SCHOLARS DISSECT THE AWAKENING OF AFRICANS IN THE 21ST CENTURY

By Martha Williams


The New Dawn vision has once again convened virtually to discuss issues that are of interest to the African continent and how they are negatively affecting Africa. The group of scholars, activists, freedom fighters and justice lovers on Saturday, February 19 centered their discussions on the topic: 21ST CENTURY AFRICAN MASSES’ AWAKENING – GEOPOLITICAL WAR BETWEEN FRANCE AND THE FEDERATION OF RUSSIA. The talk, which was moderated by Stephanie Pehoua saw three main speakers including Paseka Pharumele, Member of the Convention for Pan Africanism and Progress, Alphonse Lawson, President of the Saint-Boniface University Board, Winnipeg and Dr. Gnaka Lagoke throw more light on the different aspects regarding the geopolitical war that is ongoing between France and Russia on Africa and one other speaker, Lucy Murphy, Member of the Claudia Jones School for Political Education who spoke about a recent trip she made to the Central American state of Nicaragua.

Just before the main speakers of the day made their presentations on the crucial topic, Lucy Murphy gave an insight about her trip, acknowledging the improvements that Nicaragua has witnessed in recent times. She visited as part of the Claudia Jones School for Political Education for the Inauguration of President Daniel Ortega and his Vice, Rosario Morio. Highlighting the tremendous growth, the country has witnessed since her last visit in 1984, Murphy indicated that there was a lot of misinformation in the United States regarding what was actually taking place in Nicaragua, especially the elections. The US government had talked about fraudulent elections and said the current leadership in the country was not legitimate. In 1986, the International Court of Justice found the US guilty of violence and destruction, which it perpetrated on Nicaragua during the years of war in Central America, a verdict which the US has never recognized, nor has it paid the billions of dollars that it owes Nicaragua. Emphasizing the need for promotion of international cultural festivals like the one before the fall of the Soviet Union, through which people can come together and share ideas on how to move forward and explore gains made over the years, Murphy cited the Panafest cultural event held in Ghana every two years, which promotes and enhances unity, Pan-Africanism and the development of the continent of Africa. She further noted that the Claudia Jones School now has a campaign to make the US pay Nicaragua what it owes, stressing that the Central American state has a significant African, black population which speaks English.

The second speaker, Paseka Pharumele who had initially planned to discuss ECOWAS and how it has become anti-African and pro-France rather dwelled on the fact that people who are anti-Africa such as the right-hand racists claim Africa still tries to blame colonialism for its current issues. He highlighted a historical perspective as how Africa finds itself in the current situation it is in today and the dynamics of colonialization and how Europe has hurt Africa. He noted that France continues to benefit from the hard work of the African continent, reason why it is finding it so problematic when other countries, specifically in this context Russia and China try to get into the continent and offer any kind of assistance. In answering the question as to why France continues to have a grip on Africa, Paseka traced the historical dynamics to the different ways in which Britain and France, which colonized large parts of the continent parted differently with their colonies. With Britain it was violence, that is to say, the colonies decided that they will cut some ties with London. But, with France, it was more of a negotiation, where France had all the powers and the colony none. France then crafted the CFA monetary system, which saw 70 percent of the money that African states make get transferred to France.  Paseka went ahead to say France therefore finds itself in a very difficult situation, which does not allow them to let African countries to be totally independent, because that means 70 percent of the money that they currently have in their banks will have to go back to their former colonies. Until this day, this arrangement has been boosting the French banks and states, which continues to deprive African countries of their wealth and growth. France is considered a First world country just because of the resources it has been able to tap from Africa, thus making African states to continue to be seen as third world countries. Former French President, Jacques Chirac even acknowledged this when he said that the big part of money in their banks come from the exploitation of the African continent and in 2008 he confirmed that France would be a third world country without Africa.

Russia President Vladimir Putin (left), France President Emmanuel Macron (right)

Reacting to the geopolitical war between France and Russia in Africa, Paseka noted that France is focused on taking the resources from Africa, while Russia is providing military support. In conclusion, Paseka stressed that there needs to be a system of economic progress in Africa that works for Africans and in order to get out of the grip of these imperialists like France and cease to be used as a pawn to fight these silent wars, Africa needs to find itself as a powerhouse.

ECOWAS losing its course 

Alphonse Lawson focused his presentation on ECOWAS, terming it as an institution of the people that has failed. While giving a holistic historical background of the regional bloc, Lawson disclosed that ECOWAS was a good idea for the people and prior to its creation, the collective territory known as West Africa was made up with the aggregation of states that had a lot of colonial experiences and administration, which largely defined the boundaries of 15 states in the area and even though the member states of the Community make up 3 official languages – English, French and Portuguese, there exists well over a thousand local languages including cross border native languages such as ewe, wolof, Yoruba, Hausa, etc. which constitute over 300 million people in a vast area of 100km2. Before colonialism, the area played host to many proud empires and kingdoms like Ghana, Mali, Wolof, Songhai and Benin. The region’s cultural linguistic diversity presented both opportunities and challenges for the integration process. Thus, the longing to combine forces politically and economically was always being recognized as a step forward in a desire to engender co-prosperity in the area. In this regard, the first effort as integration dates back to 1945 with creation of the Franc CFA that brought the francophone countries of the region into a single currency union. Then in 1964, President William Tubman proposed an economic union for West Africa leading to an agreement, which was signed in 1965 by the four states of Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, it was not until 1972 that a proposal for the union of West African states emerged. That year, Nigerian President Gen. Yacubu Gowon and his Togolese counterpart Gnassingbe Eyadema toured the region in support of the integration idea. It is from this brief historical background that the basics of what we know today as the ECOWAS and the Treaty of Lagos was signed in 1975. After outlining this historical perspective, Lawson lamented that ECOWAS that is supposed to be an area of integration of West African people has become what can be referred to as a syndicate of presidents who are only concerned about clinging to power. Critically analyzing the recent events that have unfolded in Mali, Lawson noted the sanctions that were carried out against the state by ECOWAS under the chairmanship of Ghana’s Nana Akuffo following a meeting in January 2022 and how they are actually intended to destroy Mali.

ECOWAS actually took upon itself to handicap Mali as a state, which has now raised eyebrows amongst the people of the region as to what exactly their objective is, given Mali’s current situation of fighting against terrorism. ‘’It is rather funny how these states have never come together to stand behind Mali in this fight against terrorism but are ready to put forces together to cripple Mali because of a military coup’ ’Lawson underlined.  Lawson applauded ECOWAS for having promoted democracy and limited mandates to two. This, he however says is contradictory because in countries like Togo, Faure Gnassingbe is now in his 4th term, Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast also modified the constitution and is in his third term, Alpha Conde of Guinea followed in the same light, and ECOWAS did not see anything wrong in their actions. Even so, ECOWAS is very ready to fight the military transition in Mali. He reiterated that ECOWAS nowadays has become a neocolonial instrument of the imperialist powers and it is no longer their objective to work for the good of the people. The original objectives of the bloc have been restrained. This has ignited more zest among people to come up with what they call citizen initiative to vouch for ECOWAS of the people. Thus, rather than being a syndicate of heads of state, it is now a citizen initiative to create a ground base for people of different countries to come together as a country and build prosperity together beyond the borders that were inherited from colonialism. 

The main objective today is to see how Africans can come together under one umbrella to build their prosperity together. It is worth noting that a great thinker, Senegalese-born Cheick Anta Diop had raised the question of the integration of West Africa and the goal was to promote national unity. He also noted that Africa must create its linguistic unity by the choice of an appropriate African language.  To him, Africa needs to think of coming up with a federal state, work towards a union of all African countries, a union of currency, unity of language and unity of defense forces. “Given that the different African heads of state are working for their own interests, it is time for Africans to come together as a people, civil society, intellectual, student to think about an alternative to put the people first. It is time for Africans to wake up and Mali has already set the pace’, Lawson noted. In conclusion, he highlighted three important factors that Africans need to focus on including: finding a way that is different from what the Heads of state are trying to do with ECOWAS and paying more allegiance to the power of language.

Another key speaker Dr. Gnaka Lagoke, focused his presentation on why Russia is coming back to Africa and why it is demonstrating a forceful geopolitical engagement in the continent. He started by pointing out what is currently happening in Africa at the moment; Russia engaged in geopolitical war in Africa, particularly in CAR and Mali, which are two former colonies of France. He also threw more light on the new awakening of Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century, citing three important series of manifestations which include; the mobilization of the African people, people of African descent as well as justice lovers and seekers around the globe who are not black people for Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Ivory Coast who was to be defeated militarily by France after he was made to believe he lost the elections, and taken to the Hague where he spent over 8 years after which he was tried and was indicted. This was hailed as a Pan-African victory. The second manifestation was a series of people power movement, which started in 2012 with the ‘Y’en a Marre movement’ in Senegal, which translates into English as ‘we are fed up’ during which the Senegalese organized against the intentions of then president Abdoulaye Wade to amending the constitution in order to remain in power beyond the two-term limit. Another people power movement erupted in 2014 in Burkina Faso, ‘Compaore must go’ to end the 27-year rule of Blaise Compaore who assassinated Thomas Sankara and who organized the rebellion against Ivory Coast. The third manifestation was what took place more recently in West Africa; people’s power movements in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali. In Mali, where about 80 percent of its land is occupied by Islamist insurgents, the people rose against Ibrahim Boubakar Kieta, who was not deemed as a good leader, who could not protect the interest of his country, rather he was perceived as a puppet of the West.  The coming to power of 39-year-old Assimi Goita in Mali which is seen today as the Malian revolution of the 21st century and birthday in the Pan-African Vision. These revolutions, Dr. Gnaka underlined, gave momentum to the spirit of reawakening and self-consciousness of the African masses.  Referring to the CAR and Mali as the main pillars of Pan-Africanism in the past and even today, Dr. Gnaka cited BarthelemyBoganda, who was the first President of CAR, fighting against racism and the fundamental rights of the blacks between 1940 and 1950 and Modibo Keita of Mali who devoted his life to African Unity and championed the formation of the Union of States of Western Africa as well as the OAU. Boganda was a visionary man with a dream to create a larger united states of Latin Africa, which would comprise of all sovereign African states and French Equatorial Africa. This dream however died with the death of Boganda in 1959.  Outlining the circumstances that led to the Central African Republic and Mali forging relations with Russia, which all centered on military and arms, Dr Gnaka pointed out France’s incapability to bring under control jihadism in Mali and rebel groups in the Central African Republic, thereby forcing the leaders of these countries to seek help from other partners like the Russians. ‘’The people who are vocal about Russia and China are those who implemented slavery for 400 years, who implemented colonialism and neocolonialism, thus they lack the moral consciousness and morality to talk about Russia……but for us Africans during the fight against colonialism, Africa could rely on Russia and China. During the fight against apartheid, Russia, Cuba and China stood on the side of Africans fighting for freedom unlike America, France, and England that backed the racist regime in South Africa. Russia and China under BRICS has given to Africa the power of choice. It is unacceptable for France to continue to control the social, economic, political and cultural live of over 14 countries in Africa’’ Dr Gnaka underlined.  

In the concluding phase, a question was raised by a participant as to what leverage and strategies that ECOWAS can exert to remove France as a predator to its former African colonies, especially in West Africa. Responding to this question, another participant stated that you cannot expect an institution that stands against African interest, referring to ECOWAS, to be the solution to the problem as it has proven lately that it is an institution that does not protect the interest of Africans. Dr. Gnaka in responding to the same question noted that Africans want to see the rise to power of people like Assimi Goita, stressing that if a number of leaders with same vision come together, they may take the ECOWAS to a different direction.  A different question came up as to what role women have been playing. Jeaneatte Kolugi, another participant asked about the role played by the US in this geopolitical war in Africa. Paseka in commenting on the role of women in the whole situation parapharases Thomas Sankara who said the liberation of Africa cannot be complete without the liberation of women and their role in it. On the role played by the US, Paseka stated that the US’s role has always been problematic, citing its bases that are littered across Africa and of which are not playing any important role. Dr Gnaka for his part indicated that when there was the debate about the presence of Wagner group in Mali, the AFRICOM issued a communique that sided with the position of the French, denouncing their presence. In a nutshell, Africa needs to maximize its role on the international stage, exploit the prevailing multilateralism to fast tract its development.

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