The Sunday News
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena
AFRICAN politics, in its veracity, does not really exist as the politics of Africans in the African continent. What is upon us is politics in the African continent that has a deep Western problem, a colonial problem to be exact.
Where it is found, what is called African politics is an imitation of Western politics, and like any other imitation it only remains a copy at best and at worst a shadow of the original. Western politics itself has its own problem of being an adaptation of ancient political theories, ideologies and some political philosophies that had gnostic and religious evils embedded in them.
One can observe, therefore, that African politics suffers the problem of being an imitation of an imitation at least and at most a shadow of a shadow. A copy of a copy and shadow of a shadow really remains like that, something hardly real and shadowy in its visibility and effect. That makes the intellectual and political search for authentic African politics a serious continental agenda.
African scholars and their cousins the journalists are invested in the debate concerning a litany of ills such as, corruption, human rights violations, political violence, incompetence of politicians, and sheer barbarism in the conduct and exercise of politics in the continent.
This litany of ills is in actuality not the disease but the assortment of symptoms of the malady that dogs the condition of Africa and its politics in the multiple nation states that colonialism handed down to us as a violent imposition that was given under the guise of a grand gift of civilisation and modernisation.
What the conquerors and the colonisers imposed on Africa as political thought and practice was a system and practice of politics that was condemned and doomed in the West itself. That politics, given to us with all the racist and colonial baggage that it carried, it could only be a recipe for doom and disaster itself in the continent of Africa.
The proverbial borrowed hoe is a problem but that hoe that is not borrowed but is imposed can only spell a catastrophe on one that is supposed to use it. Africa has no authentic political culture and system that has naturally originated, evolved and matured in Africa in the minds and hands of Africans themselves, I observe.
Colonialism disrupted the evolution of that political culture. And in a very big way that is the cause of most of the political and economic problems in the continent. African politicians, and their political organisations and institutions, only appear and circulate as poor actors and caricatures on a theatrical stage where they are acting to a script that is neither of their making or their understanding, hence the morbidities and spectacles that are witnessed in the African political landscape.
The Gnostic Problem in Western and Colonial Politics
Of the many Western political philosophers and political theorists of note it is Eric Voegelin who in the 1920s right up to the 1960s loudly condemned how Western political thought and practice degenerated to Gnosticism.
Definitionally Gnosticism is an intellectual and political opposition to religion and morality that is a kind of religion in its passion and political fundamentalism. The Gnostics, Voegelin argued, murdered God, in the way they replaced religious belief with ideology and God with some human beings as leading philosophers and politicians.
Belief in certain ideas and certain practitioners of the ideas took on a religious turn that was irreligious in the way it scorned religion and God and invested importance in some human beings and their actions.
The abandonment of religion in political thought and practice was accompanied by the rejection of ethics and morality. Politics and politicians, boasting certain ideologies gave themselves permission to be evil in politics and justify the evil with some slogans concerning not political philosophy, but a monstrous thing called Ideology.
Ideology became the new religion, ideologues as political theorists and spokespersons became the prophets, and some political leaders became gods on earth whose leadership must not under any circumstances be questioned or challenged.
Voegelin gives many examples of political mass movements in Europe that came to be impassioned by gnostic ideas of some philosophers. One such example is of Auguste Comte the philosopher who founded the positivist scientific and philosophical movement that still burdens science and politics today, even if it is unannounced.
Comte influentially categorised world history into first, the theological era that was followed by the metaphysical period and finally the Positive Science era that he claimed to, as a scientist and philosopher, a prophet of a kind, bring into realisation.
Positivism holds tyrannical influence over intellectual and political thought and practice in the whole world today. Nothing is taken seriously in academia and politics that cannot be positively and empirically proven.
Wilhelm Georg Hegel is another philosopher that degenerated into an ideologue and therefore a kind of political prophet. Hegel in his philosophy of world history also came up with an ideology of freedom that assumed that there was in ancient times oriental despotism where the world was under the tyranny of Asia, followed by the aristocratic times when only the rulers of the West were free, and then the modern Western times where everyone was free.
Up to today there is a wrongful belief that human freedom is a Western invention, and a gift of the West to the rest of the world. Hegelianism with its racism and anti-Africanism infects world politics in much deeper ways than what has been understood so far.
An example of Gnostic intellectual and political influence that I cannot omit is that of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Marx in particular openly dismissed religious and moral thinking in politics as “the opium of the people” and defended his stance with the forceful argument that the critique of religion is the first critique of all critiques.
Marx and Engels classified world history also into a tripartite method where they found primitive and ancient communism that was followed by bourgeois class society and the final classless socialist and communist society that they philosophically, politically and also prophetically proposed.
Marxism as an ideology caused a worldwide “spectre” that started in Europe and spread to the very “ends of the earth.” Africa in particular got possessed of Marxism as an ideology of liberation even as Marxism ignored the problem of racism and colonialism and concentrated on the class problem, a weakness that decolonial philosophers such as Aime Cesaire pointed out as early as the revolutionary 1950s.
When intellectual and political ideas become gnostic, they lose their godliness and become unquestioned and unquestionable ideologies. As ideologies they are blindly advanced by leaders and followed by followers, and in that way they quickly become passions of political fundamentalism for which men and women are willing to kill and die.
Once an idea loses its philosophical quality, a quality that allows questioning and revision, it degenerates into an ideology that by its nature is passionate and unthinking in its drives, its pushes and pulls.
Marxism, nationalism, positivism and other ideologies are part of the furniture of ideologies that conquest and colonisation brought to Africa and used to shape African politics into what it is today.
Ideology itself is something that pre-colonial Africa did not have and did not need. Rigid systems of political beliefs and passions that must be obeyed and advanced, that ideology is, are not what Africa originally had. African politics, with all its weaknesses, was consultative and deliberative.
Consensus and compromise were deliberatively sought and found, and power was negotiated, navigated and shared. Even mighty kings and queens took counsel from chiefs, poets, philosophers and other orators and spokespersons of the villagers.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Gezina, Pretoria, in South Africa: mailto: [email protected]