Liberation: The Centres and their Margins
THE struggle between the West and the rest in the world is a struggle, at once, about who is at the Centre and who is at the margins of the Globe. There was a time in the life of what was called the Third World when the struggle against colonialism and imperialism was chiefly geographic and territorial. Since 1884, in the case of Africa, settler colonialism defined itself with geographic maps, borders and demarcated countries as territories and geographic entities. The nationalists, PanAfricanists and Negritude activists fought against a colonial invasion that was geographic, landed, territorial and therefore spatial. The settler and his power had to go back whence he came and leave the natives to determine their political and economic fates in the lands of their birth. For that reason, struggles against settler colonialism were mainly nativist and interested in the reversal of conquest and colonial invasion. The nationalists, PanAfricanists and Negritude activists of the time were clear about the political, economic and cultural effects of the West in the rest of the world and were determined to undo those by any means necessary. Decolonisation and independence became the rallying call of the revolutionaries and reformists of what is now called the Global South. More than 50 years after the independence of Ghana in Africa, and more than two decades after the fall of juridical apartheid in South Africa, and the recent birth of South Sudan as the newest country in Africa; simple decolonisation has little to show in terms of the liberation of the people of Africa. Independence from colonialism has not become liberation from coloniality in the Global South.
The inaccessibility of liberation after the administrative decolonisation of Africa and Latin America has gotten philosophers and theorists of the South to think and act in terms of decoloniality as a philosophy not just of decolonisation but liberation par excellence. Decoloniality has made it even more visible that colonialism was not just geographic and territorial but that it was world systemic, institutional and also structural. More importantly, it was epistemic, it created epistemic borders, maps and Centres. It is for that reason and pursuant to that observation that Boaventura de Soussa Santos in 2018 has written of the “cognitive empire” that controls epistemic regimes and modes of knowing and thinking at a world scale. Empire does not only have its many fingers of the Octopus on polities, economies and cultures of the world, but also on epistemologies and modes of thinking and knowing. The existence and power of the “cognitive” and therefore epistemic empire compelled Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni to conceptualise the idea of “epistemic freedom.” Ndlovu-Gatsheni notes that the liberation of the Global South, beyond simple decolonisation, was not going to be feasible without “epistemic freedom.” Without epistemic freedom those that fight coloniality and the EuroAmerican Empire behind it do so using colonial logic and terms that are still nativist, territorial, geographic and limited in their decolonial potency. Gatsheni has illuminatingly insisted that not all forms of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are decolonial; some remain anti-colonial but still entrapped in colonial and imperial logic. That is exactly why many heroes of the Global South that fought colonialism in Asia, Latin America and Africa became some kinds of colonisers to their own people after the political independence of their countries.
A Tragic Entanglement
It is my observation in this short article that at some point, colonialism and anti-colonialism became two fundamentalisms that got entangled and the struggle between them became a kind of what Slavoj Zizek has called a “pseudo-struggle.” A pseudo-struggle is a struggle between two supposedly opposed forces that in actuality have become the same and cannot deliver liberation of either part. The colonialists of yesteryear, in the world, are still in practice and actuality colonialists and imperialists. The anti-colonialists of the same era are still anti-colonialists claiming to be fighting enduring colonialism and later day imperialism, and want to be known and thanked for this by millions of young generations of the South that believe that the language of anti-colonialism is boring and tired. As a philosophy of liberation, Decoloniality can help inform and liberate both the colonisers and anti-colonialists from their historical, systemic, structural and tragic entanglement.
These, colonial and anti-colonial forces, and the people that embody them are caught in an embrace of lost causes and have become impotent and sterile. To do justice to the objective of this article I will utilise the example of the struggles of two epistemic regimes, that is ways of knowing and thinking, to illustrate how colonialism and anti-colonialism became trapped into each other and both cannot deliver victory to anyone. Eurocentricism and Afrocentricism are my chosen epistemic regimes that I notice to have become beholden and enmeshed in the same “centrist,” colonial and imperial logic. I will try and do this by showing that Eurocentricism as a colonial ideology of knowledge and Afrocentrism as a decolonisation ideology stand for opposite goals that are fundamentally the same, and are trapped in the same logic of the “centric” and the essential, which is a fundamentalist logic. I argue that, in a way colonialism created anti-colonialism by provoking its rise and in turn anti-colonialism reproduced colonialism by maintaining its systems and logics after administrative decolonisation in the Global South. Just as colonialism and its Eurocentricism created Centres and margins, anti-colonialism produced its own Centres and peripheries.
The Colonial and the Eurocentric
For purposes of an opinion article such as this, even if it is not opinionated and relies on available and relevant sources, and pays fidelity to theory and method, it is important to be simple even if not simplistic, I aim. After physically conquering what was the Third World, the colonialists from the West and some imperialists from the East were keen that their history, culture and knowledge be the knowledge and history and culture of the conquered and colonised. In that way, Western and Eastern Europe turned themselves into the centre of the world. From, once a province of the world, Europe turned itself into a centre of the world in terms politics, economics and knowledge. Imperial expansion was at once epistemic expansion; European specifically and western at large philosophers, artists and scientists became the thinkers and knowers of the whole world; the rest of the thinkers from Africa, Latin America and Asia were supposed to imitate and follow the masters. European knowledges earned epistemic privilege as much as the Western states and nations held political, economic and cultural power in the Globe.
In 1978, as a Palestinian and Asian cultural critic and philosopher, Edward Said published an angry book, Orientalism, describing how European scholars, journalists and philosophers used their knowledge and epistemic stamina to misrepresent and insult Asians. Likewise, in 1993, Ngugi wa Thiongo published a collection of angry essays; Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. In this collection Ngugi was arguing that the centre of knowledge and power in the world should be moved from the West to the rest in the communities of peoples of Africa and elsewhere in the Global South as legitimate thinkers and knowledge producers. The West was not supposed to be allowed to hold monopoly of thought, power and culture in the universe, Ngugi noted.
In short Eurocentricism is the colonial and imperial ideology of power and knowledge that seeks to pretend that only Europeans and westerners can think and produce knowledge. The Eurocentrists believe that power and knowledge are centred in Europe and the real human beings under the sun are Europeans, whites infact. For that reason, Eurocentricism is at once white racism against non-white peoples of the world. The anticolonialists of the Third World, among them nationalist, Pan-Africanists and the Negritude school generated Afrocentricism as a direct reaction to Eurocentricism. Eurocentricism provoked the birth of anti-colonialism and Afrocentricism became one of the ideologies or some parts of it, philosophies, of anti-colonialism.
Afrocentricism as Decolonisation
The Afrocentricists were and still are radical anti-colonialists. Led mainly but not entirely by Molefi Kete Asante, they insist that Africa and blacks are another if not the only true centre of the world and humanity. When Europeans boast about their inventions and discoveries, the Afrocentricists draw up their own list of African and black inventors and achievers to counter the Eurocentricists. It is a slanging match of who and where the centre of the world is. It is a tit for tat game and a game of gladiators over where the centre of the world is and who is the true human being. The Afrocentricists are territorial and nativist about Africa as a homeland of Africans who truly see all white people as settlers, rightly or wrongly, in Africa. My view is that Afrocentricism is a great philosophy of African decolonisation. The only limit of the thought and activism is that it does not graduate from decolonisation to decoloniality and therefore to liberation. It is trapped in clapping back to Europe instead of inventing another world and reality. Clapping back to conquest and colonisation is important but it cannot be the end goal. As an end goal it remains another nativism and another racism therefore not just an anti-thesis but also an imitation of Eurocentricism. It is trapped in a pseudo-struggle with Eurocentricism, a colonial and anti-colonial struggle, that may pretend to but does not become a liberation struggle, I note.
What is Liberation, Fundamentally?
Liberation does more than react to or imitate coloniality. It goes beyond the tit for tat slanging match. Afrocentricism became an important anticolonial, anti-racist and a decolonisation ideology. But it did not graduate into decoloniality and a philosophy of liberation. It remained in a clapping match and Olympics of power with Eurocentricism. It remained a response and a reaction to Eurocentricism and not an alternative to it. It came to adopt many strategies of Eurocentricism as its own. The same way Eurocentricists extremely exaggerate the importance of being white and European, the Afrocentricists overplay the simple idea of being black and African as if it is liberation on its own when black people have shown that they can as easily oppress and harm each other in ways that are racist and colonial.
Most anti-colonialists that are not liberators fear and hate Frantz Fanon. He makes them feel guilty because he pointed out the sterility of anticolonialism at the time of its rage in the 60s. They wanted to pretend that Fanon is old fashioned when his truths are bleeding fresh and much needed by them. Fanon said to the anti-colonialists: “come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe.” The biggest problem of anti-colonialism and its limits is that it imitated the coloniser far too far. Those in Latin America, Asia and Africa that fought colonialism easily became colonisers and despots that in many ways duplicated and imitated colonialism and oppressed their countries and the many nations in them. Liberation fundamentally means, as Fanon argued: “so, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her. Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be an obscene caricature.” Anti-colonial regimes of Latin America, Asia and Africa became imitations of Europe in their nativism, territorialism, colonial maps and borders, racism, tribalism and xenophobia. Based on Fanon and many other decolonial philosophers, decoloniality as a philosophy of liberation asks for new inventions and futures that are free of white on black and black on black domination. We need to depart from the Centres and margins that colonialism shaped, geographically and epistemically, and invent new frontiers and utopias of liberation.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Hogsback in the Eastern Cape, South Africa: decolonial[email protected]