New ideas that sparkle social revolutions

Mahmood Mamdani is one of those African intellectuals you read and then you feel proud of being African. Of course only when you are a real son or daughter of Africa, carrying your motherland concerns in your heart.

His contribution here referred to is part of articles brought together by Pambazuka Press in their collection titled ‘African Awakening: the emerging revolutions,’ on the changing social and political landscape of the continent that started in 2011.

The African intellectual reflects particularly on lessons from what happened in Egypt and culminated with the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

One characteristic of the Egyptian revolution in 2011 was that it was leaderless. And on this Malcolm X’s grandson, El-Hajj Malik ElShabazz said about it recently that one needed however to be suspicious of revolutions without leaders.

Despite that fact, there are lessons to be learnt from political changes that occurred in the country of pharaohs and pyramids. One of those lessons that Mamdani points out is that ‘new ideas create the basis of new unities and new methods of struggle.’

He illustrates this by for example highlighting the political message of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement. ‘Black is not a colour, said Biko, black is an experience. If you are oppressed, you are black.’ This was indeed a revolutionary view in the racist South Africa whose society was defined along ethnic and skin colour lines.

Tahrir Square experience and the political reforms it enabled brought together the Egyptian society as a whole indistinctively. It momentarily melted religious and class divides.

The second lesson is that ‘to be successful, a new politics must offer an antidote, being an alternative practice that unites those divided by prevailing modes of governance.

Looking at African politics which are essentially led along tribal, religious, regional, or else lines, one can easily understand that a project of society that cut across all those differences could become a viable platform of a potentially improved life experience that all citizens of a nation could be ready to embrace.

Mamdani provides again for such model the example championed by Steve Biko. ‘Before and after Soweto, he [Steve Biko] insisted that, more than just biology, blackness was a political experience. This point of view created the ideological basis of a new anti-racist unity.’

‘Walk to work’ movement that challenged in Uganda the rising prices of commodities in 2011 is another example of new idea that brought together the Ugandan political opposition to the dictator Joweri Museveni.

For a society to get transformed new questions need to be asked and new answers found. New paths to reform the obsolete status quo have to be searched for. Who is the state and what does it represent? Who is a citizen and what does it mean to be a citizen? What are the rights and how are they being enjoyed? When these questions and others along the same line are reflected upon objectively, they rally indistinctively all oppressed and deprived people of a nation.


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