As an outgrowth of deliberations at the Black Power Conferences in the 60’s and the Congress of African people in 1970, a broad set of principles for engaging electoral politics and judging the performance of Black elected officials in the U.S. evolved. The mission of Black elected officials was to expose the hypocrisy, contradictions and ultimately the inability of the Capitalist political economy to deliver a quality standard of living for all the people; to utilize electoral office to strain the system to its limits in order to maximize the delivery of resources to the people; and to mobilize/organize independent political structures to which elected officials would be accountable. After the Gary Black Political Convention, the concept of holding elected officials accountable to Black agendas devised by the people in local communities was also advanced. The bottom line is that progressive Nationalists/Pan Africanists outlined a rationale for engaging electoral politics and devised principles or standards for holding Black elected officials accountable. The goal was not to elect people to extol the virtues of the system and maintain it, nor was it to have them gain access to power for status, prestige and personal advancement. It was to engage the system to deliver maximum resources/services to the people while simultaneous organizing to transform the system.
Candidly, few Black elected officials in the U.S. measure up to these principles. And, there has been a failure to consistently articulate and popularize them as potentially effective tools that can be used by community people to hold elected officials accountable. Nonetheless, activists who are aware of the struggle to develop these principles can speak to that history and continue the fight to institutionalize them within the body politic in Black America. The task is to devise and discuss a similar set of principles for African nations and their leaders in the Caribbean and on the continent. Having such standards is particularly important because, unlike Black America, these African leaders have the opportunity to control nation-states and the resources available to them. And, as DuBois noted, Africa is the richest continent on earth.
I do not purport to be a political theorist, but a few very basic ideas come to mind in terms of progressive principles of governance. Revolutionary thinkers like Franz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah were clear that “national liberation,” winning political independence from European colonialists, was only the first step toward genuine freedom and self-determination for African people. “National reconstruction,” the total “decolonization” or dismantling of the socio-economic and political structures of colonialism was the decisive step for African people to achieve real independence. It was not enough for Black faces to occupy and preside over the structures and institutions put in place by the colonizers. New societies must be constructed based on the values of the traditional way of life of African people. Central to this value system is the communal control of and sharing of resources to benefit the people. To warn against the dangers of “national liberation” without “national reconstruction,” Nkrumah wrote Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. His basic premise was that political independence without ending the external control over a nation’s resources by the former colonial masters would only perpetuate dependency or amount to what has come to be known as “flag independence.”
The principle to be extrapolated from this discussion is that African leaders should first and foremost be servants of the people who are committed to gaining and maintaining control over the resources of the nation to benefit the welfare and development of the masses of the people. This entails working for the creation and maintenance of African-centered structures of governance and economy, structures rooted in the humanistic values of the traditional way of life of African people. The acquisition of power is not for the purpose of pillaging and pocketing the nation’s resources or to permit the continued plunder of the nation’s resources by external forces. With Africa’s enormous wealth, it is an absolute disgrace that so many people live in abject poverty and misery. This is because far too many African leaders are out of synch with the principle of servant leadership and the idea of utilizing the nation’s resources to benefit the people. As a consequence, with rare exception, what we have on the African continent are leaders and a political class who are enriching themselves and permitting external forces to ravish Africa’s resources – all to the detriment of the masses. “Leaders” and regimes that steal, give away or squander the resources of the people/nation must be held accountable!
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 second of a three part commentary by Dr. Daniels on the need to construct progressive principles for pan-African governance.