Friday, October 22, 2010

Championing the Transformation of African Society

‘Through the voices of Africa and the global South, Pambazuka Press and Pambazuka News disseminate analysis and debate on the struggle for freedom and justice.’

As Pambazuka News reaches the point of its 500th issue, it offers an opportunity to assess its relationship to the global Pan-African movement and the tasks for the next 500 issues. From the masthead of Pambazuka, we are reminded that Pambazuka is a community of over 2,500 authors in networks committed to the struggles for freedom and justice. These struggles have been sharpened in this period with the burning questions of the unity of the peoples of Africa at home and abroad. Unity is indispensable in order for the peoples of Africa to live in peace, improve their quality of life, restore the natural environment, repair the human spirit and the earth. If these tasks seem momentous, they are so because the peoples of Africa at home and abroad are caught at the bottom of an international political, economic, information and technological system, that places profits before humans. It is this social system that threatens billions of peoples and the African peoples are threatened in ways that were inconceivable in the past.

All of the rising economic forces in the world (Turkey, India, Brazil, China, Vietnam, Korea and Malaysia) see Africa as the place for the new forms of accumulation of wealth, while the present intermediaries in Africa abet the plunder and destruction of human life and the environment. These intermediaries have dominated the African Union and registered themselves as obstacles for liberation and emancipation. New leaders from the struggles for health, environmental justice and peace are emerging, as the Pan-Africanists of yesterday become the obstacles for the integration and unity of the peoples. From Cape Town to Cairo and from Freetown to Addis Ababa, leaders who once used language of liberation have exposed their complicity in the restructuring of African societies for greater penetration. Robert Mugabe is the poster child of this outmoded brand of Pan-African manipulation.

In this statement on the challenges of Pan-Africanism today, we want to highlight five questions: First, how do we reverse the process of the dehumanisation of Africans at home and in the Diaspora? Second, how do we bring about complete transformation of the African continent so that the people can have a better quality of life? Third, what kind of social movements currently linked to Fahamu Networks for Social Justice can be vehicles for enhancing the struggles for better quality of life? Fourth, how would African societies and economies be transformed so that there is the re-education of Africans and the re-humanisation of the African people? Fifth, how do we support the women from the grassroots and grassroots community leaders who are rising for the cultural liberation to become the forerunners for the emancipation process?


As I write this week, the world continues to be transfixed by the news of the spectacular rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for more than two months. The San Jose mine – which produced copper and gold – collapsed on 5 August, leaving 33 men unaccounted for. After 17 days of drilling, rescuers made contact with these miners deep under the earth. The fact that the men were alive captivated the world and there ensued an international effort to save the lives of these men. What the international corporate media failed to illuminate in the general jubilation associated with the rescue was the fact that the basic cause of the accident was the greed for profits of the San Esteban Mining Company, which has a long record of total disregard of elementary safety norms. We now know from the workers themselves that in the past they had repeatedly denounced the lack of ‘minimal’ safety measures in the mine, which had been closed in 2007 after the death of two miners. This same mine reopened in 2008, even though the company had not complied with all safety standards. IPS reported that there were more than 191,000 workplace accidents “in Chile in 2009, including 443 deaths, and 155 deaths in the first quarter of this year alone.”

The race to save the miners has thrust working men and women into a spotlight and reminded the world about mining conditions all over the world. There were many lessons for the Global Pan-African movement. These lessons reminded the world of the value of human life and the importance of safety conditions in mines and other places of work. In Africa, the international spotlight is particularly important in light of the long history of appalling mining conditions of mine workers under apartheid.

The perseverance of the workers has transfixed the globe with millions of working peoples all across the world celebrating this story of human struggle and the complex operation to rescue them. Just as how the media mobilised the rescue as Reality Television without the real educational lessons, so Hollywood from time to time focused on the conditions of diamond mining in Africa as they did in the film ‘Blood Diamond’. Media sensationalism, without a fundamental commitment to pushing for health and safety of workers abounds in the mainstream media, and it is in the world of the social networking community to which Pambazuka belongs where there is an insurgent movement to link the struggles of workers in Chile to workers in Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela – in short the unification of the working peoples movement all over Latin America. The workers in Chile and the workers all over Latin America have reminded us that it is only prolonged and protracted struggles that can change the conditions of work that disregard the importance of human beings.

