka News, May 22, 2008. ))

Over fifty years later, the kleptocrats and strongmen who masquerade as a national bourgeoisie are still parasitically draining the lifeblood out of the labouring classes across Afrika. When the neo-colonial leadership in Afrika formally celebrates Afrikan Liberation Day each year at the Afrikan Union or in its respective fiefdoms, they are executing a cruel hoax while unwittingly reminding the people that freedom’s intoxicating and hopeful presence is absent from their lives. The political rulers and the economic elite have found their earthly paradise in the here-and-now as evidenced by the opulence in which they and they families live. While the masses are living in squalor and economic privation, the post-colonial leaders are using the national treasury as their personal chequing account.

An obscene example of the sense of entitlement of the political class in Afrika is South Afrika’s president Jacob Zuma’s use of 246 million rand or £13.7 million from the national purse to renovate and expand his private dwelling. ((David Smith, “Jacob Zuma’s palatial folly sparks anger and resentment amid poverty,” Guardian, May 3, 2014. )) This unacceptable and outrageous behaviour is taking place in a national context where 47 per cent of South Afrikans are living in poverty and the country has one of the highest rates of inequality across the globe. ((Leonce Ndikumana, “Extreme Inequality Drags South Africa’s Economic Growth,” The Real News, January 17, 2014. )) President Zuma might not view himself in the same corruption league as former leaders such as Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko who salted away billions of dollars into secret banks accounts in financial institutions in the West, ((Mfonobong Nsehe, “Who Were Africa’s Richest Dictators?Forbes, November 8, 2011.)) but many people in South Afrika hold a different view.

Afrikan Liberation Day provides us with an excellent moment to discuss and reflect on our internationalist obligation, as anti-imperialist or Pan-Afrikanists, to the struggle to rid Afrika of neocolonialism and Western domination. When it comes to the question of Afrikan liberation in the 21st century, there should not be any doubt about the force that should be supported. It is the people for whom the preferential option should be exercised and not leaders who make anti-imperialist pronouncement such as the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Robert Mugabe, current President of Zimbabwe. We must stand firm against Western military intervention in the global South, especially to effect regime change. Progressive international solidarity organizations ought to support the organizations and movements that are working for power-from-below “under the leadership of the people,” as Fanon would have it.

Imperialism has long been opposed to leadership that might contribute to a different development path and the smashing of the shackles of over five hundred years of domination. Coups, insurgencies, economic strangulation or assassinations have been used to slow or deter the progress of the Afrikan Revolution. Patrice Lumumba, Amlicar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara were neutralized so as to maintain colonial or neo-colonial structures. Subservient leadership is an enabler of foreign control, which makes it easier for major powers to exploit Afrika’s natural resources as well as engage in “land grab” ((Lorenz Cotula, “Analysis: Land grab or development opportunity?BBC News, February 21, 2012. )) for the export of agricultural products. The United States and NATO are militarizing Afrika as a way to checkmate China’s expanding economic and developmental ties in Afrika. ((Asad Ismi, “Guns Versus Trade: U.S. and China Rivalry over Africa’s Riches,” Global Research, May 26, 2013.)) Afrika is the most resource rich continent in the world in spite of most of its states being at the bottom of the annual United Nations’ Human Development Index.

I am offering the following propositions that ought to be executed to advance an anti-imperialist, Pan-Afrikan solidarity programme of action with Afrika and its peoples.

  1. Create or join organizations that are committed to Afrikan solidarity and liberation: Organizations are critical to the work of anti-imperialist international solidarity activism. They are able to mobilize and organize people and other resources notwithstanding the ebb and flow of mass movement organizing. The members of the elite fear the organizational unity and cooperation of the people because it might lead to the compromising or blocking of the intended actions of the forces of oppression.

In the past, anti-imperialist or progressive organizations such as the Africa Information Service, ((The African Activists Archive, “Africa Information Service”. “AIS was an organization of Africans, African-Caribbeans and African-Americans who shared a commitment to Third World anti-imperialist struggles. AIS prepared, cataloged, and distributed information about African liberation movements and the struggles to achieve economic independence by the people in those parts of Africa recognized as independent political states.” African Activist.)) the African Liberation Support Committee, ((Edward O. Erhagbe, Ph.D., “The African-American Contribution to the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa: The Case of the African Liberation Support Committee, 1972-1979,” The Journal of Pan African Studies, 4, 5, September 2011; Cedric Robinson, “From popular anti-imperialism to sectarianism: the african liberation support committee and black power radicals,” New Political Science, 25, Issue 4, 2003, Abstract. )) and TransAfrica in the United States and the Biko-Rodney-Malcolm Coalition and the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa (TCLSAC) in Canada ((Chris Webb, “Hidden histories and political legacies of the Canadian anti-apartheid movement,” Canadian Dimension, April 30, 2014.)) made principled contributions to the struggle in Afrika. Organizations may draw upon the lessons of these groups work in the current period of global solidarity activism. A current example of an excellent internationalist and anti-imperialist organization that is based in Canada is the Group for Research and Initiatives for the Liberation of Africa (GRILA). It has been spearheading solidarity campaigns around the assassination of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso and the activities of the United States’ African Command (AFRICOM) in Afrika.

