Returning to the Ancestors
Not for nothing did they want African unity and, to begin with, big states. Not for nothing were they all prevented from achieving those goals.
The country called “Centrafrique”, or “The Central African Republic”, is in agony. Barthélemy Boganda, who ought to have become the country’s first president, did not call what is today the Central African Republic “Centrafrique.” What he understood by that name, rather, was a country comprising what is today the so-called Central African Republic (formerly Ubangi Shari), the Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Chad: all “countries” visited in a single day on January 2, 2014, by the French defence minister; we shall return to this. “If Ubangi Shari had to achieve independence on its own someday,” Boganda wrote, “this would be a catastrophe”. Barthélemy Boganda died in a well-organised helicopter accident in the March of 1959. Once he had been eliminated, the dismemberment of the territories proceeded in accordance with the wishes of France.
Why is it that history – in particular, this history – of the first wave of the African struggle for liberation from the colonial yoke, and for independence, is so carefully erased? These days, the Central African Republic has the honour of appearing in the newspapers, we shall see how. In these articles, the name of Boganda never appears. On the part of the colonial rags that are the French dailies as a whole, this is perfectly normal, you will say. Yes, but what of the ‘radicals’, the progressives, the activists, those ‘outside the system’, the people with a higher degree of consciousness, and so forth? None of that even exists, you will say! Maybe. You will begin to exist once you have learned to put Africa at the centre of your world: this is a thesis we do not hesitate to propose. And, conversely, how can you, dear comrades, who are troubled, and protesting here and there, let yourselves be cut off from yesterday’s history, from that which concerns you above all? How can you let yourselves live only in the present moment?
Let us pick up that thread again: that is our only watchword. Let us pick up the thread of history, there where it was broken. What were the questions? What were the watchwords? How were we defeated? How should we pick up the cause again? Yes, “let us pick up the long debate where we left off. And you may urge your arguments like snouts low over the water: I will leave you no rest and no respite.” [trans. Mary Ann Caws]
But first: before speaking, potentially, internally, to those who would join us, let us pause, for everyone else as well, on the Central African Republic. Let us read the imperialist rags for them. We must know how to read them closely; in other words, how to call them into question. Le Monde, the number one colonial rag, tells us the story of how Michel Djotodia was deposed. He was forced to resign on January 10, 2014, after two days of discussion in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad.
Here’s the story the newspaper tells us in its edition of January 10, 2014. Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, receives Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister of defence, on January 1— in other words, a full month after the deployment of the French Sangaris forces, a month during which Chadian soldiers are patrolling with the French. Idriss Deby wants to depose Djotodia after the latter announces a plan of partition for the north of the Central African Republic. Certain compensations, the article tells us, “have been exchanged with the principal military partner of France”. Le Drian reaffirms his confidence in Idriss Deby, France’s “perfect” military ally in Mali. On January 2, Le Drian goes to Bangui, then to Brazzaville to consult with Sassou N’Guesso, then to Ali Bongo in Gabon, then back to N’Djamena that same evening just as Djotodia is arriving there, summoned by Deby. On January 3, Djotodia’s resignation is announced.
So there you have it: a deal briskly conducted by the two good Franco-Chadian friends, and the story in Le Monde dutifully congratulates itself on it.
Why wait a month after the arrival of Sangaris to depose Djotodia, while murders and other horrors are piling up? And without a single gesture in the direction of disarming the notorious Seleka? But that isn’t all. The Seleka was formed in August 2012. For months, its commandos, composed especially of Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries, advance toward Bangui, leaving behind them a path strewn with destruction, looting, arson, murder, and rape; none of this in any way troubles France, which, incidentally, has nothing to say about it to its perfect Chadian ally. Djotodia takes power in Bangui in March 2013. Still no complaints. The lootings, the murders, violent acts of all kinds continue; horrors keep piling up. Things are, as far as our Franco-Chadian friends are concerned, still for the best.
So, wasn’t Djotodia our man, as people there believe, in view of the oil recently discovered in the north of the country, and which is coveted by the Chinese, among others? Wasn’t the former president, perfectly corrupt and calamitous, by the way, therefore perfectly suitable for the rest of us, having had the weakness to request comparative studies before the exploitation of the oil-fields? But doesn’t France have a birthright there, which would explain its policy of benign understanding — to say the least — for the notorious Seleka?
Or should we believe that what is happening there is a sudden rise in temperature in a country where Christians (80% of the population) and Muslims had been living side by side without any problem? Is this just a case, as L’Express puts it blandly, of “scenes of ordinary hatred” (sic!)? “Ordinary” strikes us as particularly sickening. Since the seizure of power by the Seleka, one million people have had to flee their homes — this in a country of 4.7 million.
Nonetheless, we indeed read that it is the threat of secession of the country’s north —where the oil is — that frightened Idriss Deby, already grappling with the Darfur business and the secession of neighboring South Sudan. And is there ever an end to the carving up of oil concessions controlled by mercenaries? We also understand that the Djotodia card has so far not been entirely abandoned by the Franco-Chadian accomplices; as his lieutenant has stated, “negotiations are still going on”. Everything depends on what spare parts are available. Otherwise, wouldn’t this stooge have been handed over for punishment to so-called international law? He was allowed to go and settle in Benin, instead.
For a comparison, let us consider the fate that was reserved for Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, at the time of his arrest by the French military in April 2011. He was, indeed, delivered to the famous international court, and has remained imprisoned in The Hague since November 2011. In June 2013, a preliminary hearing took place. Its purpose was not to judge him but to determine whether or not there were, in fact, grounds for a trial. The court ruled the incriminating evidence presented by the prosecutor provided insufficient grounds for a trial. (According to what has been said among the people of Ivory Coast, the prosecution made a film intended to prove the violent acts committed by Gbagbo, but the defence was able to prove that this film was, in fact, a montage filmed in another country that even in this proceeding would have made a bad impression.) The prosecution appealed, but the court confirmed its decision on appeal, and asked the prosecution to provide it, by November 2013, with more substantial evidence that would allow it to rule on the possibility of a trial. The prosecution appealed this decision concerning the time it was granted, and the judges suspended the deadline. The prosecutor therefore, has a free hand to pursue her investigations indefinitely. The imprisonment of Gbagbo, which is supposed to be reviewed every 120 days, has just been confirmed again.
In case you are still puzzled, there has been, in the meantime, an editorial in the newspaper Le Point entitled, ‘The Central African Republic, the Risk of Partition?’. It begins with a photograph captioned: ‘Former Seleka rebels are escorted out of Bangui by Sangaris soldiers’. In the photograph the so-called rebels are clearly displaying their rifles and guns. In no way are they disarmed. The article seriously considers the risk of secession, in this “hemmed-in, remote region, bordering Chad and the Sudan”. The region, the article continues, is extremely poor but potentially rich. It contains yet-to-be-exploited diamond mines and oilfields. The licence for this was granted to a Chinese company (China National Petroleum Corporation) in 2010 by ex-president François Bozizé. So here we are. This wasn’t just a threat, it was a work in progress. Whence the Selekian emergency.
The article continues: “a partition of the CAR would be too dangerous for Chad”. But, “more than a partition, the ‘risk’ (the quotation marks are mine) in the north of the CAR is the development, with the arrival of the Seleka rebels, of a region increasingly cut off from Bangui — one that would be a vast self-managing ‘black hole’ (their quotation marks this time) in the heart of Africa, adjacent to the Darfur region of the Sudan, in which the rebels from the entire area would be living together. In short, a golden opportunity for all the jihadist groups that are swarming there”.
And a golden opportunity for our oil tycoons too! Not a single state, not even the most embryonic hint of one, to stick its nose into their business. From off-shore to off-shore, we proceed directly from the African “black hole” to the European or American tax haven, without spilling a drop, with everything necessary right there in terms of armed bands to be corrupted, paid, and employed as mercenaries. Exactly as we are now doing in the north of Mali. This is why our soldiers are busy escorting the ex-Selekas armed with their guns.
Of course, the human cost is rather high. We are talking about nothing less than ethnic cleansing. For, up until now in the CAR, Christians and Muslims had been living together. “Muslims form only 15 percent of CAR’s population. A majority in the north of the country, they are now being joined by those people of the CAR, who are fleeing Bangui and the central cities to escape from the massacres by the anti-Balaka Christian militias”. It is, therefore, rather difficult to bring this operation to a successful conclusion; which is why Hollande needs more troops, and he has appealed for help from his European neighbours, etc…, all the while having a bit of trouble explaining what exactly is at stake.
This, then, is the Central African Republic: one million out of 4.7 million people living as refugees. It’s this: “I went there to see and help my family, who are with thousands of people living in refuge near a church. I have neither been able to meet with them nor to bring them anything. There’s no water, and people talk about epidemics. All I’ve seen is how people I knew have grown emaciated in just a few weeks, since they can no longer go to work and have nothing to eat”. It’s this: “Entire families, including old people, women, and children, have their throats cut in their homes.” It’s this: “My family took refuge near the airport. My brother wanted to go see how our house was. He was killed.” And it’s this: “My aunt sent her son to look for water; there isn’t any in their neighborhood. He was killed on the way.”
The promoters of these massacres, and those responsible for this cataclysm, ought to be looked for in Paris.
