President Clinton Fueled War for Minerals – U.S. Congresswoman

Originally posted on AllAfrica.Com

Rwanda News Agency
Kigali, June 21, 2007

In May, outspoken former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney testified in the Spanish probe investigating the deaths of Spanish nuns in this region. Now details show that she is reported to have alleged that the US government maintained ravaging conflicts in this region for mining concessions from D R Congo.

Ms. McKinney – sent to Africa in 1996 to carry out President Clinton’s policy in the Great Lakes region, told La Vanguardia that: “I accused his (Clinton) Administration of having acted as accomplices in the war crimes in (DR) Congo and instigating a genocide.”

“What my government wanted,” Ms. McKinney explained, “wasn’t in the best interest of the Congolese people: (President Bill) Clinton kept me there because he wanted an African-American whom Kabila trusted. Even though Mobutu was, technically, the President of Congo, it was Kabila who was in charge of granting the mining concessions.”

According to her, then rebel Laurent Kabila with the support of Rwandan forces continued making forays into the territory of the vast country with weapons and funds that he had gotten from the West.

Kabila apparently promised, in return, to grant the US the mining rights once he had conquered this territory rich in gold, diamonds, and coltan (an important component used in electronic equipment). And indeed, he would make good on his promise once he became president.

“In October 1996, (Laurent) Kabila began to attack Hutu refugee camps in Congo and by July he had already conquered the entire country,” Mr. Jordi Palou who is accompanying McKinney explained to the Spanish paper.

Information from the Spanish investigation into the deaths of the nuns and priests indicates that they were part of aid workers operating in camps housing thousands of Rwandan refugees in eastern D R Congo – the Zaire.

“There they are: commercial stakes, which, combined with an illegal arms trade, were out to make money by fueling a war – a war which has claimed the lives of 7 million people, both Rwandans and Congolese,” former U.S. congresswoman from Georgia.

But what started out as being a lawsuit that the Spanish justice system had initially accepted, to investigate accusation against top administration officials of the Rwandan government regarding the deaths of 9 Spanish volunteers, has now ended up becoming a legal case which seeks justice for all the people who died between 1990 and 2002.

The Audiencia Nacional (National Court of Spain) has been following up then details of the lawsuit initiated by International Forum for Truth and Justice in Africa of the Great Lakes Region.

In addition, the case is also evidencing the responsibility that mining companies are believed to have had all along.

“What the West perceives as tribal wars is indeed,” Mr. Palou added “hatred geared at obtaining benefits by taking advantage of the existing chaos.”

AFRICOM and the US Resource Wars in Africa

Originally aired on June 6, 2007 on Guns & Butter, KPFA Radio.

Interview with journalist and human rights and genocide investigator, Keith Harmon Snow by Bonnie Faulkner. The new U.S. command, AFRICOM; the crisis in northern Uganda; the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa; military programs and covert operations; Somalia and Ethiopia; oil and mineral resources; the Darfur region of Sudan; NGOs.

Listen to interview.

Murambatsvina in KZN: The Notorious Slums Bill

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement Thursday, 21 June 2007

Operation Murambatsvina comes to KZN: The Notorious Elimination & Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Bill

Today the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination & Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Bill will be tabled in the provincial parliament. Abahlali baseMjondolo have discussed this Bill very carefully in many meetings. We have heard Housing MEC Mike Mabuyakulu say that we must not worry because it is aimed at slumlords and shack farming. We have heard Ranjith Purshotum from the Legal Resources Centre say that “Instead of saying that people will be evicted from slums after permanent accommodation is secured, we have a situation where people are being removed from a slum, and sent to another slum. Only this time it is a government-approved slum and is called a transit area. This is the twisted logic of the drafters of the legislation”. We have heard Marie Huchzermeyer from Wits University say that this Bill uses the language of apartheid, is anti-poor and is in direct contradiction with the national housing policy Breaking New Ground. Lawyers have told us that this Bill is unconstitutional.

It is very clear to us that this Bill is an attempt to mount a legal attack on the poor. Already the poor, shack dwellers and street traders, are under illegal and violent attack by Municipalities. This Bill is an attempt to legalize the attacks on the poor. We know about Operation Murambatsvina. Last year one of our members visited Harare and last week we hosted two people from Harare. This Bill is an attempt to legalize a KZN Operation Murambatsvina before the World Cup in 2010. We will fight it all the way.


The Bill says that its main aims are to:

• Eliminate ‘slums’ in KwaZulu-Natal
• Prevent new ‘slums’ from developing
• Upgrade and control existing ‘slums’
• Monitor the performance of departments and municipalities in the elimination of ‘slums’ and the prevention of new ‘slums’ from developing.

It has detailed plans to make sure that all of this really happens. The Bill also says that it aims to ‘improve the living conditions of communities’ but it has no detailed plans to make sure that this really happens. It is therefore clear that its real purpose is to get rid of ‘slums’ rather than to improve the conditions in which people live. Mabuyakulu says that we shouldn’t worry because the real targets are slum lords and shack farming but this is not what the Bill says and, anyway, there are no slum lords in Abahlali settlements. Abahlali members have been to Nairobi. We have seen how the slum lords rule the Nairobi settlements and we are strongly against slum lordism. But we do not live in Nairobi. All Abahlali settlements are democratic communities and many other settlements in KZN are also not run by slum lords.

The Bill does not aim to:

• Force local and provincial government to deal with the conditions that force people to leave their homes and move to shack settlements
• Force local and provincial government to immediately provide basic services to shack settlements like toilets, electricity, water, drainage, paths and speed bumps while they wait for upgrades or relocations
• Force local and provincial government to follow the laws that prevent evictions without a court order, the laws that prevent people from being made homeless in an eviction or to follow the Breaking New Ground Policy that aims to upgrade settlements in situ (where people are already living) instead of relocating people so far from work and schools that they have to leave their low cost houses and come straight back to shacks.
• Force local and provincial government to make their plans for shack dwellers with shack dwellers to avoid the bad planning that undermines development (such relocating people so far away from work that they have to move back to shacks)

We do not need this Bill. The first thing that we need is for government (local, provincial and national) to begin to follow the existing laws and polices that protect against evictions, forced relocations and which recommend in situ upgrades instead of relocations. After that we need laws that break the power that the very rich have over land in the cities and we need laws to compel municipalities to provide services to shack settlements while people wait for houses to be built.

This Bill is not for shack dwellers. It is to protect the rich, by protecting their property prices.


In the Bill the word ‘slum’ is defined as an overcrowded piece of land or building where poor people live and where there is poor or no infrastructure or toilets.
The Bill uses the word ‘slum’ in a way that makes it sound like the places where poor people live are a problem that must be cleared away because there is something wrong with poor people. But it does not admit that the poor have been made poor but the same history of theft and exploitation that made the rich to be rich and it does not admit that places where poor people live often lack infrastructure and toilets because of the failure of landlords or the government to provide these things. The solution to the fact that we often don’t have toilets in our communities is to provide toilets where we live and not to destroy our communities and move us out of the city. In this Bill the word ‘slum’ is used to make it sound like the poor and the places where they live are the problem rather than the rich and the way in which they have made the poor to be poor and to be kept poor by a lack of development.

In America black community organizations have opposed the use of the word ‘slum’ to describe their communities because they say it makes it sound like there is something wrong with them and their places rather than the system that makes them poor and fails to develop their places. They also say that once a place is called a ‘slum’ it is easy to for the rich and governments to say that it must be ‘cleared’ or ‘eliminated’ but if a place is called a community then it is easier to say that it must be supported and developed.

There is also a problem with calling imijondolo ‘informal settlements’ because once a place is called ‘informal’ it is easy for people to say that it shouldn’t get any of the ‘formal’ services that people need for a proper life like electricity, toilets, refuse collection and so on. But many of us have lived our whole lives in ‘informal settlements’. We can’t wait until we live in ‘formal’ houses to get electricity to stop the fires, water, toilets, drainage, refuse collection and so on. We are living our lives now. We can’t wait to start living only when and if the government puts us in a ‘formal’ one roomed ‘house’ far out of town.

And we don’t like the word ‘eliminate’. This is a word that is violent and threatening, not respectful and caring. Our communities should be nurtured, not eliminated.
The people who live in the imijondolo must decide for themselves what they want their communities to be called. We must be allowed to define ourselves and to speak for ourselves.


• The Bill makes it criminal to occupy a building or land without permission from the owner of the building or the land.
• It forces municipalities to force landowners to evict people on their land (or in their buildings).
• It forces municipalities to seek evictions if landowners fail to do so.
• It forces municipalities to make a plan to eliminate all the ‘slums’ in its area within six months of this Bill becoming law.
• It forces municipalities to give an annual report on its progress towards eliminating all ‘slums’.
• It forces the provincial Department of Housing to closely watch Municipalities and to support them to make sure that they evict people from land that they have occupied.
• It forces the Provincial Department of Housing to support ‘any project adopted by a municipality’ to ‘relocate’ people from imijondolo.
• It says that Municipalities may evict people when evictions are in the public interest.
• It forces landowners to protect their land against the poor with fences and security guards. Landowners who do not protect their land against the poor will be guilty of a criminal offence.
• It forces landowners to evict people from their land.

This Bill does not provide any protection for people who have been made poor by the same history and economy that made the rich to be rich and who have decided to occupy land or buildings that are owned by the rich but are not being used by them. In many countries the poor have a legal right to use vacant land or buildings that are owned by the rich but are not being used by them. It is like this in Turkey. There is no reason why South Africa can not also give this right to the poor.

The need of the very poor for housing in the cities near work and education should come before the needs of the very rich to have their property prices protected.


The Bill allows Municipalities to buy or take land to accommodate people that have been evicted while they are waiting for new developments. These are called ‘transit areas’. The Bill does not give any guaranties as to where these ‘transit areas’ will be located, what services will be provided there, if communities will be kept together or broken up when people are taken to these places or how long they will have to live in these places.

We know that all through history and in many countries governments have put their political opponents, the very poor, people who were seen as ethnically, cultural and racially different and people without I.D. books in camps. These camps are always supposed to be temporary – a ‘transit’ between one place and another. But very often these camps have become places of long and terrible suffering. That is why in the Mail & Guardian it was written that this Bill reminds people of Nazi Germany. We know that in India shackdwellers who were taken to transit camps in the 1960s are still there now.


The Bill gives Municipalities the right to expropriate land. This means that they have the right to take land from landowners. This could be a very good thing for the poor if land was taken in the cities so that the poor could live safely and legally next to work, schools and clinics. But the Bill says nothing about which land should be taken. It only says that land can be taken to set up a ‘transit area’ or for people ‘removed or evicted from a slum’. Therefore it seems that the right to expropriate land will most be likely be used to evict the poor from the cities and to dump them in rural areas and not to defend their right to live in the cities against the interests of very rich land speculators and developers. Already shack dwellers are being taken out of Durban and dumped in ‘formal’ low cost houses in places like Park Gate. There is no guarantee that this will not continue.


This Bill makes any one who tries to stop an eviction a criminal who can be fined R20 000 or sent to prison for 5 years. Any normal person would try to stop an eviction. Which mother would stand by while her home and community is destroyed? If this law is passed it will make us all criminals. But this law says nothing about stopping the illegal and unconstitutional evictions that are perpetrated against shackdwellers all the time by the eThekwini Municipality. The Municipality breaks the law every time that it evicts us without a court order and every time it leaves people homeless but Municipal officials are never arrested. If the laws that exist now are now are not used fairly we have no guarantee that this law will be used fairly


Durban and Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg and all the cities in this province, this country and in the world were built by the work of the poor. But poor people didn’t only build our cities. They have also done a lot of the planning of the development of our cities. It was the poor who decided that black and white and rich and poor shouldn’t live separately and who took unused land so that everyone could live together in our cities. Our cities look the way that they do because of both the planning of the rich, the planning of various governments and the planning or ordinary poor people. For example it was Biko Zulu who decided to start a settlement in Jadhu Place near to the schools in Overport and the jobs in Springfield Park and not any government.

A democratic government should allow the poor to continue to be able to participate in planning the future of our cities. Planning should not only be a right for governments and the rich.

On Friday 4th May 2007 the Provincial Legislature came to the Kennedy Road community hall to introduce the “ KZN Elimination and Prevention of Re-Emergence of Slums Bill, 2006”. The hall was overflowing with people from affiliating settlements of the Abahlali BaseMjondolo Movement. We clearly said “No land, No House – No Vote, No Bill!” We clearly told the Provincial Legislature about the illegal demolitions and evictions undertaken by the eThekwini Municipality, the failure to provide basic services to shack dwellers and the brutal criminalization of the politics of the poor by people like Supt. Glen Nayager of the Sydenham Police Station. They said that they do not know about any of this. If they do not know what is happening to shack dwellers in their own province then they must listen to shack dwellers before making laws. Listening and talking must come before deciding.

A World Class city is not a city where the poor are pushed out of the city. A World Class city is a city where the poor are treated with dignity and respect and money is spent on real needs like houses and toilets and clean water and electricity and schools and libraries rather than fancy things for the rich like stadiums and casinos that our cities can just not afford.

We will fight this Bill in the courts. We will fight this Bill in the streets. We will fight this Bill in the way we live our ordinary lives everyday. We will not be driven out of our cities as if we were rubbish.

For comment please contact:

1. Ms. Zandile Sithole, 0762270653
2. Ms. Zodwa Nsibande, 0828302707
3. Mr. Mnikelo Ndabankulu, 0735656241
4. Mr. S’bu Zikode, 0835470474

The scramble for Africa’s oil

Originally posted on the website of the New Statesman, June 14, 2007.

Within a decade, the US will be heavily dependent on African oil. Little wonder the Pentagon is preparing a strategy for the region.

The Pentagon is to reorganise its military command structure in response to growing fears that the United States is seriously ill-equipped to fight the war against terrorism in Africa. It is a dramatic move, and an admission that the US must reshape its whole military policy if it is to maintain control of Africa for the duration of what Donald Rumsfeld has called “the long war”. Suddenly the world’s most neglected con tinent is assuming an increasing global importance as the international oil industry begins to exploit more and more of the west coast of Africa’s abundant reserves.

The Pentagon at present has five geographic Unified Combatant Commands around the world, and responsibility for Africa is awkwardly divided among three of these. Most of Africa – a batch of 43 countries – falls under the European Command (Eucom), with the remainder divided between the Pacific Command and Central Command (which also runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Now the Pentagon – under the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the defence department – is working on formal proposals for a unified military command for the continent under the name “Africom”.

This significant shift in US relations with Africa comes in the face of myriad threats: fierce economic competition from Asia; increasing resource nationalism in Russia and South America; and instability in the Middle East that threatens to spill over into Africa.

The Pentagon hopes to finalise Africom’s structure, location and budget this year. The expectation is that it can break free from Eucom and become operative by mid-2008.

“The break from Europe will occur before 30 September 2008,” Professor Peter Pham, a US adviser on Africa to the Pentagon told the New Statesman. “The independent command should be up and running by this time next year.”

A Pentagon source says the new command, which was originally given the green light by the controversial former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is likely to be led by William “Kip” Ward, the US army’s only four-star African-American general. In 2005, Ward was appointed the US security envoy to the Middle East and he is reportedly close to President George W Bush. He also has boots-on-the-ground experience in Africa: he was a commander during Bill Clinton’s ill-fated mission in Somalia in 1993 and he served as a military representative in Egypt in 1998. Ward is now the deputy head of Eucom.

America’s new Africa strategy reflects its key priorities in the Middle East: oil and counter-terrorism. Currently, the US has in place the loosely defined Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative, incorporating an offshoot of Operation Enduring Freedom that is intended to keep terrorist networks out of the vast, unguarded Sahel. But the lack of a coherent and unified policy on Africa is, according to some observers, hampering America’s efforts in the Middle East. US military sources estimate that up to a quarter of all foreign fighters in Iraq are from Africa, mostly from Algeria and Morocco.

Moreover, there is increasing alarm within the US defence establishment at the creeping “radicalisation” of Africa’s Muslims, helped along by the export of hardline, Wahhabi-style clerics from the Arabian peninsula.

“The terrorist challenge [has] increased in Africa in the past year – it’s gotten a new lease on life,” according to Pham.

But it is the west’s increasing dependency on African oil that gives particular urgency to these new directions in the fight against terrorism. Africa’s enormous, and largely untapped, reserves are already more important to the west than most Americans recognise.

In March 2006, speaking before the Senate armed services committee, General James Jones, the then head of Eucom, said: “Africa currently provides over 15 per cent of US oil imports, and recent explorations in the Gulf of Guinea region indicate potential reserves that could account for 25-35 per cent of US imports within the next decade.”

These high-quality reserves – West African oil is typically low in sulphur and thus ideal for refining – are easily accessible by sea to western Europe and the US. In 2005, the US imported more oil from the Gulf of Guinea than it did from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Within the next ten years it will import more oil from Africa than from the entire Middle East. Western oil giants such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, France’s Total and Britain’s BP and Shell plan to invest tens of billions of dollars in sub-Saharan Africa (far in excess of “aid” inflows to the region).

But though the Gulf of Guinea is one of the few parts of the world where oil production is poised to increase exponentially in the near future, it is also one of the most unstable. In the big three producer countries, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Angola, oil wealth has been a curse for many, enriching political elites at the expense of impoverished citizens. Angola is now China’s main supplier of crude oil, supplanting Saudi Arabia last year. The Chinese, along with the rest of oil- hungry Asia, are looking covetously at the entire region’s reserves.

Realpolitik of what suits

Looming over West Africa is the spectre of the southern Niger Delta area, which accounts for most of Nigeria’s 2.4 million barrels a day. Conflict here offers a taste of what could afflict all of sub-Saharan Africa’s oilfields. Since 2003, the Delta has become a virtual war zone as heavily armed rival gangs – with names such as the Black Axes and Vikings – battle for access to pipelines and demand a bigger cut of the petrodollar.

Oil theft, known as “bunkering”, costs Nigeria some $4bn (£2.05bn) a year, while foreign companies have been forced to scale back production after kidnappings by Delta militants. Such uncertainties help send world oil prices sky-high.

The Pentagon’s new Africa policy is to include a “substantial” humanitarian component, aimed partly at minimising unrest and crime. But the reality is that a bullish China is willing to offer billions in soft loans and infrastructure projects – all with no strings attached – to secure lucrative acreage.

“It’s like going back to a Cold War era of politics where the US backs one political faction because their political profile suits their requirements,” says Patrick Smith, editor of the newsletter Africa Confidential, widely read in policy circles. “It’s a move away from criteria of good governance to what is diplomatically convenient.”

According to Nicholas Shaxson, author of Poisoned Wells: the Dirty Politics of African Oil, “[Africom] comes in the context of a growing conflict with China over our oil supplies.”

Africom will significantly increase the US military presence on the continent. At present, the US has 1,500 troops stationed in Africa, principally at its military base in Djibouti, in the eastern horn. That could well double, according to Pham. The US is already conducting naval exercises off the Gulf of Guinea, in part with the intention of stopping Delta insurgents reaching offshore oil rigs. It also plans to beef up the military capacity of African governments to handle their dissidents, with additional “rapid-reaction” US forces available if needed. But – echoing charges levelled at US allies elsewhere in the “war on terror” – there are fears that the many authoritarian governments in sub-Saharan Africa might use such units to crack down on internal dissent.

Raising hackles

The increased US military presence is already apparent across the Red Sea from Iraq, where, in concert with Ethiopia, Washington has quietly opened up another front in its war on terror. The target: the Somalia-based Islamists whom the Americans claim were responsible for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Earlier this year, US special forces used air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants, killing scores.

FBI interrogators have also been despatched to Ethiopian jails, where hundreds of terror suspects – including Britons – have been held incommunicado since Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in December last year, according to Human Rights Watch. The problem with this more confrontational approach in Africa is apparent. “There’s definitely a danger of the US [being] seen as an imperial exploiter,” says Shaxson. “The military presence will raise hackles in certain countries – America will have to tread lightly.”

Nonetheless, the Pentagon is hoping that Africom will signal a more constructive foreign policy in the region and a break with the past. “Politically [Africa] is important and that’s going to increase in coming years,” says Pham. “It’s whether the US can sustain the initiative.”

African oil: the numbers

22% of US crude oil imports came from Nigeria in the first quarter of 2007

25% of US crude imports came from Saudi Arabia in the same period

75% of the Nigerian government’s income is oil-related

800,000 Nigerian estimate for barrels of oil lost each day through leaks, stoppages or theft by rebels

$2.3bn cost of building Chevron’s Benguela Belize platform off the coast of Angola

Research by Jonathan Pearson

The Judgment of Paris

Posted on The Nation blog, June 12, 2007. To view the original, click here.

Last Friday, as the “The Judgment of Paris” media circus filled our airwaves (those very airwaves which, as FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently reminded us in an intelligent New York Times op-ed, belong to us, the people), I emailed Elizabeth Gaynes, Executive Director of the Osborne Association, and one of the smartest criminal justice reformers and activists working in the field today. I figured if anyone had something insightful and humane to say about this uber-tabloid moment—and what it revealed about the failures of our criminal justice system–it would be Gaynes.

For more than two decades, she has led the Osborne Association—working with prisoners, former prisoners, their children, and other family members to help them reenter the workplace, rebuild their families and rejoin their communities. Today, Osborne staff provides services —- parenting education, job training, mental health and family counseling, HIV prevention–that help transform the lives of those involved in the criminal justice system.

As Gaynes reminded me, today Osborne provides services in *more* prisons than existed when she began working in prisons– soon after the Attica uprising of 1971. (In 1971, 12,000 people were crowded into 12 prisons in New York state; today New York has nearly 70 prisons and more than 60,000 men and women in them.) “Prison and perpetual punishment” should not be “our heavy weapons for the war on crime and war on drugs,” Gaynes insists. Those “weapons,” she argues” are designed for fighting the last war.” (For more about the Osborne Association’s invaluable work, go to and full disclosure–I am a board member.)

Gaynes’ reply, which I am posting below, seems to me a thoughtful antidote to so much of the sensationalistic media commentary surrounding Paris Hilton’s brief incarceration.

“Overall, I thought Jon Stewart named it right: ‘Shaw-Skank Redemption.'” But seriously, I do think it actually exposes rather virulent assumptions within American vengeance…..There is the Sharpton line, that she should go to jail because her privilege does not get a Get-Out-of-Jail Free card. Also, progressives, aware of the ridiculous disparities of race and class within the criminal justice system, seem to get great pleasure out of people of privilege going to jail. But if we take the position – which I certainly have – that jail should be reserved for only those for whom there is no alternative and should be designed with treatment to address the behaviors that led to the infraction, then 23 days in jail is surely pointless.

You may recall that when the Fastows (Andrew and Lea of Enron) were sentenced to prison, they asked for (and received) sentences that did not coincide, so that they would not both be in prison at the same time and thereby disrupt their children’s lives. Everyone recognized that this was only because of their race and class. Parents of minor children who are poor people of color never have their children’s wellbeing considered during sentencing and, in fact, the assumption is that the child of a poor black mother does not really need that parent as much as the Fastow children needed theirs, and that the Fastows (despite stealing billions of dollars from stockholders) could still be good parents, but that a poor woman charged with theft or drug sales had little to offer a child, who might actually be “better off” without her.

Anyway, when that story came out a lot of good people said, that’s outrageous, they should not get that privilege. But in fact, the problem is not that they WERE given that consideration but that others were NOT. The reality is that although the jailers have nothing in common with Paris Hilton, they felt that they knew her and recognized her humanity, naturally leading them to feel “sorry” for her and release her. On the other hand, most people in jail are “other” to those who hold them, and so how they are treated, the length of their incarceration, becomes possible.

When I visited a Canadian prison several years ago, I saw five units of “motel” type housing, and learned that they allowed “Family Reunion” programs, as we do in New York, where families can visit for 48 hours in a private setting. When I asked about the Canadian model, they explained that at any given time, four prisoners can have extended visits with their families within these “motel” rooms. When I pointed out that there were five units, how come there would only be four visits, they explained: well, the fifth unit is used for men who have been in prison for a long time and have no families. We allow them to go in there by themselves for a couple of days because, you know, sometimes people need to be alone.

The ability of these Canadian prison authorities to recognize the higher order need to be alone was only possible because they recognized the full humanity of the people in their custody. Perhaps because the prisoners and guards were mostly all the same race and class – French Canadian. If those who ran our jails saw everyone who came through as if they were important, what happened in Paris Hilton’s case would be common.

Now of course perhaps Ms. Hilton needs a “time out”, and maybe she will learn a lesson from this. Most transformative change comes when people have significant emotional events or challenges. But if she is an alcoholic or an addict, she will need something more than what jail offers. And if she is just a brat, the experience will just be one more “risk” that she seems to thrive on.

Greg Palast on the Battle to End Vulture Funds

From a “Democracy Now!” program, June 11, 2007. The program can be seen or heard, or the original transcript read, on the “Democracy Now!” website.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast looks at the battle to end “vulture funds”, where companies buy up debts of poor nations cheaply and then sue for the full amount.

At the close of the G-8 Summit in Germany last Friday, leaders of the world’s richest countries reiterated their commitment, first made in 2005, to cancel all of the debt owed by the world’s poorest countries. However, so-called “vulture funds,” or companies that buy up third world debt at rock-bottom prices and then sue the countries for the full value and more, are undermining any promises of debt relief.

In February, BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast exposed on Democracy Now! how one vulture fund, Donegal International owned by US resident Michael Sheehan, was trying to collect $40 million dollars from Zambia after buying one of its debts for $4 million dollars. Soon after, Congressman John Conyers and Congressman Donald Payne brought this up with President Bush, and urged him to ensure that the G-8 summit would close the legal loopholes that allow vulture funds to flourish. Greg Palast produced this report for BBC Newsnight last week.

* Greg Palast, Investigative reporter with the BBC and author of the books Armed Madhouse, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Democracy and Regulation.

AMY GOODMAN: At the close of the G8 summit in Germany last Friday, leaders of the world’s richest countries reiterated their commitment first made in 2005 to cancel all the debt owed by the world’s poorest countries. But so-called “Vulture Funds”, or companies that buy up third world debt at rock-bottom prices, then sue the countries for the value and more are undermining any promises of debt relief. In February, BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast exposed on Democracy Now! how one “Vulture Fund”, Donegal International, owned by US resident, Michael Sheehan, was trying to collect forty million dollars from Zambia after buying one of its debts for four million dollars. Soon after, Congress member John Conyers and Congress member Donald Payne brought this up with President Bush. They brought it up a few hours after the broadcast on Democracy Now!, and urged them to ensure the G8 summit would close the legal loopholes that allow “Vulture Funds” to flourish. Well, Greg Palast produced this report for BBC News Night last week.

GREG PALAST:George Bush has flown into the meeting of G8 leaders tonight. Near the top of the list of problems – poverty in Africa. But activists worry that G8 nations aid for Africa is being seized by vultures. In February, News Night exposed the activity of “Vulture Funds.” These vultures figured out how to get their hands on the money our governments give to help out Africa, and put it in their own pockets. They do it by buying up old loans made to the poorest countries just before the loans are effectively written off. Then the vultures sue for ten times what they pay for the loans. We tracked down one of them in Virginia – Michael Francis Sheehan – also known as Goldfinger .

[inaudible video] …aren’t you just profiting off the good work of people. We’re trying to save lives by cutting the debt of these nations.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN: Well, there was a proposal for investment. That is all I can talk about.

GREG PALAST: Goldfinger paid just three million dollars for some old Zambian debt, but eventually sued Zambia for 55 million. Worldwide, Goldfinger and fellow “Vultures” are suing desperately poor people for more than two billion dollars. Our expose sparked an international reaction. The next morning, the News Night report was rebroadcast in America .

GREG PALAST: After watching our News Night piece two very angry congressmen marched right into the White House and demanded the President do something.

CONGRESSMAN: I was outraged. Just simply outraged to hear this shocking broadcast. It infuriated me. It made me angry. It, uh, was just on my mind, I couldn’t even hardly focus on what the President was saying.

GREG PALAST: Congressman Donald Payne surprised the President by the issue. He was joined by one of the most powerful men in Congress – John Conyers.

JOHN CONYERS:I brought this matter up to President Bush in the White House. I asked him about “Vulture Funds” and did he know that some of the poorest nations were being taken advantage of in this highly immoral, ruthless scheme. And he said he was interested in knowing more about these “Vulture Funds” operations. And he said we would get to work on it right away.

GREG PALAST: That same day in Britain, a judge ruled that Sheehan and his associates were evasive and dishonest. Yet the judge had no choice but to order Zambia to pay Sheehan’s firm its 15 million, and that upset some members of Parliament. On March 1, 85 of them demanded a change in the law to put Sheehan and other “Vultures” out of business. Ministers faced repeated questions about why the government had not clamped down on “Vulture Funds”, and some MP’s weren’t happy with the answers.

LYNNE FEATHERSTONE (British member of Parliament): It is British law and British courts that “Vulture Funds” are hiding behind. What Gordon Brown needs to do is tackle our law, tackle our contract law and make it impossible for “Vulture Funds” to behave in this way.

GREG PALAST: The Zambia case especially drove their anger, raising the issue of corruption.

GREG PALAST: Here’s something odd. Zambian officials agreed to pay Goldfinger near 15 million dollars just days after he bought the debt for only 3 million. Now why would they do that? Well, according to an e-mail disclosed in this courthouse, Goldfinger said the deal would be done because he was making a donation to the President’s favorite charity. Now could the President’s favorite charity actually be the President himself?

GREG PALAST: This was the President at the time – Frederick Chaluba. And here is his favorite shop. Boutique Bazille, in Geneva, where you can buy diamond cuff links and diamond studded ties…

[MUSIC] Diamonds are forever. They are all I need to please me…

GREG PALAST: …where he spent 1 million dollars on 206 suits, 349 shirts – each monogrammed with his initials – and each shirt costing as much as an average Zambian earns in a year. And 72 pairs of shoes for the diminutive despot – all with extra high heels. On May 4, a British court ruled that President Chaluba must payback 46 million dollars he looted from his nation’s Treasury. Lawyers began to wonder if Michael Sheehan might find himself on the other side of the legal process too. His lawyers had admitted that any payments to President Chalupa’s charity, might in the end have been used in a corrupt manner. But he denied it was bribery. The US government started to look for evidence which might indicate whether Sheehan had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. May 10th, Tony Blair announces he would resign. The same day, his successor Gordon Brown issued a statement: I deplore the activities of so-called “Vulture Funds” and promise to work with G8 partners to curb them. On May 19th, Brown again told fellow G8 Finance Ministers that “Vulture Funds” were nothing short of scandalous.

May 22, the heat is on, as the United States Congress holds its first ever hearings on the “Vultures”. Here, Congressman Donald Payne is taking testimony from activists including actor Danny Glover. I drove out to New Jersey, and to Congressman Payne’s district to find out what moved him to take on the “Vulture Funds”. He told me that thinking about the “Vultures” seizing money from the starving put an image in his head he couldn’t shake.

DONALD PAYNE You know, it reminded me of that picture, you know, that Pulitzer Prize picture of the vulture following a child – was just waiting for the child to die. The photographer that took the picture actually committed suicide. It just conjured up people just taking blood out of a country’s lifeline.

GREG PALAST: The “Vultures” have already sucked up about 1 billion dollars in aid meant for the poorest nations according, to the World Bank in Washington. The money for debt relief comes from those buildings over there. The World Bank and the IMF, and from the US and British taxpayer. But before it can get to the poor people in Zambia, it somehow ends up right in this building, the offices of Debt Advisory International and its principal, Mr. Sheehan.

GREG PALAST: You remember Mr. Sheehan.


GREG PALAST: He’d rather not talk about his business. He failed to show up when the US Congress wanted to ask him about the bribery allegation. So we thought we would bring the questions right to him.


MAN: Hello?

GREG PALAST: Hi. Is Mr. Sheehan in? We just wanted to ask Mr. Sheehan…

MAN: I’m sorry, Mr. Sheehan is not here.

GREG PALAST: Is he in the country? Um, we want to ask Mr. Sheehan why he didn’t appear before Congress to answer allegations of bribery of Zambian officials. Did they call you?

[Inaudible voices, door slams]

GREG PALAST: I guess he doesn’t like visitors.

SECURITY: No, not unexpected, not when he comes down, seeing cameras and stuff. I don’t think so.

GREG PALAST: He doesn’t like Congressmen…

SECURITY: I guess not.

GREG PALAST: Mr. Sheehan faces more serious congressional hearings later this year in front of John Conyer’s Judiciary Committee.


GREG PALAST: Do you get bigger suites now that you’re a Chairman.


GREG PALAST: In the meantime, Congressman Conyers is pointedly counting on President Bush to back action against the vultures at the G8 summit.

JOHN CONYERS: I’m absolutely counting upon him to do the right thing.

GREG PALAST: Back in Britain, MP’s of all parties are counting on Gordon Brown to change the law.

BEN WALLACE (British member of Parliament): It’s a legal loophole, really, and I think if he can close that, that’s what he should be doing. He should get to grips with what is clearly an exploitation of the current system and goes against the spirit of the G8.

GREG PALAST: So will the President and the incoming Prime Minister do the right thing or do nothing to protect Africa’s poorest from the “Vultures”?

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast reporting. He joins us in studio now. Right now, where does it all stand, Greg. Who has the power and the damage that’s being done?

GREG PALAST: It’s all up to George Bush right now. This is what is driving the other members of the G8, that is, the incoming Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, has made this like number one priority. I mean, you have to understand, debt relief for Africa is real serious business for Europe. And about half – about half of the money for aid to Africa is being sucked up by these “Vultures” who are seizing the funds. It all comes down to George Bush. It’s also driving Congressman Conyers crazy. And he’s basically said, “Look. If Bush doesn’t do the right thing, this is the next investigation. He just made a big splash with investigating the prosecutor firings. That ain’t done yet. But as soon as that’s done, he moves right into “Vultures” if Bush doesn’t act. Now what is it – what’s the deal with Bush? You see – under US – what’s happening is these “Vultures” are seizing the money from US bank accounts, principally. And George Bush can – of these poor nations. In other words, they’re given money to buy AIDS drugs, they have resources to, you know, for – basically earmarked for education, AIDS. They’re sucking up the AIDS money. Bush can put a stop to it tomorrow morning. No one can sue a foreign government in the United States without the approval of the US government, in particular the President of the United States. Its under the Separations of Powers clause of our Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did Bush respond to, Conyers?

GREG PALAST: Well you know, it’s been the, he does that, you know: “I missed school that day. I don’t know what’s going on.” You know, deer in the headlights. “I’ll check it out. I’ll do something about it.” Now, as you know, we had this dramatic situation, which both Congressman Conyers, the chairman, powerful chairman, and Don Payne, head of the Africa Committee, two powerful cats, were both heading to the White House for meetings, both of them listening to Democracy Now!. They both had the same idea: “We don’t care what’s on the agenda with the President. This, the “Vultures” is what we have to talk about at – these billions of dollars. And, as Conyers said, until they heard the Democracy Now! report, a lot of members of Congress listen to this program! They had no idea that the money was being sucked up. They were voting for billions of dollars for Africa, and they didn’t know that Bush’s friends – now when I say Bush’s friends – you have to understand, the biggest single “Vulture Fund”, the biggest predator is, uh, operations owned by a guy named Paul Singer, who is the number one donor for George Bush and the Republican Party in New York. He’s also the big fund-raiser, he’s raising 10 million dollars for Rudy Giuliani. This isn’t the sidelight for this guy, this is the only way he makes money. So George Bush has to know that his big money is basically coming from kickbacks, from money taken from aid for Africa. If he didn’t know before, Conyers and Payne, after hearing Democracy Now! put it right in his face. The reason is, they didn’t want they don’t want the President to say “I don’t know, it’s a lower-level thing.” The President knows. And the G8 members, personally. When I say G8 – these are the world leaders, Chancellor Merkel in Germany…

AMY GOODMAN: Did Bush do something about it at the G8 summit?

GREG PALAST: Um, I think he hid in the boy’s room. He didn’t come out when they were supposed to some discussions, you know. So it’s been this kind of, you know, duck and run operation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well we’re gonna have to leave it there, but we’ll continue to follow the story. Greg Palast is on the case – Investigative Reporter with the BBC. His latest book is called Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans, Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.

Experiences of Democracy in Africa: Reflections on Practices of Communalist Palaver as a Method of Resolving Contradictions

This article by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba originally appeared in Philosophy and Social Action XI (3) 1985, and has been edited for clarity. You can read it below, or click here to download it in PDF format.

Discussions about democracy in Africa, the lack of it or the need for it, have become rather fashionable. Radical intellectuals (Marxist or not) are demanding democracy—often understood as a multi-party system, i.e., as a formal political scheme—to be authorized by the existing one-party state—through which people will “participate” in the decision-making of the entire country, society and people. In this perspective, democracy is seen or viewed from the point of view of the dominant/ruling classes. It is a modification of a form of class rule which is being demanded, i.e., a form of association or partnership to the possible sharing in the class interests rather than a construction of community solidarity geared towards restricting the ruling class. Democracy, from the point of view of the ruling class, is just a project of founding and re-founding (i.e. legitimatizing) class rule, and not that of strengthening the community solidarity against the very basis of the strength of the class rule, namely the absence of independent (from that class rule) forms of organization of community solidarity. It is also a way of resolving differences among members of the ruling class.

This conception of democracy is due, in part, to the history of development of democracy in the western world. From ancient Greece to the bourgeois world, democracy was a way of politically organizing (demobilizing) some dominated classes (whose support is needed for legitimizing dominant class rule) to be associated (or neutralized) in the intense exploitation of one section of society excluded from the “real humanity.” It has always been a form of class leadership of the ruling class vis-à-vis ruled classes. Ancient Greek democracy was based on the exploitation of slaves—whom Aristotle described as “animated machines.” The social group called “free people” were accommodated through democracy. To them, the slave masters’ exploitation was made to seem normal. Socrates’ claim that slaves were people even capable of philosophizing must have been one of the crimes that led him to death. Did the “free people,” arising on the basis of community exchange, win their inclusion in the democratic participation? Why could they not unite with slaves—even in slave uprisings?

Bourgeois democracy “developed” on the basis of intense exploitation of Black slaves, the murdering of native Americans and, later on, colonized non-European peoples. The “’European nation,’” as wrote Attila Agh “is the one which oppresses other nations. Oppresses, that is economically exploits them, politically keeps them in subordination and through direct and indirect means. It hinders them in the construction of a national state, and on the cultural level it subordinates them to “Western values” and therefore hinders the formation of a national consciousness and the feeling of a particular national identity.” Bourgeois dominated classes were thus democratically entertained and associated—no matter how marginally and for the legitimacy of bourgeois class rule—in the class exploitation of classes and peoples excluded from the “genuine humanity” (or in the bourgeois epoch: excluded from civilization and “universal history”).

In this perspective, one may say that African intellectuals, already thriving on the basis of the drips of blood and sweat of the imperialist—through local bourgeois-super-exploited poor peasants and workers—within the context of the imperialist separation of manual and mental labor—are demanding full participation in the decision-making over the governing of those workers and poor peasants. This is how one intellectual put it: “We want an open forum to be able also to address the workers and the peasants.” Fortunately or unfortunately, the reigning and the dominant imperialist bourgeois classes are opposed to providing such an open forum. An “open forum” can only be won through struggles of the masses of peasants and workers who, ultimately, must also address the intellectuals themselves.

The question of popular democracy is basically geared towards the development and reinforcement of an organic solidarity link that ultimately transforms the class-antagonism-divided society into a real classless and stateless community. The people’s conception of democracy is in line with people’s historical struggles for and towards the classless and stateless community. It aims at harassing imperialist-based bourgeois representative power that does not come from the large masses of people. Historical experiences of that movement, centered around the people’s mastering of contradictions among the people, have to be the starting point from which to examine the process of development of people’s capacity for popular democracy.

It would be good, for example, to study situations in which African peoples have succeeded, through real organic links of solidarity, in overthrowing oppressive, exploitative and divisive forces and powers. How, for example, did the masses of people of Congo-Brazzaville overthrow the puppet regime of F. Youlou and its organic allies, or more recently, how did they succeed in removing former president Joachim Yhombi Opango?

It is in this spirit that I want to reflect on a specific experience, that of the “lineage or community” palaver as I experienced it in my region of origin among the Kongo-speaking people (Zaire, Angola and Congo).
It is rather difficult to say exactly when the practice of the palaver started in our African communities and what were its stages of development, its apogee and even its recent gradual disappearance. African legends link the origin of the palaver to mythical ancestral foundations. As I experienced it, as it was practiced in our village communities, the palaver is an appropriate community method and practice to resolve contradictions among the people, to strengthen organic mutual links of solidarity among all the members of the community (clan, lineage, village etc.), to completely isolate divisive tendencies and forces from each member of the community as well as from the entire community.
As in the case of historical practices of democracy, the palaver assumed diverse forms, depending on the time, the place and the type of the dominant political regime prevailing in society. The class which rules society determines positively or negatively the real content of the palaver: either the entire community participates in and organizes itself into a palaver or certain social strata of privileged and ruling groups only do palaver effectively; the palaver is, in this case, aimed at directly resolving contradictions among the members of the ruling minority. Properly speaking, this is not a real case of palaver, i.e., a public debate involving everybody. The following remarks are based on my experience, as an active member of palavering community, in Kongo-speaking society. Although in a degenerate manner, the palaver is still practiced there as part of the so-called “the custom of the land” (“Fu-kia Nsi”).

The palaver is not very often well understood. Colonialist anthropologists (organic intellectuals of colonialism) and leaders of neo-colonial Africa and their organic intellectuals have spread/created too much confusion on the question; they have made the infallibility of the Chief or the leader as the core of the so-called “Africanity”—the specificity of the African cultural heritage. They went as far as claiming that democracy is un-African—to ideologically legitimize, and secure the reproduction of, their power. Power, so it is claimed, in its “traditional African conception” was based on the worshipping of the Leader —who derived his/her power from the ancestors, to worship the ancestors was also to worship their representative in the community. This of course, has often been the dominant ideology of the aristocratic class rule. Our new pharaohs very rarely speak of the palaver; when they do, it is implied that only the Leader palavers himself/ herself in front of the people’s crowd, whose only role is restricted to that of applauding hysterically. When the Leader has spoken, the sacred words, ancestrally revealed to him/her, become the law. (Truth is arrived at, not through Socratic dialectic, but through the ‘bad rhetoric’ of the sophists).

As an organizational form of a generalized organic community criticism and self-criticism, the palaver has never been a useless verbal disputation nor a form of generalized anarchy, as it is claimed by all sorts of oppressors and dictators. As a kind of community strike, one day the entire community rises up and emerges on the ‘historical’ scene. It demands, and must be given all rights to speak—to shout out ‘all it has on its chest.’ Women, men children; old and young people; everybody speaks on all matters pertaining to the community’s life. The palaver takes form as a thorough process of ‘spiritual’ cleaning-up of the community’s “house” (oikos)—including its most remote corners (i.e., individual and collective unconscious), collectively desacralizing the community’s taboos, if only temporarily. It is a collective/individual cleaning-up of people as community (physically, biologically, anthropologically, sociologically and spiritually). The palaver appears as a mass bursting of active involvement in matters of the entire community and of “free” or “liberated” (i.e., with no taboos, no restrictions, no “diplomacy,” etc) speaking. It is in this sense that the palaver can be assimilated to a communal expression of “mass ideological communism.’’ At least, in so far as expressive communicability is concerned, in a palaver, the principle is: to each according to one’s spiritual and bodily wants.

The palaver emerges first of all as a semi-organized/mostly spontaneous form of mass total outrage against experienced restrictive one-sidedness in the community. It asserts the living autonomy of the living humanity, of each individual in the community as well as the cementing organic solidarity of the whole community in its originality, complexity and living (as opposed to artificial) organizability. It asserts the “lifeness” of life in each individual and of the entire community against all the obstacles to its normal flowing.

When the palaver is artificially organized by oppressive ruling powers, however, it degenerates—into a formal exercise without life and void of mass spontaneous creativity: people speak, as it is said, with “tied tongues or with tongues in the cheek.” We see this even today with the ‘famous dialogues with the masses of people’ called for by today’s African obscurantist dictators.

In the palaver, as a social moment, it is important that major, even very serious, conflicts be resolved and not just be re-channeled elsewhere. Those conflicts, emerging in, and threatening the life/existence of the community qua community, need to be resolved with appropriate methods. That is why the masses of the community rise up and demand that they be integrally heard. No order is destroyed by another order; it is only from disorder that new order may emerge. The palaver thus develops and is practically ended only after those conflicts are positively resolved, i.e., after the order which gave rise to them is destroyed. Conflicts are not resolved if such an order ended up being strengthened. How a palaver ends determines the length of the period before another one emerges. The more conflicts emerge in the community, the more palavers that are organized. I say the palaver is organized; it is more correct to say that the palavers take shape with the gradual intervention, eruption of the masses of the community on the scene.

Palavers appear as ideological struggles assuming appropriate form to resolve real community’s conflicts giving rise to ideological tensions (called in Kikongo-”ntuntani’’, “ntantani” or “mbengelele”—literally: war of ideas, cultural or spiritual terrorism). Those conflicts threaten to bring about a crisis of unity of the entire community or of its subdivisions (village, clan, lineage, etc). The thread which holds the community members together is said to be threatening to break. Such an ideological tension which develops into a palaver is usually focalized on the practice of sorcery (“kindoki”), i.e., the exercise of power in the manner that divides or splits the community into antagonist camps of oppressed (victims) and oppressors (sorcerers). The ultimate principal objective of the palaver is first of all, to impose organically in the entire community a new form of exercise of power—a good sorcery, a sorcery of protection of the entire community (“kindoki kia ndudila kanda”) which must overthrow the bad one (sorcery to kill) from the post of command and its complete banishment from the entire community (through rituals). And secondly, it is to strengthen the community people’s power—people’s determination of selves and the community’s organic affairs—being threatened to be dismantled through a politico-spiritual terrorism. For example, one hears recited the following sayings attributed to the ancestors: “In the clan, there must be no poor, no rich, no chief, no slaves; they all must be chiefs, all philosophers; they all must sleep and wake up together.” It is because the organic equality between community members is threatened—that is why the palaver demands its re-installment. As I saw it practiced, the palaver appeared to be a process of mass ideological struggles to prevent the formation and consolidation of classes.

The community crisis may be revealed, initiated, foretold, provoked or precipitated by a significant event—the sudden death of a community member, for example—or an insignificant one such as an elder says a ‘bad word,’ to a non-elder who reacts with unexpected indignation. It is like a workers’ strike, almost anything—when conditions are ripe and this can be seen only retrospectively—can initiate it. Those events will be referred to as evidences of practices of sorcery—i.e., cases of ‘bad exercise’ of power in the community. The ‘social causes’ of the death of the deceased community members reveal the existence of a real division in the community social relations. It is, of course, assumed that social crisis has an impact on the psychology, biology and physics of the community. Through ‘spiritual terrorism’ entertained/unleashed by the “bad forces” of the sorcerer (i.e., the most powerful member), the community member had to die. The elder says ‘bad words’ to a non-elder, without any “reason,” because, it is said that in a community where ‘spiritual terrorism’ prevails, “some people think that they can just sit on others’ heads.” Those types of events may precipitate the mass demand for a complete say on the community affairs. An exchange of “bitter words” between two or more individuals, or even songs of protest sung by some people at the funeral of the deceased, may ultimately force community members to take sides.

The deliberate organization of the palaver may thus, sooner or later, be demanded to make “all of us, without exception, lay our cards on the community’s public table,” so that the long lasting terrorism inside our bodies and minds be at last removed. The extremely provocative, taboo-free language used forces everyone in the community to be ultimately concerned. Symbolic scenes such as an old woman taking off all her clothes to protest against (or contribute to) the ‘spiritual terrorism’ are not uncommon.

The community crisis is viewed as a non-reproduction of social relations sanctioned by the line of ‘founding ancestors’ or a form of regulation, by a minority, of the contradictory evolution of those relations. As people say, “in the name of the ancestors, some ‘bad people’ want us to be stepped upon.” Political leadership is always a class question; the main difficulty in the analysis of the palaver is that of clearly determining what its class character is. My hypothesis is that the palaver, in my region, was a mass rebellion against an emerging ‘bureaucratic’ class of elders.
It is against class rules—bringing terrorism (“ntantani”) in the community—that the masses of people appeal to the founding ancestors. Dreams about a particularly ‘communalist’ founding ancestor—real or imagined—are announced as clear directives from the founding ancestors to reinstall the nostalgic “past community free of ideological terrorism.”

As a political line in a given historical period of transition to classes, however, the so-called “line of the ancestors” assumes a specific class content; it is the line of an emerging class, which wants to lead and dominate the entire community. This class is not yet able to exercise a real class economic domination—due to the level of development of productive forces—and a class ideological hegemony in the community. It must still have recourse to the community ideology of ‘ancestor worship.’ It thus wants to lead the community and does so in the name of and under the cover (‘protection’) of the ‘founding ancestors’: the power of the living, but the ideology and language of the dead. It is a form of bureaucratic class, i.e., a class which oppresses the masses through its bureaucratic positions—as head of the village, head of the clan, head of the fire place (“ntumu mbongi”), elder, uncle, etc.—allowing the members of this class to present themselves as the real servants (seat, representation, agency, incarnation, voice) of the powers of the ancestors. When they open their mouths, it is claimed that it is the ancestors speaking through them, and the masses of the community must obey them without question and reservation. The ideology, so tied to the ancestors, is precisely that of sorcery, i.e., the ideology of making people believe that this class has a power of direct communication with the dead ancestors (who always remain watchful of the living community’s well-being). Class directives or guidelines are presented as “visions,” “revelations” (“Kimona meso”), “dreams instigated by the ancestors who came through revelations to give new directives” for the organization of the community or “ancestors’ sayings” (“ngana zata bambuta”—proverbs left by ancestors).

Of course, against such a veiled (mystified) usurpation of the community power (“kundu”), elements of the masses of the community also call for the community non-elders to rebel, to rise up in the name of ancestors who came through visions and dreams to say that the community has deviated from the ancestor line; it is imperative that it be re-oriented on the correct trajectory. The division of the community into two is thus reflected through the conflict of interpretations of the “ancestral line” and each camp must prove publicly the soundness of its interpretation. The palaver is thus organized to confront those two antagonist interpretations.

The power of the oppressive class is exercised through a mastery of “sorcery’s tricks” and an intimidation of the community’s masses based on the mythology of the ancestral omnipotent power that the class members are armed with. By all kinds of tricks, the members of the ruling group frighten (or kill ‘mysteriously’ by sorcery or magic) the most rebellious members of the community. That is why the mass resistance is often expressed through accusations of members of the ruling group of cannibalism. “The elder-uncle ate my son,” is a common cry. An ideology of techniques of protection (fetishism?) against the sorcerer’s power also develops. Some herbalist charlatans exploit it to their advantage. Intra-class struggles also take the form of sorcerers’ confrontation (“mekana”).

Any bureaucratic class uses secrecy as the preferred form of the practice of the class rule. That is why the mass bursting, demanding the organization of the palaver, requires that all secrets be made public. Confidentiality is a form of class rule. For, as it is said in Kongo community, once a sorcerer is publicly exposed in the presence of the whole community, he/she becomes unable to destroy or to hurt anybody; his/her power of sorcery transforms itself into its opposite and this fact has serious consequences— including the possibility for the sorcery’s power to boomerang on the sorcerer him/herself. It is interesting to note that in the matrilineal Kongo community, a women sorcerer is viewed as the most powerful of all; it is also interesting to note that initiation to the real foundations (as opposed to appearances) of the class power in the community, done under strict oath for respect of secrecy, was a very secret affair. People were said to have been eliminated because of their having disclosed secrets.

With colonial penetration, after the defeat of the mass resistance against such a penetration, some members—if not all of this elder class–became the candidates to fill lower bureaucratic positions in colonial local administrative or church hierarchies. A new social stratum very often emerges through those hierarchies. Former ‘notorious sorcerers’—according to the masses of people’s view—became deacons in leading local Christian communities or colonially appointed chiefs (“chiefs rnedailles”) imposed as leaders of different colonial administrative units. When it was called for, the palaver was demanded then against the leadership of “people in the service of foreigners,” later on called “white blacks” (“mindele ndombe”) to “restore the ancestors’ line in the post of command.” The content of this line might not have been fixed—it could have been even a pure utopia. Whatever it was, it represented a theory of mass resistance. This line was now and then understood as conforming to that of the national independence “the right of, the first occupant”) or, and above all, as a sort of egalitarian anti-hierarchical dictatorship of the masses of people often described as “communalism.” The powerlessness of sorcerers in front of colonial power was ridiculed and a call for an organic unity of the community was issued.

The call to that organic community unity was theorized in a number of ways (songs, “ancestral sayings,” etc.). The following Kongo poem was often recited:
Mu kanda ka mukadi mputu
Mu kanda ka mukadi mvwama
Mu kanda ka mukadi mfumu
Mu kanda ka mukadi nnanga
Babo mfumu na mfumu
Babo nganga na nganga
Mu kanda, sekila kumosi
Mu kanda, sikamana kumosi
Mu kanda mbeni ku mbasi
Mu kanda kinenga ye dedede
Mu kanda, kingenga/kimpambudi mwanana.
As might be expected, it was on the pretext of the colonial state or church demands/obligations that members of the new bureaucratic stratum gave themselves a right to a derogation from their traditional ancestral obligations. They see themselves as having become people—consecrated people—in the service of the state or the church (“Beto twayikidi kweto bantu ba Leta evo ba Dibundu”).

The palaver requires of and provides to each community member the right to carry out, and the obligation to be subjected to, an integral critique of/by everyone without exception. It inaugurates, if only temporarily, an egalitarian collective dictatorship (=communal organic centralism). Such a radical mass demand, under the colonial over- determination, becomes unfortunately impossible to carry out completely: small dictators, under colonial (administrative or church) protection, bypass the mass call requiring them to submit themselves to an integral and public criticism and self-criticism. In the early 1950s, for example, the catechists and “chets medalles” (‘mfumu mpalata”) were among the leaders of the boycott of the “munkukusa” (a public individual and collective oath to give up all forms of sorcery)—a deformed kind of palaver in Luozi region (Zaire). Besides colonial over-determination, there was another crucial problem: a mass call for egalitarianism or communalisn where classes are already formed can only be organized by a specific class rule. Structurally, the peasant class is unable to politically and permanently organize such a call. That is why the palaver tended to be spontaneous and short-lived.

There was a time, it is true, when the Church was seen by village community members as a true shelter against the “bad sorcerers” who, under all kinds of pretexts, were acting as small dictators in the community—often in the name of the resistance against colonial domination. Sorcery intimidation trying to block the evangelical expansion made the church take openly a stand against sorcery—now redefined through the doctrine of sin. Sorcery was viewed as the exercise of power against the opening of the community to a new form of ideology—Christianity. The notion of the integral equality of all people before god, recalling the ancestors’ sanctioned integral equality and the idea of the “spiritual immunization” against sins (sorcery) recalling the ideology of techniques of production against powers of sorcerers, were seen as being truly in favour of the egalitarian community. Some even claimed that some missionaries were actually known dead ancestors who came back. Seen from the ancestral point of view, however, such equality was to be realizable here on Earth, and not in the world beyond.

The weak members of the community-in-crisis (under colonial assault) found shelter in the Church. The egalitarian character of the Church, proving practically nonexistent in reality, will be one of the causes of the rising syncretic religious movements (Ngunzism, etc.) agitating for direct communication with god against any foreign or native intermediaries.

Many mass uprisings in the community end in failures: the real targets of the generalized critique and self-criticism find protective shelter in imperialist structures of domination and the unity of the community, aimed at by the palavering mass movement, fails to materialize. The village thus becomes a focal point of continuous ideological tensions, which make life there unlivable. “The village has died: it has become a place of continuous disputes. There is no more any social, spiritual or personal peace and rest”—it is said in the village. (“Vata. diafwidi: Diayikidi myuma ye mayuma, bwagimunina kwaku nkutu nkatu.”) From the view of ideological formations, the rural migration to cities becomes a way of seeking shelter against those continuous disputes. But even in the cities where ‘sorcerers did follow,’ private property and its ideology of individualism relied on the ideology of techniques of protection against sorcerers— protective fetishism entertained by herbalist nganga.

It can be seen, nevertheless, and very schematically, why the palaver gradually disappears as more imperialist socio-economic transformations fatally attack the rural community. As an elementary form of struggle for “people’s democracy,” must we not study the lessons—whatever they may be—of the palaver? To do this does not imply restoring the ante-capitalist African commune but as a historical experience of prefiguration of “proletarian people’s democracy”—or more appropriately by people’s organic centralism to emerge with communism.
A mass ideological uprising against the division of community into oppressors and oppressed forces the community leaders to let the entire community organize into a palavering community. Even if, at the end of the palaver, those leaders retained their leadership position, the rebelling masses temporarily had succeeded in democratizing completely debates on all the affairs of the entire community.

How then is a palaver organized? At the express request of those who feel wronged as a result of some deviation from what is seen as the line of the ancestors (understood as the mass line or line of mass democracy), deviation seen as being practiced by certain members of the clan, and following a general consensus of all the members of the clan, the head of the clan calls for a palaver (‘ntungasani’=generalized self-questioning) to resolve those contradictions within the community whose unhealthy development would bring about a social, psychological and even physiological imbalance in the community. The “kinenga kia nsi” (equilibrium within the community) is in danger of being upset and broken; the real causes can only be identified by having the palaver. In this sense, the palaver can also be assimilated to a generalized Maoist inquiry—with the whole community being a self-investigation squad. This community war without weapons, this self-questioning of all the community’s members, this ntungasani, is carried out following guiding principles and in a manner sanctioned by the ancestors. Every clan member, including children who can speak, has an equal right to speak, the distinction between initiated and uninitiated (“babulua meso ye biyinga”) and the right of seniority are subordinated to the rigorous equality of all clan members as sanctioned by the ancestors’ line. The crisis is often experienced as the breaking of the ancestral thread, by some clan members or especially by the ‘bad head of the clan’ tying all members of the clan together. For, as it is said: “nsinga dikanda ninga kaka ka tabuka ko,” the ancestral thread which holds together all clan members including those who are already dead but who still ‘live’ as witnesses against power usurpers, this thread can well be stretched and even vibrate from tension, but it must not be broken. It is because the thread of the clan is about to be broken that there is a crisis and that the palaver is required to resolve it. The palaver is thus a struggle which must restore the unity of the community; one can recognize here the familiar formula:
unity-division-struggle—stronger unity.

Since unity here is ‘erroneously’ conceived as a primordial ancestral state to which one should return, the unification process leading to a new unity is not subject to the class systematization of its stages. There is no exploited revolutionary class which would be able to realize the revolved peasants’ demand. “… a certain type of collective communism”, write Badiou and Balmes, “comes forth unavoidably on the basis of mass revolts, even non-proletarian ones. In the ideological sphere, thought of as a contradictory sphere, a relatively stable contradiction develops which opposes egalitarian ideas, the whole thing tied up to the question of private property and the state. A certain ideological mass communism is the affair of the people, and does not wait for the proletariat. It is evident that this ideological communism of popular revolt does not possess the historical means for its immediate realization; the real forces of power which it sets in motion are not necessarily those in whose name it has affirmed itself.” The relative immobility of rural productive forces means that the egalitarian unity of the community can be conceived only as a return to the golden age of ancestral communalism.

The new pharaohs of our independent countries, giving themselves the title of “founding fathers of the independent nation”, will use this theory of the primordial unity at the origin of the community as a key to justify the perpetuation of their dictatorial bureaucratic power (that is claimed to be the reproduction of the old and original community power). The process of unification through struggle is, by them, declared alien to the temple of ancestral authority that the nation’s new architects attempt to build around themselves. Even new mass uprisings, in line with the process of unification through struggle, are said to be fomented from the outside.

One is here neither divided into two nor are two fused into one; there is only the eternal return of the primordial unity at the origin—an hermetically compact one, i.e., a fossil-monument—incarnated by the chief. The masses demand an opening up to the people; the new pharaohs impose a compact enclosure, a restoration of an obscurantist rule of the cave (pyramidal pharoahic eternalization). It is not so strange that our new pharaohs act as their predecessors. These were devoting the country’s resources to the building of pyramids, i.e., eternal monuments—tombs; their present successors devote the national resources to the building of the one Party monuments. Incidentally, defenders of the restoration of the ancient Egyptian Negro-African world view don’t always realize that the Bokassas, Mobutus and Kenyattas are not far from acting as modern pharaohs.

The palaver starts off with a statement, a sort of oath of loyalty to the ancestors, in the presence of all community members, by the head of the clan or by a spokesman for the entire clan (when the head is himself being openly called into question). After having heard the accusatory statement of the case by the victim who, by means of a protest which is often symbolically violent (exposing one’s nudity, for instance), initiates the necessity for the palaver, the head of the clan or the spokesman begins by “ta bungu”—taking an oath—i.e., to re-affirm solemnly the line of the ancestors (what is viewed as its correct interpretation), invoking them in opposition to the apparent deviationist line, which is the cause of the crisis in the clan, without necessarily specifying by name those who are being accused, speaking in an analogical way—“tela mu bizenga.” Those who feel accused must defend their line as clearly and as honestly as possible before the whole community of the living as well as the dead. Very quickly the accusers and the accused become generalized: it is the whole community which is accusing and being accused—the whole community is called on by the whole community to answer. Sometimes every clan member is made to speak in turn, and for several times following a contingent topological order. For several hours sometimes, different people speak, bringing forth everything in their hearts and on their minds so to speak, without any visible direction seeming to emerge. The debates are interrupted now and then by small meetings taking place aside from the palaver (in a corner) called for by those who ask for them and go to prepare their statements of positions and counter-positions. These meetings in the corner are called “mfundu”—(from “mamfundu”, whispered conversation).

In order to make communication easier, in this completely free (sometimes even heated) free-speech carnival of debate, already known specialists, or occasional ones emerging on the spot, of systematized popular wisdom (proverbs, etc.), the Nzonzi. are called forth. The Nzonzi are literally “speakers”, masters of the clarification of speech. They function as competent handlers of dialectics: they are therefore dialecticians. They can and do make use of rhetoric but they are not above all rhetoricians. They are very able detectors of the divisive “bad word”—and stimulators of the palaver and they help to assure that it does not degenerate into violent antagonism. They know how to make very severe criticisms without offending or silencing the one criticized: it is crucial that the latter continues to speak. The Nzonzi are thus the cadres of the popular democracy organized through the palaver. There are those who emerge and discover themselves competent Nzonzi through the very dialectics of the palaver.
To evoke the ancestors is to re-affirm their line, the one which allowed the community to reproduce itself before the present crisis. What is at stake in the process of generalized self-criticism is the destruction of erroneous lines whose theses (“bad speech”) have to be harassed and obstinately pursued in each statement made or each accomplice silence by posing correct statements (theses) of the ancestral line with the help of the specialists of ideological clarification, the Nzonzi. The latter’s principal role is to assure that all obstacles which might slow down the normal process and proceedings of the palaver to their conclusion be eliminated. Since the more the community is united the more it is divided, in order to be truly united it must have been thoroughly divided. The palaver is an appropriate means of thoroughly dividing the community in order to truly unify it more strongly than before. Silence, intimidating anger, evil eye (“lundeso”), menacing gestures, etc., are attacked, discouraged and exposed. It is also the Nzonzi who facilitate bringing this about. This is why, in order to be a good Nzonzi, one must know how to listen attentively and tirelessly, to rapidly pick up the essence of each word spoken, to attentively observe every look, every gesture, every silence, and to grasp their respective significance (their target) and at the same time to elaborate, in conformity with the axiomatics of popular wisdom (ideology), arguments to counter these unjust positions and/or to re-affirm or reinforce correct positions. The Nzonzi is thus a thinker engaged in mental dialogue interacting in words and gestures with the members of the community organized in a palaver (in the process of community unification through struggle) successively and simultaneously to seek out and destroy the “bad word” exposed as a thesis deviating from the ancestral line. The incarnates of this “bad word” are said to be witches (sorcerers), ‘‘ndoki”.
The role of the Nzonzi is not to openly take sides with a thesis of a member of the community but to assure that the criticism and self-criticism are carried out according to the ancestral procedure of mass democracy. It happens at times that the various Nzonzi may be placed on two strongly opposed sides or camps which are formed in the very process of the palaver. In any case, a Nzonzi who shows himself to be blind to the correctness of the theses put forward by both sides is seen to have been corrupted and as a result unable to act as a true specialist in ideological clarification and becoming a mystifier (“Nzonzi za luvunu”—lying Nzonzis). He is thus transformed into a target of the palaver.

The collective self-criticism is carried out under the intellectual (dialectical) leadership of the Nzonzis who articulate positions and counter-positions in relation to the theoretical, ideological and symbolic requirements of the palaver. The Nzonzis, by using all sorts of stylistic turns of phrases, symbolic analogies full of imagery, songs, etc., express more clearly the “correct theses:” those which reflect the political and ideological line of the ancestors as well as the “deviationist theses.” The intellectual and symbolic gymnastics directed by the Nzonzis is aimed at leading the holders of “erroneous theses” to admit publicly, not by use of physical or moral threat or by witchcraft (spiritual terrorism), but by the sole generalized collective debate, that they deviate from the “community right line.”
Although the objective of the palaver is to resolve intra-community contradictions by tracking down and isolating “the enemy in our midst”, as they say, the defense, the elaboration and the classification of theses and counter-arguments make necessary repeated theoretical interventions and collective assessments by stages. It is thus through the palaver that the techniques of theoretical interventions are developed : proverbs, theses—songs, paradoxes (=“bimbangumuna”), stories, riddles, allegories and other figures of style, philosophical turns of phrases, all sorts of strategies of clarification/demonstration/questioning, uninterrupted discussion, analogies, brain storming, group therapy, dialectical inquiry, meditation, provocative silence, a sort of spiritual community message to get rid of the spiritual terrorism in the community. The democratic demand made by the palaver on everyone is to be simple and clear; for, “wata ngana; bangula ngana; mumbongi a zingana walembana zo bangula wafwila mu zingana” (we say proverbs in order to be clear, to explain: those who have said proverbs to confuse have died because of the confusion they caused). The meanings of words are constantly shifting; words being caught in the movement of destruction/construction “which is that of true knowledge”. What counts is reaching the target and harassing it. The palaver is an industry of creation of new ideas.

The uninterrupted discussion must push those who practice the deviationist line in an unconfessed way to expose and identify themselves (“Nkewa swama uswamanga nkila ukusolose”-the monkey hides but his tail can still be seen), and to publicly admit their mistakes; and then together with the whole community to set out a plan for the rectification of their errors. The chief, as leader, intervenes only to sum up the gains made at each stage; this sum-up announces and opens the next stage. At the end, the head intervenes again at the request of the community to summarize clearly the group decision and to reconstruct with the participation of the whole community the procedure and the stages through which the decision was arrived at. The community’s decision, the ultimate outcome of this whole spiritual community massage, is announced and expressed by a general consensus often in the form of a statement-song-(chanson-these). It goes without saying that the process of the palaver can be very long indeed, but it is only the thorough carrying out and final outcome of this process, that is to say, the complete resolution of the contradictions among the people, which guarantees the correct solution to the community crisis.
As one can see: the palaver, besides being an ideological and philosophical struggle organized and carried out communitarily, is also and above all a process of very intense generalized mass education (the palaver as a hot medium). Not only does the chief have an opportunity to become aware of the various ideas which form the social consciousness/unconsciousness of his people, he also sees more clearly the image which the community has of him and the role which this community assigns to him. (Power comes from the people). At the same time he has the opportunity to lay before the community the difficulties of his task, his own personal limitations and past errors, etc. The unity of the community is reinforced after the palaver. The people’s respect for the chief, who was able to let the palaver take place and to adhere to the technique passed down, becomes greater and deeper. Both the true “community enthusiasm” and warmth towards the chief come forth It is through the systematization of the ideas collectively produced during the palaver that the chief, with the help of the Nzonzi and other sages of the community, formulates correct directives based on the ancestral line of which the community is the incarnation, in its movement of popular democracy, to assure that it continues in the right direction/trajectory.

At the same time, one must not forget the divided nature of the palaver: according to whether it constitutes a form of development of a mass resistance movement against power within the community, against the formation or consolidation of classes, against tendencies toward division within the community, or whether it is an instrument of domination of power against the people (the palaver as a spectacle organized by power). In the first instance the palaver is truly a process of generalized self-criticism able to bring about a strengthening of the people against power and therefore a control by the people of power within the community. This, in an elementary way, foreshadows the correct exercise of proletarian dictatorship—a people rooted rule. And it is only in the this sense that the palaver is a process of popular democratization: One must imagine the great feeling of rejoicing in the community at the end of a palaver: thus the latter ends up with a celebration, a kind of carnival where people feel again the spirits of the great dead ancestors ‘truly living amongst us’ as it is said.

But, when the power is oppressive and uses all means—often classified under the category of “bad witchcraft or sorcery’’—to consolidate this power against the people, then the palaver, often artificial, is nothing more than a means of identifying the true “agitators for democracy” that those in power have to put down in order to reinforce their authority, that is to say, their oppression on the entire community. The palaver then becomes a humiliating cross-examination of those who dare to contest power and is therefore a disputation process full of arbitrariness and deformation of people’s statements to spread fear and authority in the members of the community. The Nzonzi, those real people’s cadres, becomes true “sophists of those in power”, policemen of free, spontaneous and creative speech who demagogically intimidate the people on behalf of the powerful. Such a palaver ends up in a suffocating silence which weighs down on the whole community. Secrecy, taking over the post of command, and political and ideological ignorance becoming the only community knowledge, the masses’ directive becomes: “keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.” (“Duka munuaku, zibula makutu ye kiesa meso.”) Already resistance for the popular counter-attack is being prepared.

It was in such an oppressive perspective that the colonial state was using the “nzonzi” and the “mfumu za nsi” (so-called “customary chiefs”), very colonially selected, as its organic intellectuals with one foot in the colonial state and one foot in the reproduced pre-colonial traditions. It is this (at least in part) which gave the practice of “sorcery” (=techniques in the most general sense of the word)—“kindoki”—its divided character: that which was a weapon for defense against all internal usurpation of power, had also become a means of oppressing the members of the community on behalf of the minority exercising power oppressively. Every technique that is not controlled by the community people riots, as it were, and boomerangs against that same people. It was noted that people who were formerly respected “sorcerers” (sages or technicians) became real allies and organic intellectuals of the colonial state. The masses of the villagers referred to them as “those who have ceased to be themselves, those who ceased to be real people” (“ka basala moko” or “ka basala bantu ko”).

We must also recognize, as Babakar Sine suggests, that with the process of the so-called “enlargement of scale” that African societies are undergoing, within the context of imperialist dominated urbanization processes, the efficacy of the palaver as practice of democratization, of generalized popular education and of resolution of contradictions among the people, may be considerably modified. It will be necessary, in those conditions, to deal with the material bases of the inevitable extension and qualitative transformation of the practice of the palaver at the national level. And to do so in the framework of the organization of the class alliance between workers and poor peasants. The practice of the palaver under the proletarian class leadership, might well lead to new conception and uses of modern audio-visual techniques. In cities such as Kinshasa, some aspects of the palaver are more and more taking new forms “radio trottoir’’ (“street radio’’), criticism made through singing, through preaching/praying aloud in a church, through meanings of proper names (adopted with the policy of authenticity); through popular drama, etc.
Of course, what we have said about the palaver was not necessarily universal in Africa. Feudal Africa, for example, could not possibly have organized the palaver as a process of democratization and of people’s control of power, but, instead as a spectacle of paternalist mystification. The palaver, in the framework of a study of popular cultures of the African masses, must be thoroughly studied. I have just hinted at some important aspects. It is, however, true that only a regime that practices a generalized and conscientious self-criticism will agitate in favor of such a study.
Let us draw some lessons from the teachings of the palaver as we have tried to analyze it. (1) There cannot be any people’s consensus through silence; the latter is also seen as accomplice, i.e., as an obstacle to the process of democratization. (2) Democracy is first of all a free collective and individual exercise of free speech by everyone and by the whole community. It is a complete freeing, allowed by the democratizing community, of one’s whole body, its senses, its gestures, etc., so that no aspect of bodily creativity is fixed or blocked. The integral freeing of the community speaking (la parole communautaire) requires and stimulates the very attentive listening to each other and thus the mutual respect for each other’s right to speak—no matter how insignificant. (3) A true leader is the one who listens tirelessly, attentively and strictly respecting the most insignificant meaning of the community’s spontaneous and diverse speaking before concentrating it into directives. The leader is not the one who silences that speaking. (4) A true cadre, Nzonzi, has as a duty to surmount every obstacle to clarification, democratization, simplification, creative community spontaneity, integral community spiritual massage, people’s grasp of what is new, community life process, etc. That is why the turns of Zones speaking please so much those who participate in the palavering community. They are so constructed as if they were actually made to express the real “intended meaning” by the now unified and revivified community. (“Muanki, nkatia Nzonzi yena! “—He is, indeed, a really true Nzonzi—the participants say.)

Despite all the pompous speeches on the recourse to ancestral traditions, in today’s Black Africa, no country, as far I know, has been able to organize a generalized free discussion to collectively deal with the profound crisis of politico-socio-economic institutions of our countries. Leaders behave here as if they made no mistakes and thus are above criticism; and the people as a whole has nothing to teach the leader, who knows everything. (This is often experienced as leaders behaving as if they were in fact above the constitution and the law.)

When elections are organized (often on imperialist pressure), they are nothing but a bureaucratic police practice: even through them, it is not allowed to express one’s real point of view. Results are often known even before the votes are counted. Elections are no longer a way of assessing what the community actually thinks of power, but a simple confirmation of what the community must think of it. To wish to be a candidate for the presidency when the “father of the nation” has not said the last word is the highest crime in our societies. The one Party has become such an ivory tower that its principal role has become to institutionalize the silence of the masses of people, and claim this silence to be “people’s general consensus”. The all-powerful “normal channel” and its very technical “normal procedure” keep the people’s spontaneous speaking shut up. Small dictators, incapable of listening attentively, crown themselves as “fathers of the nations” to thus silence any possible criticism. A father is a father—no matter how evil he may be and nobody chooses one’s father or changes him to get another. The history of a whole people becomes transformed into a series of tasty tales of the natural genealogy of the “father of the nation” whose acts, deeds and words are the “naturally incarnated will of the people”. The sad thing is that it is imperialists that often pressure these “fathers of the nations” to listen a little bit to their “children”.

Their Excellencies ‘‘fathers of the nations” get their ‘‘knowledge” and directives from somewhere else outside of their people whom they actually view as a mass of imbeciles. National congresses of the political parties are organized not as real palavers but as festivals of confirmation of the opinions of the “leader-guide.” They talk about everything except the mistakes of the “father of the nation” and the community procedure for the process of their rectification. Those congresses are not organized on the basis of a free uninterrupted discussion but on that of fear, silence, threatening intimidation and approval with no questioning of the directives of the “leader-guide” that he is himself incapable of getting the community as a whole to validate. These directives, it goes without saying, don’t come from the palavering community.

To govern has become to silence the governed
The “one-party cadres”, who know the “leader-guide’s” thought before he opens his mouth, are overzealous in harassing, terrorizing, and imposing silence on the people in the name of the “father of the nation”. This is, of course, known as “political mass mobilization”—done by people recruited from the lumpen proletariat and with no clear political shrewdness. A people to whom free spontaneous and creative speaking is forbidden is an oppressed people—who can only speak with “a tied tongue”. African peoples must be given back all their free and creative speaking. As we saw, such a restoration is won through a mass struggle; it is never a gift from “the father of the nation”. The attentive listening, by the leader, or all the members of the community and every member’s speaking before the leader, outside of palavering community situation, are not necessarily indication of liberation and creativity—the leader’s silence is also accomplice (it is a cat taking the snake’s poison).

It must be clear why self-proclaimed ‘‘socialist leaders” who make the farce of trying to make their countries be socialist from a subjective choice basis cannot succeed. That is to say, those who think of themselves as the originating source which must spread socialism in the country forget that it is the rebelling masses who make history. Historically, democratic rights have been the results and victories of sharp mass struggles and not gifts from “fathers of the nations”. Those are the same struggles which do transform the leaders themselves: self-cultivation and asceticism of a leader don’t guarantee any democratic rights. The class suicide that Cabral speaks of is imposed, forced by the mass struggles and not just subjectively selected.

Before concluding, brief remarks on the significance of the palaver on the question of “African philosophy” are in order. The palaver is also a philosophical situation: as it materializes the possibility of a real critical effort by the participants (individually as well as collectively), the palaver calls forth the emergence or constitution of the philosophical element. The African ideology (“African philosophy”) in search of its philosophical foundation must look for it through practices of the palaver, and not in meanings buried or hidden under “elements of discursivity” it effectively helps to produce or develop. The articulation of those elements into a discourse must be grasped through the one that the palaver gives rise to. The role of the chief in the process of a successful palaver is not far from the one Plato wished for “the philosopher-king”, absolutely the opposite of one acting arbitrarily.

“I shall present”, says Plato “what I think and, if someone among you thinks that I am asserting a proposition that is not true, he must summon me and refute me. For, I don’t allow to myself what I say about a truth I am not sure of. I shall enquire together with you, so that if the one who opposes me seems to be right, I’ll be the first to pass my arms to him.’’ (Gorgias 506—a rough translation from the French.) Any participant in the palaver may effectively say the same thing. But even more every participant knows that the validation of conditions of validity does not point to the imitations of an individuality, nor is it of “forms” (ancestors?) outside of the living community as such, nor even that of the limitations of the community in its integrality (including the “dead ancestors’’—forms), but instead to the very activity of the palavering community.

Thus, marks and distinctive signs or the mechanism of the articulability of meaning for the treatment of speaking in its pluridimensionality don’t get their full signification but through the balance of forces in/of the palavering community, since it is here that variations of meaning of words, marks and distinctive signs are critically experienced. The appeal to distinctive signs, in isolation, does not validate anything—if anything it is a form of attachment to fixed traditions. That is why it is not sure that hermeneutics is meaningful outside of interpretations of theological writings whose target is a pre-given world. “For whom does one philosophize”? aims at the requirement of a palavering situation. This is what P. Hountondji may also mean by “philosophy as a public debate.”

The Anglo-Saxon tradition of analytical philosophy which made “common language” the foundation of validity is not very far: “common language” is nothing but a poor form of the palaver—as there is no fixed “common-language. To reduce philosophy to a “written palaver” (what Plato tried in his dialogues) is the same thing as reducing the palaver to a discussion among the sole Nzonzi. That is the crux of the matter in philosophy in general and “African philosophy” in particular. Against sophists’ rhetorical method, philosophy developed through dialectical method. The latter cannot successfully be practiced, on paper, by an individual—this is why there is a tendency to return often and often to Plato. Outside of a philosophical situation, similar to the palaver. philosophy becomes derailed, and a minority’s folly. One can imagine why the palavering Socrates left no writings. Is it not true that major breakthroughs in philosophy are related to major mass movements?

1 Attila Agh, National Development in Third World. Budapest: Institute for World Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1984, p. 37.
2 M.N. Marando, Party Democracy in Africa. Paper presented at the Marxism in Africa Symposium, UDSM, 9th-10th March, 1983, p. 7.
3 Alain Badiou & Francois Balmes, De ‘ideologie. Paris: Yenan “Syntheses”, F. Maspero, 1976, p. 68.
4 Rough translation of: Mukanda ka mukadi mputu, ka mukadi mvwama, ka mukadi mfumu, ka mukadi minnanga; babo mfumu ye mfumu, mganga; ye nganga; babo sekila kumosi, sikama kumosi.
5 Translation:
In the Clan, there must be no poor
In the Clan , there must be no rich
In the Clan, there must be no chief
In the Clan, there must be no slaves
They must be all chiefs
They must be all philosophers
In the Clan all must sleep together
In the Clan all must wake together
In the Clan there must be no enemies
In the Clan there must be only equilibrium and justice
In the Clan there must be no individualism.
6 A. Badiou & F. Balmes, op. cit. p. 68.
7 Babakar Sine, Imperialisme et Theories Sociologiques du Development, Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1975, pp. 180-181.

DR Congo reviews 60 mining deals

BBC News, June 11, 2007

A Democratic Republic of Congo commission is to review at least 60 mining contracts signed in the last decade, the government says.

Since March all negotiations on mining contracts have been suspended until the commission has finished its work.

DR Congo has vast mineral reserves, including gold, diamonds, 10% of the world’s copper and more than a third of cobalt, used in mobile phones.

But few people have benefited and the wealth has attracted foreign looters.

The BBC’s John James in Kinshasa says that since DR Congo’s independence in 1960 its vast mineral wealth has been a key factor in the country’s civil wars and instability.

After winning the country’s first democratic elections in more than 40 years last year, the new government says it wants to make sure these resources are used for the benefit of its citizens.

Critics of President Joseph Kabila accuse him of agreeing deals with foreign mining companies which do not benefit local people.

The anti-corruption group, Global Witness, said it supported the decision to re-examine the contracts but said that if the process was to be credible, the government needed to ensure the highest standards of transparency and independence in the review process itself.


An earlier report by government consultants found some contracts lacked transparency, were signed without competitive bidding and made little attempt to get the best deal for the country.

Professor Peter Rosenblum from the US-based Carter Center is a consultant to the commission.

“The tragedy of the many tragedies in the Congo was that the people woke up after years of war and found that the family wealth had been given away, or sold off, or at least as far as people knew, it seemed to have just flitted away.”

Vice-Minister for Mines Victor Kasongo says only six of the 60 mines are currently under operation.

He says that companies who have signed legitimate contracts will gain by having their contracts given more credibility.

“We want sustainability and also more than that we want development,” he told the BBC.

The review is expected to take three months and could result in contracts being renegotiated.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/06/11 16:54:40 GMT

IMF sees rapid growth in Congo minerals output

Reuters, June 8, 2007

KINSHASA, June 7 (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s copper and cobalt production should rise rapidly in the coming years as it reaps the benefit of private investment in its mining sector, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.

Following the first free elections in four decades last year and a return of stability to the southeastern Katanga province, the central African country’s mineral heartland, investment by major mining companies has boomed over the past few years.

Mineral production — which also includes gold and diamonds — will rise as projects to rehabilitate long-abandoned mines and open new ones begin to go online early next year, Cyrille Briancon, head of the IMF’s Africa division, said in Kinshasa.

“Beginning in early 2008, Congo should see growth in production if these projects advance as planned, and it should continue to grow fairly quickly through 2012 and 2013,” he said.

“We should reach levels that this country has not seen for a very long time.”

Once a world leader in mineral production, Congo exported more than 440,000 tonnes of copper in 1989 before a steady decline due to years of mismanagement followed by a 1998-2003 war crippled exports.

Companies operating or prospecting in Congo’s fast-expanding mining sector include the world’s largest diversified miner BHP Billiton and the world’s third-biggest gold producer AngloGold Ashanti.

U.S. major Phelps Dodge, recently purchased by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc , is investing $650 million in its Tenke Fungureme project in Katanga.

London-listed Nikanor Plc plans to bring $1.3 billion in outside investment.


Briancon said the IMF was encouraged by progress made by Congo’s government, appointed in February, towards reining in spending and increasing revenues.

“The tendencies over the past three months have been relatively good,” he said.

A much-delayed 2007 budget, aimed at qualifying Congo for debt relief next year, was presented to parliament last month for approval.

The cash-strapped but potentially mineral-rich central African nation owes some $10 billion, and servicing external debt will consume more than half of the 2007 budget.

After more than a decade without IMF help, Congo secured a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) programme in 2002.

However, it missed its final set of targets and so never received the last payment.

Briancon said negotiations could open in late summer aimed at restarting the programme in early 2008.

DRC to open up public companies to private capital

Agence France Presse, June 9, 2007

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has decided to gradually open up state-owned companies to private partners to help boost economic growth, a top government official said Saturday.

The reform of public enterprises will help modernise the institutions and disengage the state from market activities in targetted sectors, including mines, water and electricity, hydrocarbons, transport, and telecommunications and finances.

The goal is to promote the public-private partnerships in sectors which drive the economy “in terms of contributing to the gross national product, to public finances, to foreign resources and employment,” said Jeannine Mabunda, the minister of portfolio.

The state will disengage from a certain number of enterprises and proceed with “partial handovers,” while excluding “any total privatisation at this stage,” Mabunda said.

The steering committee for the reform of state companies, created in 2002 and supported by the World Bank, is charged with proposing the overall strategies, by sector and by company, and to assist the institutions in carrying out the reforms.

“The public enterprises must perform” and for that “competent representatives are needed,” Mabunda said.

She criticised the “politicalisation” of the management of state companies during the DRC’s period of political transition from 2003 until general elections last year.

During the transition, all the positions in the public institutions and companies were assigned by quotas set by the ruling parties of the former fighters during the country’s five-year civil war who took part in the interim government.

Mabunda did not indicate how long it would take to institute these reforms, which must be directed by an inter-ministerial commission that is to expected to be created at a cabinet meeting next week.