I once wrote an article titled, “The Moral and Ethical Imperatives of Black Leadership.” I expressed a concern that far too many Black elected officials in the U.S. and heads of state in Africa were behaving as if the only goal of the Black liberation movement was to replace White faces with Black faces in high places. I was responding to what seemed to be an emerging pattern of self-serving, self-aggrandizing, corrupt and self-perpetuating leaders who were more interested in power and personal fortunes than the interests of the masses of the people. As a progressive, African-centered scholar/activist and Pan Africanist, I wrote the article because of a deep conviction that the new world we seek to create for African people and humanity must be fundamentally rooted in the principles and values of Maat, the ancient African concept of justice, righteousness, balance and service. In my view the goal of the Black Freedom Struggle in the U.S. and the Pan African liberation movement should have been and must be to create non-repressive/oppressive/exploitative social orders – just and humane societies that enable the people to fulfill their potential as human beings.
Unfortunately, when I survey the scene in the Pan African world today, people of African descent are far from realizing this goal. And, what is lacking is an open conversation/discussion about what I consider to be the urgent need for a prescription of progressive principles of Pan African governance. The recent crisis in Libya is a case in point. I am on record vehemently opposing the U.S. /NATO led assault on Libya to liquidate Colonel Muammar Gaddafi -- within the context of what emerged as a civil war. However, to the dismay of some of my friends/allies, I also made it clear that I do not view Gaddafi as a paragon of progressive Pan African governance, or a hero to be hailed simply because he mouths anti- American, anti-imperialistic rhetoric as the self-proclaimed paramount chief of a United States of Africa. The reality is, for all of his splendid rhetoric and some noteworthy accomplishments (he did snatch the Libyan people from the jaws of European colonialism and modernized the country), Gaddafi was essentially an authoritarian ruler who remained in power by repressing dissent and oppressing sectors of the population. Though he obviously has a following of loyalists, there was substantial, seething, suppressed discontent with his regime which burst into the open in response to the uprisings against repressive rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, the so called “Arab Spring.” In their offer to mediate the conflict, the African Union (AU) emphasized the need for democratic reforms to resolve the crisis. This is why I strongly supported the AU initiative. It did not ignore the fact that there were legitimate grievances the Gaddafi regime needed to address in order to achieve peace. Few of the pro-Gaddafi proponents I know were willing to acknowledge the flaws and failing of his regime. Instead, most simply chose to herald his stance as a champion of Pan Africanism.
A recent rally in Harlem not only called for support of Gaddafi, it also decried sanctions against Robert Mugabe, the aging autocrat from Zimbabwe. Though Zimbabwe is supposed to be a democratic state, Mugabe and the leaders of his ruling Party have achieved “victory” and maintained power by brutally crushing the opposition. It is clear that a once highly regarded hero of the struggle for independence is hell bent on being President for life -- with the ruling Party determined to hold power after his demise. Mugabe’s U.S. based supporters proclaim him the most revolutionary of African leaders because he has seized land from the White farmers, the minority which constituted the backbone of colonial rule, and redistributed it to veterans of the liberation struggle. Mugabe devotees contend that the opposition is allied with and financed by White farmers. There is likely some truth to this charge. I absolutely agree that land stolen from Africans by interlopers should be returned to the original owners. However, the issue is whether in a “democratic” society, intimidation, repression and violence should be used to suppress the opposition no matter who their allies or what their political persuasion. My answer is that it is not acceptable.
Because of his status as a hero of the anti-colonial liberation struggles, for years African leaders have refused to chastise or rein in Mugabe. Some leaders were no doubt reluctant to do so because of their own despotic regimes --“let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Thankfully that is beginning to change. South African President Jacob Zuma, AU’s designated Mediator, is openly warning Mugabe to cease using repressive means to maintain power or risk losing legitimacy in the eyes the AU. Hopefully, the posture of seeking a settlement in Libya and President Zuma’s willingness to confront Mugabe signals a refreshing trend toward holding leaders and governments accountable for their behavior. For progressive Pan Africanists the message to African leaders must be unequivocal: having a “correct” posture on anti-imperialism or Pan Africanism while suppressing, maiming, killing and otherwise constraining the aspirations of your own people is not acceptable and will not be tolerated! While we must fight against imperialism and support Pan African projects and initiatives, we will not embrace tyrants, despots and autocrats. Leaders, governments should be judged by progressive principles of governance.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
This is the first of a three-part essay in which Dr. Daniels explores the possibility of creating progressive principles for Pan-African governance.