African Liberation Day and Freedom Blues

Alieu Bah
Africa Day: Youth participation, the power is in our hands. Cartoon credit: Tony Namate/This is AfricaAfrican Liberation Day is set aside to reflect on our gains as a people trying to be free. Here the reflections bring the personal at the heart of the ongoing movement of Africans into liberatory history. The grand narrative meets the tale of a little town’s attempt at a win against capital.

“We must, as you have seen, under the conditions reassemble once again. Ours is a continuous struggle to better our conditions permanently.”

—Dumo Saho, Gambian Revolutionary.

May 25th: the annals overflow with talks of liberation. Some romantic and exotic, others, rational and scientific. But Africa continues to dance to many beats other than her own. Between Euro-America and China, the continent remains a rhythmic confusion as military bases and ruthless extractions populate her mass landscape. The guides of the African Revolution are all but gone. There is no more Nkrumah sharing sharp theoretical discourses with us; no more Sankara eloquently teaching hope and the path to walk. Today we are in the clutch of a feverish mess of social movements who draw theory from twitter think threads. When they gather it’s sloganeering till dusk then board planes to airports now owned and operated by lands other than theirs. The National Liberation Struggle was declared finished. A new era had begun; that of the triumphant African intellectual who had diligently guided the struggle to its logical conclusion. That conclusion after 50 years: the neocolonial state.

The guides of the African Revolution are all but gone. There is no more Nkrumah sharing sharp theoretical discourses with us; no more Sankara eloquently teaching hope and the path to walk

I sit writing this essay on the beach at home in little Gambia. Tonight the whole beach and its vast stretch stinks. The foul smell comes from a fish meal factory owned by a combination of Chinese and Mauritanians — it inspires this writing and quiet rage. It is ran royally never caring if the people suffer from its emissions. This was one of the ways the little town of my birth was integrated into a ruthless global economy. Now it’s fairly easy to explain capitalist accumulation to the brothers out here. The factory is enough of an example.

Last year an uprising stormed the beach and ended up in the town. The factory and the police station were burned down. It was a deeply telling moment for everyone who cared to understand the workings of the neocolony. Two sites of power razed to the ground by young people who have never had any ideological understanding of oppression. Just a disenfranchised righteous mass who connected profit to power: that their death from private property is sanctioned and protected by the police state. They intuited that our sovereignty is only an aesthetic painted colourfully to cover up the unequal relations of the political class to those indiscriminately named citizens.

Our sovereignty is only an aesthetic painted colourfully to cover up the unequal relations of the political class to those indiscriminately named citizens

To be a citizen in these fabricated-by-colonialism nations means to be a voting, dutiful and obedient denizen. You’re a citizen insofar as you’re responsive to the superstructure. Voting as such becomes a sacred act that must be protected by all means and abdication of it makes one suspect, a pariah. The political class employs a set of rogue parties to preach and pontificate the neocolonial needful. A cacophony of rituals ranging from tribalism to misplaced set of nationalisms, that embolden the disinherited to attack people looking black and blue much like themselves.

Captain Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, salutes 31 August 1986 upon his arrival in Harare for the 8th Summit of Non-aligned countries. Photo: ANP

The national borders being protected were drawn across houses and outdoor kitchens. Colonialism never cared for an architecture engendered by filial bonds. Today one family lives in two nations, they sit at the borderline in the evenings and drink green tea. One goes home to Senegal and the other to Gambia. They holler at each other from different countries for a pinch of salt or sugar. It’s now their children who carry out xenophobic rhetoric and actions for the rulers. Their patriotism, taught to them in school and state, pledges allegiance only to partitions of the land born out of the race for surplus; an engineered demography of glut. The legacy of the Berlin conference shines brilliant and unashamed 137 years later.

The legacy of the Berlin conference shines brilliant and unashamed 137 years later

Because they were never meant to be countries, every positive measure of development of the people and land is absent. No set of indexes can do right by these lands. The only set of metrics that count are the ones that sound like “the most corrupt countries”, “the poorest countries” etc. you get the point.

There is a developed and well fed class amongst these unintended yet existing nations. The members  are few; being mostly the descendants of the handlers of yesterday’s colonial regime and today’s neocolonial schema. I have spent time with a lot of them through the times. Some good and sympathetic to the poor and scrawny, many filled with the self righteous belief that poverty is the just inheritance of the lazy; the moralisms of unconscious guilt.

Where do we go from here?

Africa and her people are standing still at a crossroad. To move forward requires both courage and clarity. Last night, I and my friend descended into one of those lone conversations in the depth of night by the stinking beach. The one continually polluted by the fish meal factory. I told him in very clear terms that the program has always been the same. It has always been to dismantle these non viable, unstable and untenable nations and unite them under a federated continent. The blues of our near felt liberation will continue to haunt us so long as we exist in these states that are ran some days by charitable organisations and on others by corporations. The relentless struggle that began with the formation of the mass parties to defeat colonisation must reach its intended conclusion. The first wave of struggle was to create the self determined space to begin the work of reconstructing the African. A rehabilitation program that enters the continent and her long humiliated people back into history. This process, a supposed one of course, was to be a concrete owning of production and narrative. The unification of the continent under scientific socialism as envisioned by Nkrumah and supported by a range of progressive forces was to be the material starting point of this agenda. But it lay discarded and abandoned.

Where is the wisdom of our fathers now? Kwame Nkrumah (21 September 1909 – 27 April 1972) was the first President of Ghana, the first Prime Minister of Ghana, and an influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism

The quote above is from a revolutionary who and his comrades built one of the most enduring radical organisations in The Gambia. He went into exile and has been since then, at this point a self imposed one perhaps. I connected with him on facebook and spoke to him of the despair we are in. I mentioned the squalor of our generational movements and our chaotic attempts at libration. He counselled to organise and recognising the uniqueness of our context. He spoke of community programs running alongside study circles. I agreed. Knowing our triumph comes from communion and recognition of our shared desire to rise out of this ancient and painful condition.

The beach today is cool without much foul smell, even as it lingers almost all the time. Yesterday there was a coastal clean up organised by young people from the town and beyond. After they were done speeches were made. The issues of the foul factory came up. Dialogues with power were proffered as a solution. Many of the fiery speeches made were angry on behalf of the powerful; cautioning the young to never again rise up and commit arson. They were advised to go through the authorities and lay their complaints and wait for them to act and solve their problems. The resistance I saw there came in the form of the walking away of many and disgruntled murmurs of disagreements. But one got up and reminded the gathering that power concedes only to power. That dialogues and civil disobediences will yield nothing more than speeches from those responsible for their collective misery. He was treated to a standing ovation. It was the crowd’s way of calling for organised struggle through building people power.

We must build power from below with the proper theoretical underpinnings that made our revolutionary ancestors win at the advent of the decolonial struggle

Here’s something of a manifesto: we must build power from below with the proper theoretical underpinnings that made our revolutionary ancestors win at the advent of the decolonial struggle. The haphazard uprisings that have no clear program or goal but reform and other convoluted notions of freedom will never get us to new worlds. Political education that is predicated on the concrete conditions of the land and rooted in building an organised front begins us on the right road. There must rise a determined and righteous group of young and old people who will understand the intellectual and material struggle before them and build once again solidarities across Africa and her diaspora. To nurture the social movements into something that will lead to uniting and erasing these borders, to begin our new human-hoods across time and space.

This is the spirit of African Liberation Day and it can’t be any other way until the new African, radiant and free, is born on a continent united and luminous.