A paper presented at the 5th International Conference of La Via Campesina, Maputo, October 16-23, 2008.
Preamble: Looking for some principles and avoiding the syndrome of discovery
In order to live one needs to eat and in order to live one needs more than just food. In a world ruled by worshippers of the Market, it has come to be accepted that principles of justice, solidarity shall take second rank to everything else. Indeed that is why one hears more and more often of the distinction between justice and social justice as if calling for the former will not automatically cover those most affected by the growing disappearance of justice and equality.
Given the current mentality, dominated by greed, selfishness and selfish charity, it is worth remembering a few cautionary principles/axioms: Beware of the names given to a problem, to a disease to a person without the consent of the discovered person. Always remember the Arawaks and those who welcomed Christopher Columbus and his party on what CC called Hispaniola. Soon they died of hunger and diseases. Always remember those who resisted the conquest of their land because they were defending much more than their land. To remember requires much more than mining memories and archives, it will take listening with loving attention to the voices which tend to be ignored, to poets, to those who did die of hunger, to those who would like to speak for themselves as they are, from where they are (Pygmees, Ikung, Hazabe).
As Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba (EW) has pointed out, at times such as these, it is crucial to hear the thinking of ordinary people, (e.g.people living in forests or deserts), on how they have understood food security. For example, among the Kongo in DRCongo, Earth is a package of food and medicine provided by God so people can face hunger and illness. During slavery (in the US), slave masters sometimes wondered how the Africans survived without access to what the masters considered food. It did not occur to the latter that the Africans managed to invent more nutritious food than their masters.
The food crisis is not just about food, it is about understanding of humanity and its relation to nature. How the issue is framed or problematized shall determine the process of rethinking and finding a solution which is satisfactory, primarily to those who have suffered the most from the predatory nature of the current and triumphant economic and financial system. For EW, “it is the destruction of Mother Earth and the building of walls between people and Mother Earth which is at the centre of the food crisis. In the process Mother Earth is transformed, sterilized and turned into the mother of profits for the rich. For the victims it is unconscionable that food should be destroyed in order to increase prices, make people suffer while generating huge profits for the destroyers of Mother Earth.”(1)
1. Setting the parameters
The current food crisis in the midst of a multiple crisis should provide a wake up call to all those who are trying to provide solutions by only focusing on food. On first sight, there are at least two competing narratives: on one side there are those who have run the world and their allies and on the other there are those who are expected to submit and accept the word of the self-appointed masters of the world. Formally speaking, the latter set their own agendas via the G8 and the yearly Davos meetings, among other places. Those who are expected to submit are reduced to using the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and the World Social Forum. Soon the Security Council and its permanent members will be changed, but it will not matter since the G8 and Davos meetings have taken care of ensuring that the decisions which do matter to them will no longer be taken within the UN system.
Put in other words, it is not only in justice, health or, more prosaically, air travel, that the class system has imposed itself: there is justice/health for the poor and justice/health for the rich. Indeed, if one looks more carefully, it is not difficult to detect that the super rich would like to separate themselves from the rest. However, no matter how hard they would like to distinguish themselves from the rest of humanity, there is only one humanity. Splitting it apart as was done for the atom will yield worst results than the process which led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, more than 50 years later, how many are willing, like Dwight McDonald, to see in the dropping of those atomic bombs as the modernization of Auschwitz, Dachau. Given what happened in WWII, but more importantly, the centuries leading to it, should one not ask if the current multiple crises are not the by-product of the same competition-to-death mentality which gave rise to a political leadership, in several countries of the most advanced economies, friendly to the idea that there was nothing wrong in getting rid, once and for all, of any racially defined group (be it Africans, Asians, Armenians, pygmees, Jews, Tutsi, Hutu). Asking the question does not mean that one knows the answer. In a context in which one can see that the mind-set of those genocidal times are still vibrant, it would be irresponsible NOT to ask questions like who are the slaves, who are the Jews, who are the colonized. Asking this kind of questions will help find out, along the way, how poverty and hunger are created, who name them and why they are so named?
The mind-set which has trampled humanity, under different names, (e. g. slavery, colonization, holocaust, apartheid) has not retreated, it has grown like a cancer destroying the living principle while, at the same time, passing itself under names which disguise its lethal, predatory nature such as bio-technology. Presenting itself as promoting life when it is engaged in the process of killing brutally, softly and all the ways in between. Bio-technology is a misnomer; given the antecedents, its proper name should be thanato-technology: to live on Planet Earth according to death principles. The chain toward self-destruction has no end: To rape, to enslave, to colonize, to seek the final solution, to bantustanize, to ethnically cleanse a country, etc. Humanity has yet to see the end of its genocidal tendencies and sequences. Under the previous submission processes, the responsibility could be traced back to some sort of state authority; but with submission to the Market rules, responsibility/authority seems to be nowhere and everywhere.
