Friday, June 21, 2013

Get up stand up: Youths in the age of revolution

This week, as Pambazuka News celebrates the youth of Africa at the same moment that we remember the life and work of Walter Rodney, we seek the inspiration of Rodney and other freedom fighters as we stand up to be counted in the struggles for emancipation and transformation. Drawing from the lyrics of a prophet of emancipation Bob Marley, my message to the youths of Africa today is: stand up, get up! Stand up for your rights. Don’t give up the fight!

When the youths of Tahrir Square were chanting that "the people want to bring down the regime," something had already changed and the world was not anymore the same. It was the outset of a historic shift of human ideational system: ordinary people can make a huge change. This idea of the capabilities of ordinary people slipped through live video footage, and broke in the minds of people all over the world. One writer who had understood the historic importance of revolutionary moments stated that the Egyptian Revolution would change the world. And, two years on, we are still in the embryonic stages of this revolutionary process.

This African Awakening from North Africa, which had started from Tunisia, has inspired other insurrections – and most recently the youths of Turkey have impeded all of the planning of Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the conservative elements within the imperial centers. Brazilian Youths are also registering their opposition to neo-liberalism as the organized and unorganized forces take to the streets to stand up for social justice. Youths from all corners of the planet are standing up for their rights and defying the planners who want to turn them into robotic and mindless consumers. In this process, the youths are divided between the children of the looters and the children of the sufferers. This divide on social lines is visible in the malls and public spaces where the children of the rich parade their consumerism. While the poor yearn for proper public transportation, the children of the rich drive by in their flashy cars. This crude consumerism of the 1 per cent of the youth can be distinguished from the majority of youths who are struggling for a decent life. The more the youths stand up, the more effective the efforts to disarm elements who want to divide, confuse and demobilize agents of transformation.

We are in a revolutionary moment, and as in every revolutionary moment, the whip of counter-revolution rears its head. But it is the self-organization and self-mobilization of the youths that have so far confounded the forward planners and militarists who want to derail the people-centered objectives of the moment. In Libya, the counter-revolutionary forces intervened and established a base for future intervention against the youths in Egypt, when the revolution matures. These plans which include arming youths to kill other youths in places such as Nigeria, Somalia and the Congo are being unmasked as the complicity of the imperial forces in terrorism is being exposed and there are now deep divisions between all the centers of imperial power.


As the real energy of Africa emerges out of the ashes of the current capitalist depression, the financial planners for international predators sharpen the planning to capture the minds of the youths. These planners seek to politicize regionalism, religion, ethnic differences, sexual differences and other contradictions among the people. The imperialist ideology of individualism and greed is today compounded by four other ideological deformities: (a) male chauvinism, (b) religious intolerance, (c) ethnic hatred and (d) fetishism, especially commodity fetishism. These deformities corrupt some of the youth and compound the physical and mental illnesses in our societies. Standing up for complete emancipation requires efforts to break loose from these social deformities. We cannot separate the discussion of these illnesses from the question of imperialism. This is a delicate issue – for while it is not possible to blame all illnesses in Africa on imperialism, it is also necessary to bring to the attention of the youths the reality of imperialist plunder and destruction. The term imperialism is no longer in use since it is now more fashionable to refer to ‘international partners’ and ‘donors’. However, the terms that we use must not disarm us and prevent us from teaching the youths.

As we celebrate the youths, there will be immediate recognition of the sacrifices of the youths of Soweto who set in motion the mass democratic struggles against apartheid. The name Hector Peterson is now remembered by many across the globe to commemorate the bravery of the 13-year-old who had joined with others to oppose the apartheid imposition of the Afrikaans language and culture. These youths wanted total emancipation and their sacrifices from June 16, 1976 paved the way for the end of apartheid. Today, the vanguardists of South Africa seek to control the memory of the youths because they fear the revolutionary spirit of the youths. Violators of women and corrupt leaders emerge from the ranks of those who seek to hijack the revolutionary traditions of the youth as they enrich themselves. The current leaders of South Africa who have been willing and able to shoot down mine workers do not want the majority of the youths in Africa to remember the inspiration of the youths of Soweto 1976. These youths of South Africa inspired a generation of young people right up to the youths of Tahrir square.

At revolutionary moments – such as this one – the old ideas, old forces, and old modus operandi can no longer hold together all the centers of domination and oppression. At such moments, the planning for divisiveness and confusion comes up against a greater thrust, that of youths in other parts of the world who come forward to expose imperial planning for surveillance and mind control.

The recent revelations by Edward Snowden, the former CIA information technology employee and contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), has exposed the massive operations of the US military and intelligence against all peoples of the world. Snowden revealed the fact that the US government has gathered, on a permanent basis, data from everyone: “You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with.”

The reality was that these capabilities were not just used inside the United States. With the information it assembled, the US government can readily construct a detailed social and political profile of individuals near and far. According to the “Boundless Informant” data-mining tool, some 97 billion pieces of intelligence were gathered worldwide from one NSA spying program in March 2013 alone. In addition to the 3 billion pieces of intelligence from within the US, there were 14 billion from Iran, 13.5 billion from Pakistan, 12.7 billion from Jordan, 7.6 billion from Egypt, 6.3 billion from India, and 3 billion from Europe. It is now also known that “Kenya is the most watched African country on the US spy network.”

This information is coming one year after an American with links to the military and intelligence forces, under the guise of a humanitarian agency, produced the YouTube video Kony 2012. This pseudo-cum-militaristic humanitarianism gives a clear indication of the level of sophistication and subtlety behind the planning against the people that want to mobilize for genuine transformation of their society, especially the youths. Having failed to provide direct military assistance to the beleaguered Yoweri Museveni government through the mobilization of youth internationally, the US Senate this week authorized the expenditure of US $90m to provide logistical support to the national military forces of Uganda to mitigate or eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The US militarists had to find another way to provide support for the Museveni government at a moment when the military command structure is torn asunder because some Generals are opposed to the creation of a monarchy in Uganda. Every effort to confuse and dominate the new generation comes up against new forces of strength. In eastern Africa, the forces of division are exposed as people yearn for peace and democratic participation.

After the youths of the Occupy Wall Street registered their opposition to the 1 percent and created the clarity that society must organize for the 99 percent, the purveyors of neo-liberal capitalism continue to use the corporate media as a weapon against the minds of the young. Added to the mainstream media are those mindless violent video games produced by the military-information-entertainment complex, which seem to distract and demobilize the minds of young people away from reality into a virtual world of militarism where killing and violence are supposed to be normal.

Yet, as the gaming industry rolls out new products (as they did last week), the youths who are in the majority in Africa, Asia and Latin America are searching for new forms of intervention to break the monopoly of the media. As they come out with new ideas, we must continue to urge that the youths revert to Bob Marley and all of the prophets of liberation to seek inspiration and to grow from one level of consciousness to the next.

Young people are being inspired by the idea of emancipation from mental slavery. The idea of fundamental change and the unification of the working class for a better society are still percolating all over Africa (and the world), countering and challenging hegemonic ideas. These were the ideas that Africa’s freedom fighters such as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, and Walter Rodney stood for.


Ideas are not material objects that are vulnerable to physical destruction. Despite efforts by western hegemons and their collaborators to discredit the revolutionary Pan African ideas, these ideas – emancipation, dignity, unity, and rights for ordinary people – survived and are being carried on by the youths who are innovating new ways to “stand up, get up, don’t give up the fight,” in the defense of these ideas until they become reality.

