Africa: From Ideology to Utopia

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, May 21, 2017 | 608 views

There was a time in the life of Africa where not being ideological, not holding strong defendable political and intellectual beliefs was considered treacherous and criminal.

In such time in 1973 one Dr James Karioki led a worldwide campaign that Ali Mazrui and his work should be boycotted by all Africans for the grave crime that he was not a socialist. At the time not being a good socialist in Africa was not only politically heretic but it was the intellectual equivalent of the anti-Christ.

The strong minded Ali Mazrui defended himself with the flowery claim that he was an African liberal who believed that Africa and Africans should be allowed to shop freely for ideas and theories from the rich basket of world knowledges. Mazrui’s defensive but compelling wisdom was that of ideological non-alignment, where Africans could produce well like capitalists and consume with wisdom like communists without feeling guilty about learning from different extremes of the global ideological divide. By their nature ideologies become passionate little religions and fundamentalisms that can blinker the mind and deafen the ear to new ideas and fresh political possibilities in the world.

In African history and politics socialism as a political ideology once enjoyed that status of an intellectual and political fundamentalism that was beyond question. African nationalism and Pan-Africanism too enjoyed pride of ideological and political place in the scheme of African affairs for many years up to their exhaustion in the 1990s. Probably intellectually embarrassed by their belief in foreign ideas and alien ideologies from Europe stubborn African thinkers and intellectuals such as Julius Nyerere and some academics in the University of Makerere and the University of Dar es Salaam concocted the novel idea that Africa was not importing socialism because as a people Africans were socialist before socialism was born. Inventive research projects were carried out that proved that pre-colonial African communalism was actually the finest form of socialism, therefore the East Europeans in socialism only reminded Africa of its original true self and did not teach them any new ideology.

In all the intellectual and political vogue of socialism in Africa, Ali Mazrui’s loud laughter was that scholars and leaders publicly professed socialism and privately lived capitalism. Africa was a huge cemetery of ideological hypocrisy.

The Tyranny of Global Neoliberal Capitalism

With the victory of neoliberalism in the world the prophets of capitalism claimed the end of history itself and the terminus of ideology. We are supposed to be living in a post-ideological world presently but in actuality the entire world is experiencing the tyranny of neoliberal capitalism as a hegemonic ideology that has achieved the status of a fundamentalism and a passionate political and intellectual religion. In the name of the doctrines of democracy, human rights, individualism and other freedoms countries like Iraqi, Libya and Afghanistan have been destroyed. In the name avoiding the destruction of countries and peoples countries and peoples are being destroyed. In Africa decolonisation delivered a continent of what fits the definition of failed states, self-destroyed states in the going grammar of the global neoliberal regime.

The state in its colonial definition has failed in Africa, making Africa itself a failed continent. The six markers of a successful state as noted by Mazrui are: Sovereign control over territory, sovereign supervision (not necessarily ownership) of national resources, effective revenue collection and taxation, adequate national infrastructure, provision of basic education, healthcare, sanitation and housing, and the rule of law and order. There is no single African country that can presently claim to have achieved successful statehood by the foregoing measure. The hegemonic political discourse blames not the history of colonialism and imperialism for Africa’s failure but Africa itself. The failure is not of neoliberal capitalism and the colonial state but that of Africans who have failed to properly implement the economic and political fundaments of the fundamentalism of neoliberalism and its global capitalist regime. African state failure and historical fragility are considered an African problem and not a problem that the world has caused in Africa. In actuality imposed and inherited political and economic ideologies have been first the cause and secondly the excuse that is used to explain Africa’s present condition of political and economic failure. This African condition of political and economic decay that is colonial and imperial in its provenances is exactly what decolonial thinkers define and continue to describe as coloniality.

The political and intellectual proposal of the decolonial turn that is being advanced by such entities as the World Social Forum and others entails what Antoni Gramsci called a radical “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” in doubting and refusing received and imposed ideas and inventing new ideas, political strategies and intellectual tactics of survival. In politics and history as in Karate, when all the two doors are closed the way out is to use the third door. Presently in Africa excessive governance becomes tyranny and minimal governance naturally becomes anarchy and chaos yet there must still be a future for the continent and its people, whence the third door ?

Being Africa and African in the present world has become deeply ideological on its own. At the one end Africa has been understood by characters like Melville Herskovits as a pure geographical fiction, a figment of those who designed the world map. On the other end Africa has been seen and experienced by others as an accident of history, a creature of colonialism itself that reminded Africans through pain and suffering that they are different from other peoples in the world by being African. To Africans, politically and historically, by imagination and experience, Africa has become a geographical and political fact and reality that is defendable.

Toward Critical Decolonial Utopias

In a world ruled by the tyranny of global neoliberal capitalism the question of what is true knowledge and who is a true human being under the sun cannot be taken for granted. The neoliberal global capitalist regime accompanies itself with what Boaventura de Sousa Santos has called “techno-scientific knowledge” that credits itself by discrediting alternative knowledges.

Science and art in the world have become ideological and fundamentalist in their resistance to and rejection of different and new ideas. The left and right ideological and political divide is taken as a fixed and permanent priori and a totality outside which there is no existence. Present scientific thinking in the world discredits, trivialises and minimises any thought that is outside its tyrannical domain as unrealistic, primitive and or wishful and superstitious thinking.

The current going intellectual and political slogan of the decolonial movement including the World Social Forum is that: Another World Is Possible. The possibility of another world besides the present is the grammar of optimism that can indeed be called an article of faith that is not based on any evidence or empirical fact, it is not ideological but feeds on critical utopia and decolonial fantasy. The novelty and radicalism of the language of utopia beyond the fundamentalism of ideology is that it refuses politically and intellectually to play by the strict rules that have been defined by the global neoliberal capitalist regime.

For Africans, leaders and thinkers of the Global South the present decolonial moment is a moment of utopias in a world that is ideological and forbids utopic imagination. It is a time to imagine and invent new political and economic alternatives that owe and pay no debt to Eurocentric legacies and impositions. As the defeated, failed, removed and expelled wretched of the earth Africa has the liberty to still shop from the rich basket of world ideas and pick those that advance the African decolonial utopia. Ideologies have brought Africa to this historical and political condition of failure and decay and only utopias and not ideologies can get Africa and Africans out.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from South Africa:


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