You may go to your trade unions, community associations, students’ organizations, religious groups and other organizational entities with resolutions that call upon the membership to develop or support anti-imperialist campaigns that contribute to Afrikans’ resistance to neo-colonialism and the imperial domination of the global North. Amilcar Cabral’s claim about our people-to-people solidarity being of mutual benefit is worth noting:

We try to understand your situation in this country. You can be sure that we realise the difficulties you face, the problems you have and your feelings, your revolts, and also your hopes. We think that our fighting for Africa against colonialism and imperialism is a proof of understanding of your problem and also a contribution for the solution of your problems in the continent. Naturally the inverse is also true. All the achievements towards the solution of your problems here are real contributions to our own struggle. And we are very encouraged in our struggle by the fact that each day more of the African people born in America became conscious of their responsibilities to the struggle in Africa. ((Africa Information Services, Ed., Return to the Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), 76. The entire speech: Connecting the struggles: An informal chat with black Americans by Amilcar Cabral.))

It takes sustainable, principled and resourced organizations to serve as the difference-maker in challenging the agenda of exploitation and domination in Afrika and elsewhere.

  1. Build organizational ties and coordinate our work with grassroots organizations: It is critically important for us to develop principled and solidaristic relations with organizations that are led by the oppressed and are committed to advancing structural change in Afrika. The development of comradely and organic ties with organizations that are organizing against patriarchy, capitalism, racism and/or homophobia would enable international solidarity groups to better direct their activism against the metropolitan institutions and power centres that are facilitating oppression in Afrika. Direct people-to-people contact would reduce the likelihood of anti-imperialist forces assuming to know the priorities of partners in the global South. The development of established channels of communication would limit the influence of domestic and overseas non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are promoting charity instead of solidarity and liberation.
  1. Promote mass public education: Solidarity organizations need to develop public education campaigns that offer critical tools to the public so as to aid them in understanding political events on the home front, in Afrika and the global South in general. The dominant media outlets cover stories in ways that reinforce the outlook of transnational corporations and the political elite. Therefore, when an incident such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram’s kidnapping of over two hundred school girls is presented to mass public, it is quite easy for many members of the working-class to support military intervention by the West. They do not understand the geo-political implications of such a course of action and the ways that the West’s presence would strengthen the economic and political interests of Nigeria’s neocolonial rulers and their imperial backers from the United States, Canada and Europe. Constant and interrogative public education campaigns that use all available media and extend into the spaces where the people are located would make for effective educational work.
  1. Develop campaigns that oppose Western military presence: The anti-war/peace movement in the West needs to give serious organizing resources to the work of building mass opposition to the increasing militarization of Afrika. According to Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor the Pan-African News Wire, “The U.S. ruling class through its quest for mineral resources and strategic dominance has focused a tremendous amount of attention on Africa and the so-called Middle East. The founding of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008 under Bush has enhanced its operations under Obama.” ((Abayomi Azikiwe, “The War on Africa: U.S. Imperialism and the World Economic Crisis,” Black Agenda Report, June 18, 2013. )) AFRICOM, NATO or Western powers have directly or indirectly intervened in Libya, Mali, Central Afrikan Republic, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Central Afrika and Somalia. These military operations are directed at maintaining western domination and/or checking China’s development and investment programmes across the continent.

The United States has used the annual military exercise African Endeavour, which attracted forty states in 2011, to integrate or acquaint Afrika’s armies with “U.S. command-and-control procedures, on American-made equipment, that is serviced by American advisors.” ((Glen Ford, “Africa Lies Naked to Euro-American Military Offensive,” Black Agenda Report, November 30, 2011. )) In 2013, AFRICOM carried out “ten exercises, fifty-five operations and 481 security cooperation activities,” which ranged from training troops, to offering mentoring support, the financing of operations, executing drones attacks, providing airlift support to Afrikan and French troops in Mali and elsewhere, and carrying out raids, among other activities. ((Nick Nurse, “Why Is the US Military Averaging More Than a Mission a Day in Africa?The Nation, March 27, 2014. )) Afrika’s people need material development and not the strengthening of the military that has been a source of coups and repression since independence. It is the obligation of global justice and anti-war advocates to educate, mobilize and organize the people in the West against the further colonization of Afrika through NATO, AFRICOM and the military forces of major Western states. Further, every cent that is spent on militarism abroad is a penny that is not available to spend on social welfare programmes at home.