Walter Rodney had written extensively about colonialism, war and revolution. His book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, continues to inspire millions all around the world. Walter Rodney, the Pan African historian, was assassinated on June 13, 1980. Those who assassinated him physically are now seeking to assassinate him intellectually. Even those who write books about Rodney and quote from him seek his ideas for academic positions and seek to divorce the work of Walter Rodney from active revolutionary change. This has been the case in the home of Walter Rodney, Guyana, where the ethnic and racial chauvinists have now sought to drive a wedge between youths of African and Indian descent. Even within the Global Pan African movement there are those who want to drive a wedge between youths of Tunisia and youths of Mali (between Arabs and Africans). These elements promote Pan Africanism on the basis of politics of exclusion. Walter Rodney had opposed racial chauvinists and he opposed those Pan Africanists who wanted to divide Africa using the Sahara or religious differences to support imperial divisions. Rodney had clarified the importance of the youth for the African Revolution. In writing about C.L.R James, Rodney had stated that “Most youth in Africa will have heard the axiom that each generation rewrites its own history. It does so not merely for giving different answers to the same questions but by posing entirely different questions based on the stage of development that a particular society has reached. Certain scholars will be among the first to raise the new and meaningful issues because of their sensitivity and connection with the most dynamic group in society. Thus when African peoples were mounting the struggle for political independence and as they continued that struggle through military means in Southern Africa and political economic means elsewhere, they automatically became interested in recalling previous resistance.”

Rodney would be dismayed today that many youths in Africa have not heard of Hector Peterson and the hundreds of thousands of youths who fought colonialism and apartheid. Silencing the history of the true heroes and heroines of the freedom struggle falls within the same category as the assassination of the freedom fighters of Africa. The assassination of Walter Rodney (like that of other Pan Africanists like Patrice Lumumba) as well as the overthrow of Pan African visionaries like Kwame Nkrumah, was meant to blunt the spirit of freedom, but certain ideas are indestructible.

We urge African youths to call on all previous resistance as they seek to develop a common ground to enrich the revolutionary processes that are now erupting.

Patrice Lumumba had understood the need for African liberation. He had written, “United as the children of one family, we shall defend the honor and freedom of Africa.” These were the words of a Pan Africanist who also understood the centrality of the Congo to the African Revolution. Lumumba was silenced. But his words echo on and are reinforced in the mission for the African Revolution – from generation to generation.

It was Frantz Fanon who argued that “every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Fanon, a medical doctor, internationalist and freedom fighter from the Caribbean island of Martinique was calling on the generation of the period of anti-colonialism to fulfill its mission in bringing an end to overt colonial domination. The generation of youths after 1945 took up the task of confronting colonial rule. From every part of the continent there were organized and spontaneous acts of opposition to colonial racism, exploitation and plunder.

One of the tasks of the freedom movement after 1945 was to liberate all Africans from colonial rule. This task is still incomplete (Western Sahara, Mayotte, Cayenne, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Martinique and over 50 other colonies) and we have to remind ourselves that as long as one part of the world remains under colonial rule, others parts of the world will be threatened by the same colonial forces. It can now be said that despite the sacrifices of the youth in Africa manifest in the major struggles to eradicate colonialism and apartheid, the tasks of ending violation and exploitation is still incomplete. Youth and their role in previous revolutionary struggles in Africa must be studied to inspire those who were too young to be part of the great struggle to defeat apartheid.


What are the new questions for the 21st century? There are many contemporary questions regarding emancipation, transformation, unity, and rights for which today’s youths have to seek answers, taking inspirations from the struggles of previous generations. Numerous imperial organizations sponsored by the friends and enemies of Africa and enemies of the youth, under the guise of the so called international non-governmental organizations, seek to cream off the brightest of the youths of Africa and employ them as consultants to support the data mining that is going on at the imperial centers. Some of these international NGOs which operate under the pretext of providing education, health, and social welfare services, are seeking to collect all forms of intelligence information. And as they failed in Egypt, so imperialism has redoubled its efforts to invest in divisive formations in all parts of the world. African youths must become more conscious of these ploys and become even more active in sites where there are efforts to unearth the activities of looters who use tax havens and offshore companies/accounts to rob the society of money that could be used for reconstruction, health, education, and environmental repair.

