Is African Political Independence in name only?

(The Southern African Times) – Such a fawning discourse has many takers and many echo chambers within us and our structures of mass communication, reveals the conceptual blockade. We have failed to rebel against colonial discursive hegemony the same way we rebelled against its physical tyranny which comparatively speaking, was less fatal and presenting easy closure. 

This self-hate and undue despondency get so exquisitely academized that we measure ourselves by false benchmarks in order to prove to ourselves that we are undeserving failures, undeserving winners of our Independence. Benchmarks like strengths of colonial economies versus Independence economies, forgetting obvious continuities between the so-called pre- and post-independence epochs from the viewpoint of dominant ownership patterns monopolized by the same colonial white interests, only unburdened by the vector of public service delivery and running big bureaucracies for much larger multiracial populations. To concretize the lie, erstwhile white colonials even desert structures of the State and urban habitats to make themselves less visible and less culpable for failures they engineer through denying the same State its entitlements by way of taxes, which they diligently paid under colonialism. Their “absence” from the visible scene help buttress the myth of African mis-governance carefully cultivated and nurtured by narratives they sponsor. 

We even forget that the respective burden of a State that caters for a quarter of a million elites with copious Western goodwill, vis-a-vis the burden of a State that caters for over 16 million citizens without the benefit of ethnocentric racial affinities and ideological racial goodwill – not to mention consensual illegal sanctions which are harder to bust – are quite different and simply incomparable. All of which is to say that, firstly the notion of post-colonialism is a falsehood both conceptually andconcretely when it comes to governance on the African Continent. We remain steeped in colonial times minus colonial governments, enduring long colonialism. Second, that after Independence, we need radical conceptual tools to break blockages which give us an illusion of inhabiting a different epoch from the one before our Independence, thus inducing us to create a false and self-defeating and paralyzing psychosis of failure. Third, that correct tools of analysis should help us gather and deploy correct tools of genuine decolonisation, including acquiring the correct interpretation of what may appear setbacks by standards of minority supremacists of colonial times. There must be a creative “Do colonial histories matter today?” I highlighted conceptual blockages which hinder our understanding of “colonial entailments”, many of which are studiously cultivated to create educated blind-spots in African intellectuals who should show the way and lead us in unpacking these baneful but hidden colonial continuities. 

I just want to refer to psychic manifestations of these continuities which subsist virulently, but easily go unnoticed, nay, even celebrated as either radicalism or nationalism. One such is quite evident in recently politically freed baneful but hidden colonial continuities. Such is the case with recently politically freed countries in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe went through this phase in the early eighties, often riding on the notoriously repetitive WE-ARE-NOT-LIKE-THE-REST-OF-DECAYING-AFRICA brag. A rude sense of false superiority often encouraged by metropolis voices to weaken and divide Africa.

The intended goal is to create a hierarchy, some kind of pecking order within the broad camp of the colonised. Often and without any tinge of embarrassment, pointing to jutting edifices built by colonial authorities – Old Mutual, Anglo American Corporation, Sanlam and many such, the newly liberated ex-colonial subjects point to these with puffed up pride to draw deadly comparisonwith their African peers, winding up feeling unassailably better, more superior, than their kind on the rest of the Continent. So befuddled by this un-owned refulgence which in fact highlight who the real owners of the so-called independent country are, who the real continuing serfs of the so-called New Dispensation are, they laugh and Pooh-Pooh their African peers elsewhere forgetting those seemingly undeveloped, backward and thoroughly corrupt Africans on the rest of the Continent belong to the same histories and dynamics soon to manifest.

The real difference is not those edifice complexes which they don’t own but which give them delusions of grandeur, but the hidden sameness lying beneath that pilfered refulgence which they won’t see or acknowledge even as they retire to their hovels in the colonially created townships. Indeed, that what makes a real difference is challenging histories that created those edificesthey so fulsomely, falsely admire and panegyrize as a measure of their development and difference from the rest of Africa. Indeed, that in seeking a real difference, some of the edificesmight have to collapse, alongside a truly dying colonialism, to use Amilcar Cabral’s famous phrase. And that the real differencewill emerge at the end of that creative destruction as the erstwhile colonized challenge old histories in order to make new, people centred histories. We in Zimbabwe relate to these motion cycles. So, on the one hand we have puffed-up false pride as a manifestation of colonial continuities expressing itself within minds of the colonized. The flip side of this is what one writer termed “emotional economies of humiliations, indignities and resentments ” exhibited by the erstwhile colonized, what scholars have called induced Afro-pessimism which is so deep, enervating and paralyzing that it simply throws a people into a collective stupor of low self-esteem as to create a creative inertiathat seeks resolution in a yearn for a second colonialism.

Zimbabweans must be familiar with this psychological state often verbalized by the IAN-SMITH-WAS-BETTER mantra, or deadly statistical comparisons between minority white Rhodesian economy and the majority Zimbabwean economy, the former catering for a quarter of a million whites with vast tracts of Land and affirmative policies, the latter catering for over 16m inhabitants – black and white – with blacks still writhing under shackles of a long colonialism. What is significant is not so much that media structures of the Colonial Metropolises are hostile, but that they provide editorial cue and leadership to media structures of a supposedly independentAfrica. I always find it amusing if not tragic that Africans, including if not principally Zimbabweans will hear and trust narratives on their country and even neighbourhood from BBC, CNN, SKY, etc than their other way round, including in respect of occurrences in which they are players!  It’s a double bind of battered self-esteem which makes one unable to construct and push out one’s self-view and narrative, and a craving for noticing, pity or endorsement by erstwhile white colonial masters. 

When it comes to narrativizing Africa, Zimbabwe included, and the notion of the white man’s burden rules supreme, only executed through firemen western reporters parachuted into parts of our Africa to create and convey the bizarre for which Africa has been framed as a prime source. These have replaced missionaries, hunters, explorers, gold-seekers and, ultimately, empire builders of Victorian days. Situating this in our founding thesis, one realizes that the old, Victorian Colonial Conquest and Governing myth of the biologically innate and incapable Africanwaiting to be rescued by a merciful white do-gooder remains firmly entrenched but only reworked for conditions ofindependence. That is exactly what western ambassadors are telling us when they reel false figures of so-called humanitarian assistance and donor support, which figures pale into insignificance vis-a-vis the despoliation of the African continentboth before and after our countries in both before and after our nominal political independence . Zimbabwe went through this phase in the early eighties, often riding on the notoriously repetitive WE-ARE-NOT-LIKE-THE-REST-OF-DECAYING-AFRICA brag. 

What is ridiculous is that even those born after 1980, and thus who never saw, inhabited or experienced African life under settler Rhodesia will swear by their dead Ruwadzano mothers that life under settler Rhodesia was better. Here I introduce key role of global media structures of colonial metropolises in cultivating this sense of congenital failure all to batter African self-belief and confidence in themselves so they begin to regretand apologise for ever ousting the white colonialists to win self-rule which is then felt as a monumental misstep forever to be regretted.

Lastly, it is to resist divisive chauvinism or defeatism inspired and cultivate by our erstwhile colonial masters which are meant to divide us through false hierarchies or even illusions of subcontracted superpower statuses against fellow Africans. ALUTA CONTINUA!

Written by George Charamba who is the Deputy Chief Secretary-Presidential Communications in the Office of the President of Zimbabwe and former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information of Zimbabwe. 

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