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Bold truth-telling and courageous Pan-Africanist tradition vs the milquetoast and quiescent voices

By Paul T Shipale
I must first and foremost congratulate the SWAPO Party and the President-elect Dr Hage G. Geingob for a landslide victory in the recently concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections. I must also thank our Founding President and Father of the Namibian Nation, H.E. Dr Sam Nujoma as the main architect of peace and promoter of our culture as well as a unifier, which are the main pillars of any nation. In the same vein I would also like to congratulate the outgoing President, H.E. Dr. Hifikepunye Pohamba for building on the strong foundation laid down by his predecessor and for a peaceful transition not only in the country but also as it was witnessed during the intra- party democratic process.

The elections were free, fair and credible as it was confirmed by the AU, the SADC Election Observer Mission, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, the EU delegation including by the US Secretary of State John Kerry (not that we need his approval) when he congratulated our country saying once again "Namibia has demonstrated its commitment to an open electoral process and respect for presidential term limits". He also applauded "the active participation of the country's political parties, civil society and citizens in shaping an inclusive discussion throughout the campaign" Secretary Kerry was quoted as saying.

The President-elect, Dr Hage G. Geingob, true to his slogan of "nobody would be left-out" immediately called on the nation to hold hands and work for the advancement of the country. Indeed, we need to foster a political and social climate that promotes unity and harnesses our productive and constructive energy. We need to avoid the energy usurping processes of slate-politics, divisions and factionalism which lead to paralysis and instead pull together in a synergized fashion towards the same end goal in line with the adopted theme of inclusivity and continuing the legacy of peace, stability and prosperity, lest we allow the invisible hand to come through the back door and divide us.

For this reason, an olive branch should be extended to the President-elect's 2012 SWAPO Party Vice President Rivals, in a move to unite the party. After all, the nation overwhelmingly voted for the SWAPO Party to guide the nation's destiny, in a clear demonstration of consistency and political maturity. Contrary to the fertile imagination of some politicians who thought the nation will vote for them simply based on their ethnic or tribal origins; this was not a tribal or ethnic vote.

As one regional newspaper quoted the unifier Mahatma Gandhi when he said: "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes", I couldn't agree more with Professor Diescho when he wrote in his column that appears in one local newspaper when he said "the haste to dismiss the other, malign the other, belittle the other, stigmatize the other and wish the other away cannot contribute to a meaningful debate, never mind to the outcome that is binding on all!"

Yes, one is allowed to make mistakes but the time for 'soothsayers and charlatans who throw bones and chant incantations for the demise of the people and purport to deliver them from the same' is over. No more 'fly-by-night knights in shining borrowed armours' and 'sacred cows that could not be milked even to feed the starving masses but could go to the veldt to graze willy-nilly and confine other cows to the barren periphery of their existence' as the regional weekly newspaper of the Southern Times was quoted saying. Our people know too well that politics is not eaten for "they have known politics for long to be aware of its malnourishing diet", said one ZANU-PF Cabinet Minister in that country's Herald newspaper as the ship of his party docked for the congress last weekend.

With this backdrop, as we are embarking on this new phase of the struggle with renewed vigour, one would admire great intellect and appreciation for nuance and love the book "Black Prophetic Fire" by the renowned African- American scholar, author and activist Dr. Cornel West, when he engages in conversation with the German scholar and thinker Christa Buschendorf about six revolutionary and Pan-Africanists African- American leaders: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X and Ida B. Wells.

The former Harvard University professor and best-selling author who co-hosted a radio show with PBS' Tavis Smiley, has, in the wake of the US President Barack Obama's 2008 election, emerged as one of his most outspoken critics. According to West, Obama is a neoliberal centrist. He is a pro-imperial President. He is brilliant, he is charismatic, but he is the head of the American empire and the black activist and Pan-Africanist tradition is a profound critique and indictment of the system that he heads.

"With the black middle class losing nearly 60 per cent of its wealth, the black working class devastated with stagnating wages and increasing prices, and the black poor ravaged by massive unemployment, decrepit schools, indecent housing and hyper-incarceration in the new Jim Crow, the age of Obama looks bleak through the lens of the black prophetic tradition," West argues. "This prophetic viewpoint is not a personal attack on a black president; rather it is a wholesale indictment of the system led by a complicitous black president" he remarks. These are words of fire, and West deploys them with a passion and zeal that, at its best, recalls the black activist spirit of Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, the figures profiled in his book. Avoiding personal attacks, West takes aim squarely at the depressing state of racial and economic injustice in America, a nation he characterizes as being ruled by rich elites that actively crush democratic strivings and censor radical voices and visions.