Peoples, nations have been enslaved, colonized by other nations, but at the core of the process, the rules of the Market reigned supreme. The capitalist Market has superseded all previous conquering, enslaving, colonizing mechanisms. Indeed, unlike the empires of old, the Market (as guided by capitalist principles) has modernized (automated) the mechanisms of domination in ways imperial powers could never have dreamed of achieving. Through the Market mechanisms, a few former slaves, a few former colonized could become part of the ruling cliques, and, move away from the miseries of hunger and poverty. In times when denunciations of corruption have become a perpetual mantra, the sweet murmurs of the Market and the promise of greater wealth to be made through its labyrinths, gag and/or muffle the few voices trying to change course. Before trying to restrict the food crisis to the last few decades and/or to the usual culprits, one should revisit the histories of those who (since the inauguration of capitalism, a few centuries ago) died of hunger in times when the words food crisis were not even uttered.(2) At least not in the manner one hears them today.
Increasingly, food is only accessible through the Market as is work, education, health, justice, birth, right to exist, right to breath clean air, right to clean water, etc.. Everything which goes into making life worth living, into making a human being worth being a human being, everything can only be accessible through mechanisms controlled by a few individuals, but above all by a mind-set which is accountable to nobody. The market fundamentalists might react and say that this is an exaggeration and that they are just as interested in all of the above objectives as anyone else. As fundamentalists who have benefited from the Market, understandably, their primary objective has been, is, will be, to maintain the prism of the Market as the determining one in assessing life’s value. If the food crisis is not problematized from within the situation, the histories of those who were famished because of who they were (i.e. dispensable), then the exercise is more than likely to provide solutions beneficial to the so-called discoverers of hunger/famine. Historically, the discoverers have never seen themselves, at least initially, as the possible and probable source of problems of a socio-economic nature which are now affecting more than 90% of the world population.
By discussing the current food crisis from the perspective of the last few decades, these very short-term analysts, consciously or unconsciously, are saying that the problem is momentary and conjunctural. It is neither, and has been in the making for a very long time.(3) Sometimes, like now, the time span can even be shorter because of the emphasis on the concomitant financial, energy and ecological crises. This essay would like to address the current food crisis from a perspective which goes back to, at least, 1491. As Ch. Mann has pointed out, 1492 as a starting point of a post 1492 narrative tends to give the impression that prior to 1492 there was nothing worth remembering. The dominant mind-set which emerged out of the so-called discoveries emphasizes only the positive aspects, to the exclusion of any aspect which might blemish its record.(4)
The term consciousness of evil is one which has been used to describe what happened during and after WW II. Fifty years later, one has slowly, but irresistibly slid into a situation which is leading to the eradication of people who stand in the way of total and complete triumph of the will of the richest people of the earth. When Native Americans were driven out of their land, when they lost the material basis of their way of living, they died of hunger and diseases. Centuries later, but this time on a bigger scale, masses of people are being starved, while a few are stuffing themselves, to death.(5) Some, because they are not eating the proper food, others because they just overeat, excited, driven by never ending advertising campaigns. The killing, anti-humanity mind-set has reached such a level of intensity that those who are its victims fail to grasp that they do not have to submit to it. All it would take is affirming humanity and the living principles.
2. The current food crisis seen from the starved
From way back, if one is willing to listen carefully to the historical echoes of those who screamed against inhumanity, one can hear something like the following:
When people were punished through starvation
They protested, but who were they?
We are not slaves, we are Africans who were enslaved.
For having spoken they were killed
The generic human being protested
The screams were heard, but
She was a colonial subject
She was jailed, raped, sent to exile
Only for having spoken
when she was supposed to keep silent
The human being protested
Babies, children, old men and women
Followed by animals, birds, nature.
Life protested against death
To no avail
The market must prevail,
Is kept prevailing
The most powerful so dictated
The habit of not listening to human beings less powerful
The habit of raping with impunity
Led to humanitarianism, a discovery aimed
At covering up crimes against humanity
By those who had refused to listen to humanity
And lost their humanity
From Columbus to today, the discoverers have not changed
They changed tunes to reinforce their mind-set
Leading one to ask:
Was their discovery of humanitarianism
a diversion or a negation
of their own humanity?
Or are they saying there is a humanity
To be understood/represented/defended
–by them or their agents–
Through humanitarianism, charitably
and there is humanity, as humanity
Against which no crime must be committed
They discovered themselves as the best representatives of humanity,
But they are disconnected from humanity,
They have never known starvation
The only thing they understand
Is how to make money
Out of their discoveries
Whatever their names:
Land, slaves, colonies, poverty, misery, hunger.
The history has been known for a long time, but it keeps being pushed back even when, one should say, especially when, it manages to free itself from the shackles of the dominant mind-set. An enslaved person who frees herself without waiting for the master’s abolition or a colonized people which decolonizes itself before it is considered appropriate by the colonizer shall be “taught a lesson”. From Saint-Domingue/ Haiti to Indochina/Vietnam, to Cuba, to Kenya, to the DRCongo, to Mozambique, the lesson has been drilled with all the means at the disposal of the dominant mind-set: from extreme violence to extreme seduction. With the same objective: ensure that fear and/or shame will keep the descendants of those who did try the impossible (and succeeded) to never ever try again to free themselves. More on shame further below.
3. Identifying and sorting out some of the deepest roots of the food crisis
If the current food crisis is going to be resolved for the benefits of those who have been most affected by its unfolding, and in a way that those who have most suffered from hunger participate in the thinking of how to remove hunger, then the food crisis must be examined away and far beyond the rattling of statistical tables which reveal the obvious, i.e. that the poorest of the poor (PoP) (6) have been getting poorer and poorer for the benefit of the Richest of the Rich (RoR). From as long as humanity has existed the former have risen against the latter, but one must resist the temptation of accepting the idea that emancipatory politics will always fail. Closer to us in historical time one must also resist the temptation of accepting the notion that thoughts expressed by highly educated intellectuals count more than the thoughts of uneducated or poorly educated peasants. Being uneducated does not mean that one is incapable of thinking. The Africans who did overthrow slavery in Saint Domingue/Haiti thought better from within their situation than those who predicted that they could not possibly achieve such a feat. It is not difficult to imagine the slave owners (and the Enlightenment philosophers) saying to whoever would listen: what do the slaves know about freedom?
Yet, these are the very ones who, having dared against all odds and all the predictions of failure, did leave us with lessons on how to achieve freedom. But again, the lessons retold by the discoverers and/or their descendants and/or their allies shall always differ from the ones recounted, remembered by the so-called “discovered” and/or their descendants and/or their allies. More often than not, one finds among the latter the most vociferous distorters of the histories/lessons which emerged from the battles against the defenders of submission to the dominant mind set. For example, listening to the history of Haiti as recounted by C.L.R. James or, more recently, Peter Hallward is not the same as hearing it from Alex Dupuy. (7) The RoR have multiple ways of enforcing their views, but so do the PoP too, provided they are convinced that they can.
For any human being, suffering can reach unbearable points, but at the same time, over and over in history, people have shown a heroic capacity to resist and rise above the most extreme forms of torture, especially when motivated by a political understanding of their situation which has disconnected itself from the mind-set which never stops dictating the idea that the way out can only be through the dominant mind-set way of thinking.
Again if one looks at the history of Haiti, it is easy to understand why the slave and plantation owners would seek, by any means necessary, to prove that the Africans who overthrew slavery on Saint Domingue should never have tried: financial, economic, political, religious, cultural and intellectual means were used to convey the message that the inhabitants of Saint Domingue would have been better off had they not risen against slavery. In a nutshell, everything has been done to ensure that other enslaved Africans (or living any subsequent Enslaving system) reconsider emancipatory politics as a viable option.
The history of Haiti is one of the most exemplary one for both sides of the ideological fence separating emancipatory and consensual/submissive/abolitionist politics.
4. The convergence between fear of one’s history and fear of hunger
From the historical record, it is known that the turn over ratio of Africans in Saint Domingue was very high. Supply was cheap and less costly than seeking to improve maintenance. It was cheaper to get fresh bodies and use them to death. The demographic ratio was also favourable to the Africans, free and enslaved ones. From the beginning to the end of the 18th century, the number of Africans went from around 2,000 to about half a million. As in any such situation, a range of possibilities must have been discussed: improve the conditions of work/treatment, including better food, get rid of the system altogether.
However, before going further in our examination, it is important to connect the history of the Africans in Saint Domingue and the Africans from one of their geographical points of origin: the Kongo Kingdom. Only 85 years (about 3 generations) separate two events related to the overthrow of slavery. On July 2, 1706, Kimpa Vita (some times known as Dona Beatriz) was burned at the stake for having tried to convince the Kongo King to put an end to the activities of the Potuguese slave raiders/traders. It was not just a one person enterprise. Those who agreed with her denunciations rallied behind a movement known as The Antonin Movement. So called because Kimpa Vita said that she had received her message from St Anthony. Little is known about the movement following the death of Kimpa Vita, but it is not unreasonable to surmise that memories of the movement survived and may have influenced those who, in 1791, in Saint Domingue, decided and vowed to end slavery. And, it would not be unfair to presume that, as a principle, humanity has genes which are allergic to any form of slavery. From within humanity there are always going to be those pushing for emancipatory politics.
The Africans who ended up in Saint Domingue lived in a most fearsome situation. In order to understand their determination to do away with slavery, one should try to understand what slavery was about. (8) The latter is almost impossible, regardless of the descriptions available either through historical, fictional or cinematographic accounts. (9) The use of an entire Continent as a hunting ground for enslaving people is the kind of trespassing of humanity which, because it has remained unacknowledged, opened the door to further trespassing, not just in terms of the number of people maimed, slaughtered, raped but also because it further reinforced the mind-set based on the notion that competition-to-death, by any means, is the most efficient way of organizing any economy. One shall never stress enough that unless the enormity of what happened is eventually understood, it will be impossible to do anything with regard to the current challenges faced by humanity. (10)
Out of this mind-set has grown a habit of minimizing/erasing what the industrial enslavement of an entire Continent has done. Such a process of slowly building a mind-set aimed at minimizing/muffling/eradicating the efforts of those who, long before it was so proclaimed by the “discoverers”, stood up against a crime against humanity (CAH), ends up distorting any attempt to rise up against some of its most damaging consequences. This minimizing of slavery and its consequences has been repeated at every subsequent transition (end of colonization, end of apartheid).
When the French government passed the legislation recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity (Loi Christiane Taubira, 2001) (11), it was done in a way which was aimed at shielding those who collectively benefited from slavery. How else should one interpret the French government behaviour toward President Jean Bertrand Aristide (JBA) in 2004. The kidnapping was carried out by the American military in collaboration with the French and Canadian governments and their allies, including the Central African Republic.. The whole episode reminded one, more than 200 later, of the kidnapping of Toussaint-L’Ouverture.
It might be asked what is the meaning of this long detour into the history of Haiti for the purpose of confronting the current food crisis? It has to do with resisting the attempt to frame the food crisis from the perspective of those who want to benefit the most from it. In its most simplistic terms, the food crisis is being analyzed, explained within the parameters put in place by a dominant mind-set which has its deepest roots in how it organized the pauperization of those who had defeated the biggest scourge of those times. Indeed it was more than a scourge, it was the embryo of what was to become known under globalization two centuries later.
The Africans, then, understood their situation without political or charitable representatives. Their understanding and thinking of how to get out of their situation was arrived at through their own thinking and, definitely, without the help of the Enlightenment philosophers. 1789 had taken place and did help bring forward the idea, at least among some, that if the banner of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality was going to have any meaning, then it had to lead to the complete and total abolition of slavery. Massive efforts took place, not just from France, but also from England and Spain to try and reverse what the Africans had done. The abolition of slavery in French controlled territories would not take place till 1848. A date which also coincides with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But as stated above, these rights apply differently whether one belongs to Humanity (first class) or to Humanity-existing-through-humanitarianism (second and third classes).
Will the food crisis be resolved according to the discriminatory perspective above or according to an understanding that there is only one humanity? In other words will the question of how to eradicate hunger and poverty be posed by those whose dominant mind-set has generated massive hunger and poverty or will the poor and the hungry frame the questions and provide the answers without the humanitarian/charitable advice of the “discoverers” of poverty and hunger?
It is not difficult to see that the food crisis is connected to other crises, economic and financial (the so-called credit crunch), climatic, etc. It is also clear that all institutions have been mobilized, from the ones which are specialized on the issue (e.g. Food and Agricultural Organization-FAO, government ministers) to personalities like the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan who understand the seriousness and gravity of the crisis. But when all of these specialists meet and discuss, the voices of peasants, the voices of those who do produce food, either for themselves and families or for corporations, are rarely, if ever heard. Moreover, how can people whose mind-sets are responsible for the food crisis be expected to provide satisfactory answers? How can people who see nothing wrong in their mind-set be expected to get rid of, or distance themselves from, the very way of thinking which has brought the inhabitants of the Planet face to face with permanent disaster?
The fear at work in the minds of the above group is not the same as the one to be found among those who belong to the most vulnerable inhabitants of the Planet. A mind which does not have to worry about eating three meals a day, as well as provide food for all members of its family can be at peace while the ones who go hungry on a daily basis often resort to suicide as the solution to their daily miseries (Raj Patel, 2007). An Inconvenient question arises which is not unlike the one which arose with regard to the HIV-AIDS epidemic: could it be that the RoR would rather let the hungry die than discuss with them the best way to resolve the crisis?
