Saturday, December 03, 2005

Chavez invites Africa to resist hegemony

AFRICAN FOCUS By Tafataona P. Mahoso
Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

When Professor Mararike and I joined the forum for Latin American, Caribbean and African intellectuals in Caracas, Venezuela, it became obvious to us that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, like our Third Chimurenga, was in a deadly struggle against neoliberalism and neoliberal forces.

Within the entire Festival for the People’s of Africa, we discovered that the forum for intellectuals had been targeted by imperialist forces as the easiest one to penetrate. The vehicle for such penetration was the so-called "civil society" organisation or the non-governmental organisation. To our embarrassment, we found that these organisations had stretched the concept of intellectual to mean anyone, to the extent that at least half of those claiming to represent Africa and African countries at this forum were, in fact, programme officers of donor-funded NGOs whose mandate was dubious and who became the voices of US-driven neoliberalism.

South Africa, Kenya, Gambia and Cameroon, for instance, were all "represented" by so-called "civil society" persons or "non-governmental individuals" (NGIs) who pretended to have a mandate to speak for their countries, when it was convenient to do so, and denied that they had any real mandate to so speak when challenged to show that they had indeed been sent by a representative authority or body. In addition to the persons from South Africa, Kenya, Gambia and Cameroon who peddled US-style neoliberal ideas against the call for Pan-African and Pan-American solidarity to resist imperialism, there were a few voices of neoliberal confusion who also came straight from the United States. One of these was a person well known in Zimbabwe, Horace G. Campbell, a "black" professor of Jamaican origin now at Syracuse University in New York State, USA, who spent years lecturing at the University of Zimbabwe and later administered Syracuse University’s Summer School programme in Zimbabwe before returning to the USA in the late 1990s.

While Campbell was in Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared to be a Pan-Africanist intellectual. His neoliberal and pro-imperialist tendencies did not come into the open until he was back at Syracuse and he started attacking the Third Chimurenga in the same fashion as the Movement for Democratic Change and the donor-funded NGOs. Campbell stood out at the festival in Venezuela because, unlike the persons from South Africa, Kenya, Gambia and Cameroon, he is an accomplished academic and he knew that we knew him and what he had been up to. So his opposition to the Zimbabwe position in the forum had to be muted, as he could no longer claim to be an expert on Zimbabwe on the basis of the many years spent there. Prof Mararike and I had just come from Zimbabwe with the full knowledge and encouragement of the Government. Our mandate was clear, but his was not. Did he represent Jamaica? Did he represent Syracuse University? Did he represent the Black Radical Congress of the USA where he presented his attack on the Third Chimurenga in June 2003? Did he represent just his own person?

Rather than claim authority to speak for and on Zimbabwe in Venezuela, Campbell reduced his role to that of interpreter and translator, since he is fluent in both English and Spanish. His opposition to the Third Chimurenga came out in the formulation of a resolution on Zimbabwe which he wrote in both English and Spanish. He put a spin to the resolution so that it sounded exactly like the usual NGO position in Zimbabwe which says that the land should be redistributed only to those who once worked on the white farms and to landless peasants. This is a line which is meant to deny the full national question, to deny the fact that the entire African nation had been dispossessed of its land.

In other words, the land reclamation effort and movement is reduced to a charitable NGO-driven act to "reduce poverty" only among landless peasants and former farm labourers! Neoliberal reforms are peddled in the name of "poverty alleviation" and not national repossession of assets. To say the land should go only to farm workers and peasants is to destroy the broad and universal consensus making up the African land reclamation movement. But I have deliberately jumped the gun here. The reader must be wondering how Prof Mararike and myself assumed that our host, the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, were themselves waging an ideological struggle against neoliberalism? In fact, we did not assume. We knew.

President Hugo Chavez Frias said in one of his addresses to the National Assembly of Venezuela:
"In 2004, fellow countrymen and comrades . . . Venezuela continued to advance, and strongly, as an alternative model to savage neoliberalism that has destroyed and that threatens to finish off entire peoples. Here, an alternative that is attracting the attention of millions and millions is functioning . . . Because this is a true alternative, like a hope for millions who have lost hope around the planet in light of the plans to impose the neoliberal model upon us, the Washington consensus, and the recipes of the International Monetary Fund: savage recipes that wiped out and killed millions of human beings, and brought poverty and destitution to hundreds of millions. These were entire peoples devastated by neoliberalism. Here there is work around an alternative project, and it is this one; it is here; it is the one we are building."

The intellectuals’ forum itself was opened by the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs responsible for Africa, Prof Reinaldo Bolivar. In his opening speech, Prof Bolivar expanded on the president’s vision of national sovereignty, economic indigenisation, regional integration and South-South co-operation against unipolar interventionism. The keynote address to the intellectuals’ forum was given by the Minister of Education, Prof Aristóbulo Isturiz. The minister said the African, Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals had been invited to witness a moment of change, crisis and transformation in the history of Venezuela, where the old has not yet disappeared fully but the new has not yet fully established itself. "We are keen to bury the old and make the new arise," he said. One feature of the old was neoliberalism, he said.

Neoliberalism in the South had destroyed nations and people’s livelihoods. It had also destroyed morals. Neoliberalism depended on the facade of human rights and democracy with no content. The people of Venezuela were being offered human rights and democracy without their petroleum, without their land, without their minerals and without their right to relate internationally with whoever they chose. Therefore the Festival of the People’s of Africa was one of the ways of fighting neoliberalism and turning the Venezuelan revolution and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America into a cultural revolution as well. Neoliberalism offered an empty nominal democracy. Intellectuals should assist the people to build a true social revolution based on social and economic transformation and on the popular reclamation of national assets.

In order to supplant neoliberalism in Venezuela and all over the South, the intellectuals need to provide books, papers, pamphlets and media programmes on South-South and East-West co-operation against imperialism. Within the intellectuals’ forum, the representation of the African continent was embarrassing in that half the persons present seemed to negate the aspirations of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, as expressed by President Chavez, Vice Minister Bolivar and the Minister of Education. South Africa was represented by an African programme officer of the former apartheid organisation called Heritage Foundation. This woman was more obsessed with her opposition to Zimbabwe’s land reform than with the struggle against US aggression and hegemony which brought us to Venezuela. Cameroon was "represented" by a husband and wife team who live in the US and belong to a secessionist movement in Cameroon! The person from Gambia was more British than Gambian in his views. He was also obsessed with opposing Zimbabwe’s Third Chimurenga which he knew very little about. A young African who represented Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Push-Rainbow organisation was also an embarrassment because of his overwhelming ignorance of what is happening in Africa.

All these people seem to have been smuggled into the forum to dilute the anti-imperialist radicalism in the original thrust of Pan-Africanism. However, there was exceptional performance by a woman from Mali, who is a former Minister of Culture; by a gentleman from Somalia, who educated us on the challenges facing the people of that country; by the Cuban delegation, which served as a critical bridge between the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking participants, and by the Venezuelan intellectuals who enabled us to appreciate the nature of the struggle Venezuela is facing. The African Union should have not only been represented in all the forums of the festival. It should have actually provided resources to institutions and individuals who can help build strong bridges between Latin America and Africa.
The disappointment we felt at the performance of those claiming to represent continental Africa was a reflection of the disappointment we feel about the poor leadership of the African Union on issues such as UN reform. Latin America is a potential source of decisive support for African and Pan-African unity.

The basis of that unity was made clear in one of President Chavez’s speeches when he said:
"Where is the sense in giving a group of countrymen, for example, 100 acres of recovered land, which in the best case belonged to corporate monopolies and were held by them, underutilised, as we are doing? Because first we are initiating, as you know, the recovery of state assets and their transfer to the people, because we are continuing to strengthen, in a very concrete manner, the following imperative: If we want to end poverty, we must give the poor power, knowledge, land, credit, technology and organisation. This is the only way to end poverty."

In short, mobilising the national assets of the nation to meet the basic needs of the whole people can be the most solid foundation for sustainable economic growth.

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