It was not by accident that the Mine Workers Union in South Africa form one of the strongest bases for the global Pan-African Movement. This internationally coordinated rescue of the Chilean miners assist those who want to draw attention to the current conditions of child labour in diamond, gold and coltan mines all across Africa; from Zimbabwe to Sierra Leone and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Central African Republic. It is important to remember that the conditions of mineworkers in Africa continue to resemble conditions of semi-slavery because many of the African governments fail to enforce labour laws on safety and health in mines.

The global Pan-African movement from the period of enslavement has been at the forefront of exposing the consequences of brutality, inadequate workplace safety standards and dehumanisation of ordinary working persons. During the last depression (in 1931), George Padmore wrote on the ‘Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers’ as he campaigned for the independence of Africa, the unity of the African peoples and global solidarity. Today, in the midst of the deepening depression with threats of currency and trade wars, we must be explicit in restating the reality that the way of doing business in Africa from the time of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the present has been a model that denied the humanity of Africans. The Chilean workers have now used this incident to bring the spotlight on the mining conditions in Chile. Pambazuka and this writer are using this 500th issue to dramatise the reality that all over Africa, that the conditions of working people today resemble the conditions of enslavement.

During the actual period of enslavement, the slave masters and their supporters attempted to crush the spirit of Africans. Enslavement sought to break the ability of Africans to see themselves as humans. The slave masters went so far as to conceive of an illness called Drapetomania, which according to them, came from Africans who wanted to resist slavery. The only cure for this disease was to whip the Africans.

Capitalism and slavery laid the foundation for the dehumanisation of Africans, and Africans cannot be healthy under capitalism. During the transatlantic slave trade and the processes of enslaving the Africans, the goal of the slave masters was to try strip the Africans of the characteristics that made them human. Some of these include speech, free thought, freedom to worship the African gods and goddesses and the freedom to build families. Racism and racial hierarchy reinforced the dehumanisation and the dehumanisation was enshrined in the law in the USA to the point where, according to the US constitution, Africans were three fifths of a human.

This dehumanisation did not cease after the fights against slavery. In order to justify the exploitation of Africans in the USA, the Caribbean and Africa eugenic theories were created and rationalised with religious and pseudo scientific justifications for the dehumanisation of Africans. Jim Crow in the USA was reproduced with colonial plunder and destruction producing western heroes such as Leopold of the Congo and Cecil Rhodes of Britain. Europeans rationalised their dehumanisation of the Africans under the rubric of doing ‘God’s work’. Racism and the dehumanisation of the African flourished under colonialism and apartheid and one of the fundamental tasks of Pan-Africanism was to elaborate the dignity of African peoples as humans. This task was undertaken under the leadership of the oppressed but the fifty years of independence has not significantly reversed this dehumanisation.

Whether it is the statistics from the millions dying of HIV/AIDS or the millions dying of hunger or the millions living in an unhealthy urban environment, Africans are treated like robots, mechanical objects to assist other people to get wealthy. The majority of the educated Africans who called themselves ‘evolved’, ‘civilised’, or ‘assimilated’ are the vectors of alienation and intellectual subservience to imperial forces. This alienation robs them of their ability to grasp the full impact of their complicity in the dehumanisation of Africans. It is for this reason that they have no qualms dining with leaders who carry out genocide, human trafficking, and the violation of women. Pambazuka News in the past 500 issues emerged within a community of Pan-Africanists who wanted to sharpen the tools of information and communication to link up with those forces who want to break from the leaders who sat by and watched genocide unfold. Pambazuka has also been a platform to expose the neo-liberal falsehoods that manipulate the truth about the deepening impoverishment of Africans. Readers of the most recent issue of Pambazuka will have read the clear exposure of the double speak of the so-called Millennium Development Goals by Samir Amin. In this analysis Amin argues that a system of the type that we have now has no future and that by 2015:

