Friday, April 24, 2009



By Biko Agozino and a brother

I just read Pambazuka online and sent this comment about Shivji’s paper:

‘Professor Shivji's Dudley Lecture was a good read. I marvel at the inventiveness of Swahili and other African languages - turning modernization (utandawazi) into a network of thieves (utandawizi) effortlessly. In Igbo language, the closest equivalent would be Otu Uwa (one world) and Otu Ugha (liars club). I particularly enjoyed the reflection of the thoughts of Julius Nyerere on how he was wrong to oppose Kwame Nkrumah’s proposal for a unity government with the gradualist alternative of regional unity first. Also revealing is the information that Nkrumah started out as a gradualist himself by championing the regional unity stepping stone approach before quickly abandoning it for the Union government option.

However, I was expecting that the publication of the lecture as a book chapter would reflect what questions Issa was asked in Nsukka and how he answered them. For instance, with the global African presence, is it wise to dismiss globalisation simply as imperialism when it is clear that Pan Africanism was a globalized movement from the start? According to Shivji, ‘I will talk of African nationalism as an anti-thesis of globalisation. For me globalisation is imperialism.’ Why not attempt a theory of the democratization of globalization as Chomsky advised given that the first call for globalization came from the left – ‘workers of all countries, Unite!’?

This omission became glaring in the lecture especially because there was no serious analysis of slavery and its consequences. Rather, Issa took the Berlin conference initiative of 1850 as the first scramble for Africa whereas Dr Eric Williams correctly identified the first scramble as the centuries long enslavement of tens of millions of Africans and concluded correctly that what Shivji called the second scramble is actually the third.

Furthermore, what did Shivji mean by the quote: ‘Remember that the insurrection of ideas precedes the insurrection of the gun’? Speaking in Nsukka which was the battle ground in the Biafra-Nigerian civil war that claimed the lives of some of our brightest minds, including the irreplaceable Chris Okigbo, was he not being insensitive by implicitly invoking the insurrection of the gun in a university setting? I believe that Issa was harking back to the old maxim that armed struggle was the essential way to liberate Africa but we cannot accept that uncritically today given the damage that armed conflicts have wreaked on Africa and continue to do so.

Rather, we should embrace the African philosophy of non-violence which Gandhi admitted that he learned from the Zulu and move forward to build the Peoples Republic of Africa United Democratically (PRAUD) and extend it to the willing Caribbean with dual citizenship for the African Diaspora who desire it. We need to emphasize that our aim is not to fight against Europe and north America who have nothing to lose from African unity, our goal is to serve our people and not to fight against others as China successfully demonstrates. Do Not Agonize, Organize! I sent this to a respected brother who wrote back defending Shivji even before he read Shivji’s chapter:

‘I haven't read the lecture and will have to do so to fully understand where you are coming from. Understand your comment on problems with silencing/marginalization of slavery in a discourse on colonialism but not clear on what's wrong with the idea of insurrection of thought before insurrection of the gun. The quote, as you present it, does not seem to imply a fetishization of the insurrection of the gun as you suggest in finding him insensitive to Biafara and other concerns. A good point on non violence but I don't see the relevance in relation to your quote from Shivji; indeed, the Shivji quote you present seems to support your emphasis on the power of ideas=2 0over guns. And on globalization: There is an imperialist globalization to be rejected but does that mean in doing so one does not/can not recognize/imagine another form of global exchange. I'll be surprised - nay, shocked - if someone like Shivji is not aware of historic calls for global solidarity from the left. I'll have to disagree with the notion that the first call for globalization came from the left, as the worldwide expansion of capitalism (the beginnings of globalization) surely predates 'the left'. Will try and read Shivji later.’ And then I replied to him:

You are a hard marker you know, glad I did not take your class or you may have messed up my GPA. Okay, I might have been too hard on Shivji myself but the teleology from ideas to guns appears to privilege the gun ‘in the final analysis’. With shottas scaring the nation with them amanation (Junior Marvin), we must be skeptical of any notions of militarism, however disguised. Capitalism was never a call for globalization but a call for bourgeois nationalism. Marx and Engels were the first to see beyond Smith’s myopic Wealth of Nations in their critique o f impoverished political economy to identify the global wealth of the workers of the world.

Yes, let us reject imperialist globalization but more urgently, we must concentrate on building the democratic globalization instead of the essentialism of fighting globalization as if it is all negative. Cuba fights less against anyone despite the 50 year old blockade and more for the people, hence its success in using the African philosophy of non-violence to concentrate on education, health and social services as the best defenses against imperialist aggression. Japan did the same after world war 2 and so did Germany, China too to some extent, hence their relative insulation from the meltdown. I hope that the new Africa will concentrate on building and not on fighting.

‘Ah, my brother, you are curing while creating new ailments. Still haven't read Shivji so you might be right about his teleology on armed insurrection.

To critique and fight capitalist globalization is not to deny positives that emerge out of the process. After all, none other than Marx saw positives in the worldwide expansion of capitalism; indeed, he was over the top in his analysis and predictions of the progressive forces unleashed by capitalism. I don't think anti-globalization folks can be reduced to being essentialists who don't grasp the complexity and contradictory processes of globalization, but they do see much in it to resist and fight and no contradiction in doing that and pursuing good education and health services. Quite often they have to fight powerful elements of globalization to pursue these objectives, to democratize globalization.

Cuba is such a bad example of your non violence ethic, having fought countless wars in Africa and Latin America as part of their defense against 'imperialist aggression'. And they did this while concentrating on education, health and social services. You are in danger of setting up some binary formulations in the quest to assert the philosophy of non violence. Japan and Germany are also weak examples, given that their militarism was curbed by external forces, and they20play and an important role in the militarism of the lone superpower. I don't know about their relative insulation from the meltdown; the crises in Japan and Germany are profound. As for China, the reasons for their success and potential go way beyond any philosophy of non violence (which I don't know to be their philosophy; after all, the party that rules fought a serious war for the opportunities to address issues of education, health, etc). To understand China's trajectory we need to pay more attention to the hidden abodes of social relations of production there and their peculiar relations hip with the market (incidentally, Smith might have more to offer in this exercise than Marx but I'l leave that for another time). Such an exercise would reveal a lot more about the dynamic within China than fishing for examples of non violent philosophy.

'Capitalism was never a call for globalization but a call for bourgeois nationalism'. I disagree. Capitalists, as part of the process of accumulation and the pursuit of profit, have long called for unbridled access to the resources of the globe; it is a core feature of globalization. Bourgeois nationalism is but one form of rule that has governed this process. I think you are in danger of treating linked phenomena as conceptual isolates.

We all hope that the new Africa will concentrate on building and not fighting but I know we all remember how many in the 'old' Africa had to fight for the opportunity to build, and this was not because of some penchant for militarism.’


I accept your point that these things are articulated and not separate. I do agree that non-violence is not pacifism, after all Gandhi learned it from the Zulu of all warlike people. My argument remains that non-violence is the major contribution of African civilization to world civilization and that all people who have adopted it have reaped greater dividends from it than from warfarism. This includes even Uncle Santa where our people have made huge impacts not just from jumping into all the bacchanal there but more by offering intellectual and moral leadership in the direction of non-violence, as Obama seems to be offering; it is an African thing for a presidential candidate in the middle of a war to take an anti-war stance and still win, against a decorated war veteran, never happened before.

I strongly believe that the success of the post-war economies of Germany and Japan owe a lot to their concentration on the economy and relative withdrawal from military aggression. Of course, Marx was right that capitalism is not all bad and no good, it is indeed better than feudalism but still not the best for humanity and what is to be done is to form a party of the working people but not to form an army; Lenin added that what is to be done is to establish a newspaper with which to organize the party, not to form a suicide squad. Yes, Mao said that it is a false contradiction – violence versus non-violence – because it depends on the nature of the challenge. If the challenge is militaristic, then it is inevitable that the resistance would involve some military means as Fanon established although some people misunderstand him as the apostle of violence while he was showing that violence is often evidence of psychiatric problems.

But if the onslaught is ideological, economic and technological, then that is where we need to concentrate our efforts as the great Bob Marley theorized: ‘I and I don’t come to fight flesh and blood but spiritual wickedness in high places, so while they fight you down stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises, for I and I don’t expect to be justified by the laws of men, by the laws of men, though they find you guilty….’ Oh sure, he swore that he shot the sheriff but then the solution (as he saw it) is to legalize the herbs so that he would not be told to kill the seeds he planted and not to go on shooting sheriffs (with music and the wonderful thing about music is that when it hits you feel no pain). Sheriffs have more guns and would shoot more rebels down more easily.

The way to end wars, according to Marley, is not by building a stronger army but by ensuring that there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; that the colour of one’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of one’s eyes. That was why there was no right to bear arms in the 10 point program of the Black Panther Party. I think that it will take a whole book to flesh out the arguments I am outlining here.

The brother concluded that the fun of the exchange was over because this last posting of mine clarified that we did not have any differences to debate anymore. Onwards to the Peoples Republic of Africa!

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