Let us stop here on the French side. You will begin to exist once you have learned to put Africa at the centre of your world, we say. Yes, because colonial complicity has been the gangrene of French society for a century now, and has brought it to the state of advanced rottenness, of mental and moral disintegration, of the paralysis and lifelessness that everyone enjoys deploring nowadays. Deploring is one thing; getting out of this state is another. Colonial complicity is the inherent mode of French society’s membership in, and consent to, the imperialist world order. We think, it is the very basis of that passion for ignorance that subjugates this entire society — from the hideouts of the intellectuals to the most distant suburban housing-projects. The disintegration of the French Communist Party and, consequently, the complete disappearance of French workers from the scene was the price of the dishonourable behaviour of this party during the war in Algeria. Since then matters have gone from bad to worse. Speaking of colonialism in the past tense, declaring that one is living in the “post”, turning it into a mere subject for history books — these are signs and symptoms of that profound complicity that feeds the passion for ignorance. The Central African Republic is today, Brazzaville is today, the de facto partition of Mali is today, the repercussions of the destruction of Libya are today. And so on and so forth. If this is happening, it’s because everyone accepts, everyone goes along with, a situation in which some people can die so that others — we others — can continue in the security of their being. In other words, the motto of a Boganda (“Zo kwé Zo”, “every man is a man”), exactly the same as that of Aristide in Haiti (“tout moun se moun”, every man is a man and everyone belongs to the world) is, indeed, the heart of the matter: complicity consists in going along with the denial, as if self-evident, of this basic assertion, of which we are no longer even obliged to be aware. This, moreover, is precisely the meaning and function of the unspeakable nonsense known as “the humanitarian ideology”.
So what is at stake here is that you, rare potential reader of this text, might decide in yourself, indeed even only for yourself, in your soul and in your consciousness. Yes or no: should French newspapers, and among them in first place the noble Monde, be called “nauseating colonial rags”? Yes or no: should the celebrated international penal court be called STI, that is, Stinking Tool of Imperialism? Yes or no: should the word “humanitarian” be systematically bracketed together with the modifier “unspeakable”? Or are these just excesses on the part of the author of this text, whose ardour one understands and even forgives but by which sophisticated people, in the fairness and level-headedness of their judgment, avoid getting carried away?
It is very much our wish that, even without going further, you agree to ask yourselves the question, indeed to do a little investigating on your own side, for yourselves. And if you should ever arrive at the conclusions that we ourselves have reached, we wish that, for yourselves, you might not forget the modifiers above, even when, like everyone and all of us, you read Le Monde or contribute to some humanitarian enterprise. And then we wish that you might even make your feeling known to some of those around you, when the subject is mentioned, etc…. That really isn’t insignificant. There will already be that. One must separate oneself. Separate yourselves.
Having said this, let us pick up the thread, for the inside, from the inside. Let us pick up the thread as activists.
The great ancestors speak of unity and pan-Africanism. Is this just a case of cultural coquettishness, as we can read on the websites of international institutions today? Not at all. The ancestors think that there must be big states, without which there is no way to defeat colonialism. They think that it is necessary to combat, above all, ethnic, territorial, familial, and tribal divisions.
Boganda (see the attached text) wants a true Central African State (that is, what is today the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, and Congo-Brazzaville) as the first step toward the United States of Latin Africa. Lumumba, fights inside the Congolese National Movement against federalism (the CNM will split into two over this question in 1959). He has to deal with the centrifugal tendencies of Joseph Kasa-Vubu’s Abako (in the Bakongo region), but also in the other regions. His struggle is for the unity of the Congo; going against this struggle, the imperialists, as we know, stir up secessionism as soon as independence is proclaimed.
The Union of the Peoples of Cameroon — whose watchword is independence and the reunification of the country — takes the utmost care in all its proceedings and all its committees to mix cadres from the different regions of the country. France, of course, plays one region off against another, especially the north against the south.
Kwame N’krumah, the president of the first independent African state, writes: “Africa must unite.” His goal, too, is the United States of Africa. He attempts a union with the Guinea of Sekou Toure, before being deposed by a coup d’état and having to take refuge in Guinea as a private individual.
Modibo Keita proposes a union with Niger and Senegal, which Senghor’s Senegal opposes. Later, after he has been deposed by a coup d’état, Sekou Toure’s Guinea proposes a union to his successor Moussa Traore, but this time it is Traore who refuses.
Boganda and Lumumba are assassinated. France begins a decade of bloody war to destroy the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon. Nkrumah and Keita are deposed by coups d’état. Later, Amilcar Cabral, commanding the liberation struggle of Guinea Cape Verde, is assassinated, thanks to the stirred-up jealousy between the peoples of Guinea and Cape Verde. As a result, there is no longer a single country, but rather two pieces — Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde — in accordance with the wishes of, above all, behind Portugal, the Americans, in order to keep their military base on Cape Verde.
The first question to decide is this: were the ancestors right or not?
It seems clear to us that the future — our present — has only shown, and shows every day, how right they were. You need big states to oppose imperialism and colonialism. And for that, it is absolutely imperative to be able to overcome the division and ethnicisation that colonialism, for its part, is constantly working to cultivate. “Wanting to create little specks of states in the twentieth century is a retrograde policy…whose result will be the disappearance in short order of these very states and the loss of their independence,” wrote Boganda. Could there be a better description of what we are witnessing today?
Let us put it differently. Weren’t they right, or rather, didn’t they measure how right they were?
