Lib­er­a­tion: The Cen­tres and their Mar­gins

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

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]

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