Friday, 25 November 2016

Africa and the Global North: Limiting Admiration, Focusing on Progressing Better

 By Takura Zhangazha*

I once had a extended argument with a fellow African who vehemently supported the invasion of Iraq by the United States of America and its allies.  Not only that, he was a George W. Bush aficionado. He liked the gung-ho ‘you are either with us or against us’ foreign policy that the then American government was pursuing. 

When Obama was elected he was a bit more muted, but somewhat going along with the global admiration of the American political system that could against many odds choose a black person as president.  But he stuck to the idea of a rapacious America that where and when it chose, it would militarily annihilate its enemies.

I tried to find the source of his admiration of the military might of the USA. It turned out, like for many of us Africans, to be embedded in the images and representations of that society in movies, television, music, computers and other cultural products (clothes, religion and the like). 

And true enough, as Africans we rarely view the USA from ideological or even honestly analytical lenses.  In fact we rarely view the global north with an intention to objectively critique it.  Not that we don’t have opinions on what happens in America or Western Europe. 

They are however opinions that are more inclined to admiration, envy, entertainment and tragically to viewing those countries as the ‘promised land’. This ‘promise land’ view also explains why the Mediterranean has become a watery grave for so many of us Africans. It is also the reason why Europe and North America are voting for those that promise to keep not only us as Africans out, but also those from the Middle East, Latin America and South East Asia.

In dealing with these complexities we also turn to our comrades in the global north to help us understand what it is that is going on with their global superpower governments and systems.  As a leftist, I have also sought explanation from my fellow ideologues in the USA, the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.  Asking for example, why would ‘Brexit’ happen?  Or how the USA’s president-elect could have possibly won a free and fair election?  

I however don’t ask my questions in admiration. I ask with ideological empathy, with the full knowledge that the election of Donald Trump is indicative of how progressive ideas are on the back foot when they are subjected to popular democracy in both North America and Western Europe. The not so new nationalisms that are emerging there and acquiring power on the regressive basis of discrimination and exclusion of the non-white other are evidently a global concern.  They hark back to what Africans that are conscious of their continent’s colonial history have said ‘never again’.
And this is the key lesson for us as Africans to draw from the political events and trends in the global north.

While what happens in North America and Western Europe affects us politically and economically in relation to those regions’ foreign policies, we need to learn that we should not always mimic their domestic politics or political cultures.   

We don’t have to anticipate the emergence of a candidate similar to Donald Trump and call it a democratic process if they win an election on what are arguably racist, sexist and pretentious grounds. Nor should we allow our media to be captured by the elite few who seek more to believe their won lies than hold those that seek political power to account. 

And we should always undertake our politics with an honesty that understands that good, progressive ideas do not always move the majority of our citizens if they are not accompanied by organic mobilisation and actions. As Amilcar Cabral once wrote, ‘no matter how hot the water from your well is, it will not cook your rice’. 

Nor should we be in the habit of shunning those that we think are on the periphery of our political systems. Or those that we think are either ignorant or malleable to our views without either engaging them or seeking to take their views into political account.  And this relates in the greater parts of our continent to our rural citizens who are treated in part as though they are still colonial subjects.  Both by way of the attitudes of our political elites and the remnants of colonial administrative infrastructure. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (