By Mandisi Majavu · 24 Jan 2012
Frantz Fanon once wrote that the challenge facing civil society and progressive governments in Africa is how to organize African countries around values that promote and encourage participatory democracy, equity and mutual aid. Although most African countries gained independence from European colonial rule in the 60s and the 70s, that remains the biggest challenge facing the continent today.
It is for this reason that many political commentators expected the Arab Spring in North Africa to spill over to the Africa south of the Sahara. When that did not happen it was hastily pointed out that Africans are too technologically disconnected and rural to organize protest movements that would topple dictators on the continent. The weakness of this argument however is that it does not take into consideration the political protests that have been taking place on the continent for the past two years.
The political events that have taken place in the last two years in Sub-Saharan Africa indicate that people on the continent are increasingly demanding to participate in socio-economic decision-making that affects their lives.
The recent general strike and mass protests against the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria show that people want to be included in economic decision-making that impact on their lives. Similarly, the Mozambique food riots of 2010 illustrated this point well. The food riots were sparked by a jump in the price of bread which led to a three days of protests in Mozambique, and that in turn forced the government to reverse the increase in the price of bread.
The walk to work campaign in Uganda in 2011, which was also a protest against high living costs and rising fuel prices in that country, did not quite achieve the same results that people in Mozambique won. Nevertheless, these protests, as well as other ongoing social conflicts in other parts of the continent, point to the fact that African societies are failing our people. It is a truism to argue that African societies are incapable of meeting people’s economic desires and people’s political aspirations.
A liberatory politics is warranted, and a better way of organizing African economies is long overdue. The starting point would be to recognize that neo-liberal economic policies are not the solution. As Ha-Joon Chang points out in his book Bad Samaritans: The myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism, even developed countries, which include Britain and the US, did not become rich on the basis of following the neo-liberal economics mantra. “Today’s rich countries used protection and subsidies, while discriminating against foreign investors,” writes Chang.
Further, the self-serving worldview of the African elite that economic development should take priority over democratic demands has proven to be a very effective propaganda trick that keeps the African masses in line. The economic relationship between China and African states is based on this notion. Thus dictators such as Robert Mugabe are able to access financial aid from China for ostensibly economic development while, simultaneously, overseeing one of the most repressive regimes on the continent.
It is also worth noting that although Chinese financial aid comes with no strings attached, economists argue that international borrowing tends to entangle poor countries in debt traps from which it is impossible for them to escape. Additionally, the current global economic system is designed to favour stronger and bigger economies as opposed to weak economies. Naturally, in such a system, the Chinese will always come out the winners in their engagements with African states.
What is to be done? The African Union (AU) has, among other things, been grappling with this question for a long time. Since its establishment in 1999 the AU has ineffectively tried to accelerate the “process of integration in the continent to enable it to play its rightful role in the global economy”. The meetings and summits that the AU holds regularly do not seem to lead to any fundamental political changes in African countries.
I am of the view that fundamental economic and political change in Africa will only come when ordinary people agitate en masse for political changes. The Mozambique food riots of 2010 and the recent mass protests in Nigeria show that people are capable of forcing governments to back down from enforcing policies that have a negative impact on their lives. It is this history that ought to inform our politics, and not the AU summits and meetings.
There are political and economic models that African states could emulate. For instance, research shows that societies that are organized along social democratic policies tend to have low poverty rates, low unemployment rates, and high standards of living. That is one model for those with a liberal bent.
For the rest of us who are for social revolution, we want nothing less than the elimination of social hierarchies, authoritative decision-making, poverty and inequality. We seek to build liberatory and human centred societal institutions for production, consumption and allocation. For a new Africa to function, it is necessary to create societal institutions that complement and support one another across different societal realms. This means that the new economic institutions that we create ought to be consistent with the aims of our political institutions as well as our mental outlook.
This is the Africa that Fanon had in mind when he wrote the essay, “This Africa to come”. As Fanon once wrote, the current oppressive system will not commit suicide for the new Africa to be born. The first step toward building new societies is through events that change history, such as, the mass protests against the removal of the fuel subsidy, which recently took place in Nigeria, as well as the Mozambique food riots of 2010.
The most important step in bringing about a social revolution is to develop a vision for a better society. It is the lack of such a vision that prevents mass protests from becoming full-blown uprisings. Developing a coherent vision that is relevant to the 21st century Africa is the task facing the new generation of activists in Africa.
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African Participation has Come
Majavu, well done, food for thought. Back to SA soil, what will be the spark to set it all off in SA. May I suggest a few possible scenarios:
1) Continued corruption and incompetence by those in places of authority.
2) Leaders who refuse to act against corruption and incompetence.
3) Rising costs of living ,with fuel and food as possible sparking factors.
4) Unilateral price hikes and implementing taxes as recently seen done by SANRAL.
5) Exhorbitant salaries paid to Govt employees and at parastatals such as Eskom, SAA and the latest revelations of heads at certain Universities, eg.where the deputy at the University of Johannesburg, Mr Rensburg and others receive over R3 million p/a. This will drain our ability to create jobs, reasonable expectations of youth and cripple our country economically which suffers with a scaresity of certain resources in any event
The SANRAL debacle is possibly the single most sensitive activity to spark mass public outcry and will have to be managed very carefully. The credibility of its CEO, Nazir Alli has been permanently damaged and his exit needs to be carefully managed with no golden handshake, which in turn could spark wide unrest. The bad managment of SAA and ESKOM is also a very sore point with the citizenry as job losse continue. Genuine public participation in democratic processes, amongst other things, local Ward Committees etc has become long overdue
Violent Revolution and War is Wrong
>>"When that did not happen it was hastily pointed out that Africans are too technologically disconnected and rural to organize protest movements that would topple dictators on the continent."
I wonder why the short sighted Fanonites/Stalinists/ Marxists/Leninists and sundry criminally minded collectives seem to believe that violence, death and destruction, chaos and "revolution" is the only and correct & tailor made answer for all circumstances in all countries all the time?
It definitely is not.
Inflammatory and provocative articles of this nature only feed Africa pessimists.
SACSIS is sincerely "Seeking answers to the question: How do we make democracy work for the poor?"
But you abuse this platform to propagate "revolution".
Don't you realize that democracy broadly implies regime changes as rapidly as possible and necessary through peaceful means most notably through free and fair elections?
Why do you have more faith in revolution than the ballot box?
Elections are the most constructive and only legal means available for liberated countries and the possible affluent "Africa of the future" to introduce responsive & responsible governance, after it one day in most probably a very distant future miraculously comes to age in spite of the millions of shallow "revolutionaries" in its midst.
>>"This means that the new economic institutions that we create ought to be consistent with the aims of our political institutions as well as our mental outlook."
Your "revolutionary mental outlook" can never make viable "new economic institutions" possible, whatever that may be - go figure this reality out for yourself, if you can.
Only level headed, well trained, productive, professionally inclined, disciplined and non-violent law abiding citizens with a sound work ethic that pay their taxes and vigorously strive over the medium to long term to improve the material circumstances of their respective families, can collectively deliver a rapidly growing and healthy economy
"It is a truism to argue that African societies are incapable of meeting people’s economic desires and people’s political aspirations."
It is actually quite simple.
Africa fails mainly because:-
1. We support the wrong political parties.
2. We are not competitive or productive enough in global terms.
3. We refuse to pay high enough tax to make effective government by the people for the people possible.
>>"For the rest of us who are for social revolution, we want nothing less than the elimination of social hierarchies, authoritative decision-making, poverty and inequality."
It is your democratic right to propagate your stupid revolution as much as you want in a democratic state such as ours with its liberal constitution and inept government on especially local and provincial level.
But it is non-negotiable that you shall always respect the law and the other people that share the same space with you.
Moreover, it is only in failed communist states where everybody is merely theoretically equally poor because everybody chooses to be equally unproductive.
And never forget that you have no right to traumatize duty bound professional police officers that are ordinary workers that merely want to make the best possible living with their meagre salaries under less than utopian circumstances.
They are responsible for the well-being of their families and in many instances the mothers and fathers of small children, just as many of the much celebrated so-called "victims" of police brutality.
It is ordinary hardworking families that are the building blocks of successful societies and not the blasé, mostly simple minded and violent, vocal and irresponsible "revolutionaries" amongst us.