Black Africa, The End Of History And The Franz Fanon Challenge


The anguish of existence in black Africa leads to much despondency especially as Asian and Arab countries are breaking away from hitherto commonly shared quandaries. The problems in sub-Saharan Africa seem to defy solutions. Although various causes have been attributed to black African underdevelopment, the philosophical dimension has not been exhaustively debated probably due to its esoteric nature. Most discourses have concentrated on the economic and political dimensions of the black African underdevelopment because such dimensions are glaring and quantifiable.

The woes in black Africa are legion. Despite being the second largest land mass on earth, pundits say its contribution to global wealth and trade is abysmal 4%. One joke is that if the whole of Africa south of the Sahara were to disappear forever, the real economic impact in the world will be unnoticed. Under chronically corrupt and visionless leadership, poverty is swallowing 85% of black Africans and worst still technology has not taken root in black Africa so much so that in countries like Nigeria, the inept ruling elites taunt ancient technologies like rail and electricity as novelties to citizens.

The backwardness of Black Africa has many attributable causes; the latest suggested being malaria in addition to the other vagaries of the natural environment. The tropical climate is notorious for being favourable to plants and insects but hostile to mammals. In discussing human productivity, development historians lay emphasis on how tropical climate is enervating as against the invigorating nature of the temperate region. To make matters worse dangerous insects like tsetse flies and mosquitoes have had a great impact on human health in tropical Africa for centuries in the form of mortality and morbidity in human beings.

Environmental factors are not alone, black Africa has never been favored in the course of history. First, the region missed the Iron Age and the agricultural revolution by about a century, leaving technology and farming methods lagging behind by two centuries. Similarly, the expanding Sahara desert ensured that people are persistently on the move trying to find arable and grazing lands. It is the region most noted for this demographic phenomenon even up to the present day when farmers and grazers continuously clash for arable land.

To add to this misery, for two centuries transatlantic slave trade denied the region labour, human capital and trade thereby disallowing the region stable economic growth. Colonialism followed focusing on extractive institutions to tap resources from the region. Economic exploitation proceeded under new nation states created arbitrarily across former empires and cultural groups. Many historians believe that sub-Saharan Africa has never fully recovered from these last two historical imperatives even after independence.

These two imperatives alone notably, unlike the environmental factors, should form impetus for the redemption of Africa given the right leadership and vision. They cannot on their own form insurmountable obstacles to the development of black Africa. In his book, The Black Man's Burden and the Curse of the Nation State, the late Basil Davidson attributes the failure of nation states in Africa to the fact that they continue to exist as they did during the colonial era, for the material advantage of the ruling elites. According to Davidson, the ruling class has abandoned the initial role of decolonization as reclamation from a degrading and exploitative colonial experience. They concentrate instead, on using the structures of state for looting wealth out of Africa and in worst-case scenarios acting as tyrants. In a recent survey, over 50% of despotic rulers are in Africa. Yet as Davidson observes, all that people desire are not more than justice, food, shelter and a 'moral reclamation from colonialism'.

Davidson further points out that initial decolonization effort were mass movements that had involved people from the grassroots. In essence, people were taken along totally in the ideology of emancipation as Amilcar Cabral started in Guinea Bisau before the West defeated all such moves in Africa. It must be noted that initially inherited nation states structures were not a problem to people and that even today ethnic, religious, and regional conflicts are purely instigated by the renegade ruling elites who proceed as if black Africa has no history of organized functional societies and adoptable governance.

Rulers in pre-colonial Africa were concerned with protecting and sustaining their legitimacy in the eyes of people. Not so, the current ruling elites whose institutions building efforts, conflict resolutions, development policies etc abundantly show their alienation from the people. These leaders copy Western models hook-and-sinkers and base economic, political, and social plans on western assumptions and forms. For the past 20 years, black African ruling elites have been yielding to western demands and surrendering to western priorities in the form of World Bank policies et al. This continuous treachery by black African ruling elites is supported by a western connivance, which pose as the provider of the ultimate solutions to not only black Africa but also the whole world. It appears the West has succeeded in mobilizing the whole world to believe that alternative philosophies and ideologies about development and human existence has come to an end with the demise of communist states and the end of the cold war. Any alternative emancipatory thinking or people orientated endeavors draw the wrath of the western powers, their media, and often their military might.

The western apologist Francis Fukuyama heralded this audacious posture. In his 1989 article, The End of History, Fukuyama claims that history as a dialectical conflict has ended and that neo-liberalism manifested in democracy and capitalism is now globally accepted. According to Fukuyama, the world is no more in need for any further ideology, philosophy, or emancipatory thinking about how to move societies forward. His view about colonialism and the present black African predicament is awesome. He said, 'The justifications for imperialism varied from nation to nation, from a crude belief in the legitimacy of force, particularly when applied to non-Europeans, to the White Man’s Burden and Europe’s Christianizing mission, to the desire to give people of color access to the culture of Rabelais and Moliere. But whatever the particular ideological basis, every “developed” country believed in the acceptability of higher civilizations ruling lower ones- including, incidentally, the United States with regard to the Philippines'.

This gospel of western hegemony should necessitate black Africans to think deeply. Considering our historical experience, is our central need democratization or emancipation (redemption)? Franz Fanon back in 1961 asked several pertinent questions in the conclusion of his profound book, The Wretched of the Earth. The general theme of his conclusion centers on the West providing a model. He said, '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 every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe… She has only shown herself parsimonious and niggardly where men are concerned; it is only men that she has killed and devoured…That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind… When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders … Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth'.

Franz Fanon fifty years ago had seen the hollowness of western liberalism with its hypocrisy and hatred of people-orientated paradigms. Jacques Derrida, the French critic, also questions this audacity, 'Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the 'end of ideologies' and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth'.

If Africa was the cradle of man, it must be the birthplace of a new man. Our historical experience and all the environmental challenges we face will not be in vain. While our renegade ruling elites 'waste their time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry' instead of embracing the historic role of emancipatory reclamation, unexpected movements would arise to resume what was halted in the 50s and 60s. Changes in black Africa may not come from the ballot boxes but grassroots movements that would have nothing to do with the present crop of ruling elites.

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