It is a common concern in western media and academia to demand that Africans (especially of activists, public intellectuals and politicians) take a stand and identify as Left-leaning in all political-economic discourses. It does not really matter whether the African understands the meaning of these identity differences. And because left wing politics identifies as progressive, open and diverse (that is anti-racism, anti-imperialism, open to immigration, pro-refugees, etcetera, especially in their rhetoric), Left-leaning is positioned as consistent with the interests of the colonised world. Thus, it goes without saying that Africans interacting in (global) spaces of popular-public engagement—not just media and academia, but also in social media spaces—ought to identify exclusively as friends of the western Left.
On the other hand, Right identity is presented as the exact diametric opposite of whatever the Left stands for. It thus becomes baffling to a western mind that an African, Indian or Latin American is comfortable with Donald Trump, Georgia Meloni, Marline Le Pen, Jordan Peterson or any other popularly recognised Right wing individual. Also baffling to the European mind is when the subalterns—in all their geographies—choose not to care about the identity politics of any western actor seeking to voice their concerns. There is a tacit, sometimes overt, demand that Africans care about who is speaking their language, especially as regards decolonisation, exploitation, immigration and integration. But does this really hold any water? What is indisputable is that all these little details are diversionary and intended to distract the oppressed from the real conditions of their oppression. Whatever their cultural or political identity—Left or Right, Conservative or Progressive, Far-Right or Far-Left—political actors in the western world see Africa as a hunting ground. It is all prey, over which they have the absolute right to extract on end.
In a recent essay on “woke” culture, the stuff of the Left, allegedly progressive behaviour, Slovenian theorist, Slavoj Zizek, using the example of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, demonstrates the vagueness, and bogusness (his word) of claiming to be Right or Left leaning while actually fighting for the same thing. Class struggle in western society has been replaced by culture wars. But it is the same old politics of exploiting the downtrodden. Calling this a paradox, Zizek sets off with a critique of the culture of “wokeness.” He writes:
“Western political correctness (“wokeness”) has displaced class struggle, producing a liberal elite that claims to protect threatened racial and sexual minorities in order to divert attention from its members’ own economic and political power. At the same time, this lie allows alt-right populists to present themselves as defenders of “real” people against corporate and “deep state” elites, even though they, too, occupy positions at the commanding heights of economic and political power. Ultimately, both sides are fighting over the spoils of a system in which they are wholly complicit.”
Zizek’s words are explicit and need no explanation. But I will use Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad’s understanding of western politics (especially his takes on Donald Trump and others), to demonstrate the significance of Zizek’s words, and the uselessness that emerges from being involved in western identity politics or cultural wars. The colonised African activist cannot allow to be conscripted into this hypocrisy.
If you would describe Donald Trump as Right wing—which means not nice for Africans whose homes he called shithole countries—it was Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad, who in a series of interviews, summarised the difficulty, and ambivalence in trying to establish the difference between Democrats and Republicans, Right and Left wing, Conservatives and Progressives among western political systems and whether this means anything for the Africans or Arabs under western colonial siege. In an interview with the American media outlet, NBC, in 2017, Asad eloquently tells an insistent interviewer that, from their vantage point as Syrians—meaning all of us the wretched of the earth—there is no difference between Barack Obama and Donald Trump: “Do you welcome the end of president Obama’s term of office?” the interviewer asks after reminding Asad that Obama pursued a foreign policy determined to kick him out of office. “It means nothing for us. If you change administration and not change politics, it means nothing,” Asad responded. He went on to explain that whether it was Bush, Obama, Clinton or Donald Trump, American politics tended to remain the same towards not just their perceived enemies, but also their targeted prey, which is the entire non-western world. (Nowadays, their targeted prey also includes western Europe, too).
Returning to this same question in 2019—which he was asked plenty of times—after witnessing Trump’s presidency, Asad transmitted what was common knowledge to peoples of the colonised world. Stating that Trump was the best American president, Asad said (as Transcribed in Politico):
“I tell you, he’s the best American president. Why? Not because his policies are good, but because he’s the most transparent president. All American presidents commit crimes and end up taking the Nobel Prize and appear as defenders of human rights and the ‘unique’ and ‘brilliant’ American or Western principles. But all they are is a group of criminals who only represent the interests of the American lobbies of large corporations in weapons, oil, and others. [Trump] speaks with transparency to say, ‘We want the oil,’ What do we want more than a transparent foe?”
In this succinct expose, Asad so vividly captures the ways in which the rest of the world thinks about western policies across the world. First, their policies remain the same through successive regimes, irrespective of the political identity of whoever is in office. Be it over oil, African control, structural adjustment, name it, as long the corporations want it, it is standard operating foreign policy. This point is actually a slap in the face of our so-called left-leaning liberals, and progressives—and their wannabe associates among the colonised. The absence of differences in western foreign policies, irrespective of regime, makes it difficult for the colonised to distinguish between Left and Right. Slavoj Zizek, in the article cited earlier, actually agrees with Asad on this one. He writes, “Neither side, [Left of Right] really stands up for the exploited or has any interest in working-class solidarity. The implication is not that “left” and “right” are outdated notions – as one often hears – but rather that culture wars have displaced class struggle as the engine of politics.” All of them have their eyes on the prize, protecting the exploiters against the exploited, but have to do it with a panache that seamlessly distracts but also conscripts the exploited in own exploitation. And worse, and this is the point Asad makes more succinctly, the deceptiveness, hypocrisy and double standards of the so-called Left liberals where they talk a good game, deftly hide their interests, while executing and extending the same terrible policies that the Right could have set in motion. So, in this case, Donald Trump becomes only a bad public relations officer, whom Asad would describe as transparent —“a more transparent foe.”
