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In this essay, Horace Campbell looks at the importance of Africa Liberation Day, its changing relevances as Africans are betrayed by the architects of first independence and how, through struggle, we can reclaim and fulfill its promise.


On May 25, 2008, peace loving peoples all over the world will celebrate African Liberation Day. This will be the fiftieth anniversary of the setting aside of a day to commemorate those who sacrificed for the liberation of the African peoples at home and abroad. In 1963, the Organization of African Unity was established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Then, the main emphasis was on the liberation of territories from colonial rule. At the end of apartheid in 1994 new ideas of liberation were placed on the agenda for Africa. Questions of health, food security, environmental justice, decent education, the rights of women, the politics of inclusion and cultural freedoms were placed as the core of the liberation of Africa. African women at the grassroots are campaigning for a new form of popular power where African peoples will have the voice to intervene in the political process where they live and where they work. These men and women at the grassroots seek to give meaning to political participation and realize the dream of C.L.R. James who envisioned that ‘every cook can govern.’ This form of politics elevates the political participation of the people beyond periodic voting. African youths at home and abroad are looking forward to new institutions and new sites where the ideas of peace, love and human dignity will prevail.


At the All African Peoples Conference, held in Ghana, in 1958 it was agreed that one-day would be set aside as a national day of remembrance for African freedom fighters. Ghana had achieved its independence in 1957 and one year later Kwame Nkrumah called a conference of African workers, freedom fighters and champions for justice. Nkrumah who had been inspired by Garveyism and the self mobilization and self organization of the people took up the idea of African Liberation day and successfully promoted the idea to the leaders who formed the Organization of African Unity. The first celebration of Africa Day had begun in Harlem, USA by the followers of Marcus Garvey who had called for African Unity from as far back as 1919.

When Ghana achieved its independence in 1957 Nkrumah maintained that the independence of Ghana would be “incomplete without the independence of all of Africa.” Together with the principal freedom fighters within Ghana, Nkrumah established a Pan-African Secretariat within the Ghanaian government and appointed George Padmore to run the secretariat. The task of the secretariat was to act as the coordinating point for the establishment of links with freedom fighters on the African continent and for the secretariat to be a center for information to support those fighting for freedom.

At that historical moment freedom was conceived of as freedom of the peoples and freedom of the states from colonial rule. To carry forward this task the Ghanaian government deployed the resources to support freedom fighters, trade unionists and political activists for independence. This was the spirit that inspired the calling of the All-African Peoples’ Conferences in 1958. It was at this meeting where Patrice Lumumba was introduced to the wider Pan African struggles. In tandem with this people-centered activity, Nkrumah also convened the conferences of Independent African States to establish a diplomatic framework for the political union of Africa.

Because most of the present governments in Africa are opposed to the liberation of the peoples and the Union of the peoples of Africa the detractors of African Union present the struggle for the United States of Africa as a Gadaffi Initiative. Instead of Africa Day becoming a day to honor and celebrate those who struggled for independence, the day has been taken away from the people and the officials use this as another opportunity to organize embassy parties and dinners to seek assistance from the imperialists who are today called ’donors.’ Nowhere is the idea of Pan Africanism more devalued than where Pan Africanists seek to use the name of Pan Africanism to establish NGO’s to seek assistance from the very same forces that undermine African independence. Yoweri Museveni has used the current Secretariat of the Pan African Movement in Kampala as political football.


Fifty years after the start of the celebration of Africa Day in 1958 there are still colonial territories in Africa. The most well known is the case of the Western Sahara. The military invasion and occupation of Iraq by the USA demonstrated clearly the reality that the days of colonial occupation are not yet over. In North Africa and in Palestine the legacies and problems of military occupation reinforce and support the dictatorial rule of the Egyptian ruling elite.

At the time of Kwame Nkrumah, Nasser and the peoples of Egypt represented one base of support for freedom fighters. Today, the leaders of Egypt seek to establish a dynasty and hinder the full support for those fighting against occupation whether in Palestine or in Iraq. Peace activists in North Africa like peace activists in the other parts of Africa oppose occupation and genocidal violence. It is this reversal for the peoples that ensure that the politics of retrogression thrives. With the absence of committed leadership, militarists seize the discourse of liberation to establish movements for emancipation and liberation to foment genocidal politics. Genocidal politics thrives when the politics of exploitation, exclusivism, racism, militarism, religious dogmatism, extremism, and patriarchy intersect in a nested loop to oppress the people. Sudan is one society where the recursive processes of genocidal thinking, genocidal institution, genocidal politics and genoicidal economic relations are reproduced to perpetuate war and the wanton destruction of human lives.

There is a new peace movement across the globe and the celebration of Africa Day is one component of the struggles against genocide and genocidal thinking. This peace movement in Africa must link up with the global movement for peace so that liberation in Africa will be associated with emancipation, peace, social justice and the well being of the people.


It was very significant that it was in those states that supported African liberation with moral, material and political support that this day was observed at the national level as a public holiday. After imperialism killed Patrice Lumumba and orchestrated a military coup d ‘etat against Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and the Tanzanian people stood out in the ways in which the idea of African Liberation was respected and the society made tremendous sacrifices for the liberation of Africa. Julius Nyerere established a tradition of self-sacrifice that was followed by those committed to ending all forms of exploitation. The Tanzanian society could not have supported liberation and hosted the OAU Liberation Committee to spearhead liberation without the mobilization and politicization of the ordinary people.

One can compare the sacrifices of the Tanzanian peoples with the present Xenophobia in states such as South Africa and Angola where former freedom fighters have used the history of the liberation struggles to hold on to political power, to enrich themselves and diminish the meaning of independence and liberation The attacks on African migrants in South Africa and the violence unleashed against poor workers in 2008 represented one example of how the former leaders of the African liberation process have become obstacles to the further emancipation of Africa. Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership in Zimbabwe represents the extreme example of freedom fighters who started out on the side of the people but used state power to enrich a small clique while shouting about imperialism. Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea represent leaders who once used the language of liberation while setting up militaristic states to oppress the people of Africa.


The momentum and energy of the poor ensured that the OAU through the liberation committee supported the process of decolonization in Africa despite the fact that the generals constituted the majority at the summit. The formation of the OAU in 1963 had been a compromise among member states that could not agree on how to respond to the clear external manipulation of the Congo after those representing the interests of Western mining capital murdered Patrice Lumumba in 1961.It was in this Congo where the traditions of militarism, corruption and genocide had taken deep roots.

Those who yesterday opposed African liberation and supported dictators such as Siad Barre (Somalia), Arap Moi (Kenya) Félix Houphouët-Boigny y (Ivory Coast) and Hastings Banda (Malawi) now write books on failed states in Africa. This language of corruption and notions of Africa representing a breeding ground for ‘terrorism’ is one component of psychological war against Africa. The objective of the propaganda is for the young to forget the imperial crimes in Africa. In this way the dream of the young is to escape Africa to Europe.

The imperialists who orchestrated and planned the assassination of Patrice Lumumba have reframed their role in the destabilization of Africa and now write books celebrating their role in the destruction of African sovereignty. Larry Devlin who was the Chief of Station of the Central Intelligence Agency in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) has written a book (Chief of Station) to cover up the crimes of US imperialism in Africa. Mobutu represented the biggest obstacle to African liberation and unity and for thirty five years Mobutism supported genocidal politics and genocidal leaders in Central Africa from Rwanda to Burundi and Uganda under Idi Amin. The clause of non-interference in the internal affairs of states was the expedient to protect the confraternity of dictators. Despite these setbacks, the people prevailed and are now placing the question of the union of the peoples of Africa as the urgent task of contemporary liberation.

The formation of the African Union in 2001 was a conscious effort to transcend the traditions of violence and militarism. Defeat through victory Just as how at the end of slavery in the British territories 1834 the slave masters were compensated, so in the period at the end of apartheid the West intensified the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, liberalization and de regulation so that the architects of apartheid and their black allies could enrich themselves.

Firstly, through IMF and the World Bank the basic rights to education, housing, health care and decent wages have been eroded. This has meant that the African poor have borne the brunt of the world capitalist depression. When Alan Greenspan, (former head of the Federal Reserve in the USA) noted that this capitalist depression has been the worst since 1920, he neglected to note that the poor and the exploited in Africa bore the brunt of this capitalist depression. Food riots in Senegal, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Egypt, Somalia and the Cameroons are the outward signs of the stirrings of a new liberation movement where the peoples of Africa are demanding food, clothing, shelter and access to proper health care.

Secondly, African liberation now requires that the people control their governments and that issues of financial planning and budgeting are discussed in the villages, townships and cities of Africa. In Africa, the politics of retrogression has become the norm, and the leadership has taken – to cultural proportions - the tendency to turn their backs on the people as soon as they take office. Hence, though the African Union has stipulated that no leader can come to power through military coup leaders now resort to electoral theft as evidenced recently in Kenya and Zimbabwe. There is now an urgent need to create new democratic institutions to strengthen popular participation and representation. Parliamentary democracy on its own is not enough; it must be supplemented with and strengthened by other popular institutions and associations like the local governments, cooperative movements, independent workers, women, student and youth organizations, assemblies or organizations for the environmental concerns and for minority rights, and so forth A new leadership must ensure that this is the dominant political culture, with enough flexibility to allow for changes when changes are needed to strengthen and further consolidate that culture.

This new political culture will eventually shift power from the current corrupt and unrepresentative political groupings, to local communities whose chosen representatives will be accountable to the interests of these local communities first not those of a small center that monopolizes power in the national political groupings.

Thirdly, in the midst of the millions dying from the AIDS pandemic the African governments are being coerced to cut delivery of health care. The provision of health for the masses of the people represents one of the fundamental goals of liberation in this era. All across the continent the requirements for a healthy life are pressing when the poor are seeking environments with clean air, clean water, and neighbourhoods cleared of mosquito holding areas and homes that are not dilapidated.


Environmental repair and environmental justice form the fourth link in the chain of liberation in this new century. All across the continent the present leaders glorify the extraction of petroleum resources without regard for the health and safety of the peoples. From the North of Africa down to the Namibian coast petroleum companies are looting African oil while destroying the environment. Nigeria represents an extreme example of where environmental racism abounds and where a small clique is enriched while the majority of the peoples are exploited.

As much as 76 per cent of all the natural gas from Petroleum production in Nigeria is flared compared to 0.6 per cent in USA, 4.3 per cent in the UK, 21.0 per cent in Libya. The flaring is one of the most severe of the numerous hazards to which the peoples of the Delta and the Rivers States are exposed. At temperatures of 1,300 to 1,400 degrees centigrade, the multitude of flares in the Delta heat up everything, causing noise pollution, and producing CO2, VOC, CO, NOx and particulates around the clock. The emission of CO2 from gas flaring in Nigeria releases 35 million tons of CO2 a year and 12 million tons of methane, which means that Nigerian oil fields contribute more in global warming than the rest of the world together. (Claude Ake, 1996)

It is in Africa where the petroleum companies are engaged in crimes against Africans and crimes against nature. Many of the gas flares are situated very close to villages, sometimes within a hundred metres of homes of ordinary citizens. Petroleum companies have been flaring at some sites for 24 hours a day for more than 30 years. Despite this record, the standard view of environmental management, is that the basic rights of private property and of profit maximization, come before the health and welfare of the peoples of Nigeria in general, and in particular, the peoples who live in the Niger Delta.

Concerns for environmental justice are kept subservient to concerns for economic efficiency and capital accumulation. Successive governments in Nigeria have been willing accomplices to this degradation, the oil companies are protected while the health and welfare of Nigerian society suffers irreparable. The cuts in the social wage of the population make it impossible for local communities to support health clinics and there is an absence of drugs in most rural hospitals. The oil revenue is recycled to prop up the political class. Since 1958, Royal Dutch Shell has extracted billions from the lands of the Niger Delta. It is in this situation where a movement has developed called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Should African freedom fighters be supporting the armed struggles in the Niger Delta when we are presented with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta? Acts of militarism even in the face of the keenest oppression can only be supported in the present era when all other forms of popular political mobilization have been exhausted. This is the concrete lesson from the wars in Sierra Leone and “the revolutionary forces of Foday Sanko.” We have also learnt the limits of armed revolutionary struggles from the wars of liberation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From the military campaign of Kabila, the intervention by Wamba dia Wamba, the senseless wars between Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia along with prolonged fighting in Eastern Congo there are clear lessons for liberation.

These acts of militarism and war force revolutionaries to grasp the meanings of liberation and liberation movements today.

The legacies of the defeat in the Congo The Congo stands at the heart of Africa and peace in the Congo will have a tremendous impact on social reconstruction and transformation in Africa. Regional cooperation between truly democratic states will change the African Union and there will be a quantum change in the politics of Africa when the ideas and principles of African wildfire spread to all parts of the continent. In order to forestall the full operation of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, the United States has established the US Africa command to remilitarize Africa at the moment when the driving force behind African liberation is the peace and social justice movements. It is this peace and justice movement that inspired the continent wide opposition to the Africa command so much so that the US government has to resort to covert agreements to shore up the allies who are secretly colluding with western militarism.

Potentially were countries such as Angola, the DR Congo and the Sudan democratic states, they could collectively put together a major program of self-development, funded entirely by them for the whole Eastern and Southern Africa region. The West understands this and it is for this reason that the European Union and the USA are not supporters of peace and demilitarisation in Africa. In the face of the crisis of US capitalism the Chinese have emerged as a major force in the political economy of Africa. This new engagement has been significantly different from the period when the political leaders of China had supported the decolonization of Africa and provided support for Tanzania to build the Tazara railroad.

From liberation to emancipation As we come to the end of the first decade of a new century this moment provides one other opportunity to reflect on the tasks of liberation in the last fifty years and to assess how far the tasks and goals of liberation were realized. The crisis of the nature of human existence is manifest in all spheres of social relations; in the relations between humans (men and women), in the relationship between humans and the environment and in the forms of economic organization. It is now clearer that African liberation is not possible within the capitalist mode of production. When Walter Rodney wrote the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, he had stated unequivocally that capitalism stands in the path of further human transformation. Now this is even clearer with the nested loop of environmental crimes, food crisis, economic terrorism, pandemics and the absence of representative democratic forms.

African women are leading the call for a new definition of liberation beyond one where African males occupy the positions of power of European and send their children to schools to be educated in European languages and in the ideas of patriarchy, domination over nature and private property. Since the period of the anti-apartheid struggles there has been a deepening of the understanding of liberation to encompass issues that are common on both sides of the Atlantic such as regional economic integration, democratisation, the end to genocide, reparations, the emancipation of women, the end to sexism and heterosexism, the humanization of the male and the humanization of the planet. The African Liberation Struggle of Tomorrow How can Africans be validated as human beings and lay the foundations for a new sense of personhood? This question has been sharpened by the major turning point in human transformations with the revolutionary technological changes that carried potential for healing as well as the potential for destruction. Books on Apartheid medicine have pointed to the ways in which Africans are being used as guinea pigs. The questions of the worth of the value of African life, of human life will be contested in the 21st century.

Millions are dying from preventable diseases and the health infrastructure has deteriorated while health workers leave Africa in droves. Where Information technology and robotics are changing the nature of work, education and leisure and the traditional understanding economics, the advances in gene splitting technologies are changing the very ways in which plants and animals are produced. The information revolution is bringing telecommunications technology to most communities across the continent and the peoples are now able to keep in constant contact with their village communities. African youths are using this technology to bring knowledge and information to others in order to break the control over information. Imperialism seeks to tap into the cognitive skills of the peoples while the governments look to Europe for models of education.

Africa is the home of the richest biodiversity on the planet. While some leaders are struggling for land, the biotech and pharmaceutical companies are patenting African medicinal plants. The threat of the major biotech companies to patent life forms along with the new rules of the World Trade Organization relating to intellectual property rights contain the seeds of undermining all of the gains that were made in the context of the struggle for self determination. By presenting life as an “invention” the biotechnical companies and the food corporations seek to eliminate the African farmer altogether. It is against this background that Africa is providing the lead in the World Trade Organization against the patenting of life forms. In the book, the Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, Samir Amin has warned of the dangers to the pauperization of the majority of farmers in Africa if African government follow the model of agriculture of Europe and the United States.


Whether it is in the area of food production, health care, care for the sick or the education of the youth there is a disproportionate burden that is carried by women of the grassroots. One of the most important new development in the debates on revolution and transformation in the 21st century lies in the centrality of the place of the black women of the producing classes in the struggle for social transformation. This discussion which is going on in Africa and in the Americas emanates from a long tradition of struggle by black women and the determination that the black woman would never be again be marginalized in the African revolution.

The ensuing debates on women’s rights, racism, class alliances, environmental racism, gender and social reproduction hold the seeds of the most profound understanding of the limits of the concentration on productive forces that was the hallmark of radical politics for the generation after 1917. The question of how the understanding of the oppression of women is linked to the household as a site of politics brings home the point that one cannot be politically progressive and support any form of domination or intolerance. The women's movement successfully challenged the labor theory of value and influenced our understanding of the centrality of household production in the capitalist labor process. These revolutionary women have deepened our understanding of the importance of care and that the discipline of economics will remain one branch of capitalist ideas unless it takes into consideration care and reproductive capabilities of women.

Female labor power was never calculated in the economic models of nineteenth century revolutionaries. Black women such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman yesterday and women such as Angela Davis and Nawal El Saadawi today placed the question of the liberation of women on the political agenda. Throughout the twentieth century the women’s movement internationally made great strides in placing the gender, care and housework as fundamental questions of revolution. However, in the main, this mainstream movement was dominated by conceptions of progress and reason that emanated from Western Europe.

It was the radical black feminists who have reflected on how the growth of emancipatory ideas has contributed towards the project of our collective emancipation. By framing and ending the separation of the woman question from the other sites of struggles and making gender transformation the central question of the struggle, the progressive women inside the left movement and in the radical formations have taken the political lead in the fight for justice. Hence in Africa today, the combined energies of the women from all parts of the Sudan are seeking to place the issues of rape, sexual terrorism, violation and gender oppression at the center of the debate on the future of the Sudan. Fundamentalism of all forms represents one component of the counter revolutionary period in which we live.


There is need for a new orientation on liberation to conceptualize the values of ubuntu as the basis for liberation. The concept incorporates values of sharing, cooperation and spiritual health. Ubuntu, emancipatory politics and reparations are the key concepts for liberation tomorrow. The attainment of ubuntu is bound up with the political union of Africa. The concrete understanding of the cultural unity of Africa and the contributions of the African peoples towards human transformation are being refined every day through day to day struggles. Cheik Anta Diop who has studied the linguistic basis of African Unity emphasized the importance of African languages in the push for continental unity. African Liberation will be meaningless if it is not rooted in African languages and in the genius of the African woman. The aspirations of Diop, which were outlined in his book on the Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State, form the core of the African Union of tomorrow. Diop was clear that his idea on industrialization and regeneration of Africa was not based simply on the development of the productive forces without reference to the working people of Africa. Diop wrote clearly of the requirement of effective representation of women at all levels of governance.

The future of African liberation will be informed by a new mode of politics where ordinary African men, women and children will be able to revel in the idea of Africa for the Africans at home and abroad and tear down the borders of oppression and control which were created in 1885. The future of Pan Africanism and the AU must reinforce the traditional respect for the elders and should raise up a new tradition, respect for young people. This new tradition calls for Africa to lead the world in the use of all means to support the emancipation of African women and girls and to end all forms of oppression.

This is the essence of reparations, peace and justice!

*Horace Campbell is the author of the well known book, Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. His latest book, Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation is published by David Philip of Cape Town, South Africa.

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