• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Self-reparation for African Power: Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness (3)


Onwuchekwa Jemie

But the antidote for this particular non-racialist superstition was indicated, even during the integrationist 1960s, by John Oliver Killens when, in his 1965 essay “The black writer vis-à-vis his country” he observed that:Negroes are the only people in this world who are set apart because of who they are, and at the same time told to forget who they are by the very people who set them apart in the first place.” -[Killens, 1965:358-359] A few years later, in the early 1970s, the young Steve Biko, in building his Black Consciousness Movement, developed the much-needed therapy for this superstitious fear. Among other things, he correctly argued that integration was a false antithesis to segregation/apartheid, and that the correct antithesis was Black solidarity/unity. For the specific context of apartheid South Africa, Biko argued:
“It is time we killed this false political coalition between blacks and whites as long as it is set up on a wrong analysis of our situation . . . [and because] it forms at present the greatest stumbling block to our unity. . . . The basic problem in South Africa has been analysed by liberal whites as being apartheid. . . . For the liberals, the thesis is apartheid, the antithesis is non-racialism, but the synthesis is very feebly defined. They want to tell the blacks that they see integration as the ideal solution. Black Consciousness defines the situation differently. The thesis is in fact a strong white racism and therefore, the antithesis to this must, ipso facto, be a strong solidarity amongst the blacks on whom this white racism seeks to prey.” [Biko, 1987:90]
And Biko further observes, quite correctly:
“The concept of integration . . . is full of unquestioned assumptions. . . . It is a concept long defined by whites and never examined by blacks. . . . [It is one of the] concepts which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man’s mind. . . . Black Consciousness is an attitude of mind and a way of life, . . . the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression-the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.” [Biko, 1987:91-92]

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Biko, the Black Consciousness prophet, further argued that, in South Africa,
“As long as blacks are suffering from inferiority complex – a result of 300 years of deliberate oppression, denigration and derision – they will be useless as co-architects of a normal society. . . . Hence what is necessary as a prelude to anything else that may come is a very strong grass-roots build-up of black consciousness such that blacks can learn to assert themselves and stake their rightful claim.”[Biko, 1987:21]
And Biko drives his point home thus:
“Those who know, define racism as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation or maintaining subjugation. In other words one cannot be a racist unless he has the power to subjugate. What blacks are doing is merely to respond to a situation in which they find themselves the objects of white racism. We are in the position in which we are because of our skin. We are collectively segregated against — what can be more logical than for us to respond as a group? When workers come together under the auspices of a trade union to strive for the betterment of their conditions, nobody expresses surprise in the Western world. It is the done thing. Nobody accuses them of separatist tendencies. Teachers fight their battles, garbagemen do the same, nobody acts as a trustee for another. Somehow, however, when blacks want to do their thing the liberal establishment seems to detect an anomaly. This is in fact a counter-anomaly. The anomaly was there in the first instance when the liberals were presumptuous enough to think that it behooved them to fight the battle for the blacks.” [Biko, 1987:25. Emphasis added]
Biko’s full critique of integration should be required reading by all Africans today.
This Black Consciousness therapy helped to produce a new breed of black freedom fighter in South Africa, the self-confident type, unconfused and uncrippled by fears implanted by false liberal doctrines like integration and non-racialism. It produced self-confident blacks who insisted on doing things for themselves and all by themselves, and who did not feel they had to prove themselves to whites.
To see the validity of Biko’s doctrines for Pan-Africa today, one needs first to note Biko’s remark that “the black-white power struggle in South Africa is but a microcosm of the global confrontation between the Third World and the rich white nations of the world.” [Biko, 1987:72] More specifically, we should note that the black-white situation in Apartheid South Africa was a special local case of the global situation between whites and blacks. We can therefore validly transpose Biko’s doctrines to the global situation that Pan-Africa ostensibly is struggling to eradicate.
Accordingly, in a world where blacks are oppressed and exploited by white Arabs and Europeans, any Afro-Arab alliance is just as false a political coalition as that in South Africa was between whites and the blacks they oppressed. To realize that is to find the intellectual ground for the courage to repudiate the Afro-Arab alliance and continental political union that Nkrumah promoted and Diop advocated.
We need to be ever mindful of Biko’s remark that “the biggest mistake the Black World ever made was to assume that whoever is against Apartheid is automatically our ally.” [Biko, 1987:63] And we need to apply it to the global imperialist situation.
Still in that vein, let us see what Black Consciousness doctrines would say of the AU, NEPAD, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are prescribed for Africa. Biko rejected the Bantustan idea on the fundamental ground that “it is a solution given to us by the same people who have created the problem.” [Biko, 1987:82] His rejection would equally apply to the AU Trojan horse with its wrecking crew of NEPAD, MDGs, etc. which-like what Leon Damas called “the theories that they season to the taste of their needs”-are designed to worsen our problems, not solve them.

In South Africa, Biko asked: “whether the Bantustan leaders do not see the barrenness and fraudulence implicit in this scheme?” He answered thus: “We have some men in these Bantustans who would make extremely fine leaders if they had not decided to throw in their lot with the oppressors. A few of them argue that they are not selling out but are carrying on the fight from within . . . ” He ended by dismissing them and their delusions with the comment “After all, as one writer once said, there is no way of stopping fools from dedicating themselves to useless causes.” [Biko 1987:84]
When we realize that these so-called independent African states that have been herded into the AU by Gadhafi are nothing but the glorified Bantustans of the G8 system of UN Imperialism, i.e. the global system’s version of those Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa, we can see the aptness of applying Biko’s remark to all these black heads of state and government in the fraudulent and useless AU.
My point in this exercise has been to illustrate that we have enough sound ideas within the body of Pan Africanist thought to challenge and correct the false ideas and misguided projects that have crippled us, if only we would collect and study the tradition and use it to correct itself. And I’d like to suggest that we form and equip a collective of our academics to do this job. In the last 50 years, all manner of half-baked ideas have been hurriedly implemented, and even with desperate urgency, while the Pan-Africanist intelligentsia failed to cry foul and to subject them to rigorous debate and correction. We must mend our ways. As a contrite act of self-reparation, we must create the necessary organs of unfettered debate and use them effectively henceforth.
We cannot blame Nkrumah, Diop and others for their errors. They gave what they thought were the right ideas. But it was for us to have collectively corrected their errors, and we didn’t. We have yet to do for Diop’s ideas what he himself pleaded for. And it is our duty to Pan-Africa to do the same for all ideas on offer, even those by prima donnas who are touchy about criticism, or by Presidents who are full of themselves. We must do our duty and politely ask those who resent public criticism to keep their ideas to themselves and not pollute the public space with them.
By the way, to throw a cold and sobering splash of comparative reality on this delirious hankering after a continent-sized political union, we should note that the megastates and great powers of the 20th and 21st centuries -USA, USSR, EU, China, Russia, India – are actually of sub-continental, not continental, size. The only actually continent-sized state is Australia, which is not a great power at all! Therefore, the project of an African megastate should be guided by the feasibility conditions for putting it in the power league of China, EU, USA, Russia and India, and not by some superstitious craving for continental size.