The Sunday News
DURING the African struggles against settler colonialism the name of Frantz Fanon used to scare settler colonialists that understandably banned his books and pamphlets. In the present era the name and legacy of Fanon terrifies most post-independence political establishments. In the academic disciplines political philosophers claim Fanon as their canonical thinker. The psychoanalysts, those dissidents of psychology, swear by his name. In the departments of Sociology Fanon’s books are found in the top drawers and they take a front seat in the reading lists given by professors of Development Studies and Literary Criticism. Fanon is dutifully studied by Theologians and anthropologists. A friend of mine and fellow traveller in the Africa Decolonial Network, Eric Nyembezi of the University of Johannesburg lectures the discipline of Architecture and Town Planning deploying Fanonian categories. So what and who exactly is Frantz Fanon in the world? My observation is that Fanon is the very definition of Decolonial Undisciplinarity.
But what is the explanation for the fact that a thinker who scared settler colonialists now scares the same post-independence states that he fought for? Most post-independence political establishments of the Global South are not comfortable with Fanonian insights that fill them with fear and guilt of betrayed decolonisation and sold-out liberation. Fanon, Ibrahim Fanon as he was known, was not only deeply philosophical and piercingly psychological but was also prophetic. As time goes the political relevance and intellectual potency of Fanon increases. The work of Fanon has had the Jesus effect of achieving more currency after his death than it had in his life.
Fanon was the intellectual and philosophical ghost behind the South African Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements that are still keeping the academy in the Republic on edge. Latin American resistance and liberation movements cite Fanon and some of his books and essays as the scriptures from which revolutionaries and activists quote verses and anecdotes. In Palestine, Fanon is mentioned among the prophets. So, we must ponder Fanon.
What Scared the Settler Colonialists?
In short, what Fanon said and did about settler colonialism scared settler colonialists to the high heavens and the deep hell. Part of what Fanon did was to lift up guns and fight French colonialism in Algeria. Fanon was not just a closet philosopher, he saw military action and engaged in armed combat. The settler colonialists, like any other oppressor feared an armed revolutionary. Fanon became part of what Niccolo Machiavelli called “the armed prophets,” deep thinkers that can follow up their ideas with bombs and bullets. The armed, shooting and bombing Fanon is not the only Fanon. It is not only his bombing, shooting and fighting ways that scared the settler colonialists. Fanon was a thinker and he thought dangerously. Fanon still, even more than ever, scares racist white supremacists and bigots, today. And this is as he frightens brown and black tyrants, despots and fundamentalists of our planet. So, Fanon is a stubborn planetary reality that must be understood.
In his classic of 1961, The Wretched of the Earth, a book that Fanon did not physically write but dictated from his deathbed to his wife, yes Fanon had a wife, Josie Fanon; he gave the world a gift. That book, somehow, became Fanon’s political prophecy and dying wish. “Decolonisation” said Fanon “is a violent phenomenon,” indeed “decolonisation is quite simply the replacing of a certain species of men with another species of men.” By that, Fanon meant that decolonisation must not be reform but a revolution that totally kills the colonial system and replaces it with a decolonial system. It must turn victimisers and victims into victors that look to a new and liberated future. A system that must not emulate or imitate the colonial system, a political system led by men and women that had no colonial tendencies of their own. For the settler colonialists that was a scary pronunciation it was a prophecy of the end of the world.
It is Fanon who observed that the social and political advancement of Europe and America, their prosperity, was based on the theft of labour and resources of the Global South through slavery and colonialism. “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World” and “the wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too.” That was a true but scandalous observation that terrified imperialists and reduced them from civilisers and modernisers to the robbers and thieves that they truly were. Fanon was like that, a true intellectual bandit that did not think, write and speak for applause but for veracity.
Colonialism and slavery, under the whole system of Euro-American imperialism created obscene inequalities in the world. The perpetrators and beneficiaries of imperialism became the haves and the victims the have nots, and what did Fanon say about that: “What counts today, the question which is looming on the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question or be shaken to pieces.” That those who had stolen power and wealth through slavery and colonialism should be prepared to share or lose everything was an ominous prophecy for the conquerors and Empire-builders of the world. Fanon was too much, as the woke students of today are fond of saying.
It is only Fanon that could say true liberation would be based on and fertilised by the rotting corpse of the settler, which was a powerful metaphor of how liberation would be founded on the end of colonial domination. For Empire Fanon became, like the biblical Amos, a prophet of doom. Fanon hit the colonialists where it hurt the most. One of the questions and observations he raised was that if colonial rule was good for the colonised why did the rulers need to rely, always on the police and the soldiers, to force the people to obey. Coercion and force, Fanon noted, is the ultimate sign of weakness and poverty of leadership. The colonialists used soldiers and the police to force the colonised to obey because they were losers that could only rely on violence. They had nothing to inspire and motivate the support and following of the ruled.
