Monday, January 31, 2011

Africa and Vietnam in a Changed World Economy: Building Relations for the Transformation in the 21st Century*


*This was the lecture I delivered at the 3rd Annual Stakeholders' Forum of the Nigeria-Vietnam Chamber of Commerce in Lagos, Nigeria. January 6, 2011.

Global politics, economy, and cultures have been undergoing profound changes that demand a new epistemological and ontological approach to the relations among peoples and between human beings and planet earth. In the emerging global order, there is an unprecedented shift in the locus and configuration of economic power from Western Europe and the Atlantic powers that have dominated the international political system since the 18th century. Over the past decade, we have seen the rise to prominence of societies in Asia and Latin America, where countries labeled as emerging economies, including Brazil, Russia, India, and China are fast changing the power configuration of the international system. Besides these countries, there are other societies that have made tremendous strides in confronting the imperial tendencies of Western powers and are in the process of transforming their societies. One of such countries is Vietnam.

The peoples of Vietnam have embarked on an impressive program of reconstruction and transformation and the forecasters of the changed international system have remarked that by 2025, Vietnam will be among the top twenty economies in the World. According to a forecast of bodies as diverse as the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and investment firms such as Goldman-Sachs, Vietnamese economy will become the 17th largest in the world with a nominal GDP of $ 436 billion and nominal GDP per capita of $ 4,357 by 2025. These same forecasters envisage China to become the largest economy by 2025, when Nigeria will be the 19th largest economy.

Vietnam, like Brazil, Russia, India and China (called BRIC economies), has understood the significance of Africa in the changing international political economy, and has sought to build relations with the continent in order to be able to access the rich and rare earth elements that are abundant in Africa. One of the many challenges will be whether the access to Africa’s natural resources and energy resources and energy resources will follow the path of plunder and brutality that emerged from Western colonial domination. Like Africa, Vietnam has been through periods of brutal imperial domination and wars, and therefore shares the aspirations of moving to new forms of relations. The Vietnamese aspiration for alternative social relationships within the context of socialist transformation has been formalized in Vietnam by the constitution that stressed the importance of “Independence, Freedom, and Happiness.” Under the political leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party of Vietnam, it was recognized that independence, freedom and happiness had to be defended so that the defense of the sovereignty of Vietnam is now recognized as one of the major epic struggles of the 20th century. Vietnam came out of this history of struggle to transform its society in the late 20th century. The thesis of this paper is that transformation, not depoliticized development, should be the goal of Vietnam-Africa relations in the 21st century.

What lessons can Africa learn from the Vietnamese experience and what can Vietnam learn from Africa, especially since the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted from Asia to Africa after 1975? How can Vietnam and Africa take advantage of the changing international system to deepen their own transformation; and what are the ideological and political changes required to advance people’s rights and freedom beyond the freedom of capital? The three changes in the international system that we will focus on in this paper are: 1) the rapid decline of unilateralism with the debasement of the Breton Woods Institutions and the imminent end of the US dollar as the world reserve currency, 2) the end of US and Western military/cultural hegemony, and 3) the opportunities for energy transformation orchestrated by the other changes in the international system. Read More

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tunisia’s Revolution: Self-organisation for Self-emancipation

The full explosion of the Tunisian revolutionary process is now taking root across Africa, far beyond the town of Sidi Bouzid, from where Mohammed Bouazizi had sent a message to youths all across the world that they should stand up against oppression. The overthrow and removal of the dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011 was an important stage in this revolution. When this dictator (who was a top ally of the USA and France) fled to Saudi Arabia, dictators and corrupt party leaders all over the world trembled as the popular power in the streets found support in all parts of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe. This revolution in Tunisia is a typical example of the self-mobilisation of ordinary people for their own emancipation, independent of a vanguard party or self-proclaimed revolutionaries. The iteration of the Tunisian revolution in other parts of Africa and the Middle East is fast becoming a pattern that speaks volume about the nature of 21st century revolutions.

At the time of writing this piece, the revolution is going through the third stage where the popular forces are seeking a drastic change in the politics of the society and demanding new order in Tunisia based on freedom, democracy and social justice. In short, the people were calling for a form of popular democracy that moves beyond alienation, and beyond the separation of politics and economics. The first stage of the revolution started with the self-immolation and self-sacrifice of Mohammed Bouazizi in the region of Sidi Bouzid. The unemployed graduate Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police brutality after they harassed and stopped him from selling fruits and vegetables, which was his only means of a livelihood. The second stage involved the mass organisation and the deployment of new networks for revolution among the youth and the working people, leading to the popular overthrow of the dictator. The third stage involved the merger of the caravans of liberation into Tunis, the capital with the break in the ranks of the forces of coercion. It was at this stage that the true revolutionary character of the self-organisation started to emerge. At this third stage, the prolonged popular protest of the organised poor emerged, with women and youth taking the lead in calling for the arrest of the dictator and for a new government of the people. It is at this delicate stage of this revolution that it is most necessary for revolutionaries all over the world to stand together with the Tunisians, and to draw the positive lessons that can spread the revolution like a fire to burn off the corruption and destruction of capitalism and neoliberalism.

The capitalist classes have been wounded in Tunisia and they want to do all within their power to contain this new wave of revolution. However, their ability to undermine this revolution will depend on the vigilance and support of revolutionaries internationally. We must remember that revolutions are made by ordinary people and that there are millions who want a new form of existence where they can live like decent human beings. In another era of capitalist depression and war, it was C.L.R. James who commented that, ‘That is the way a revolution often comes, like a thief in the night, and those who have prepared for it and are waiting for it do not see it, and often only realise that their chance has come when it has passed.’

James was referring to the Chinese masses who had led the way in the revolutionary process in China. The real point of Tunisia, as in China, is that in every revolutionary situation it is the real action of human beings taking to the streets, defying the police and fighting with courage and imagination that changes society. Revolutionaries should grasp the epoch-making process that is now underway in the world. How this epoch-making process will mature across Africa, Europe and Asia will depend on the politics and organisations that shape the movement in the coming weeks and months. Revolutionaries must learn the positive lessons: the new pattern of 21st century revolution, the new forces of revolution and the new tools of revolutionary struggles that are being fashioned by those who are making sacrifices for a new mode of social existence. Read more

Thursday, January 20, 2011

50 Years after Lumumba: The Burden of History and Iterations of Assassinations in Africa

In the experiences of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and of Africa, the iterations of assassinations were meant to kill the genuine self-determination of the African peoples. Of these crimes, the murder and cover up of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba continues to reverberate across Africa, crying out for a break from the recursive patterns of genocidal politics and economics. Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo. The DRC won its independence in June 1960, but the wishes of the Belgian colonialists were that the conditions after independence should not be different from that of the colonial era. In the Congo, Belgium – a small divided society in Europe – had worked to get a seat at the table of imperial overlords. In the eyes of the Belgians, the crime of Patrice Lumumba was that he refuted the speech of the King of Belgium at the independence celebration in June 1960. Lumumba refused to accept the representation of the Belgian mission as one of civilising and modernising the Congolese peoples. Lumumba was removed from office less than two months after independence. He was placed under house arrest; he escaped but recaptured, beaten, tortured and eventually eliminated. This pattern of murder, torture and destruction continues today, 50 years after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

From the time of the assassination of Lumumba, almost every African leader who sought to chart a course for genuine independence was assassinated, whether it was Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral, Herbert Chitepo, Samora Machel, Thomas Sankara, Felix Moumie, Chris Hani or Steve Biko. Violence against leaders was accompanied by the intimidation and assassination of journalists, students, opposition leaders and any social force that challenged oppression of Africans and the plunder of their resources. This nested loop of genocidal thinking, genocidal economics and genocidal politics has generated 11 wars in the Congo since 1960, and all of these wars have had implications for almost all the regions of Africa in relation to genocide, militarism, dictatorship, economic plunder and patriarchal models of liberation. Read More

Bill Fletcher Jr. Reviews "Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics"


Horace Campbell, Barack Obama and Twenty-First Century Politics: A revolutionary moment in the USA (New York: Pluto Press, 2010), 319 pps. $29 paperback, $95 hardback.

Horace Campbell has produced a rigorous, thought-provoking look at the political moment in which we find ourselves. Barack Obama and Twenty-first Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA presents challenges to a reviewer because it is three books in one. This is not to be taken literally. But content-wise, there are three very distinct components to this book such that each could have been a book in its own right. One ‘book’ deals with how Campbell understands the moment; the second ‘book’ concerns the nature of the Obama campaign; and the third ‘book’ is a post-election analysis.... Read More

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gbagbo and the Ivorian Test: Moving beyond Anti-imperialist Rhetoric

Our task is to lay out some of the democratic questions in the current struggles in the Cote d'Ivoire. The post-election stalemate in Côte d’Ivoire once again sharpens the demand by African peoples for democratic African societies devoid of leaders who have turned tools of anti-imperialism into tools for the oppression of their own people. From Zimbabwe to Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ivory Coast, the peoples of Africa have grown impatient with leaders who were anti-imperialist heroes but once they entrenched themselves in power, they did not only become allies of the imperialists they had fought against, they become obstacles to the aspirations of their peoples, who yearn for freedom of movement, freedom of religious expression, gender equality, citizenship, peace, and human dignity. We advocate for a paradigm in which the aspirations and will of the people supersede the selfish interests of leaders and their imperialist accomplices; a paradigm in which neither the likes of Laurent Gbagbo nor Alassane Outtara would have the free rein to betray the mandate and aspirations of the people. This paradigm cannot be guaranteed by the manipulation of anti-imperialist sentiment against the democratic aspirations of citizens as we are currently witnessing in Cote d’Ivoire.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sudan Referendum: A Real Turning Point for the Peoples of Africa

In my discussion with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! I asserted that the referendum issue in the Sudan is a real turning point for the peoples of Africa because independence without the rights of the people is not sufficient.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Democracy beyond Elections in Africa: The Ivorian Test

In my most recent debate on Democracy Now! I maintained that the struggle in Ivory Coast is a test to democracy beyond the rituals of voting and elections in Africa

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Which way Sudan? A Pan African Reflection

As the people of South Sudan prepare for the January 9 referendum to decide if they want a separate state, the country stands at the crossroads of the Africa of wars, conquest and enslavement and a future of peace and reconstruction. At the November 2010 meeting of the Inter Government Authority on Development (IGAD), an agreement was reached between North and South Sudan to establish a ‘soft border’ between the two areas ahead of the referendum. We have to interrogate if this concept of a ‘soft border’ is another recipe for war in Africa.
Complex historical legacies – slavery, Arabization and Islamization – weigh heavily on all Sudanese, especially the Southerners. The wealth of Sudan attracted invaders into a region and for centuries precipitated resource wars. People from Arabia were also attracted to this region and participated in the enslavement of Africans. These legacies call for a historical rendering to cleanse former slave dealers from arrogant attitudes of perceived superiority, beyond the referendum.... More