By Jaye Gaskia
Let us begin with a poem by David Diop titled ‘The Vultures’. But first who was David Diop? He was a poet of the African independence movement era, born to a Senegalese father and a Cameroonian mother in France, the colonial master. He was educated in France and lived in France. He began writing poetry pretty early, and became one of the leading poets of the Negritude literary and political movement led by Leopold Sedar Senghor, who will go on to become Senegal’s first, and post independent president in 1960.
David Diop himself however did not live to see Senegal’s independence, nor did he live long, he had gone to Guinea in 1958 as part of the wave of influx of the African Diaspora into Guinea to support that country afterthat country gained independence from France in 1958 prompting the French to maliciously and precipitously withdraw all French expatriates and technocrats from Guinea in act of vengeful punishment for daring to vote for independence.
David Diop aged 33 years and his wife were to perish in the Air France plane crash of August 29th 1960 on his way back home on holidays on the flight from Dakar to Paris that crashed over the Atlantic.
David’s poetry received critical acclaim and his poetry was described as angry but full of hope by critics. He was you could say the poet laureate of the ‘Angry Hopeful’ community, an essence shared by many in the anti-colonial struggle, and a context that many who have been engaged in the struggle for social justice, equality and good governance since the failure to realise the potential of African independence can relate to and with.
This ‘angry hope’, or what I like to refer to as ‘Hope driven by anger, and anger focused by hope’ is a phenomenon that I know very well, it is a context that has shaped and continues to define my experience since my first conscious act of political and social rebellion more than three decades ago.
It is an anger that I still feel, a hope that still inspires me to this very moment. Why have we failed to realise the full potential of independence? Why are we where we are today? Why are success stories the exception to be celebrated, not the norm in Africa today, more than half a century after the independence ‘wind of change’ blew across the continent?
Coming closer home, why has a country with so much potential like Nigeria failed to thrive? Why is the most populous black nation on earth, the country with a fourth of the continent’s population, and a country with a fifth of the black population still struggling to crawl with all the resources at her disposal when it should be colonising the planets?
Why should a country with four moribund refineries, and one of the largest producers and exporters of crude oil also be one of the largest importers of refined products? Why is our diversification program still based on exporting raw materials, mainly primary raw materials and even seldom secondary raw materials?
Yes there was the catastrophic contact with Europe and Asia through the Arabs, the unequal trade, the slave trade and the wars which it precipitated and which not only depopulated the continent but also disrupted its socio-economic developmental pathway; and of course there was colonialism, and the combined legacies of this violently disruptive 500 year experience.
So it maybe possible to argue that we are barely 100 years out a 500 year period of bondage; yes this is true, but it is not sufficient reason to have failed so woefully in reconstituting our civilisation.
Africa was great once, and it can and should be great again. It was the cradle of human civilisation. The first human civilisations were built on this continent, and they were of black African origin.
This year 2017, if we read nothing else we must return to read and study our history. It is important that we understand what we were in the past, how we achieved what we achieved, where we took the wrong turnings, and how we got to where we are today. It is only by understanding our past and our present that we can have any hope of shaping our present and defining our future.
Therefore during this year 2017, please do take some time off to read and to study, to read beyond the headlines and the news threads of the social media, to study more deeply and gain a more in-depth knowledge beyond the limits of 120 to 140 characters prescribed by twitter and Facebook.
This year take time to study, to revisit and rediscover, discover and engage with Frantz Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’; Prof Cheik Anta Diop’s ‘The African Origin of Human Civilisation’; Prof Chancellor William’s ‘The Destruction of Black Civilisation’; Read the literary works collected in the African Writer’s Series – Sembene Ousmane’s ‘God’s Bits of wood’; the novels of Ngugi; Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘Two thousand seasons’; Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’ and ‘No longer at ease’. Read the collection of poems in the African Writer’s Series containing David Diop’s poem.
Read all of these works and more and you will understand why we need to be both angry and hopeful.
But also read some other works so we can gain the courage from the global experience of humanity to understand why understanding our history is a necessity for understanding the urgency of action, why taking liberating collective action is both urgent and possible.
So read about the Experience of the ‘Paris Commune’ so evocatively and educatingly captured by Karl Marx; read the three volume ‘History of the Russian Revolution’ penned by one of the leading protagonists of that epic battle, Leon Trotsky. Studying about and engaging with the history of the Russian revolution of 1917 is very instructive and important, not the least because this is the centenary of that Revolution, when ordinary workers and peasants dared to struggle, and did actually take political power into their own hands, enabling them for a while at least to shape directly their own destinies.
Then proceed to study contemporary history, the rise of the left in Latin America over the last two decades that has ensured that Latin America is the only continent to have reduced inequality by half in the last 20 years. And of course study the recent rise of the radical left across Europe.
What is the point of all that I am saying? Well, I guess the point being made is that Africa in general, and Nigeria in particular has failed to realise her full potential because of the failure of leadership, the progressive and now precipitate decline in quality of leadership, since independence, and the consequence legacy of bad and failed governance and of the continuing decline in the quality of governance.
Before we go on, it is necessary that I make a very important clarification; when I speak of leadership, I refer to class leadership, the collective role of a class. It is this that has failed, it is the quality of this class leadership that has so precipitously declined over the last half a century of independence engendering the current catastrophic socio-economic reality of our continent and nation.
The implication of the foregoing is that we as a people cannot continue to trust this ruling class with the management of our affairs, with the responsibility to define our current priorities and shape our destinies.
This ruling class is incapable of transforming itself let alone lead the transformation of Africa, not the least because in its current form it is rootless, it is a class weaned on Europe and the North Atlantic, one that sees Europe and North Africa as its adopted home, one that is ashamed of the African reality and experience, one that views Africa as the farmland of the peasant, where the peasant exploits nature and extract surplus value; while Europe and North America is seen as the home, the village where the farmer invests the extracted surplus and builds permanent structures.
This psychosis is the historical condition of this ‘lumpen bourgeoisie’, this ‘surrogate ruling class’.
How do we break from this existential bondage? We must educate ourselves, we must organise ourselves, and we must mobilise resistance, while simultaneously organising and mobilising for make the leap from resistance to revolution, from protest to power.
We must not only organise and mobilise ourselves by articulating what we are against, our organising and mobilising must also be based on a comprehensive articulation of what we are for. Yes we must know what we are against, but we must also know what we are for.
We must not only Oppose, we must also Propose. And if we are to Take Back Our Country, and Reclaim Our Humanity, then we must go beyond organising protests and shouting slogans, we must begin to organise and mobilise to build a Mass Political Movement, with a very well-articulated program of action, not only aimed at ensuring successful challenge of bad governance, but also more decisively aimed at outlining our vision for a new society.
We must develop a program of action to enable the political movement take political power, as well as one that will state clearly our pathway to rebuilding our society once we are in power.
We must imbue the understanding that though civil society activism is important, it is not self-sufficient; everyone active in civil society must understand that we need to urgently move beyond the narrow-minded need to focus induced competing and mutually exclusive agitations for percentage allocation to competing sectors; and move to build the movement that understands that as citizens we first need to gain 100% control and ownership of our resources and budgets, so that we can then allocate them within a comprehensive and integral plan to the different sectors of our economy to rebuild different segments of our lives.
What we require now more than ever is an all-embracing movement that enables us all to see the bigger picture, which ensures that we are not dissipating energy agitating competitively for percentage slices of the economy.
For as our most recent historical experience is once again teaching us, it is one thing to want and take power, it is another thing entirely to govern and be able to govern; both processes require well-articulated programs of action and strategic planning. As the presidency of PMB and the government of the governing APC is making clearer by the day;
‘A Slogan is not the same thing as a program of action; Platitudes no matter how often they are repeated cannot be substitutes for strategic and development plans and policies; and definitely, ‘Good intentions’ is not a substitute, nor is it identical to ‘Good governance’.
Fortunately the task confronting us is not insurmountable; we have been at similar historical junctures before. Long before it became fashionable since the half measures of the MDGs and SDGs to articulate development goals, we had articulated programs for social transformation of our country and continent. Just sieve through all the historical documents of the proclamations, meetings, conventions and conferences of our movements. We are no novices in the business of development planning, what is amazing is our continuing hope that those who did not articulate those programs with us, those against whose rule we articulated those programs, will somehow turn around to implement them for us.
The duty is ours, nobody-elses. Period!
Before we return to draw inspiration, the type of the ‘Hope driven by anger, and anger focused by hope’, from the poem of David Diop titled ‘The Vulture’, let me articulate with urgency the Call To Duty For Our Own Generation In 2017;
The leadership of the Revolutionary Activist Movement, the leadership of the Trade Union centres and the wider Labour Movement, the leadership of the Progressive Civil society movement, and every active citizen must take on personal and collective responsibility to step forward, convene a meeting of Radical Activists for social Transformation, and begin to lay the foundation for a new Mass Political Movement and Party, and articulate a program of action as a new vision To ‘Take Back Nigeria, Rebuild Our Society, And Reclaim Our Humanity’.
So now let me conclude with what I was supposed to have begun with, the poem by David Diop, hopefully I have whetted your appetite enough:
In those days
When civilisation kicked us in the face
When holy water slapped our cringing brows
The vultures built in the shadow of their talons
The blood-stained monument of tutelage
In Those Days
There was painful laughter on the metallic hell of the roads
And the momentous rhythm of the paternoster
Drowned the howling on the plantations
O’ the bitter memories of extorted kisses
Of promises broken at the point of a gun
Of foreigners who did not seem human
You who knew all the books but knew not love
Nor our hands which fertilise the wombs of the earth
Hands instinct at the root with revolt
In spite of your songs of pride in charnel-houses
In spite of the desolate villages of Africa torn apart
Hope lived in us like a citadel
And from Swaziland’s mines to the sweltering sweat of Europe’s factories
Spring will be reborn under our Bright Steps
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