Africa and the Squelching of Emancipation

Africa and the Squelching of Emancipation

Monday, June 11, 2018 8:36 am

Ademola Araoye

By Ademola Araoye

Addis Ababa: May 1963 is a red lettered Month. Before we forget, on 23 to 25 May, 1963, the summit of all leaders of what ought to have been tentative statehoods just emerging from colonial struggles in Africa took place in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The vision of a truly concretized expression of Pan Africanism in a united African continental state was however dissipated at this very first gathering of Africa’s leaders. The 32 statesmen and leaders of the struggle for independence across the continent gathered in Addis did not heed the prescient warnings not to let slip by the grand and historic opportunity to unite Africa. If they did otherwise, the masses of the people of Africa would not forgive them. But they discountenanced the certain damnation of the future. With the benefit of hindsight of over 55 years, as predicted the unfortunate outcome of Addis 1963 has turned out to be a historic infamy and an inglorious watershed for black humanity. In May 1963 the thirty-two men holding the destiny of Africa in their hands derailed what could be then be the projected natural trajectory of black humanity to the authentic pan African destination: a vision and mission of African continental political unity with roots in the valiant and gallant struggles of the black race.

The struggle that was, hopefully temporarily, repudiated in Addis Ababa 1963 go as far back to the late 18th Century to the Caribbean or to the revolt in Philadelphia of Absalom Jones and Cyril Allen or even to other numerous unsung forces. The deficits and cost to Africa of this unmitigated betrayal in the six decades of instituted contingent statehoods, distorted identities, associated new false and incongruous nationalities as well as numerous fictive sovereignties are incalculable: in material, fiscal, cultural, spiritual and in the totality of human endeavors. The most damning has been the complete loss of a sense of racial dignity at all levels across all strata throughout the continent.

OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa

The existential ghettos of black humanity are manifest in the massive disaffect and total alienation of the masses from its own humanity. The process of self repudiation has been expressed in a comprehensive defection at all levels from any and everything black and African, physically, spiritually, and metaphorically. At a first level is the generally roguish command environment and leadership that effectively defect from the grating daily realities of the continent. They facilitate defection by siphoning or appropriating the totality of national treasuries to build comfortable escape redoubts and well feathered nests outside Africa. These are physical and psychological hide-outs from the constantly looming potential fury of the dispossessed. Also, the disaffected beleaguered Africans try to defect from the pervasive harsh realities. They make near certain choices to perish in rickety boats in the Mediterranean en route real and imagined greener pastures outside the patchwork of dilapidated establishments that pretend to direct the affairs of the many unviable states that are directly the outcome of the tragedy of Addis Ababa of May, 1963. The disoriented beleaguered masses of Africans effectively denounce the continent when they drown their collapsed spirits in tumultuous seas to end the travails of African existence. They do this in and to the glare of global ignominy. Home, Africa, is a haunted ghetto to exit.

Yet, in the face of and against this seemingly immovable dolorous background, the discredited collective continental establishment decrees chroniclers on putting out Afro-optimistic narratives; bolstered with phantoms of statistical data, surreal analyses and synthetic lies. They take the world for blind. But as adumbrated in one of previous essays, it is politically expedient in asserting that there is no alternative to the current conglomeration of unviable states and the personalized patrimonial structures and institutions that litter Africa. They call it Afro-optimistic narratives- to counter what is perceived as globally institutionalized negativity on African affairs or Afro pessimism. Yet, we have often protested in firm denunciations that this paradigm of polarity on African narratives is itself a false discourse. It is founded, funded and propagated by the delegitimized political elites. This elite has numerous and gargantuan skeletons to hide from the world as beneficiaries of a depraved continental order and regimes. Consistent with the need for a radical negation of the dolorous existent in Africa, we deploy a philosophy of Afro-realism in our intercourse with ourselves as Africans and the External order. Afro-realist narratives would advance, in the context of the existing torment, the interests of the communion of African peoples guided by a radical rationalism of knowledge committed to rolling back the historic and contemporaneous immobility of the continent, from both endogenous and exogenous forces.

