African lives – a contested terrain
Part of the problem facing Africa is that the agency to articulate the trials and tribulations of Africans has for long been usurped by foreigners. As a principle, everyone should get involved in debates on Africa, of course. However, rather than seek to understand Africa, these foreigners prefer to legislate for Africans how their societies should be, mostly based on how their own home countries are politically organised. Until Africans, who are primarily faced with the consequences of the thinking around governance, take control and relegate foreigners to subordinate roles, the clarity we seek to confront our challenges will continue to elude us.
For starters, our struggles are diametrically opposed to theirs. Our struggle of liberation for dignity is three-fold. One, to build a conscientious critical mass that will unshackle our societies from oppression – in mindset and practice, ideas and institutions. Two, to create systems where our leaders are consistently selected from that critical mass. Third, to ensure that our conscientious security forces – the army, police and intelligence services – and other critical institutions understand the compelling need to preserve the system should, for any reason, a defect in the system overwhelm the critical mass, leading to the emergence of a leader from outside its confines. And this understanding of the need to safeguard the system must be extended to all power brokers in society: religious leaders, the media, civil society and business leaders. This is how strong societies are built and shielded from preys.
Consider this. The reason divisions and social strife in America – racial and ideological – do not degenerate into social uprisings and systematic violence is because no external force is powerful enough to infiltrate and exploit those differences (in terms of ideas and practice). Moreover, as oppressive as these divisions have historically been, the American system has built the capability to preserve itself in the unlikely event that a leader from outside the critical mass generally and, particularly, the governing elite– mainly the products of Harvard, Yale, and other Ivy League Universities, although one could attend these schools and turn out rogue and disruptive – emerges and threatens to cause damage, symbolic or substantive, to the system in terms of domestic stability and global influence. The same is true for China, Cuba, France, Britain. In other words, all these strong systems have become strong as a result of that organization capacity around a critical mass.
For Africa, the persistent intrusion of foreigners aims to prevent the emergence of the consensus needed to build resilient systems similar to those in their home countries. This struggle naturally places us on the path of confrontation with those intrusive foreign voices – the Nic Cheesemans, Jeffrey Smiths, and their ilk – who are invested in preventing the emergence of such a critical mass in the guise of speaking for us. In so doing, they undermine our struggle to nurture the critical mass and to build institutions around it. We understand this. When we write, we don’t aim to convince them to agree with our perspectives because we understand that our perspectives, interests and motivations are diametrically opposed. Crucially, at the bottom of this struggle is a question of survival: theirs of livelihoods; ours existential.
We persevere because history is not on their side: it has never been on the side of oppressors, however long the oppression. They succeed because we are yet to create this critical mass: mainly because our education systems are rigged in their favor to impose their perspectives and preserve their (politico-economic) interests and psychological domination. As a result, they may appeal to the ignorance of some of our people by feigning to be something other than the continuation of the history of usurpation: a physical, socio-political, cultural, economic and mental occupation and violence that has, paradoxically, had victims siding with their oppressors. It’s paradoxical but understandable as well because mental violence invariably creates in its victims a sort of Stockholm syndrome. However, death is the only permanent condition and we are alive.
The usurping of our people’s agency will come to an end. In struggle, there are those who go to the frontline, those who remain behind and those who cross over. But eventually, we will marshal the critical mass we need to defeat all those who attempt to impose their society’s value systems upon us. We are not naïve about the challenge before us. We know we may not be there to see the change that we seek. However, it would be a betrayal of future generations if we shirk the responsibility that history has bequeathed and a duty upon us to do for them: to get started so that they may have something to build on so that they may stand tall and proud of their ancestors. Otherwise, we risk them referring to us as wasted generations.
Pan African Review is a platform that challenges assumptions about Africa and a space for introspective perspectives on matters of concern to Africans.