  1. Contribute to the capacity of movements to create alternative institutions: The revolutionary theorist, military strategist, and practitioner Amilcar Cabral cautions us that the people are not interested in social change because of the ideas being promoted by thinkers or activists. The people enter the stage of history as dramatic actors because they want “to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.” ((Amilcar Cabral, Revolution in Guinea: Selected Texts, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 86.)) Therefore, the individuals and organizations that are contributing to Afrikan liberation and solidarity ought to give priority to projects that build transformative economic, social and political projects and programmes. It is necessary for people-controlled organizations to build the embryonic institutions of the liberated society today. These entities will be used as spaces to equip the people with the knowledge, skills and attitude that are needed to fight the oppressive order while preparing the labouring classes for life in the future non-capitalist, anti-oppressive society.

The imposition of the neoliberal capitalist development agenda by the elite in the both the global South and North should inspire forces in both arena to advance worker self-management through the creation of worker cooperatives and other communitarian institutions and the establishments of enabling and supportive structures that would facilitate their success. If progressive movements are calling for “all power to the people,” they need to create the oppositional and self-managed entities in civil society that will achieve it. These people-controlled institutions would represent the start of the process of building a counterhegemonic force to liquidate capitalism and other systems of domination.

  1. Racialized people must be central participants in anti-imperialism activism: Too often the international solidarity or antiwar/peace movements in North America and Europe are strategically and operationally directed and controlled by whites. ((Dennis Rahkonen, “Adding Color To A Too-White Peace Movement,” Dissident Voice, April 11, 2003. )) It is certainly an indictment of the anti-war/peace movement when it is unable to make spaces within its ranks for the leadership and participation of racialized and Indigenous peoples. A group of activists publicly highlights why this exclusionary behaviour is very troubling:

At home and abroad, repression, militarism and war take their greatest toll on people of color. Following 9/11, the U.S. government and its agents escalated their longstanding aggression against us to the level of an endless “war on terrorism.” Abroad, that war is waged on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Colombia, Vieques, Puerto Rico, and other nations in the global South. “Endless war” crowns the economic embargos and sanctions, IMF/World Bank-generated debt, covert support for torture and death squads, and environmental degradation long imposed on nations whose inhabitants are viewed through a Eurocentric lens as alien demons, in order to rationalize their domination and destruction. At home, the state demonizes and criminalizes people of color in order to rationalize targeting us for police abuse and repression, in the name of “crime-fighting” and “security.” Secret detention and deportation of immigrants, racial profiling, police brutality, incarceration and cut-backs of social services are all part of the arsenal used by the state to control communities of color and constrain their development. ((Steve Bloom, et al., “An Open Letter To Activists Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement,” SOA Watch, February 13, 2003.))

It is fundamentally critical for the anti-war/anti-imperialism movement to acknowledge racism within its ranks and take corrective measures to eliminate its presence and impact. The anti-war/anti-imperialism movement will not live up to its potential as a transformative agent without racialized and Indigenous peoples’ leadership and ideas as well as being cognizant of the “the racist roots of modern militarism and warfare.” ((Steve Bloom, et al., “An Open Letter To Activists Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement,” SOA Watch, February 13, 2003.))

If the anti-war movement is going to engage in anti-imperialist solidarity with Afrika, it would not be able to avoid issue of the enslavement of Afrikans and the carving up of the continent for the enrichment of the West. White supremacy and capitalism are entwined and fully implicated in Afrika’s current underdevelopment. ((Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (London: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, 1973). )) A colonial relationship with between the anti-war or international solidarity movement and racialized and Indigenous peoples in the West is likely to lead to a similar state of affairs with people in the global South.

The annual commemoration of Afrikan Liberation Day should be a time when the international solidarity movement in the West take stock of what it has done to fight the forces that are spreading militarism, fostering exploitative economic relations and supporting neo-colonial regimes throughout Afrika. It should also be a moment when it celebrates its victories, acknowledges setbacks and strategically plan for the following year and beyond. Afrikan Liberation Day can be used to measure the extent to which the movement has grown the Afrikan solidarity constituency in its areas of operation. Fanon offers us a mindset and operational approach to the question of solidarity:

Anti-Semitism hits me head-on: I am enraged, I am bled white by an appalling battle, I am deprived of the possibility of being a man. I cannot disassociate myself from the future that is proposed for my brother. Every one of my acts commits me as a man. Every one of my silences, every one of my cowardices reveals me as a man. ((Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 88-89.))

The solidarity of the oppressed represents a real threat to the forces of oppression. The celebration of Afrikan Liberation Day and the carrying out of Pan-Afrikan solidarity work throughout the year will give practical form to Fanon’s claim that “I cannot disassociate myself from the future that is proposed for my brother [and sister].

Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an organizer, writer, and lecturer at the University of the West Indies. Read other articles by Ajamu.