What has been entrenched that the blindly dedicated Afro-optimists, irrespective of the debilitations of our current circumstances, are protective of is the ghetto of Pan-Africanism. Since 1963 attempts have been made to vacate the discourse on pan Africanism in the African academe and in politically convenient perorations of its true and authentic tenets. In its stead has been foisted counterfeited narratives in the futile attempt to validate as the essence of pan Africanism the very antithetical structural conveniences to the original vision and mission. A clear case in point is the common and positively erroneous notion of the Organization of African Unity and its scant metamorphosed African Union as representing the pan African vision. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1963 compromise on the Charter of the Organization of African Unity that emerged was a triumph of not even an advocated alternative cautious gradualism to eventual unity. What is unambiguously clear today is that the Charter signed on 25 May, 1963 killed the concept of pan African unity.

Leopold Senghor

The toothless OAU and AU are the graveyards of the vision of pan African unity. These toothless and nebulous institutions merely symbolize a permanent deferment of progressivism and the truncation of the truly emancipatory impulses of the continent of the pre independence era. Not even the final liberation of large swathes of colonial fortifications through gallant revolutionary struggles ultimately culminating in the defeat of Apartheid has rekindled the emancipatory fervor of Africans and the black race that was squelched in Addis Ababa in May, 1963. The chilling contrarian status quo is shamelessly bandied as pan African. What liberation can a platform permanently dedicated to Africa’s coalition of its most infamous hyenas offer? Even the hopeful revolutionaries who touch it decay immediately on contact and are afflicted with the infection with the bug of tin-godism. They begin to imagine that without their life long singular leaderships of their pitiably abused states and societies, their putative obscure African fiefdoms will perish. And yes, they will perish in time to the larger and greater cause of continental unity..

As a result of the current configuration of the Africa geo-political space, housing a myriad of 56 ostensible sovereign states, quasi states and absolutely sheer non entities, the continent has remained an immovable impediment to any meaningful projections of Africa’s interests. The reality is daunting. 43 per cent of Africa’s population is concentrated in five states. These five states, namely Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa each houses more than 5% of Africa’s population. The projected population of these states as at July, 2015 ranged from Nigeria’s 184,264,000, representing 16% of Africa’s population to South Africa’s 55 million people at 4.77% of the continent people. Twenty-six African states or 38 per cent have a population of less than 5 million. 26 per cent of African states have a population of less than 2 million. Nine states representing 16 per cent of states in Africa have a population of less than a million. Finally, 30 states each have less than one percent of the total population of the continent. In total, these 30 states constituting 54 per cent of states have just less than 11 per cent of the total population of the continent. How can a rational Africa hope to survive this political contrivance in this fourth industrial age and time? Are we Africans that so inhumanly simplistic in our lack of discernment?

On the average, when the five major most populous African states are put aside, the average population of the African state is just about 12 million. Yet, 56 per cent of the 56 African pretend states don’t contain up to 1 percent of the 1.2 billion Africans. By today’s standards and given the historical context of Africa in the scheme of global affairs, over 70% of African states are incapacitated institutionally highly unable to extract value in their own local environments. Technologically less than three states are capable of any meaningful developmental feats on their own. Africa then is also hopelessly out of reckoning in the global competition for extractive value. The African geo-political landscape is configured to ensure that the continent remains out of relevance in the global scheme of things. In fact, many of these political non entities are condemned to permanent dependency barely surviving on residues of value disbursement from powerful states to retain their fictive sovereignty.

