The Sunday News
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena
When Samir Amin died on 12 August 2018, obituaries and eulogies expectedly poured in as the world’s leading intellectuals celebrated a great mind.
The African Existentia philosopher, Lewis R Gordon, celebrated Amin for his contribution to liberation philosophy and the shifting of the geography of reason in the world.
“Shifting the geography of reason” is a decolonial concept that was coined by Gordon in reference to overturning the stereotype that philosophy and good reasoning are naturally the preserve of people that are geographically located in the West and that have white skins. Celebrating thinkers of the Global South as producers of knowledge and citizens of the thinking world is part of the shifting of the geography of reason that Amin did.
Many scholars use the term “Eurocentrism,” in reference to the intellectual, economic and political domination of Europe over the rest of the world but very few of them know that the term was foundationally coined by Samir Amin.
That is how original and creative the intellectual titan was throughout his vocation as a scholar and public intellectual who publicly celebrated “militant action.” Amin’s world famous doctoral dissertation of 1957 that was initially given the ambitious title:
The origins of underdevelopment – capitalist accumulation on a world scale, is up to this day a telling template of intellectual rigour that is being used in social science and humanities faculties the world over.
Amin was sophisticated and deep in his thinking, logical and neat in his presentation of work, and simple but not simplistic in his rendition and languaging of ideas.
Because his ideas were weighty and revealing, Amin did not need any linguistic and stylistic pretensions to prove anything to anyone, not that he was not flowery and poetic at times. Linguistic and stylistic embroidery was now and again a rhetorical tool of his as was punchy and simple clarity.
Amin died this very year which is the year when he became the winner of the Caribbean Philosophical Association Frantz Fanon Lifetime Award for exemplary intellection and contribution to social justice in the world.
Who are the Philosophers of Liberation?
Generically philosophers of liberation are those philosophers that engage with the problematic of domination and oppression at a world scale. As a result these philosophers are one way or another conversant in the workings and dynamics of the world system and the world order.
They seek to understand how the world works and what the role of the Global South is in that world. A central contour of the philosophy of liberation is the ethics of healing and regeneration of both the oppressors and the oppressed.
These philosophers are fundamentally not anthropocentric, that is they also think deeply about other forms of life on earth besides human life. Care about nature, wildlife, plants, water, the soil and the atmosphere has given the philosophers of liberation the title of planetarists.
In a radical sort of way, they insist on the ethics of intersectionality, that is the philosophical belief that there is no form of domination and oppression that is to be considered a priority of liberation struggles ahead of other oppressions and dominations.
In that way, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, xenophobia, tribalism, classicism, and other oppressive categories are in the same basket of evil and must be challenged with equal force.
There are so many racists out there that want to be respected as fighters who are helping preserve nature and the environment, and are heroes in the protection of animal rights.
There are also sexists that demand respect for being internationalists and humanists that are against xenophobia and tribalism. Some heroes of the feminist struggle against sexism and partriarchy are themselves ableist and ageists.
A large part of the analysis of the philosophy of liberation is unmasking how oppressions and dominations are intersectional and multidirectional, how one or a group of people can be the oppressed in racial terms but are oppressors in terms of gender, ethnicity or any other category of life.
In that way, the philosophers of liberation fight against domination and also engage in fights with those that fight domination as long as there are oppressions that are concealed in the ranks of liberation struggles such as racism and sexism that can be found in some human rights organisations and movements.
Philosophers of liberation are mainly dissidents and heretics that are not populist in their approach, intellectually and politically, they would rather be unpopular for truths than famous for telling lies and claiming easy victories. For that reason, many of them have found themselves in exile, their books banned and their bodies cast in prison if not graves.
They have been rightly or wrongly accused of political messianism, which is sticking to their guns even in the face of death and ending up being betrayed or crucified in the struggle. They are stubborn thinkers that religiously hold onto beliefs in liberation. Politically they carry their cross and bear the marks of the struggle.
Amin’s Philosophy of Liberation
Amin was an African that was born of an Egyptian father and a French mother. He travelled the whole world and settled amongst other places in Mali and Senegal.
He was a true citizen of the planet and his planetarity reflected in his philosophical planetarism.
He thought and wrote about Africa from the world and about the world from Africa.
He was part of the dependency theory movement of such African scholars as Walter Rodney and others. The underdevelopment of Africa by Europe haunted his intellectual career.
The marginalisation of women in politics and the economy in Africa, the domination of black people by white people in world affairs, and the scourge of Eurocentrism in academia are all themes that occupied Amin’s intellectual attention.
He had intellectual contempt for Euro-American hegemony in the world. The other intellectually fancy term that Amin coined is the term “maldevelopment” that refers to the wrong kind of development that was frequently championed by donors and NGOs in Africa, such kinds of development as destroying forests to build smoky factories by multinational corporations that go on to pollute rivers and siphon natural resources.
Development if it is to be liberating development should not be at the expense of the life and happiness of people and nature.
Amin opposed Islamophobia as much as he condemned antisemitism and zionism at the same time.
So brave was Amin that he did not hesitate to confront friends and colleagues in intellectual and political movements that he belonged to.
Like another philosopher of Liberation, Aime Cesaire who resigned from the French Communist Party in protests against racism against black people, Amin left the same party for the same reasons.
Amin was not an intellectual fundamentalist; he openly changed his mind on many issues as the world changed and historical facts shifted. Colleagues and novices in CODESRIA will miss the humble intellectual giant, an approachable teacher and mentor of many intellectual giants.
How to Mourn Amin
Philosophers of liberation are a gift to the brave world. Amin died at the ripe age of 86 after a fruitful and eventful intellectual career. He lives behind an archive of publications in shape of books, chapters, journals and lectures.
Amin must be studied and not mourned. Governments of the Global South and Universities should set up Samir Amin centres and institutes where his research outputs can be translated into policies of decolonisation and development.
As he physically retreats from the world his work should be centred and advanced in academic and political organisation. His death should be the birth of decolonial aminism as a philosophy of liberation.
For young scholars and academics, the work of Amin should be a good template of how to practice public intellectualism that has a planetary sensibility and not a nativist fundamentalism.
His work should be expanded, multiplied, magnified and amplified by all decolonial theorists of the South and the North. An ancestor has been gained. Rest in Power Prof !
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena is a founding member of ADERN; he writes from Braamfontein, Johannesburg: [email protected]