Half-Century After The Demise Of Frantz Fanon

Sat, 5 Mar 2011 Source: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

Are his ideals still relevant in the African political discourse?

- By Prosper Yao Tsikata -

If the Bible is one of the true vestiges of European contact with the African for the spiritual redemption of his essence, then Frantz Fanon’s ideals are and writings remain authentic voice conduits or gateways to the African condition, and all oppressed and colonized people, and a wakeup call on Africans to redeem themselves physically from the strangulating pangs of colonialism, exploitation, and neocolonialism.

Writing in a revolutionary spirit, his works – especially “Black skin, white mask and the wretched of the earth – could collectively be referred to as the “canons of the black revolution.” They critically examine the reality of imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism (neocolonialism envisaged fifty years before it has taken grip) in their successive characters, and calls for a violent uprising by the colonized to overthrow the colonist and sever all forms of links with that vicious regime.

A half-century after the fall of the Martiniquan-trained psychiatrist-turned-decolonization- psychopathologist-and-revolutionist, his prognosis of the human condition on the African continent does not cease to amaze political theorists and historians of African political thought. His diagnoses of the new African nations are not only apt, but exceedingly farsighted.

On leadership, the single most important element of the political equation that has eluded the continent, it is incredible how most of the leaders of the various struggles for independence on the continent quickly became alienated from their own people, squandering the comradeship they once shared. In some cases, they did not only replace the regimes they virulently condemned and fought, they became the champions for the combined interest of the national bourgeoisies and the ex-colonists. The late Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire is derided as an epitome of Fanon’s prediction. There were, still are, and would be, an avalanche of them. They simply replaced the colonists, perpetuated and continuous to perpetuate the evils of the colonial system and, in some cases, worse than the colonists they had replaced. In Wole Soyinka’s “burden of memory and the muse of forgiveness,” Wole couldn’t have posed the question any better, to underscore the despicable crimes African leadership has brought upon its own kind in Fanon’s appraisal. Wole inquires “what is the color of the hand that decimated more of its own kind than the white man’s?”

Long years of economic stagnation, political turmoil, and social instability ensued in some African countries as a result. The emergent trends of former colonies being dependent on the ex-colonial masters for economic lifeline followed. Today, in most former colonies, over 50% of the annual fiscal budgetary allocations are resourced by the ex-colonial masters. African countries have not been able to wean themselves off the “feeding bottle.” In former colonies like Ghana, the standard bearer, the economy would have crashed without these lifelines. With a weak production base and insatiable desire for foreign imports, loans and grants are financing salaries and imports; symptoms Fanon identified as the end result of lack of innovation on the part of the native elites who replaced the colonizer.

His prediction on the formation of political parties and their characteristics in the newly independent African nations are pervasive. The alienation of the people – the grassroots, the rural supporters - from leadership – the African elite and party leadership – has become a norm than exception. The “people’s uprising” in Tunisia, triggered by one self-immolation, with a snowball effects which cascaded across the Arab world, illustrates this alienation. We wait to see if any of the fiefdoms South of the Sahara – Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Togo, the two Congos, - catches the bug soon and how that plays out.

Rooted in a firm logical dialectic, the wretched of the earth in particular, uses Fanon’s classification of psychological cases in his sanatorium to build a strong case between the Algerian revolution (violence) and the psychological state of abnormality in all involved in the violence. From these illustrations, it is reasoned that violence affects the perpetrator, observers, acquaintances of the victim, and not only the victim. Extrapolating the infectious nature of violence, the picture becomes complete when young Algerians who barely knew anything about the violence become possessed by the spirit of violence to kill their own friend who happens to be a French, to atone for the killing of Algerians by the French.

We find, in its most recent forms, in Liberia and Sierra-Leone and elsewhere on the continent, where in the face of post-war peace, scores are still being settled by victims of the civil war.

Fanon points out the intellectual brainwashing of colonized intellectuals, similar to George Frederick Hegel’s and other pre-colonial and colonial writers who embarked on a self-styled mission of civilizing the colonies. But interestingly, after imbibing colonial literature through assimilation in the first phase of a three-phase process, the African intellectual finally turns to arouse his people through revolutionary writing. This is noticeable in names like Kwame Nkruma, Jomo Kenyattah and even Frantz Fanon, among others, who were Western-trained but in the final analysis became more conscious of their roots and exuded cultural energies unmatched in the history of the African struggle. Obversely, the contemporary African intellectual finds solace in the West as a result of the apparent failures of most nations on the continent to appreciate their worth (brain drain attest to that). Fanon and Nkrumah must be turning in their graves for the state of political failures on the continent.

Frederick Hegel’s providential hierarchy of the races - similar to the biological determinism thesis - fall to the intellectual sword of Fanon. Today, that theory can only be examined for its place in history’s dustbin and never again a theoretical way of looking at the world. But we must be careful the failures on the continent do not reverse the gains and pose the question once more: “is the African capable?”

On another level, the transformation of ethnic groups into political parties on the continent has become the order of the day. In Kenya it manifested itself in the explosive ethnic conflict that erupted in that country on the heels of that country’s last general elections. The trend is identifiable in most African countries, where historical ethnic rivalries are noticeable in the results of most democratic elections and the formation of political parties.

Culturally, he identifies the dilemma that plagues people of African descent in their attempt to find a common ground to forge a united front. It is undisputable that although all people of African descent share in the African heritage of being black, our daily experiences differ widely and may, to a large extent, be defined by geography. For example, the existential problems of racism faced by black Americans differ from the problems of colonialism which confronted Africans on the continent.

The dilemma is even more serious when attempts were made to homogenize African cultures in response to the dictates of the ex-colonists. It is important to note that there are 54 nations on the continent of Africa and there are great variations in the cultures of all these countries. The customs and practices of the Zulu in South Africa are starkly different from the practices and customs of the Yoruba of Nigeria. The implication is that this homogenization of “African Culture” leads the African intellectual into a dead end. He then points out the failures of negritude. Today, the gulf between the black American and his African brother is even wider.

In his concluding chapter, he denounces the European spirit as carnivorous and calls on Algerians and all colonized people to endeavor not to repeat the creations of Europe but consider the creation of a new man devoid of Europe’s insipid cannibalism.

Fifty years on, Africa seems to be the only candidate among the world’s continents left for further exploitation. Most economies on the continent today are worse off compared to what they were immediately after independence. The result is the attempts by her citizens to migrate to Europe and other economies for greener pastures, jumping ship and disserting the once glorious attempt to elevate the continent from what bedevils it - poverty, disease, and what have you.

Celebrating Frantz Fanon now and always!!!


Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao