Opinions Tue, 8 Mar 2011

Rejoinder: Are Fanon’s ideas still relevant in the African political discourse?

- By Ahmed Bawa Kuyini

This topic is quite appropriate on Ghana’s Independence Day and I am writing to support as well as differ from the issues raised by Prosper Yao Tsikata in his interesting interpretation of Frantz Fanon’s works (Ghanaweb, 5 March 2011). I agree with the writer that Fanon’s ideas are some of the most important “canons of the black revolution.” However, they remain only ideals to be imbibed at a cognitive level and then pragmatised in different contexts. This is where Ghana and Africa have failed because neither the total rejection nor the adoption of ambivalence towards western thought has allowed us to deliver our people from the unforgiving torments of poverty.

The writer is correct in pointing to African independence advocates as examples of leaders who tried to pragmatise the ideas of Fanon. In Ghana, the indigenization of educational curriculum by Dr. Nkrumah and later Dr. Busia – through Civics Education – are examples of attempts to divorce the African mind from colonial /European imperialism. However, the most important work of Fanon with relevance to Ghana’s politics today is his ideas on oppression.

In his lamentations about the oppression of the black man, Fanon philosophized that the only reason why the black man is perceived as the “wretched of the earth” is that he was enslaved. To Fanon, it is not our skin colour that is at the heart of our oppression but the very idea that we were enslaved. With slavery, we were dehumanized, subjugated to the position of other people’s possession and denied the right to self-determination. Unfortunately, our own forefathers contributed to our dehumanization, and the relics of that spirit to dehumanize our own kind, still fuels our politics; allowing us to carve out systems and structures that oppress minorities in our countries.

Is Politics In Ghana About Tribe Or Oppression?

Even though many factors are attributed to the malice of our Ghanaian politics, most of them can be funneled into Franz Fanon’s ideas about oppression. During Ghana’s struggle for independence, Joe Appiah (an eloquent political mind and CPP member who later became member of the NLM and UP) made an interesting remark about Nkrumah’s leadership which highlighted our African leaders’ fear of oppression by the colonialists and what is happening today. He said that the Gold Coast was not prepared to substitute a British Raj (Queen of England/Governor of Gold Coast) for a black Raj, in the person of Nkrumah or any other Prime Minister. Joe Appiah’s comments/fears manifest in the fact that our colonial oppressors have been replaced by African oppressors whose role in our oppression has been brought to prominence by Wole Sonyinka’s question, which Mr. Prosper Tsikata quoted – “what is the color of the hand that decimated more of its own kind than the white man’s?”

Ghanaian and African politicians have been oppressing the population(s) since independence, through their control of the discourse on politics, economy and social services, which begets and sustains corruption. Our politicians are able to direct national discourses about who rules and what type of services are provided to our communities. They make unacceptable justifications for their choices in terms of development priorities. For example in choosing to provide all manner of services to the populations of Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi or Tamale, they appear to assume that it is justifiable that rural towns such as Sewfi-Wioso, Jirapa, Tanoso, or Worawora, deserve to wait (even for 100 years) to be provided with an access road, a basic health centre or reliable source of water. These decisions go unchallenged, the populations of these rural areas suffer the indignity associated disease, poor life expectancy and opportunity to develop their potentials, while the MPs enjoy all the luxuries of modern life.

Today, many Ghanaians attribute the malice of our politics to tribalism and corruption. In my view, the tribalism interpretation is too simplistic. Our politics is more about the struggle to perpetuate the power of our politicians to continue to oppress us, through manipulating the national development discourse and presiding over unconscionable levels of corruption. And having failed to deliver meaningful services and improved living conditions, they use tribal and identity politics to protect their treasured machinery of oppression.

I personally disagree with the notion that tribalism is more at the core of the contemporary African condition than oppression. This is because our politicians are simply cynically trying to accentuate the class lines formed since independence by trying to stay in power all the time (whether in opposition or Government). And if we are observant, we can see that whether it is the Danquah-Busia-Dombo or the Nkrumaists who win government, not everyone in the “tribe” benefits. It is the ministers or “those who matter” who actually gain and this betrays the fact that our politics is about class oppression, enveloped in tribal affiliation.

No doubt, the ignorance of the African population underpins our tendency to embrace the misguided ethnic/tribal political camouflage of our leaders. This drives us to perpetrate oppression against minority tribes and women groups and lead to the erosion of strong national identities. I have written many times that Ghanaians /Africans would need to adopt the philosophy of thinking as citizens first before thinking as tribes. In Ghana, this unique principle, will allow us to transcend the oppressive mind directed at” otherness” and support Frantz Fanon’s dream of elevating the black man from the “floor of the earth”. But how is this going to be possible in a situation where extreme focus on ethnicity is necessary to edge oneself into the position of the oppressor?

Let us not kid ourselves; we cannot fight oppression unless we fight tribalism and corruption. I am therefore less optimistic today when it comes to Fanon’s dream of divorcing the black man’s psychology from the mental bondage of the past. Our values and collective aspirations are an irredeemable loss; precipitated by individualism and negative experiences in the context of globalization –African Americans no longer identify today with Africans from the mother continent; the denigration, derogation and oppression (psychologically and materially) of smaller ethnic groups show no signs of abating in many African countries; and African countries are less welcoming of other Africans than our “former European oppressors”. Here, we observe the generosity of the European countries in the award citizenship to refugees of any country, while refugees who ever flee to another African country would never be able to dream of citizenship even after three generations. Alassani Ouatarra symbolizes such less tolerant attitudes in the current Ivorian crisis, where his non-citizenship is reinforced, in spite of the fact that all his life’s experiences are rooted in that context.

In conclusion I would say that if Fanon is to make any inroads into our political thinking, then our politicians and education systems have to embrace and use his ideas rather than try to homogenize our African cultures.

Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini

For CEVS-Ghana

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa