The revolutionary spirit that swept across Africa in the 1960s, and ushered the era independence, is far from over. These so-called revolutions hardly brought in the kind of conscious change foreseen by Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah.
A revolution by definition entails a fundamental change in political power or organizational structure through collective action by the people, for the people! What happened in many African countries was a mere change of guard.
Africa’s so-called revolutions were not limited to the 1960s. This is evidenced by the recent uprisings in North African countries like Libya and Egypt, where long serving leaders were overthrown through mass power (mostly supported by Western interests). However, what happened in these countries, being a change of political guard, cannot be seen as complete revolutions. The difference is that unlike the routine coup d’états of the decolonization era, often led by political elites seeking to retain political power, the North African uprisings were spontaneous and led by the masses.
Ideally, a revolution carries an expression to alter not just the holders of political power of the day but to raise the consciousness of the people. A true revolution must cause change in the socio-economic conditions.
The period of struggle for independence across the African continent corresponds to the height of the civil rights movement in the United States of America, bringing together preachers, activists and artistes. The collective contribution of stalwarts like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Nina Simone, and Angela Davis, among others, speaks to the impact of the revolutionary message on the masses. Both the African independence struggles and the Civil Rights struggles were characterized by a consciousness that is absent in the revolutions that we see in Africa today. Whether it was the black consciousness or the Black Panther movement or the Pan-Africanism of the revolutionaries, there was a level of intellectual awareness exhibited. All of it is absent now. Gone! This, in my opinion, is what makes African revolutions incomplete.
If the 2010-2013 revolutions in northern Africa are anything to go by, a mere change of guard does not in fact constitute a revolution. Nor are struggles of the continent – be it dictatorship, corruption or poverty – going to be transformed by gun wielding men shooting their way from the bush to the State House. African revolutions must explore the consciousness of the people and push them to introspect about the change they seek. Consciousness will not be achieved with the power of the gun; not even where military prowess would address short-term interests like toppling a 30-year dictatorship in a country like Uganda.
One might say that by not transferring consciousness from the 1960’s revolutions to the present day, the leadership failed its people. I would agree. The simple reason, to reiterate, is that a revolution cannot truly be called such if it does not bring a fundamental change. The only difference, in Africa at least, is that unlike the colonial period where the oppressive systems and the individuals representing it were mostly foreign, the political oppressors of today are from within our communities. However, the oppressors of today wield the same tools as or colonial masters—the façade of legitimacy under the law, military might and access to local and foreign resources.
Africa should take a page from the North African book: military strength alone will not bring change; at least not the kind hoped for in the 1960’s. Instead, raising consciousness is necessary to inform the ideology and the methods through which modern African revolutions occur.
As masses gather, perhaps motivated by widespread frustration with the socio-political status quo, we must emphasize that a mere change of guard, either through mass uprisings or through modern-day electoral coup d’états, will not bring about meaningful change. What we need is completion of the African Revolutionary Project!
IMAGE CREDIT: Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang 2.24.01.05, bestanddeelnummer 910-9738 – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl. Link.