Giorgia Meloni vs Samba Sylla and Pigeaud
There is a very viral video in which recently elected Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni lashes out against France for its continued pillage of the African continent.
Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni.
Straight. Fire. pic.twitter.com/Qsnwh1tJz8
— Dylan LeClair 🟠 (@DylanLeClair_) November 19, 2022
Known for her anti-immigration positions—which is allegedly exclusively identical with right wing politicians—Meloni argues that if the French stopped stealing resources from African countries, Africans will not be in poor conditions of extreme poverty that force them to make those dangerous journeys to Europe. These journeys not only risk their lives (as many of them have died), but they have to pay smugglers who sneak them into Europe entering especially via Lampedusa in Italy. Responding to French anger over her policy, Meloni came to the stage prepared for a show like no other. Melodic, and almost poetic, her voice went through pitches clearly wrought with emotion. She was seething. Displaying the CFA (African Financial Community) franc, the currency notes that are used across 14 African countries, Meloni begins:
“This is called the CFA Franc. It is the colonial currency that France prints for 14 African countries to which it applies seigniorage and by virtue of which it exploits the resources of these countries.”
This is factually accurate as while the rest of the world appears to have ridden itself of direct colonialism, France still holds 14 countries under her direct control, while these same countries claim to be independent. Continuing her beautifully delivered monologue, Meloni puts the CFA bill down, and displays a picture of a child underground in a gold mine. She continues:
“This is a child who works in a gold mine in Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. France prints colonial money for Burkina Faso, which has gold. In return, they demand that 50 per cent of everything Burkina Faso exports, end up in the coffers of the French treasury. The gold that this child goes down to extract mostly ends up in the coffers of the French state. So, the solution is not to take Africans and bring them to Europe, the solution is to free Africa from certain Europeans who exploit it and allow these people to live off what they have.”
Many Africans have received Meloni’s anger with delight. Finally, a major European voice is amplifying what we have been saying for ages. But in a strange twist of things, a section of African activists and friends of Africa (who too have been saying the same things for years), have instead openly distanced themselves from her, for the single reason that she identifies or is labelled, Far-Right. Most remarkable of these are activists Ndongo Simba Sylla and Fanny Pigeaud, authors of a recently published book—which I suppose bits of it Meloni has read—titled, Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story. In a series of tweets (in both French and English), these two openly distanced themselves from her rhetoric explicitly declaring their alliance with the so-called Left. It is true that Meloni is using the CFA to cement her anti-immigrant position (not that France is very welcoming to migrants either). But what is strikingly strange is that Simba Sylla and Fanny Pigeaud, whilst agreeing with her on French exploitation through the CFA, and should be glad of a major voice echoing their campaign, distance themselves from her on the singular ground that she is Far-Right, and is also using the CFA for what they called “demagoguery”! It is troubling.
A video is circulating showing the Italian PM criticize the #CFA franc in very harsh terms. Wow! Has the Far Right suddenly become “anti-imperialist”? Does this criticism make the Far Right an ally for our long time struggles? Below our take with @fpigeaud
— Ndongo Samba Sylla (@nssylla) November 21, 2022
Although I am not sure why they felt compelled to respond (because she doesn’t cite them), they, commendably, start off by taking a dig at the French Left, stating that “The CFA Franc has been a kind of shameful and dirty secret for France. With limited exceptions, the French Left and media have always been silent on this harmful colonial relic and on French Imperialism more generally.” It is important here that the authors acknowledge that even the French Left and media, which are supposed to be on their side, have never felt compelled to champion ending this colonialism since its founding in 1945. From here, Simba Sylla and Fanny Pigeaud go full-blast on Meloni who, in their view, is not an ally:
“For us, the Far Right is not an ally. Their popularity and their seemingly anti-imperialist stance are an unfortunate indicator of the tragic state of the European/Western Left.” They continue that “The Far-Right discourse on the CFA franc (and Africa’s underdevelopment) is just demagoguery. They have taken no concrete steps at the EU level to end this currency arrangement, which is under Eurozone institutions’ legal authority.”
I wonder why these activists are convinced that their allies have to be Left leaning, right after acknowledging that after 75 years of its existence, the French Left has only looked the other way content to repeat the French government propaganda whenever this issue arose. Equally baffling is how the policies of the entire European Union becomes the reason to distance themselves from Georgia Meloni? Why would the absence of fair-trade policies, the Eurozone arrangement be blamed on those actually saying the right things? Just because they are far right! Or because they are saying these things for an entirely different set of reasons. Shouldn’t this be understood as coincidence of interests? Besides, is it not true that the harsh colonial conditions created by CFA in Africa—and the entire industry of structural adjustment—forms a major driving factor pushing Africans to Europe, the Middle East and North America—trying to touch the profits of their resources?
It is here that Bashar-Al-Assad’s lucidity and Zizek’s theoretical exegesis become very important: It does not matter who holds the reins of power in Europe or North America. All of them, Left or Right, Conservative or Progressive are hungry for Africa. They need it for their own survival. It is their hunting jungle. While some speak nicely, are diplomatic in their language, and actually appear friendly, it is just public relations. So, an ally could be either of them, just as the enemy could be all of them. But those moments of support—whatever the selfish interests behind them—need to be harnessed and utilised, instead of Africans choosing sides as if either the Right or Left could be selfless allies.