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Eurocentrism, coloniality and decolonisation

By Paul T. Shipale
It was reported that Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana is seemingly unimpressed by the budget's lack of radical interventions in addressing inequalities created by apartheid when she remarked in Parliament during the budget debate that politicians continue to praise the National budget, which for years has failed to redress economic and social inequalities created by many years of apartheid.

To buttress her argument, Minister Iivula-Ithana pointed out the means of production which still remain in the hands of the formerly advantages and foreigners and cited the example of the land issue as the case in point. Minister Iivula-Ithana also said parliamentarians should not hide behind the constitution to say their hands are tied. Indeed, Article 131 on Repeal and Amendment of the Constitution stipulates in Sub-Article (5) (b); nothing contained in this Article shall prevent Parliament from amending or repealing any of the provisions of the Constitution, provided always that such repeals or amendments are effected in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

Article 131 further stipulates in Sub-Article (2) (a), (b), and (c) that the majorities required in Parliament for the repeal and/or amendment of any provisions of the Constitution shall be 2/3 of all the members of Parliament. However, if a bill proposing a repeal and/ or amendment of any of the provisions of the Constitution fails to secure a majority of 2/3 of all the members from both houses of Parliament, the President may by Proclamation make such bill the subject of a national referendum, conducted in accordance with procedures prescribed by Act of Parliament.

True, modern democratic theory and emerging international norms, such as self-determination, proclaim that the sovereignty of a nation is vested in the people and it is therefore appropriate that the final word should rest with people. After all, the preamble of most constitutions say, now therefore, "we the people give ourselves or adopt this constitution, as the fundamental law of our Sovereign and Independent Republic" or something to that effect. In that case, perhaps is high time we call for a referendum and ask the sovereign will of the people if they want the constitution to be amended in order to do away with some of the clauses which inhibit our representatives from tabling bills that will alleviate the plight of our people.

The truth of the matter is fifty years after the celebration of decolonisation the 'European game' which denied Africans agency continues to prevail. Coloniality remains a reality.

This is why there is an urgent need for a simultaneous process of decolonisation and deimperialisation, meant to destructure the racially hierarchised modern world system and re-structure if not rehumanise the existing asymmetrical power relations that facilitate the domination and exploitation of Africa by Euro- North-American industrialised nations, while decolonisation remains a future that Africa must fight for, as it deals with cultural, psychological and epistemological aberrations. To substantiate my argument, I will cite an article by Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni that appeared in the December edition of the Pan African New African Magazine on Eurocentrism, Coloniality and the myths of Decolonisation of Africa, which speaks to what the Minister is alluding to.

Lest we forget, Eurocentrism unfolded in terms of the colonisation of space, time, being and even nature, announcing its presence through the usurping of world history by Europe and North America. It expanded, institutionalised and consolidated itself into a global phenomenon through mercantilism, the slave trade, imperialism, and colonialism. Economically, Euro-North American modernity was carried forward and globalised by capitalism. At the epistemological level, it consolidated itself through appropriation and monopolisation of all useful existing knowledge as well as through the displacement, subjugation and silencing of other knowledge that challenged Eurocentrism.

To survive in today's world, Euro-North American modernity unleashed a very persuasive global programme underpinned by discourses of deprogress; and 'Coloniality' which underpins Anglo-Saxon claims to being superior human beings ordained by God and history to dominate and exploit other human beings. According to Nelson Maldonado, Eurocentrism gave birth to Coloniality defined as a global imperial power structure that survived the end of direct administrative colonialism and whose longstanding patterns of power define culture, labour, intersubjective relations and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. (Maldonado- Torres 2007: 243).

In the wake of the treaty of Westphalia of 1648, Europeans were producing modern nation-states at the institutional political level and recognised each other's sovereignty but never considered Africans as part of humanity expected to enjoy national sovereignty.

