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African Liberation Day needs new focus


Fri, May 23, 2014

Editor: This weekend a number, of local organizations and concerned individuals will keep up the tradition, established since 1974, of the commemoration of African Liberation Day (ALD). Each year since then, to a greater or lesser degree, activities have been held to mark the occasion as part of solidarity with our African brothers and sisters, as well as emphasizing the African heritage of the majority of Caribbean people.{{more}}

The context, though, has vastly changed since the early days of ALD activities here. When the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of today’s African Union (AU), first proclaimed May 25 as African Liberation Day, the clear focus was on the liberation of the continent from colonialism, apartheid and white minority rule. So abhorrent were these that it was easy to identify with the cause and a global solidarity movement flourished, uniting white and black, brown and yellow, all working to end oppression and white minority rule.

Things have changed a lot since then; apartheid was crushed, Namibia and the Portuguese colonies won their independence and Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to lead a democratic, non-racial South Africa. Clearly the focus of ALD had to change as well, but in the process, the lack of clear objectives left us either hanging on to the practices of the past, or simply using the occasion to re-emphasize our African connections. Neither of these approaches has been sufficient to maintain the broad solidarity movement which had flourished in the seventies and eighties, and today, interest in ALD is a far cry from the heyday.

Yet, it would be a mistake to consider ALD merely a relic of the past; we have to face the realities of today’s Africa and put it into a more relevant and meaningful context. What then, does “African liberation” mean today?

The continent is assuming an ever greater role in global affairs after centuries of colonial plunder. It is incredibly rich in natural resources, (the reason why it was so plundered in the first case), but greedy eyes are still on those resources and are trying to maintain that stranglehold over Africa’s resources. African liberation in today’s world must therefore strongly emphasize the struggle of the African people to choose their own path of development and use their resources for the benefit of the African people.

Africa is too naturally endowed for its people to suffer the consequences of underdevelopment. A continent as rich as this is still plagued by huge economic and social problems, millions still wallow in poverty, starvation and disease. Most of the most economically deprived nations in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. Our identification with African liberation cannot simply be on emotional or cultural grounds; support for the fight against hunger and poverty is a critical component of our identification.

At the same time we must not be afraid to face the negative aspects. Africa is the most war-torn continent on the face of the earth, with millions dying and being slaughtered by warlords in Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, Sudan and the Congo. We must not be timid in condemning the actions of rulers in many of these countries who, whether conscious of it or not, are only contributing further to Africa’s misery and the shame of black people the world over.

How can we excuse warlords in Somalia when powerful nations take advantage of the chaos to plunder its rich marine resources? How can we excuse the leaders of Nigeria, wallowing in corruption at the helm of Africa’s largest economy, but helpless to protect young girls from the ravages of Boko Haram? And can we ever pardon those who senselessly kill, falsely claiming religion as justification?

African liberation must mean facing up to these, acknowledging the progress, yet the disappointments at developments in newly-freed South Africa and Zimbabwe. Too many of these leaders are giving black people a bad name and allowing the western media to ignore the positive features of African development. We cannot hide behind colour of skin and while reiterating our ethnic connections must be firm in our support for the cause of genuine democracy, economic development for the African people if African liberation is to be genuine.

Finally, especially where the Caribbean is concerned, African Liberation Day must be yet another opportunity to fly the flag of reparation, to shunt aside the timidity, fear and backwardness of those who are still not yet on board. How else can we speak of African liberation?

Renwick Rose

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