5. Fear and Shame: Consciousness of Evil or Consciousness of Shame?
In addition to fear there is shame. While psychologists have studied how to detect people who are lying, there has been little interest on trying to understand why and how, individually and collectively, human beings are eager to hide anything which might be shameful. The fear of having a shameful act revealed to all provides a powerful incentive to hide. (12)
How a segment of humanity has treated others in the past can lead to a sense of shame and the desire to ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately, one is not operating under conditions which are levelled: those who know from their own historical records that they have perpetrated shameful acts are not eager to bring them to the surface. What was done to Africans, to Native Americans by other people in the name of a way of thinking, an ideology, a religion, etc. has been deeply felt unevenly all over the world. In some cases, e.g. France toward Africans and slavery has acknowledged that slavery is a crime against humanity (CAH), but little has been done to reverse the direct and indirect consequences. Indeed, a belated apology has often been used as the most efficient way of preserving the gains acquired through the crime.(13)
Once a taboo has been trespassed, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to overcome its direct and indirect consequences. With regard to food, in a world in which people should not go hungry, people do go hungry precisely because it has become acceptable, in a mind-set dominated by a dictatorial free market system, that some people are going to die of hunger. The accepted norm, under the present mind-set, is that hunger cannot be eradicated, regardless of the efforts. The fact that humanity has been able to eradicate certain diseases, including hunger, is not seen as the proof that hunger could be banned.
6.Why the histories of Saint Domingue/Haiti’s are more emblematic than ever?
In their self-congratulatory march to where they have reached, the RoR have always feared what the PoP would or could do if they were to understand their own situations without outside interferences. Along the way, the former segment of humanity has resorted, directly or indirectly, to fearsome practices in order to submit and/or obliterate those they considered less than humans. (14) The process of how Haiti has been impoverished following 1804 is pertinent to how to think about the current food crisis.
Haiti, for example, used to be self sufficient in rice, the DRCongo used to export cassava and many other food commodities. Both countries now have to import thanks to a process which involved the World Bank economists and the US government’s common strategy of liberalization. The process of turning self-sufficient economies into dependent ones has been documented ad infinitum. (15) Aid and charity complement each other as the remedy to the predatory extremes unleashed by the dictatorial rule of competition. (16)
Succeeding where success was not expected, as the Africans did in eradicating slavery, could have inflicted a serious blow to the system. (17) Those who had most benefited from slavery had to impose their own timing: it took another half-century for France to abolish slavery. Timing was crucial in order to tame those who had thought, back then, that slavery was indeed a crime against humanity. Again, as with abolition, the timing for the recognition had to be imposed by those who had most benefited from the crime itself. It was only in 2001 that France finally passed a law recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity(18).
While working in Mozambique between 1979 and 1986, I once had a poster against apartheid: “Apartheid is a Crime against Humanity”. Looking at it a visitor asked what it meant. I remained speechless, thinking it was self-explanatory. How long will it take for the South African government to acknowledge apartheid as a crime against humanity? Or, is it that, in the name of Truth and Reconciliation, the multiple roots of the crime shall be silenced?
From 1962 to 1974, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) succeeded, against all odds, in putting an end to Portuguese colonial rule. Such a success, as in Haiti, had to be reversed. The context, in Mozambique, was dominated by the Cold War. Frelimo had been supported by the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Vietnam, the German Democratic Republic, but also by people from western countries like Italy, Holland and Sweden. As Henry Kissinger stated during a visit to Southern Africa in April 1976, communism had to be defeated in Southern Africa. (19) Not long after that began to unfold one of the most vicious civil wars aimed at what looked like a process of “teaching Frelimo a lesson”.
The consequences of the war have been so devastating that, in the name of the peace achieved in 1992, it has become preferable not to speak about the war. So much so that the silence around the Civil War is now being extended to the war against the colonizers, as if that was the war which should never have taken place. Again, it is difficult not to think of Haiti and what the Africans did to slavery. Today’s elite in Haiti acts as if it wishes slavery had not been abolished, at least not in the manner it was done between 1791 to 1804. Today’s elite in Mozambique prefers to focus on how to become as rich as possible and as quickly as possible, and, it possible that some of them might even be inaudibly saying to themselves that had it not been for Frelimo, they would be much better off today. (20)
Both Haiti and Mozambique are most talked about as very poor countries. Thanks to outside donors, anti-poverty programs do help the PoP overcome hunger and other problems. It is understandable that those who suffered the consequences of war (especially the civil war, 1980-1992) would rather not face that situation again. A question rises, though: should the fear of what happened during colonial rule, or after, lead to the fear of politics, i.e. thinking for oneself on how best to get out of a given situation. Moreover, should the fact that the Soviet Union and all its allies “lost” the Cold War lead Mozambicans to the conclusion that anything which resembles, directly or indirectly, socialism and/or communism must be banished. For ever?
The process of enforcing only one way of thinking with regard to colonial rule and its demise has followed the same pattern as the one which has been observed in Haiti: everything must be done so that a different way of organizing society, production and distribution does not emerge. Differences will be acceptable if they are not antagonic to the dominant way of thinking.
7. Césaire, poetry, politics and history
When Aimé Césaire passed away recently it dawned on many people, including this one, that someone very special had lived among us and had no been heard or understood as he should have been (21). This has happened before and will happen again. Later on, some shall describe him as a prophetic voice. He always insisted, without saying it in this manner, that he was not a politician and that his politics were in his poetry. (22) To a specific question by Françoise Vergès on the relationship between his poetry and politics he points out the following: “La poésie révèle l’homme à lui-même. Ce qui est au plus profond de moi-même se trouve certainement dans ma poésie. Parce que ce ‘moi-même’, je ne le connais pas. C’est le poème qui me le révèle et même l’image poétique.” (Aimé Césaire. Entretiens…2005:47) [—It is poetry which reveals the human being to itself. What comes from deepest within myself can be found in my poetry. Because even this self of mine, I do not know. It is the poem which reveals it to me, even the poetic imagery –jd translation—]
Using statistical data to demonstrate the insanity, the injustices behind the current food crisis will not make a dent in the consciousness of those who are responsible for it. For someone like Césaire, and Françoise Vergès is right to emphasize this point (A Césaire. Entretiens…2005:111-136), the immensity of the wound inflicted by one segment of humanity onto another, through slavery and later compounded by colonization, has never been assessed. Such an assessment is deliberately avoided because of the fear/shame of what would happen to all those who only know one truth, one history: the history, the truth of humanity seen through the eyes and the mind-set of those who have enslaved, who have colonized. The resulting shock of discovering what had been hidden could be overwhelming, to those who are unprepared.
From within this kind of historical narrative, the dominant mind-set is bound to present access to food, health, education, justice as something which is easily available to anyone provided it is so desired. To paraphrase Françoise Vergès, the dominant mind-set (in France) is convinced that the 1848 abolition of slavery was France’s gift to the Africans. This paternalistic mind-set is as deeply embedded today as it was in 1848. Enslavement to the dominant system is being carried out with different means, but the results are just as devastating on humanity as a whole. The direct and indirect consequences of slavery and colonization have never been dealt with. As a result, one hears calls to the poor to change their attitude. It is very easy to promote the idea that the poor are poor because they want to be poor. Just as it is easy to accuse the peasants of laziness. No one among the RoR ever accuses the land stealer, the bankers, the speculators of being lazy, even though, most of the time, their robbing is conducted seating in comfortable offices(23).
From Aimé Césaire’s poetry one has heard, but not yet learned, that living is an art. The food speculators, the financiers, the colonizers, the enslavers and all those who have never seen anything wrong in their mind-set, or in living as an accounting exercise, may praise our Beloved Césaire and even quote from his poetry, but they will do so from within the accounting mind-set, willing to accept him paternalistically, just as they accepted the abolition of slavery in 1848. As stated in the preamble, the food crisis is one of the multiple manifestations of humanity approaching a dead end.
More and more of its members are beginning to sense that when living principles determined by human beings are being superseded by principles anonymously determined by a deity called Market, then something, somewhere, did go wrong. When food, e.g. corn or maize, is being produced for reasons other than feeding people, then, surely, it is a sign that the segment of humanity which promotes such a diversion has modernized, exponentially, what happened during WWII. For the sake of defending/promoting a mind-set, masses of people are being reduced to a non existing status.
8. Freedom without equality and fraternity is freedom to annihilate
The Market, unfettered of any rules based on equality and fraternity between all segments of humanity, can only lead to annihilation of humanity. This is not a prediction. It is happening as surely as the melting of the ice caps at both Poles, as surely as global warming is progressing. How does one reverse a mind-set which has taken hold not just of the speculators, bankers, political and religious leaders? How does one defeat the deeply rooted tendency of thinking that the task at hand is impossible?
For one, the voices which have been saying the same things for centuries must be heard, and acted upon. It is not enough to say that humanity is one if, at the same time, one refuses to listen to some of the voices, regardless of the reasons. When the crisis is as serious as the current one, regardless of the angle from which it is tackled, is it not wise to acknowledge that every single member of humanity has a say. Should one not call and encourage the tiniest voices to rise? Isn’t the wisest course to accept, in the face of Inconvenient Truths, the inconvenient truths uttered for the past centuries by the PoP?
When confronted with the systematic denial of one’s humanity, there is only one possible course: stand up against such a denial. It is crucial that the resistance against the dominant mind-set be conducted from within the principles aimed at a different mind-set. It must be firmly grounded on solidarity. The only force to be used shall be the force of art, poetry and science at the service of humanity.
Artists, poets, scientists must eat too. Freedom by itself does not feed, but freedom with equality and fraternity can. Artists, poets and scientists do not have to congregate in places designated by the Market promoters. In such places, all voices shall be heard, provided respect for basic principles to be agreed upon by those who insist on the necessity to change the mind-set. Among the principles, the following ones could be considered:
• The Food producers/PoP must be heard in their own voices
• The multiplicity of the voices calling for emancipatory politics must be accepted
• No representation shall be accepted;
• Each voice must heard from where it is, as it is.
These are, by no means, the only ones.
9. Healing from fear and shame
The transition from apartheid, even with the help of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), has not lived up to its heralded promises. The recent (May 2008) pogroms against the PoP by other PoP has revealed the shortcomings of the TRC as a panacea, on the one hand; on the other hand, it brought out very sharply the shortcomings of the ANC as the governing party as well as the government with regard to educating and informing the population about the international support without which apartheid would not have been defeated. In that process of informing and educating, the role of ordinary Africans who risked their lives and generously gave all they could, should have been highlighted. This failure, however, must be shared by most African governments because of their common tendencies to disregard the role of ordinary people in the making of their histories. The failure to inform and educate must also be shared by those who, during apartheid, remained silence and profited. As it has been remarked, sometimes listening to what happened during apartheid in South Africa, it sounds as if everyone was a resistant to it.
As with all previous major transitions (from slavery to post-slavery, from colonialism to post-colonialism), the defeated side quickly reorganized itself with the objective of minimizing their losses. In that process they were helped by their previous enemies (now referred to as adversaries). As in Nkrumah’s famous motto, they were convinced that once the political kingdom had been seized, the rest would follow. Yet, in social and economic terms, they found themselves suddenly far from the very ones who made it possible to seize the kingdom, and, much closer to their previous enemies whose main thinking was focused on how to keep the economy going as well as before. And, one might add, as fast as possible, if possible, faster than before.
The fear of the new government was to show that things, in South Africa, would be different from the way they had happened in the rest of the continent. That fear led the ANC leadership to move away from the Freedom Charter, but even from creative principles to provide the Pop with some rewards and, more importantly, a say in transforming politics.
To have a say in transforming politics meant, among other things, as pointed out by the members of AbahlalibaseMjondolo, to speak for themselves and not be represented by politicians. The Pop who live in shacks in Durban, Jo’burg, Cape Town see themselves as the ones who are really defending the principles contained in the Freedom Charter. Democracy means that everyone thinks, that everyone deserves respect and dignity. Freedom must mean that when decent housing, and decent living conditions are not provided for the Pop, they are the best qualified to make sure that their voices are heard, clearly without translators and/or intermediaries, be they lawyers, municipality leaders, university lecturers, politicians. (24)
The similarities between what the Pop, the peasants are suffering across the world call for a reinforcement of the already existing links, for greater sharing of the stories and histories of resistance against what Amit Bhaduri has referred to as the TINA syndrome (i.e. there is no alternative to Globalization) (25). The syndrome is not new. The imposition of colonial rule was presented as an altruistic exercise bringing civilisation to Africa. Forced Labour was presented as an educational exercise.
Emancipatory politics must go hand in hand with emancipatory historical narratives and move away from historical narratives framed by the so-called success stories of globalization told from the perspective of multinational mega corporations and/or financial institutions at their service.
October 6, 2008
This essay was drafted sometime in June-July 2008. The question of naming remains as crucial as ever. The so-called financial crisis is not just about finances, banking, credit. And it is not just about the deregulation of the banking industry. More and more it looks like a deregulation of all the principles which, one would have thought, have made humanity what it is. The reluctance to face history and humanity, as such, in all of its dimensions and complexities, is more entrenched than ever. Only Mr. Market counts, but even it, or so it seems, has grown tired and would like to rest.
(1) Personal communication from Prof. Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, October 27, 2008.
(2) At one time, during its triumphant emergence, the Roman Empire tried to resolve its food crisis by conquering Egypt.
(3) Fernand Braudel and many others since have, rightly, insisted on approaching history from the long term perspective. Unfortunately, such an approach has tended to favour the questions emerging out of the dominant narrative. In the issue of Pambazuka News 383 focused on the Food Crisis, the time depth was even shorter: 1970s. If one is going to make sense of the Food Crisis today, but also try to understand other food crises in the past (e.g. the potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century), the framing of how it has been unfolding should be as deep and wide as possible.
(4) For example, Howard Zinn in his Peoples’ History of the United States can only go as far as providing an inventory of the slaughter of the Native Americans and the Africans. For him 1776 is still the Event. And as the subtitle indicates, the starting point of his narrative is 1492.
(5) See Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved. The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Melville House Printing. www.mhpbooks.com 2008.
(6) There is a history of how the PoP did reach that stage has been observed across the Planet and across centuries and generations: from food producers, they were forced off their land and reduced to search for work in an environment in which there was only work for a few.
(7) C.L. R. James, The Black Jacobins; Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, Verso. 2007; see also Peter Hallward’s review of Alex Dupuy’s The Prophet and Power: Jean Bertrand Aristide, the International Community and Haiti, Rowan and Littlefield. 2007. in Haiti Liberté http://www.haitianalysis.com/2007/8/18/hallward-reviews-dupuy-s-the-prophet-and-power-jean-bertrand-aristide-the-international-community-and-haiti
(8) The importance of this cannot be overstressed in view of the tendency within the dominant mind-set to down play the horrors of slavery. See J. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. Cambridge University Press. 1998.
(9) In his Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James did try. Fiction writers have tried, from Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons to Toni Morison’s Beloved. Haile Gerima in his movie, Sankofa, offered a harrowing view of what it was like. Still, when all is said and done, I would argue that no one, to this day and with my greatest respect for the above writers, has come any way near to measuring what slavery meant both individually and collectively. I have to assume that such measurement, not just in physical terms, shall one day be possible. This hope rests, in part, on the realization that someone somewhere did achieve that impossible act, but that it has not been recorded in the form and/or in the place where it would get noticed. There are exceptions, most notably Aimé Césaire (2005)
(10) A point cogently made by Françoise Vergès in Césaire (2005).
(11) Its application officially began on May 10th 2004.
(12) In recent times, it has been possible to see how difficult it is to accept that people in very powerful positions can lie. In earlier times, Hitler and his acolytes found out that a lie repeated a thousand times became a truth
(13) France, among the nations most involved Atlantic Slavery, has probably taken the boldest step by declaring, through the Loi Taubira, slavery a crime against humanity. However, this bold step has triggered as sort of blowback against it, particular by historians. See Pierre Nora’s “Liberté pour l’hitoire” in Le Monde(10.10.08) and Christiane Taubira’s response a few days later: “Mémoire, histoire et droit” in Le Monde (15.10.08).
(14) A few weeks ago (in May 2008), in South Africa, the PoP (so-called indigenous South Africans) went on a rampage against the PoP foreigners. It has been the most recent and exemplary illustration of how entrenched the competitive mind-set is. It also reveals the structural shortcomings of the transition from apartheid to post-apartheid founded on the erroneous notion that colouring the RoR in black would radically transform the economic/financial tenets of apartheid days.
(15) One of the most interesting accounts has been given by John Perkins in his Confessions of An Economic Hit Man. 2004(ISBN0-452-28708-1) See also Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved.
(16) That it does not have to be so has long ago been proved. See, for example, Marcel Mauss’s essay Essai sur le don (1924). And also the website of Revue du M.A.U.S.S.http://www.revuedumauss.com .
(17) What was feared was the effect it could have on other Africans wanting to get rid of slavery in other parts.
(18) In 2006, 40 members of the French National Assembly call for the abrogation of the loi Taubira. See: http://esclavagetraites.canalblog.com/archives/abrogation_loi_taubira__/index.html
(19) Glijeses, Piero. em>Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa 1959-1976. 2002. The University of North Carolina Press.
(20) Such inaudible murmuring may even come from the mouths of bona fide veterans of the armed struggle. See Duarte Tembe’s book on Samora (Maputo, 2000). And also the interview given to the weekly Savana (Ericinio Salema and Paola Rolletta) on July 6, 2008. It can be viewed at: http://oficinadesociologia.blogspot.com/2008/07/jorge-rebelo-na-primeira-pessoa.html
(21) Obviously there are exceptions to this deficiency. There is a difference between knowing someone was special and having understood the true worth of the person. See for example Daniel Maximin’s Préface to Césaire’s Ferrements et autres poèmes (Editions Points, 2008)
(22) Aimé Césaire, “Calendrier laminaire”, in Moi, Laminaire, in Anthologie Poétique, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1996, pp. 233-234; tel que cité dansAimé Césaire, Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai. Entretiens avec Françoise Vergès. Paris, Albin Michel, 2005, pp. 47-50.
(23) There are exceptions. K. Marx being the most prominent one with his reference to “coupon clipping capitalists.”
(24) In its most recent intervention, S’bu Zikode has made these politics very clear. See S’bu Zikode’s speech at the Diakonia Economic Justice Forum. August 28, 2008. Posted on their website: www.abahlalibasemjondolo.