Wangari Maathai left a message for the youths. This message is that the youths must replenish the earth and must save the planet. This message joins with the message and ideas of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and Asia. These peoples are pointing to the youths of the world the folly of the ideas of dominion over nature. We have seen that nature will take its revenge. Global warming is real and there must be system change in order to reverse global warming. Instinctively, people everywhere are grasping this basic fact. The more people grasp these facts, the more imperialism redoubles efforts to sabotage global initiatives from the environmental justice forces.

The youths must demand that they are not mobilized for war. The international nonprofit and non-governmental organization learnt in Latin America that the more there are international instruments to protect the rights of the youth, the more it is necessary to create organizations that will divert the energies of the youth away from direct action to defend their interests. This became very clear at the youth conference prior to the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) in Durban.

It was the clarity of this moment of reparative justice and the global call for reparations that pressured some so called leaders in Africa to come up with NEPAD. Ten years after NEPAD and the New Africa Initiative, the people are now returning to the ideas that came out of Durban 2001. Our brothers and sisters from Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and other parts of the Global African Family are reminding us that there can be no business as usual until there are clear apologies for slavery.

Only recently the British government for the first time acknowledged that crimes were committed in Kenya by British imperial forces. The same relentless campaign that had been carried out by the surviving members of the Land and Freedom Army (of Kenya) must be carried out by the Global Movement for Reparations for the slave trade and slavery.

The issue of reparations is urgent in identifying those who carried out crimes. This includes the identification of the social forces in Africa that facilitated these crimes of enslavement. Africa never recovered from the criminal destruction that had been unleashed during the warren to procure enslaved beings. It was this destruction that paved the way for the partitioning of Africa. The fact that a society such as Belgium murdered over ten million Africans after the partitioning of Africa should be general knowledge.

Today, there are many discussions about the potential of the African youth. We agree that there is great potential for revolutionary change. The world is going through a major technological revolution and the youths can arm themselves with knowledge of previous revolutionary moments to arm themselves with the ideas and forms of political organization that can make a decisive difference in this period. Kenyan youths have shown remarkable creativity with social media and have pioneered new products such as M-Pesa and Ushaidi. Youths in that society are holding the line against those who want to manipulate ethnic differences so that youths kill each other. It is in Nigeria where the backward elements have mobilized disaffected youths in the so-called Boko Haram to carry out mindless violence. Other youths in that large and populous country seek new ways of mobilizing and are holding the line against absolute barbarism of the corrupt elements

It is important to locate peace, reparations, and reconstruction as a process that breaks old patriarchal ideas and attitudes. The reformulation of peace and the harnessing of the creative energies of the youth is emerging in a situation where it is becoming clear that peace cannot be an imported commodity based on the landing of troops from international peacekeepers. The experience of the role of the United Nations from the assassination of Patrice Lumumba down to the recent intervention in Libya demonstrated the reality that the concept of peace that is widely circulated (and associated with the US Africa Command) does not value Africans or the self-determination of African societies. Most of the peace agreements that have been made in Africa have been platforms for more war and violence. It is this violent history of war as peace that is forging the conceptual break with realist principles of politics and the view that might is right.

An alternative vision of peace that brings back the Pan African principle that, “the African is responsible for the wellbeing of his brother and sister and that every African should carry this responsibility” should be enshrined in the streets and villages all over Africa. The Constitutive Act of the Union seeks to move from the idea of “noninterference in the internal affairs of states” to one that spells out the necessity to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity and unconstitutional military interventions. This change that was manifest in the call for non-recognition of governments that came to power by military coups (after 1999) was a significant step in the demilitarization of Africa. African women from the grassroots who have been campaigning for peace have been the strongest and most resilient forces championing new concepts of politics, citizenship and peace. The implicit ideal that is now on the agenda is the philosophy that defends human life and defends the quality of the lives of the workers and ordinary people.

As the African youths move to defend this philosophy and the ideas that Pan Africanists such as Walter Rodney stood for, it is my wish that they draw on the inspirations and traditions of the previous generations. African Youths will move from strength to strength, and as they move they will be singing the words of Bob Marley. Get up stand up, stand up for your rights/ don’t give up the fight.

And May Walter Rodney and his spirit live on among the revolutionary youths of Africa.