He defines "moral integrity, political consistency, and systemic analysis" as being integral to the black activist and Pan-Africanist tradition. Comparing the bold truth-telling and courageous activism of the past to the milquetoast and quiescent voices of contemporary black leaders in America, West offers a full-scale attack against an American culture of greed, individualism and denial that, he claims, has gripped much of the black community's elite. The towering figures of Pan- Africanism and the black liberation movement, as West reminds us, spoke truths that powerful leaders didn't want to hear. Just as important, they shared radical visions of social justice that frightened the very communities they were fighting for. West's new work, in seeking to resurrect this mode of activism, exemplifies the strength and power of a tradition whose legacies continue to reverberate in our own time. In that context, his book is an important and timely cri de Coeur that recalls James Baldwin at his controversial and provocative best.

Free-market excess, neoliberalism's spineless retreat from justice and the black elite's collaboration with the rich whites are all, in West's analysis, part of a larger American decline, one that has virtually crippled the once proud tradition of black activism and Pan- Africanism.

West says the leading causes of the decline of the Black activist and Pan-Africanist tradition in America are threefold. First, there is the shift of Black leadership from the voices of social movements to those of elected officials in the mainstream political system. This shift produces voices that are rarely if ever critical of the system of which they are gatekeepers. According to West, this decline is part of a larger structural transformation in the history of midtwentieth- century neoliberalism in which the elites marginalize social movements and activist voices.

Second, this neoliberal shift produces a culture of raw ambition and instant success that is seductive to most potential black leaders and intellectuals, thereby incorporating them into the neoliberal regime. West also says this culture of superficial spectacle and hyper-visible celebrities highlights the legitimacy of an unjust system that prides itself on upward mobility of the downtrodden. Third, the U.S. neoliberal regime contains a vicious repressive apparatus that targets those strong activists, and Pan-African intellectuals who are easily discredited, delegitimized, or suffer character assassination.

West ends the text talking about the female freedom fighters such as Ella Baker, whom he describe as the central figure in his text and in the African- American Pan-Africanist tradition when it comes to democratic theory and practice. According to West, Ella Baker understood that leadership is something that comes not just from below, but in the creative capacities of those Sly Stone called 'everyday people', and those James Cleveland called 'ordinary people' and, most importantly, she understood the centrality of 'we-consciousness' or collective leadership as opposed to isolated ego. This is very important in terms of our present moment, because if we remember Carl Rowan who was the most popular black journalist in the 1960s in America, he demonized Malcolm X and trivialized Martin Luther King Jr. when he came out against the empire in Vietnam.

And we are living in a moment now where there is a kind of Carl Rowanization. So you see it on people who act as if they are saying something critical, but in fact it is milquetoast. Now very few people talk about Carl Rowan in any positive way but we all remember the collective leadership of the Pan-Africanists of the early sixties such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Modibo Keita, Sekou Toure, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Dr. Antonio Agostinho Neto, Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe, our own Pan-Africanist, Dr. Sam Nujoma, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and many others. These Pan-Africanists, flawed like all of us, stood tall right in the heat of struggle. No matter what popularity was to be sacrificed, they told the truth about the viciousness of white supremacist slavery and oppression.

Thus, Dr. Cornel West's book is simply a way of saying; we need a renaissance of integrity, courage, vision, and willingness to serve and to sacrifice. Most importantly, West's book is about a deep love of justice that is connected to the four questions that Du Bois wrestles with. How does integrity face oppression? What does honesty do in the face of deception? What does decency do in the face of insult?

And how does virtue meet brute force? In essence, this is a timely book in the age of those who are willing to sacrifice integrity for cupidity or integrity for venality. As we commemorate the tenth of December and mourn the passing on of Aunty Patty, let us reflect on these and other issues as we go on holiday and come back re-energized to embark on this new phase of the struggle for socioeconomic emancipation in which nobody should feel left out!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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