‘neither the MDGs nor NEPAD will make it possible to attenuate the seriousness of the problems and curb the resulting processes of political and social involution. The legitimacy of governments has disappeared. Thus conditions are ripe for the emergence of other social hegemonies that make possible a revival of development conceived as it should be: the indissociable combination of social progress, democratic advancement, and the affirmation of national independence within a negotiated multipolar globalization. The possibility of these new social hegemonies is already visible on the horizon.’

It is the multi-polar globalisation to which contemporary Pan-Africanism belongs and Pambazuka and its network of networks has been one important part of the affirmation of the unity of the peoples of Africa.


It was precisely because of the glaring condition of the dehumanisation as manifest in all the statistics from the United Nations that the international community continues to come up with gimmicks to divert attention from the miseries of exploitation. At first there was the ‘development decades’ but with the people getting poorer after each decade, the imperial overlords came up with the so-called Millennium Development Goals. Pambazuka has published numerous critiques of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and has successfully delegitimised these institutions before the African public opinion. It must be repeated and restated that prosperity and peace for Africans are not realisable within the context of the present socio-economic system. This is not the place to repeat the statistics about health, education, housing, access to water, and the rights of women and girls. Without a change in the international system and a break from the dominant economic forces, Africa will be dominated and exploited well into the 22nd century. For this reason, the Pan-African movement must break with the ideas and practices of international capitalism and a social system that is threatening to incinerate Africa. Global warming, forest fires, droughts, and all of the indices of dangers to the earth are evident in Africa. For these reasons, Pan-Africanism of today involves the global struggle to preserve the earth.

The Pan-African struggle today is first and foremost to transform African society so that people have a better quality of life. What Africa needs is not structural adjustment or poverty reforms or development strategies but a complete overthrow of the system; and in the words of Frantz Fanon, change from top to bottom.

Pambazuka has been championing the rights of workers, trade unions, domestic workers, women, youths, people of same sex orientation, disabled people, and people persecuted by xenophobia. It is not by accident that xenophobia and negative ideas about ethnicity, religion, and regionalism have been the tools to entrap the people in supporting their own oppression. The supreme example of this has been in the struggle for liberation in South Africa, where the workers are instigated to turn against their brothers and sisters from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Somalia, Nigeria, Mozambique and other parts of Africa. The South African government that could deliver stadiums, roads, rail networks and security for the World Cup finds itself unable to deliver water, electricity, education, housing, healthcare, and sanitation for its people. For good measure, the international media is coming to support the rulers of South Africa by claiming that the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) and workers are demanding too much. This same media cannot point the searchlight on the various forms of theft and plunder.

In the next 500 issues of Pambazuka, the strengthening of popular power in Africa will educate the people to fight for their rights so that these gimmicks about ‘progress’ and development reports do not hide the crimes against the African people. If in South Africa xenophobia has been the weapon of choice, in Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, and Somalia, militarism has been the clearest way for the African (mis)leaders to hold back unity and transformation for many years. These misleaders and their international sponsors understand the full potential of a united Africa at peace. And this is why at the moment the fires of war are stoked in the Sudan, the Congo, Nigeria, and Somalia.


When in 1999 African women issued the Zanzibar Declaration for a Culture of Peace, it was a signal that the grassroots Pan-African women were taking the lead in the struggle for the peaceful transformation of Africa. It is not by accident that Pambazuka came out of the same intellectual and ideological infrastructure that produced the Zanzibar declaration. Pambazuka News in the past 500 issues has steadfastly linked itself with forces in Africa struggling for peace, women’s rights and African Unity. Women such as Muthoni Wanyeki have emerged from national struggles in societies such as Kenya to register their voice as central to international struggles for the rights of women. Pambazuka News and its publishing arm Pambazuka Press (Fahamu Books) has been at the forefront of promoting the African Charter on Women’s Rights. And this link with networks of organised groups across the Pan-African world is reaching not just activists in the women’s movement but cultural forces that want to breathe a new life into Africa for the elaboration of our humanity.

When the people at the grassroots fully embrace the new life for Africa, it reverberates more in the songs on the streets, the market places, in the villages and in sites of cultural activities. This is one of the most significant forces that can never be held back by African misleaders who masquerade as leaders. The elementary requirement for the strengthening of these social movements are already on the ground, whether in the Bunge la Wananchi in Kenya, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa, Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace (SWVP), or Enough is Enough in Nigeria, and the anti-colonial forces in the Western Sahara. In fact, it is the spirit of anti-colonial forces in the Western Sahara, Palestine, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico,Cayenne, Mayotte, Reunion and other parts of the outstanding colonial world that reminds Pan-Africanists that colonialism is still with us and that there can neither be African unity nor a better quality of life for all the people as long as colonialism and imperial domination and occupation continue.

Pambazuka now belongs to the world of Ushahidi, the world that is sharing information on how to rescue the people in moments of extreme challenges. This is a world that knows no borders and no racial differences. In this Pambazuka carries forward the internationalism of the Pan African traditions.


There are many ways the Pan African challenges of today calls for a new witness and a new testimony for transformation. In short, the community to which Pambazuka belongs is one that emerged from human rights struggles but is now firmly within the camp of those working for the complete dismantling of the current structure of education so that we can move from education for submission and exploitation to a path of Pan-African education for reconstruction and transformation.

The same colonial and slave masters who dehumanised African peoples understood that dehumanisation require an ideological component to supplement naked force. Hence, the dominant form of education in Africa today remains a weapon for the oppression of the African people both on the continent and in the diaspora. It is now clearer that a large percentage of the education in Africa was to produce easily manipulated and unhealthy human beings. More than 50 years ago, Frantz Fanon wrote on the question of the link between unhealthy minds and the destructive education system. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has been writing on the need for the ‘Decolonization of the Mind’. Popular Pan-Africanists such as Bob Marley called for the ‘emancipation from mental slavery.’ Progressive Pan-Africanists such as Julius Nyerere, Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Kwame Nkrumah, and Amilcar Cabral have all articulated the importance of education for self-reliance and the moral education that inspires a heritage of sharing and generosity. It is not by chance that Pambazuka was represented in Tanzania at the Nyerere festival in April this year, where different progressive forces came together to chart a way for strengthening a new process of education. It is this qualitative transformation of African education that is now being reflected upon by new organs across Africa and beyond, whether it is the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) or the African language scholars who are working for African cultural renaissance in the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN). Pambazuka is integrated into the current struggle for humanisation of all people.

It is becoming clearer everyday that a scientific training that is integrated with African philosophical and knowledge ideas, including ubuntu, must be anchored in African languages. One of the major tasks in the next 500 issues of Pambazuka is to stimulate and mobilise progressive forces to harness material resources for the strengthening of African languages. The billions that are being stolen must be exposed with a view towards strengthening of those institutions within Africa that are dedicated to re-education and re-humanisation. It was Amilcar Cabral who reminded us that that African knowledge and cultures are like seeds waiting for the right conditions for germination. We can see the buds beginning to sprout across Africa, and everyday we see that many of the present rulers of Africa cannot provide the conditions for decent education in Africa. If education is the transmission of values within the society to the next generation, we know that the current values of greed, individualism, corruption, and competition are not the values that can restore the health and humanity of the African people.

The most recent issue of Pambazuka News pointed to the fact that Africa’s education must prepare Africans to be active in sites of technological revolutions that are on the way. Martin Luther King Jr reminded us that the worst thing to do is to sleep through a revolution. Pambazuka reminded its readers of the biotech revolution. Africa remains the continent that is richest in genetic resources. Foreign bio-anthropologists and bio-prospectors are scurrying around African villages to identify African plants and other biological resources over which they seek to deny access by indigenous Africans through the intellectual property rights of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The challenges of African education system on this front are twofold. First, it has to train Africans in the most positive aspects of the African knowledge system to conserve and prudently harness Africa’s biological resources for the improvement of the quality of life of the people. Second, in the emerging era of cognitive technology where Western scientists are seeking to further commodify life and control the human brain and genes for profits, Africa must educate and train the new generation in the principles of ubuntu and Africa’s ontological worldview of life and humanity to stand up for our collective humanity.


We are reminded in the Pan-African struggles of numerous examples of those who espoused Pan-African ideas and yet exploited their brothers and sisters, whether in the USA, the Caribbean, South America, or Africa. We have examples of Pan-Africanists who are involved in the Africanisation of oppression, and wanted to reproduce hierarchies. In the decolonisation era, the class hierarchy was the most blatant in militarisation of the state and the society. Mobutism elaborated a form of rule that reproduced hierarchies and Pambazuka was born in the period of the struggles against Mobutism. We see these class hierarchies today when (mis)leaders like Robert Mugabe and Yoweri Museveni say that African unity requires a strong middle class. This class has simply been the instrument for plunder of Africa. In Liberia, former slaves went back and considered themselves better than other Africans while speaking of African independence and unity. Today in the Sudan and many parts of Africa, the hierarchy is expressed in class, religion and gender terms. Pambazuka will have to refine its tools to deal with the coming onslaught of those who want wars between ‘Arabs’ and Africans in Africa. Progressive Pan-Africanists oppose all forms of hierarchies and oppression. It is this intersection of the hierarchies that place the poor African women at the top of the ladder of oppression and dehumanisation.

So, the poor African women are in a multifaceted struggle for gender rights, sexual rights, human rights, for peace and for health. They are however at the forefront of grassroots forces creating a new definition of Pan-Africanism, emancipation, and liberation in the 21st century. These grassroots women daily tap into spiritual energies for renewal, and can be distinguished from the religions of division and the religions of greed and ostentation.

The real meaning of African emancipation is that we cannot liberate one section of the population and oppress another. Whether in Somalia where there are those who consider the Somali ‘bantu’ inferior or in other countries where social divisions are accentuated for easy rule, the Pan-African movement in the 21st century must dig deep to oppose all forms of oppression. The African women’s movements have been sharpening the redefinition of Pan-Africanism by breaking from the old male-centered ideas of Pan-African Unity. It is not by accident that their voices have been echoed in the past 500 issues of Pambazuka News and Fahamu Books.


Pambazuka News has been consistently winning awards as one of top websites changing the World of Internet and Politics.' I would like to extend my congratulations to the Pambazuka community as they celebrate this 500th issue. This organ has provided an impressive record of service and Pan-Africanists were brought face to face with the on-time capabilities of Pambazuka when the leadership jumped in to coordinate the celebration for Tajudeen Abdul Raheem when he joined the ancestors. It was in the outpouring of solidarity for Tajudeen and his family when the world was awakened to the depth and breadth of the new viral Pan-African movement that operates both within cyberspace and within spaces of real day to day struggles all across the globe. Open source ideas carry with it the creativity and energy of numerous constituencies who yearn for peace. For these reasons, Pambazuka has been uncompromising in its opposition to the plans of the United States for the establishment of the military command called AFRICOM.

Pambazuka must continue to break from the NGO orbit and continue to champion transformation of African societies. For Pambazuka to grow it must continue the struggle for the full electrification and unity of every nook and cranny of Africa. Youths all across Africa want health, housing, education and a good quality of life. These youths do not want to be manipulated on the basis of religion, regionalism, race and ethnicity. By its tradition, Pambazuka has lifted the quality of the practice of Pan-Africanism in the 21st century. If Pambazuka has been a catalyst in a community of activists, it is also true that the full potential is yet to be realised. When this potential starts to move from the budding stage to fully germinate, Africa and Africans will again register giant steps.