The pauperisation of spirit and demise of the Left in Africa, by Usman Sarki


“Great talents appear everywhere, whenever the social conditions favourable for their development exist” – Georgi Plekhanov(On the Role of the Individual in History)

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AND what is left of the internationalism of the workers’ movement?” asked Frederick Engels of August Bebel. In like manner, we should ask, and what happened to the workers’ and students’ movements in Africa? Where is the burning flame of zeal and patriotism that once ignited the progressive forces in earlier epochs on the continent, that created such dynamism and momentum as to lead to the liberation of Africa from colonial rule and racist supremacist experimentation?

There was a time once when great talents abounded in the ranks of intellectuals and activists of the radical tendency or the “Left” in Africa. Their curiosity and interest in activism were nurtured by the social conditions that favoured their emergence in such great numbers to fulfill the tasks and duties ascribed to them by their attachment to certain values that predominantly shaped their outlooks. Among such values was the desire to roll back the vestiges of colonialism, especially in the cultural context and more particularly in the realm of education, and the control of the productive forces or economies of our countries by the erstwhile colonial powers.

The idea of neocolonialism and its manifestation, especially in undermining the capacity of our governments to make independent decisions that favour the generality of our people, as well as the ability to pursue credible and independent foreign policy that is not contingent upon the diktat of the big powers, provided the impetus for the Left in Africa to challenge the status quo and offer alternatives based on cogent intellectual reasoning. One such alternative was the exploration of people-oriented policies and programmes in national economic development as well as the adoption of postures that are diametrically opposed to the interests and inclinations of the former colonial powers, by being non-aligned in their foreign policies.

Such tendencies were constructed upon the identification of issues and their articulation along the lines of critical scholarship and dialectical analysis based on Marxian doctrines and other derivations that veered off into Leninist perspectives, Maoist tendencies or Trotskyist constructs, etc., depending on the leanings of the intellectuals and their position vis-a-vis the politics of their countries. In the main, the struggle for democracy and the rolling back of military rule as well as the unionisation of workers’ movements in the 1970s and 1980s, provided the practical motivations towards activism of the Left in Nigeria and other African countries.

The struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the remaining outposts of European imperialism in Africa, namely in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola, and to some extent the question of the Spanish Sahara, all fomented active interests in political action among African academics, workers and students. Today, however, the situation is lamentably squalid and abysmal. The bureaucratisation of the progressive movement all over Africa calls into question the relevance of the Left today. As a tendency and even as a means of mobilisation of general enthusiasm and sentiments in favour of a worthy cause, the Left has apparently lost its steam and meaning in Nigeria and the larger African political space.

This much was recognised by the dynamic and cerebral South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Neladi Pondor. In a passionate speech that made the rounds in the social media, Dr. Pondor looked at the current African conditions and vehemently deplored the imposition of arbitrary positions on African countries. She wondered what had happened to the Left in Africa, saying in her own words: “We need to recognise that the world has shifted. Because what has happened is in a determined fashion, progressive values and principles have been hacked, and hacked and hacked, until it is difficult to find the voice of the Left”.

This speech should serve to ignite a debate on the state of the progressive forces in Africa whose values once set the stage for the liberation of the continent and injection of respect into African politics. The liberation struggle in Africa is not over yet. It is a continuous process whose dimensions must be appreciated to exist beyond political freedoms or national self-determination. It should encompass the liberation of the African minds and cultures to free our people from the bondage of materialised enslavement and inordinate subordination to worthless values based on chimerical ideas and concepts of freedoms that stress fleeting enjoyment and not permanent values.

The various permutations of cultural values and their associated intricacies in creating mental freedom or servitude as the case may be, must be clearly explored and made known so that our people, especially the youth, will have the opportunity to make choices and ground their actions on the foundations of inherited values of probity, hard work, responsibility, honesty and the like. The one-way lane of material acquisition that leads to moral bankruptcy and degeneracy must not be allowed to be the only choice that is available to our youth. They must be confronted with the reality and the hard truths of struggle and sacrifice as the surest guarantees of acquiring respect and purpose in life.

Dr. Pondor’s lamentation is a cry from the heart from a woman whose world view was shaped by the anti-colonial and anti-Apartheid struggle in her country, and whose temperament was influenced by sacrifice and selfless devotion to the cause of Africa and her country. The Left that she lamented about, whose values have even hacked, and hacked, and hacked, until only a hollow semblance of itself is all that remains, must be brought back to life and made wholesome through intellectual endeavours and greater personal exertion by African academics, workers and students.

Globalisation and the capitulation of states to the powers of capital, have robbed the Left of most of its relevance as a force of resistance and a platform of alternative action towards reordering of societies based on the principles of peace, orderliness, equality, shared circumstances as well as a collectivist approach to the control of the forces of production, under the guidance of the most enlightened and progressive sections of the society, namely the working classes.

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The real dilemma of the Left, particularly in the global South and more especially in Africa, started with the end of Cold War and the demise of the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, that ushered in a period of prolonged doubts and new forms of social conflicts that deflected concerns away from scientific enhancement of dialectical thoughts among the workers, intellectuals and students.

The ensuing years of economic restructuring and Bretton Woods inspired structural adjustment programmes also created adverse circumstances for the Left in many countries, including Nigeria, whereby the workers and other progressive forces became preoccupied with struggles for survival rather than with advancing the political struggle to usher in real transformation in the society. The cooption of labour into government and truncation of the political movements by diluting their fervour also created a sense of fatalism in the ranks of the Left, thus making them to lose steam and interest in the cause of the workers and the masses.

The relevance of the Left must be retrieved by reigniting the curiosity of our youth in politics and the organisation of mass movements of progressive forces through which our people can be mobilized to salvage their conditions and vindicate the truthfulness of the struggles against neo-colonialism and imperialism. This is a task that is awaiting fulfillment and must be undertaken by all the progressive elements in Africa. The critical nexus between organisation and the availability of platforms around which such preparations should be made must be clearly understood and appreciated by the African masses.

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