With the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, Africans were written out of the 'zone of being' into the 'zone of non-being' where they were available not only for enslavement but also for colonisation (Ndlovo- Gatsheni 2013b). This Conference was hosted by the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who is credited for unifying Germany but ironically presided over the partition of Africa. This logic of dismissing the humanity of the African people is informed by what J.M. Blaut calls 'the myth of emptiness' that presumes that Africa was empty of people; if they existed they were nomadic; that Africans had no notion of private property and lack rationality (Blaut 1993: 15) It is against this background that Pan Africanism emerged as a counter-hegemonic international movement that sought to contest articulation and projection of Euro- American power and interest at the expense of black people (Lumumba- Kasongo 1994: 109) and regain their lost ontological density. Pan- Africanism became a protest against racism; a terrain for waging anti-colonial struggles and a dream for African unity. Thus, Pan-Africanism was the precursor to the establishment of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.

The post-1945 United Nations sovereignty replaced the Westphalian sovereignty order that excluded smaller states of Eastern and Central Europe that subsisted under the imperial Romanov, Hapsburg and other empires. Of course Africa was not eligible for enjoyment of sovereignty as it was still enveloped in the paradigm of difference that informed direct colonialism. The rise of the post-1945 United Nations sovereignty order provided Africans with a platform to critique and exposes the hypocrisy and double-standards of Western colonial powers (Ndlovu- Gatsheni 2001).

Therefore the struggles for decolonisation proceeded as claims for inclusion of Africans in the post- 1945 human rights normative order. The case in point is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 which was closely studied by African freedom fighters and its linguistic inventories were used to put pressure on Europe to decolonise Africa.

When eventually decolonisation was realised from the 1960s onwards, the reality was that postcolonial states were admitted into the lowest echelons of the hierarchised and asymmetrically organised global international system. Consequently, the decolonisation process ushered into the post-1945 modern world order, a group of the world's weakest and most artificial states with the Euro- American powers monopolising permanent seats and the exercise of veto power at the United Nations. The Cold War provided Africans with two ideological options: the capitalist path or socialist path within an un-decolonised modernist- imperial world order. Africans tried to navigate this binary through such initiatives as the Bandung Conference of 1955, the Non- Aligned Movement (NAM), the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA), right up to the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD).

These initiatives constituted what Ali Mazrui (1967) termed "Pax Africana" (African solutions to African problems). Adedeji explains that all these initiatives failed because they were opposed, undermined and jettisoned by the Bretton Woods institutions and Africans were thus impeded from exercising the basic and fundamental right to make decisions about the future.

The western powers' economic grip on Africa was intensified in the 1970s as they underwent prolonged recession. The Washington Consensus emerged as a Western initiative of managing the economic recession. Western welfarism informed by Keynesianism was replaced by neoliberal principles that privileged market forces in the struggle against inflation. What was distinctive about neoliberal advance was its anti-statism philosophy which culminated in the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Africa. The imposition of SAPs took away the little that was remaining of African people's control over economic policy.

Inevitably, African efforts to make history are constrained by their entrapment in global coloniality, making history within a stage set by Euro-North American modernity, understood here to mean human beings armed with secular thought and science. The 1990s have become dominated by new African initiatives to regain the lost policy space.

The African initiatives emerged within a context of revival of pan- Africanism that witnessed the transformation of the OAU to the African Union (AU) in 2002 (Mathews 2007). The other initiative is that of intensifying regional integration as well as South- South solidarity that was laid down by the Bandung Conference of 1955. All these initiatives are taking place within a modern global order governed by what David Slater terms 'imperiality of knowledge' (Slater 2004), which while it concedes to the ideas of difference and limited juridicalpolitical independence, it does not concede to the right of peoples of the Global South and their leaders 'to negotiate their own conditions of discursive control, to practice its difference in the interventionist sense of rebellion and disturbance' (Richard 1995:211).

This implies that contemporary conflicts in Africa are instigated and fuelled by conflicting hegemonic values, norms and worldviews with the objective, through their violent and strident advocacies, to subvert the integrity of the essences of black of humanity and with the goal to induce a process of repudiation of self using our people as proxies in the war of the hegemonic external Others in pursuit of ancient antagonism as there is not much to choose between the mindless physical violence on one hand and the mind bending psychological defection on the other hand by the Janjaweed Militia, the anti-Seleka, Boko Haram and M23 rebels in eastern DRC. They all have the same consequences as their differences are tactical one. Therefore now is the time to regain our own dignity and assert our humanity by self-validating the integrity of our own identity as Africans. In light of the above, it is my contention that is high time that we call for a referendum and/or Land Conference to discuss the way forward.

Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the views of my employer nor am I paid to write them.


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