What Is Independence, and Do We Want It?
Revolving Door of Independence
Independence was the keyword in the struggle of the great ancestors. Behind this flag, the immense majority of the people followed them. It was time to be done with contempt, with servitude, with frenzied exploitation. Time to refuse the whole ghastly colonial period. To have one’s own country, one’s own flag. Finally, to be master of one’s own house.
However: there were quite a few opponents of independence, particularly among the educated class, the potential cadre. The shortcut that best suited them was to attach themselves to the imperialists and to reap all the rewards of this attachment, and to stay within the local chefferies. (In these countries, where access to education was rigorously forbidden to the people, where only a few could accede to the status of the “middle class”, it is obvious that the said class, dissociated from the people and in the service of the imperialists, is infinitely corrupt and corruptible, and it remains obvious to this day: the “middle class” is the very node of the well-known “desire for the West”.) On one side, the local potentate and the imperialist service; on the other, the construction of big, truly independent states. On the basis of this watchword, the great ancestors — Nyobe, Lumumba, Nkrumah, Boganda, etc. — launch their appeal, often personally, often impelled by their verbal force alone, to the people, and the people answer them. We thus understand why, despite their different situations, Nkrumah, Nyobe, and Lumumba all issue exactly the same watchword: immediate independence.
But it is the colonialists and the imperialists who jumped at this watchword. Independence? Of course! Right away; we’re giving you the gift of independence right away; we’re even more immediate than you.
In Congo, Lumumba anticipated the formation of the first government in January 1961. At that time, he is dead. Belgium offers independence on June 30, 1960; 10 days later, on July 10, the rich province of Katanga secedes, fomented by the Belgians: troops, planes, Belgian generals descend on it and the country is set ablaze. Between Lumumba’s first trip to Katanga (in January of 1960), in handcuffs and with his face battered, before the Belgians drag him out of prison to sit him down at the Round Table to see if they can corrupt him, and his second trip to Katanga where he will be put to death (January of 1961), only a year has elapsed.
In Cameroon, the masquerade of the independence ceremony takes place in January 1961, while war is raging and supporters of independence are being tortured two streets away. Um Nyobe, the leader of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon, had been assassinated by French troops two years earlier (September 13, 1958), in the forest of the Bassa region in the south of Cameroon; his second in command, Felix Moumié, will be assassinated in Geneva by the French services two years later (on November 3, 1960).
Independence everywhere meant aggravating and accelerating the destruction of the supporters of independence, putting them to death in cases where they hadn’t already been killed. Independence meant the murder of any hope of independence, crowned by the physical death of any potential African leader who proved not to be corruptible. This is where we still are today. This is what we are just beginning to recognise.
We Are Often Ridiculously Naïve
That is a quotation from Mao Zedong. The masses are clear-sighted, whereas we (the leaders) are often ridiculously naïve.
From the perspective of today, one cannot help applying this epithet to the great ancestors, the heroes and giants of the struggle for independence. They were just, they were clear-sighed, they served their peoples, and they were upright and incorruptible. But they proved to be ridiculously naïve, and their naiveté intensified the catastrophe. On the whole, there was still something in them of the tragic greatness of the Indian chiefs of North America who signed treaties believing in their value because they saw the whites as men, although the reverse was not true. These chiefs saw the whites as men who ought, therefore, to behave like men and, they thought, like men of their word. The giants of the African struggles for independence, although they had had time to get to know “the whites”, although they had the horror and brutality of the colonial experience behind them, committed the same error. This suggest the colonial experience was not enough to make them see clearly. In fact, it was thanks to the brutality and horror of that experience that too many things were left out of sight, in the shadows; the motive for the whole business, its driving force, was not so clear.
Fundamentally, we have to consider that the colonial relation as such is also a screen. Whence the element of the imaginary, so important especially in the history of Congo, and which deserves a lengthy study in its own right (from Congo to Fanon to the young girls of Abidjan today who inject themselves with corticosteroids to whiten their skin); whereas the cold monster of capital has neither odour nor colour. And “Piraeus is not a man”. We, therefore, need to rethink colonialism as, at once, instrument and lure, including for its agents themselves.
For sure, at that time the illusion was contingent on its context – the world situation then. The end of the Second World War, and with it the bursting forth of a new era: the weakening of the two great colonial empires, England and France to the benefit of the US, which, not having colonies but wanting to open up new markets for itself, had little difficulty in declaring its support for the end of the colonial system; the existence of the “socialist camp”, the counterpart of American power. All these factors contributed to the sense of an open space, of a possible play among nations capable of recognising new nations, and there were big new nations (like India); and the assembly of the United Nations bringing all of this together in the representation of a space of rational speech, judgment, and law.
They thus believed that they could rely on a space of law and avail themselves of a time for building. Besides, the goal, and already the result, of a mobilisation and a victory over the colonialists, was to go and express oneself in the forum of the United Nations. All this was conducive to the belief that the contradiction was, indeed, between the old, the colonial, and the new, the right to independence, the right of Africa to enter into “the chorus of nations”. To be more precise, all this led to the belief that the contradiction existed in itself, “all things otherwise being equal”. Therefore, Um Nyobe devotes all his energy to arguing precisely and passionately in terms of law; while Lumumba asks “that we merely be permitted to rid ourselves of colonialism (and of imperialism)”, “without jeopardizing Belgian interests”. Fundamentally, this was the idea that the world could recognise “everyone”, its division into two blocs opening up space for a third term — the “third world”, the “non-aligned”, etc. — where it would no longer be obligatory to think in antagonistic terms but where, to the contrary, a time of peace and building was opening up, beyond antagonism. (Hence the care they took to refute the “accusation” of communism, which in effect served to justify the immediate reconstitution of the space in antagonistic terms, those of a fight to the death. You should go on the internet and watch the video of Messmer, a minister of De Gaulle’s and a member of the Académie Française, calmly declaring 30 years later that, yes, his practice of bombing with napalm, of torture, of decapitated heads displayed at the gates of the villages of Cameroon, was entirely justified, since “these weren’t independence fighters, these were revolutionaries”; “independence,” he says, “was us”.)
Independence has, indeed, been recapture and annihilation. The United Nations immediately proves to be the tool of the US, the spearhead of subjection. No time has been allowed for a process of disillusionment and for drawing up lessons of experience. Kwame Nkrumah, who tells us how he took office — in the governor’s palace where yesterday it was all congratulations and the handing-over of power, there is not even a light-bulb in the ceiling, or a chair, or a ream of paper, maybe in the corner a broken chair — understands that a much more terrible war is now declared. He writes his biography, from his school years until the proclamation of independence, then, immediately afterward, ‘Africa Must Unite’, then, immediately after that, ‘On Neo-Colonialism’, a catalogue of the multinational companies that are squeezing the African continent with their tentacles, with their branches and their boards of directors where the same people sit not only in multiple companies but also in the ministries of the “developed” countries. When he writes his final book, Consciencism, he is already in exile: everything must be thought and picked up anew, at a much deeper level, a much more radical one.
Picking Up, Then: Two Big Mountains, Not Just One
Naivety, therefore, consisted in believing in a contradiction between colonialism and the desire for independence, “all things otherwise being equal”. The illusion was to imagine that the world, as it was, could recognise new states; the actual experience was that of a war aimed at the immediate annihilation of the supporters of independence, in order to safeguard the imperialist stranglehold over the natural riches of Africa against any risk of interruption.
But then, we must, at least, expand (hear?) the lesson: getting to know imperialism…but what is imperialism? Capitalism at its highest stage, none other than the definition given by Lenin in 1916; imperialism, then, cannot do without zones of looting, of free looting, the end of the old colonial system having signified the opening up of looting zones for free competition among imperialists. (This is the reason why the US proved so supportive of the much-celebrated decolonisation process, all the while cooperating so actively in the annihilation of the supporters of independence.).
Consequently, if this is true, there was not and is not a “path of development”. Just as capitalism needs constant access to new “labor-power”, exploitable at low cost, in order to counteract the downward trend of profit rates (and this roughly explains the move toward Asia), so it needs direct access to raw materials; and at its highest, “imperialist” stage, the dismemberment of the world having been completed, competition is all about this access.
We should note that the socialist camp — we could even say the progressive camp as a whole — played an extremely harmful role at the time by propagating the idea, which is to say the illusion, of a “third way”, of an autonomy of so-called national liberation struggles; and we should include as well the Chinese theory of “three worlds”, with the idea of the relative autonomy of the level of the states (independence being assigned to the level of states, etc.). All this implies a topological view of the world, with a “centre” and a “periphery”, the struggles for anti-colonial liberation taking place on the periphery.
The experience has proven that this was wrong, that exactly the opposite was the case. From the point of view of imperialism, in other words of capitalism in its current stage, in other words of the world today, Africa, the site for the looting of raw materials and for the fierce struggle to get the loot, is central. And it has to deal with the beast at its very heart.
A young friend from the Central African Republic tells us everyone there accuses Idriss Deby, but often stops at that point without going as far as Paris. That, according to her, is the case even though everyone knows Paris is the instigator and that what is at stake are the oil and diamonds in the north of the country. She says by way of explanation: “But it’s because we don’t understand what France wants.” What don’t you understand? On the contrary, you have a very clear understanding of everything. Here is her answer: “No, we know we’re still colonised, but then, they should just take their oil and their diamonds, but why kill poor peasants or send them to death? That’s what we don’t understand.”
What is to be understood then is that decolonisation meant the passage from a relatively stable consensus in sharing of the world among imperialists (the result of the wars among them in the preceding period) to a predominance of competition among them, which made Africa into their battlefield, where they are now fighting through African intermediaries. This is why some people are capable of missing the old colonial times, which, although horrible, were endowed with a certain stability, compared to the lawless savagery of imperialism at a more advanced stage — one of greater rottenness, in which the earth of Africa is only a space for brawling among bandits, with the peoples of Africa as pawns in the struggle.
But there is no going back. And imperialism is indeed the outcome of capitalism according to its own internal law.
One must, therefore, figure out how to confront the beast itself. This is why the great majority of Africans, who have had this experience, who have seen and understood this (in itself a source of power, a great step forward, an end to drifting in dubious imaginary battles), are so pessimistic about any possibility or opening, in any case in the short term. There is no independence and there will be none for quite a while; and they are convinced at the same time that the decisive struggle will take place in the long term.
So, in order to achieve clarity on this point, we propose from now on to call colonial anything having to do with the consensus among imperialists that Africa should remain a zone for looting, with concerted action and mutual aid to maintain this situation, and with a western ideological consensus on this point, particularly by means of ad hoc international agencies, while imperialism strictly speaking is the looting itself and the looting-war among the imperialists. And this is what makes Africa a battlefield: the battlefield of intra-imperialist competition and war for access to raw materials.
There is colonialism: the consensus and the agreement among imperialists that Africa should remain a looting zone. A good example would be the following excerpt from Le Monde, France’s number one colonial rag about the Congo (note its striking peroration): “China, the United States, and Europe need the treasures housed in the country’s subsoil; they cannot lose interest in what is happening on its surface.” Only the African continent, in particular the Congo, the object of such tender solicitude, must have no use of the riches of its subsoil.
But colonialism is the envelope and the outer garment of imperialism in action, in other words as the practice of looting and the fierce competitive struggle for the loot. Colonialism and imperialism are therefore inseparable. Colonialism is nothing more than the envelope of ideological consensus of imperialism as such. To take up the anti-colonial struggle in its first period was to go face to face with the beast without having anticipated it or even having known it in advance. In the end, this was the naivety. Today, however, after having had this experience, we would be not naïve but guilty if we did not know how to learn lessons from the past and to think truly about the present.
We said, for “the other continent”: you will begin to exist once you have learned to put Africa at the centre of your world.
We can now say a bit more about this somewhat paradoxical statement. For of course, the alleged thesis, in the labor-union style, which in the preceding period claimed a “convergence of interests” between the colonised peoples and the poor of the rich countries, has been proved to be a complete failure. Experience has proven that there was no such convergence, and at the time Frantz Fanon very precisely denounced this thesis as the hoax that it was. What we can add is that, in today’s imperialism, not only is there no “convergence of interests”, but the interests in fact diverge radically. With the worsening of the competition for access to raw materials, poverty is increasing in the western imperialist countries and it will keep on increasing. Thwarted in its hunger for external expansion, capitalism can only regress to an older, 19th-century type of configuration, by excluding from the redistribution of what used to be called “crumbs” larger and larger zones of the old metropolitan states. Fewer and fewer crumbs: that is what we are witnessing today. And this clearly explains the almost unanimous colonial consensus that reigns supreme in a country like France — and which can only get worse in a time of crisis. It also explains the fascist-leaning subjectivity developing all over Europe, which also can only increase as time goes on. Not to see this would not be naivety: it would be pure madness.
No convergence also means no unity negatively constituted around a supposed common enemy. Any supposed negative unity must quickly prove to be an illusion.
Consequently, if you must put Africa at the centre of your world, you must do so from a disinterested point of view. Indeed, it is precisely here, considering what has just been shown, that the touchstone of disinterestedness will lie. Now, any real politics — in other words, really incompatible with the existing capitalist order — is disinterested. For what is at stake is precisely not to submit to rule of private interests, but rather to intervene from another point of view, which we could call the point of view of humanity as a whole, or the point of view of equality, the point of view of the right of everyone to exist: “Every man is a man.”
It is from this point of view that we can say that your relation to Africa serves as a touchstone of your capacity to be free, or to make yourself an effective exception to the existing order.
Let us clarify another point. Serving the interests of capital or serving the interests of humanity: serving private interests only being a variant of the first term. But this having been said, of course, it is the duty of everyone to survive, in other words to make his or her place in the world as it is, while avoiding as much as possible hurting others in the process. The whole question is thus to know, on the one hand, if one knows it, according to the phrase of Martin Singap, leader of the underground forces of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon in the Bamileke region, quoted in the book Kamerun. “At the end of the terrible summer of 1960”, the underground troops are attacked ferociously, and the chief of staff of the ALNK (the Army for the National Liberation of Kamerun) has ordered the exhausted elderly, women, and children to return to the “secured” villages on the model of the French army in Algeria, for it has become impossible for Singap to keep alive, in the backwoods, thousands of families exposed to bombing and to the general precariousness of the life of the underground. “In a huge meeting of militants organized by the UPC on September 5th, 1960 in Mangui, from 7:30 until midnight, at which no fewer than 1500 people were present, a leader explained Singap’s order to his comrades: ‘all of you are going to return to your native villages…. The enemies of our country will take you for supporters, but it is you who will know who you are. Know who you are. Know, moreover, which is even more important, whether that is all you will do, or whether you will do something “in addition”, something beyond. And it is on this point that we arrive at real politics, that is to say, politics incompatible with the capitalist order; that is to say, communist politics. Politics is already communist insofar as it is “in addition”, insofar as it is, as we used to say, free labour. Communism; in other words, the point of view of “all humanity”, finally depends on the extra half-hour that one can snatch from an already busy day, when one does not participate in the bourgeois world. To understand this thing that looks so simple, but that is not so easy to put into practice, is really to learn the lesson of the past century. With this point, we get to questions of activism, questions of politics.
What Is to Be Done
First, let us agree on the basic theses; if they are true, we must speak them. In other words, affirm them:
As the great ancestors wished, there must be big states. This has become even truer insofar as Africa is more than ever the looting zone of global imperialism and has become the stake in the competition among imperialist groups and the site of their battle. It definitely takes a big state to be able to expropriate a multinational company and to kick out of one’s home the armed gangs in its pay. Big states as a proposal, a watchword, a line to follow, an objective. This means states that completely transcend borders of ethnicity, religion, and nationality in the narrow sense of the term. That will be one of their great virtues, and it is moreover a direction for work that can begin immediately: completely separate political questions from all questions of identity, which, we will posit, come under the heading of free association, adding that states must guarantee this freedom but that the politics that interests us, intervening on questions of general interest and from the point of view of general interest, is indifferent to questions of identity, is diagonal to them, and does not exist on the same register, except in intervening to require states to guarantee the right of free association and even to encourage it in every way possible. (This politics goes completely against the contemporary trends that preach, on the contrary, that politics simply is questions of identity; also against the worn-out discourses along the lines of “everything is political” – discourses by the same people who, not afraid as they are by contradiction, also complain that political organisations victimize their identity. No, politics is about concerning oneself with political questions, and not with the rest. Let us be clear. From the point of view of politics, which needs energetic subjects, the more of “the rest” there is, that is, the more singular identities there are (the more ramified and solid symbolic constructions there are), the better things will be. Imperialism needs individuals who are defeated and exhausted, which is why it makes sure that beginning in their most tender years children are forbidden any possibility of symbolic construction; in so doing, imperialism threatens to destroy any civilisation, and gets busy making good on the threat. For us, exactly the opposite is the case. The more subjects there are, and the more singularities there are, the more humanity there will be and the more chances for humanity there will be. Mobilising around cultures, musics, languages, testimonies, and memories, going to places of worship: this does not contradict the work of political unification, quite the contrary. But it is not at all the same thing. Claiming that it is the same thing, or that one should rule over the other, would be catastrophic.)
Unity, around and through political proposals and watchwords, is an essential theme, and it is a goal for work that is always possible here and now, whatever the scale of this work may be. It requires maintaining that political unification is a process independent of questions of identity and indifferent to them, constructing itself on the basis of its own themes, perhaps in sympathy with questions of identity but in any case at a distance from them.
Where to find the strength to construct and impose these big states? Certainly not at the level of the states or of their personnel. On this point, the experience of the great ancestors is definitive; their efforts at this level all failed. But more generally, that is the lesson of the whole twentieth century, which we can sum up in this somewhat crude way: affairs of state are much too serious to be left in the care of states. [As we know, this was precisely the call issued by Mao Zedong to Chinese youth at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution: “get mixed up in affairs of the state”; which, again, is not so easy. (simple?)]
On this point, then, we can maintain that African consciousness is ahead of the game, in the sense in which “any conscientious African”, as Lenin would have said, knows that nothing is to be done at the level of the state, since at this level the only alternative is corruption or death.
The whole question is to follow through with the consequences of this knowledge.
A first consequence is certainly not to expect anything from any position within state or international institutions. But we must go further. An essential point in situating oneself completely outside the existing corrupt states is to succeed in keeping one’s distance from elections. Elections, as we know, are a means of division and of crushing. The purpose of elections is to involve people in the naming of a subordinate and servile state personnel; at “best,” they announce a period of corruption (for very little, often for a simple t-shirt), of sterile division—since there is nothing really at stake in them—and thus of the paralysis of the peoples. At worst, they open up periods of confrontation that are all the more atrocious for being pointless.
Elections have been a dreadfully pernicious way of attacking the supporters of independence. And experience has shown that it is not easy to escape them. The most striking example, with the most disastrous consequences, is undoubtedly that of the elections organised in 1956 by the French government in Cameroon. Previously, the UPC (the party of Nyobe Moumie), the only serious and truly established party, had been prohibited. It, therefore, could not run its own candidates. What was to be done under these conditions? Accepting these falsified elections and relying on moderate spokespeople (like Soppo Priso), who will immediately play their own game and unburden themselves of the commitments they have made? Or boycotting the elections? It is because it found itself squeezed in this double bind — either submission and the risk of accepting the formation of a phony government, or a boycott which would have meant entering into antagonism — that the UPC, in fact, lost the initiative and found itself committed in spite of itself to a rash and defensive war. Same thing in the Congo, same thing, more recently, with Aristide’s party in Haiti. We can truly say that once real independent forces are constituted, elections are deployed by imperialists as a massive weapon of destruction, allowing them to take back the initiative and to hasten the antagonism according to a time-scheme determined by them.
So then, let us propose to agree on a line that we will call that of indifference to elections. The word “indifference” is essential, and we will take our starting point in proposing the watchword indifference in two registers. First, indifference that does not preclude sympathy toward the process of identification; second, antipathy but above all indifference towards the electoral processes, indifference here being the important point to apply and to win. Let it be understood that we are neither concerned with nor interested in elections. What defines this line is, in fact, an immediate stake, which is to suggest that we not talk about — consequently that we not become divided over — names, but only about contents, proposals, watchwords.
We will claim that this is enough to begin. To begin what? Investigating, working among people, the people. Must we pick up the question of independence where it was left off? Must our goal be the construction of big states? What do you think of these proposals? Here objections, stories, examples, enumerations of obstacles — in this case, we propose the discussion on the watchword indifference in its two registers — are going to proliferate. Perhaps they can take written form, that of a tract, which would then be presented for discussion. A meeting could be called. At that point new watchwords will emerge — small ones, intermediate ones, objectives putting this work of unification into action; a small work, certainly, patient, tiny. The initial theses will become increasingly refined, reshaped, ramified, depending upon places, circumstances, the battles that need to be won. The work of ants, invisible, bringing neither rewards nor fame, the work of the “old mole”, except that here the image is less one of digging in order to undermine the edifice than to construct. But construct what? Nothing other than an independence, for we will maintain that independence, as we have seen, is not an affair of state, cannot be entrusted to states. For whom and where, then, if not to the people? What is independence if not a politicised people capable of imposing its decisions? This is why we can say that independence, as the UPC saw and practised it in Cameroon, even without grasping its ultimate political consequences — this is why we must pick up where it left off. Independence is nothing other than “the proceedings”, the process of independence (in Bassa language, Ngaa Kunde: “You will know who you are”).
Thus, as Mao Zedong used to say, to investigate a problem is to solve it. Politics consists of proposing theses and of putting them to work and into discussion, of addressing the problem to be solved. And of continuing. Of beginning, and of continuing. Of following through the process, of holding on to the thread.
Who will do it? Anyone and everyone, can do it. Those who decide to do it.
Certainly, those who have a little more time have a particular responsibility (how are you going to do anything, a comrade used to say, when in the Congo, for example, you have to devote all your time and energy to finding whatever you can to eat today?); particular responsibility falls to those who know how to read, and can read for others; who know how to write and thus how to take notes and write them up; who can travel, etc. In other words, the well-known question of the intellectuals.
We can no longer hope, as Amilcar Cabral used to say, the petit-bourgeoisie will commit suicide as a class in order to put itself in the service of its people and of the peoples. More than ever today, the petit-bourgeoisie, the literate class, constitutes the bulk of the corrupted, the servile personnel.
Responsibility falls to those who are “one and another”: to singular subjects.
When the “mass connection,” the idea of “going to the people”, becomes itself a mass phenomenon, it means that something is going to happen. This is the 19th century Russia or, in a smaller and closer version, the movement of going to work in the factories in France just before 1968. So it is also something that already participates in movement, carrying with it the energy and the ambiguity of what makes movement possible and interrupts itself in the exhaustion of its contradiction. This was often a beginning without any follow-up, because the predominant fantasy was that of “going there, but nothing after”, because in the last analysis what was really involved was a narcissistic project, because the theme of connection is a theme of movement, at once strong and ambiguous: this is an absolutely necessary theme, a sine qua non for beginning, but it is not a sufficient theme for politics.
The political theme, the militant one, is to begin and to continue, and then it is equality as the experience of the process and of contents. To put it differently, what is available to us today is a method. This method is properly speaking the heritage of Maoism, whose content is in no way reducible to the idea of “mass labor” — that is the requirement and the beginning; it is a method for continuing, in other words for trying out, through the rigour of the investigation and the realisation of its consequences by means of new proposals, new watchwords, new theses, that we can continue. (go on?)
(This text presents itself as a proposal for beginning and for continuing.)
Cécile Winter is a French political activist working in the northern suburb of Paris. The author of various programmatic and interventionist tracts and brochures on workers’ politics, she was a member of the French Maoist group, UCFML (now extinct), and then went on to play a prominent part in L’Organisation Politique. As somebody who continues to be an engaged militant, Africa and its colonisation are some of Winter’s major concerns. A doctor by profession, she hopes to elucidate the notions of life, genericity, conscience and decision in the works of Joseph Conrad.