Fanon is much feared and hated by oppressor regimes for his take on violence. He believed that there was revolutionary and justified violence that is the option of a people that are ruled by violent oppressor regimes that rely on monstrous violence for their rule. People, the masses, Fanon taught, have the capacity to mount violence that can topple any colonial and oppressive regime. Fanon trusted in the people, he believed in the revolutionary power of the masses that all colonialists and oppressors are content to treat as the useless holoi poloi.
What Scares Post-independence Fundamentalists?
In fear, guilt and hatred of Fanon, most Third World fundamentalists try to pretend that Fanon is old fashioned. As a soldier, a doctor and philosopher of the then Third World, Fanon was a revolutionary but not a fundamentalist. He was not willing to romanticise Africa and worship blackness for its own sake, no, he was prepared to critique the African liberation movements and their leaders. Fanon was a stubborn pragmatist that was brutally honest. As much as he consorted with and also confronted revolutionary white philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Fanon had a political and intellectual habit of looking friends and comrades in the eye and calling them out for selling out and betraying the cause of liberation.
Fanon looked black African liberation movements in the eye and told the leaders and accused them of their “intellectual laziness” and “unpreparedness” for liberation. They were not, in their intellection and politicking, connected to the experiences and aspirations of the masses of their people. In that way, Fanon told them, they had sold Africa to “stupidity.” After settler colonialism, Fanon cried, black African leaders returned to racism, tribalism, xenophobia and narrow nationalism where they mistook the tribe for the nation and the state for the clan. Above all else, Fanon said, the African leaders that took over from white racist colonialist leaders quickly became colonialists in their own right by using the systems, institutions and structures of power that the colonialists left behind. Fanon condemned native colonialism in Africa where despots and tyrants colonised their own countries and used armies, the police and legislations that were colonial in nature and effect to violate and dominate the masses of their people.
Colonialism was evil, whether committed by white supremacists or black fundamentalists, Fanon brutally condemned it. Settler and native colonialism were evils that should and must not be tolerated. What some African post-colonial African leaders did to form political parties along tribal and ethnic lines and to share and distribute the national cake along blood and surname lines was “stupidity” and evil in the revolutionary thinking of Fanon. And in historical reality that is what most post-independence African political dispensations did. That is why they fear and hate Fanon with equal passion as the settler colonialists that Fanon vigorously challenged and stupefied. After fighting the settler and getting him to retreat, in stupidity, African brothers turned around to fight and kill each other for political power and scarce resources. The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 is the ultimate metaphor of that evil and stupidity. Much corruptly and greedily revolutionary leaders became reactionaries that enriched themselves at the dear expense of the people. Corruption, according to Fanon was stupidity because it turned the political liberator into a coloniser.
Fanon bemoaned tragic African countries where the same Manichean and colonial power and class relations existed. That a new black class of politically and economically privileged group emerged which was living alongside the poorest of the poor masses was to Fanon tragic and colonial. Africa has some business and political leaders that are richer than their countries and that lead by the use of violence. What the settlers did not get is that Fanon did not valorise and celebrate all violence. That is why he advanced the concept of revolutionary and non-revolutionary violence that has continued to be privileged by scholars and politicians the world over. Fanon privileged what can be called holy violence that is for the purposes of liberation.
What Does Fanon want?
What disgusted Fanon the most is how Africans imitated European politics and economics of colonialism. The Fanonian cry was: “Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man; yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of everyone of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe.” Fanon was disappointed when blacks and Africans levied on each other the same violence and murder that settler colonialists punished them with. It was Fanon’s exhortation to African intellectuals and political leaders that “come, then, Comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We can today do everything so long as we do not imitate Europe.” African intellectuals and political leaders owed the world and humanity something new and fresh, “humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation; which would be an obscene caricature.” Liberation and humanisation, otherwise, for Frantz Fanon, was creativity and an invention of new people and a new world. That is why Fanon scared settler colonialists and post-independence tyrants and despots of Africa alike. He was a philosopher of liberation, a soldier that shot to kill and a medical doctor that treated to heal, a complete and stubborn revolutionary, a timeless philosopher of the human. To know that the wealth, prosperity, power and privilege that the West has it fundamentally owes to Africa, and that Africans, black and white, own the world, is to be Fanonian.
– Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from the Vaal University of Technology, Northwest, and South Africa: [email protected]