The dependency syndrome is deeply ingrained in the mindsets, such that the loyalties of the helmsmen of these states are more to their metropolitan controllers than their citizens. Also, internally the leaderships trust, rule through, and are secured by a very small band of loyalists to their persons from their ethnic bases and villages. The contractual circle of leadership is a narrow local constituency. The multiple dependency syndrome has posed a mortal danger to the integrity of Africa’s half-hearted striving for holistic emancipation. But the cynical beneficiaries of the untenable situation will defend this madness to the hilt. This is even as more misguided opportunists still want to carve out more fiefdoms for themselves. The people are manipulated on the basis of ethnicity and religion to advance the agenda of these villains. In the ghettos of pan-Africanism, governance has become the exclusive domains of villainous egomaniacs. Nigeria has had a few of them; egomaniacal and psychotic problem patrons of the state. And they kill people too mercilessly to satiate these monstrous cravings. This is the scenario all over the continent. It is a direct outcome of Addis Ababa

Nkrumah and Selassie

Sixty years after May, 1963, the jury is out. The abundantly codified verdict in the tragic existential realities of Africa is a stout vindication of the vision of the so called Casablanca aka radical group: a sort of blackmail of their visionary and progressive mantra on the imperative of immediate political unity as a first step toward holistic emancipation. The radical visionaries demanded political unity now if Africa was to create a viable instrument to confront the global system that had subjugated its people for centuries. Makonnen Ketema notes that on the one hand were those countries which believed in embarking on the process of uniting Africa immediately. These countries were originally Ghana, Guinea, and Mali. Later on Egypt, the Transitional Government of Algeria, and Morocco, joined the original three to form the Casablanca Group. On the other hand, the twenty-four member Monrovia Group1 (which prominently included Nigeria, Tangayika, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon) believed in a much more gradual approach to the question of African Unity. They would not buy the premise that the embryonic African states, or even collectivity of the fully fledged individual African state, stood no chance against neo-imperialism.

That unfortunate decision at that summit of young leaders of fledging African states thereafter consigned Africans to the sorry fate of contrived and willing dependency in the context of fictive sovereignties of the continent’s numerous statehoods. The emerged ridiculous statehoods had in fact no essence. The modal African state that emerged had no autonomous existential callings, other than in the service of the stupendous and horrendous aggrandizement of the one all knowing leader till death. In death the one leader was to be succeeded by his son in perpetual national ruling dynasties all over the continent. Yet, more often than not, the one leader was beholden to foreign hegemonic interests to which he was a mere local proxy. One African man went weeping to the White House for sympathetic nodding silence for his term elongation. It is also now revealed that he prostrated before Muamar Gaddafi for sympathy and diminished the territorial expanse of his country without legislative approval. All that just not to hand over power after eight years of ruling. Nkurunziza in Bujumbura has killed many to continue to rule. Alassane Ouattare in Cote d’Ivoire is contemplating two new mandates beginning in 2020. Paul Biya in Cameroun, like Omar Bongo in Gabon, is determined to die in office. Sassou Nguesso will not quit office alive.

Meanwhile, the case of Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Equatorial Guinea epitomizes the plight of Africa. Mbasogo, born 5 June 1942, has been President of Equatorial Guinea since a 1979 coup d’etat. That was during the Cold War. Early in November, 2017, his ruling party Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) consolidated power winning 99 of the parliament’s 100 seats. Although, Equatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producers, a large proportion of its 1.2 million population lives in poverty. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, son, who is also Equatorial Guinea’s vice president, is in charge of the Hydro carbons in the country. On October 27, 2017, Teodorin, as he is popularly addressed, was convicted in absentia in a Paris court of embezzling tens of millions of euro from his government and laundering the proceeds in France. The court also handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence and a suspended €30 million (US$35 million) fine for Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, aka Teodorin. The court seized his assets in France valued at well over €100 million. (I know it is chicken feed by Nigerian standards) Yet, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his ilk are the blazing icons of the African Union, with pretensions of having hollow saintly intentions and designs on how to emancipate Africa. The essence of the African state is merely as an adjunct to the interests of the metropole. The notion of the one man state, often also camouflaged in the one party state, is the norm.

Some excuses have been proffered for the huge tragedy of May, 1963. Some scholars advance that the frozen ideological context at the dawn of the creation of the African state played a major role in fossilizing Africa’s destiny. That is somewhat true. But the stark reality is that African chiefs would die for no ideology, except the one that infuses them with impunity to rape the people. Apart from sheer sloganeering, there was not much difference between socialist Matthieu Kerekou of Benin and Sese Seko Mobutu of Zaire. Ideological pretension was a convenient mask for both the African despot and the external forces that made a vassal out of the African proxy and his state. As demonstrated in the case of Equatorial Guinea, the malaise has survived even in the post cold war era. But ideology in a few instances also provided a rallying universal platform for radical action and international support. This was indeed the case with Ben Bella, Abdel Gamel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure as well as Modibo Keita. Kwame Nkrumah was passionate in the demand for an effective machinery to achieve immediate political unity. He spoke stridently at the May 1963 summit on behalf of the perceived radical group of statesman. These included Ben Bella, who had just defeated France in Algeria’s war of independence, Sekou Toure of Guinea Conakry, famous for his resounding No to France’s proposed imposition of post/neo-colonial controlling contraptions in his country, Modibo Keita of Mali, and Abdel Gamel Nasser of Egypt.

In order to strengthen the continent of Africa and to make it less vulnerable to outside influence, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana strongly believed that the continent should be united.2 The main rational for the urgency in the demand for immediate political unity was the imperative to move forward together in confronting the many looming challenges of the continent. The quest for immediate political union was rejected by the combined forces of pragmatism and the conservatives.

The perspective of the pragmatists was detailed by Julius Nyerere, then of Tangayika, who asserted that Africa had no Napoleon to will all African states to political unity. It was thus necessary to be pragmatic and adopt a gradual approach to African political unity. Incidentally, the respectable Mwalimu’s wisdom even now continues to resonate 60 years after, with those who seem to be afraid or unwilling to take the risk of challenging, reorienting, deconstructing and reconstructing the futures of an African age. More contemporaneous attempt at African Unity by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was met by the same charge of being a pretend Napoleon determined to magically will a federated African state into being. Pragmatism has thus acquired the connotation of doing nothing to upend the status quo. The so- called radical group of the 1960s in Africa have proven to be the realists of the old generation.

There was and still is a third group. These are the dyed in the wool conservatives who are afraid of releasing the vitality and energy of a free Africa. They are mostly concerned about their personal fortunes and retaining their consolidated subservient relationship with France. It is France that imposes and sustains them in power. These were and are still mainly leaders of francophone African countries under hegemonic control of France. It also included a sprinkling of Anglophone states like Liberia-beholden to its tragic ahistoric pretensions as the United States of America in the African tropics- under the thumb and willing subservience to the United States establishment. These leaders including the likes of Leopold Sedar Senghor. Senghor is the damned, even if falsely dignified in conventional narratives, Negritude poet articulator of a controversial hybridized soul of France and Africa in a communion of assumed but elusive parity of intuitive (read irrational) Africans and the rational French (a thesis in logical accommodation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of darkness).

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Senghor in practical political action and Houphouet Boigny, opposite of the Sekou Toure, were unsympathetic to African unity, whether political, cultural and, more importantly, economic. Indeed these leaders were proxies of France, who had signed away the sovereign rights of their prostrate states to France. France installed them and controlled them. They possessed no will to will African unity. Thus they constituted the bulk of the conservative Monrovia bloc. The twenty-four member Monrovia Group that frustrated continental political unity included Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon. It is a tragic paradox that all the named five states thereafter have been embroiled in catastrophic internal violence on ethno-regional/religious lines. Nigeria soon after 1963, by 1966, was embroiled a ferocious civil war that consumed over a million Biafrans. Cameroon and Nigeria have, further, been worsted by the Islamic radical group Boko Haram. Cameroon again is in the throes of irredentism in its Anglophone South West that has declared itself the autonomous Ambazonia Republic. Senegal faces irredentism in its Casamance region with its capital in Ziguinchor. Nationhood has eluded them. Cote d’Ivoire for over a decade was brought to its knees by the France instigated and funded Forces Nouvelles. Liberia’s Charles Taylor, a product of Houphouet Boigny’s determination to wreck ECOWAS, is synonymous of the danger of mindless real-politik in the African setting. Coercive pacifications of their respective fractious societies is a permanent feature of the Africa post colonial state.

That is the real legacy of May, 1963.

• Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.