Patrick Mbeko and the meaning of a certain vocabulary: “terrorist,” “populist,” “extremist,” “radical,” etc

Patrice Lumumba

When someone controls what goes into your mind, they can do of you what they want. It is Steve Biko who once said that, “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” In line with this understanding, Patrick Mbeko, author of “Canada in the wars in Central Africa,” shares with his readers the following views on the meaning of a certain vocabulary. The original note was in French and appeared initially on the writer’s facebook pages. I translated it for the benefit of English speakers.

“If I die tomorrow, it is because a White man will have armed a Black man.”
Patrice Lumumba

I discuss with one of my lecturers. We were talking of international news. Worse, I address a question related to the “American regime”. My teacher replies: “How come you call it U.S. regime? You mean the U.S. administration? “I say,” Yes, I mean the American regime. “” I’m not following you,” he says and adds: “Are you referring to the U.S. government, I mean, the Obama administration?” I insist, “yes, that regime.” And he retorted, “but look Patrick, you cannot call that a regime.”

I mention this anecdote to draw particular attention to the importance of words. Because words and expressions we use often have a direct relationship with our state of mind. Thus, it is, for example, normal for Westerners – and some Africans under total influence of the dominant discourse ─ to label as “regimes” certain governments enemies of the West. [That’s how you get] Iranian regime, Syria, China, Russia, Venezuela, etc…

But when we refer to Westerners, we talk about government, or administration, but never “regime.” Presently the buzzword is “terrorist.” Terrorists have particular characteristics: they are Muslims; well when the would-be called terrorist happens to be Western, they are labelled right extremists. That sounds better. The term “terrorist” extends its label to any movement fighting against Western imperialism. For individuals like me who denounce imperialism, for example, they call us “radicals”, or “extremists…”

Why? Because the truth must be, above all [and only], White [or Western]. To the point that we are called all [imaginable] names, though our only sins are of revealing facts that go against the discourse imposed by the [Western] dominant elite. Many Africans know that US and Europe are governed by cynical personalities responsible for the death of millions of people (mostly African), but never an African dares use the word “terrorist” to refer to Bush,  Blair, Obama, etc…[Can we assume that when Desmond Tutu refused recently to share a podium with Tony Blair, but instead called for him to be handed to The Hague International Criminal Court for his role in Iraq, he had been one of those daring Africans?]; the dominant vocabulary of the colonizer has defined the limits of acceptable discourse. The Negro has understood and internalized that religiously.

Can we assume that when Desmond Tutu refused recently to share a podium with Tony Blair, but instead called for him to be handed to The Hague International Criminal Court for his role in Iraq, he had been one of those daring Africans?

In contrast, Lumumba, for some of these Africans was mad; Gaddafi, a devil and a terrorist; Bokassa, an albinos’ eater; Hutu as a people, genocidaires, while we never said of all Germans to be Nazis. Latin American leaders such as Chavez, Morales and Correa are “populist” while Obama, even at the peak of his fame in 2008, was never described as such. For Africans, dictators, corrupt leaders and genocidaires only exist in Africa and never in the West. Such devils can only be Black. Haven’t we seen Africans dwell on the supposedly “evil” character of Gaddafi while NATO massacred Libyan women and children? And when addressing a sensitive topic that does not fit with the “masters” discourse, these alienated Africans resort, like their “masters,” to the concept of “Conspiracy Theory.”

For Africans, dictators, corrupt leaders and genocidaires only exist in Africa and never in the West. Such devils can only be black.

They are proud to tell their children that Diego Cao discovered the estuary of the Congo River ─ as if this part of the country did not exist before the arrival of that individual, that Christopher Columbus discovered America ─ as if native Indians did not exist before the arrival of barbarians Europeans. For this category of Africans, the truth can never come from a black person, or simply an African.

Even after the planned cover-up by the West, of the plight of the Congolese people, this since 1996, there are still some Congolese who are offended when you criticize Western imperialist system! As so aptly highlighted by Cheick Anta Diop, “you close your eyes; you ignore [deliberately] the obvious. They count on your complex of inferiority, your alienation, your trained mental readiness, reflexes subordination, and many other such factors. ‘

That is why I am for some, an “extremist,” “anti-Western” and for others, a person who sees evil everywhere! In the subconscious of some Negroes, nobody questions the dominant discourse. I must be silent so as not to pass for an extremist. We live in a world where values ​​have been reversed. So, to be idealistic makes you look crazy. Who we were as a people has been completely deconstructed by Western cultural hegemony whose multiple influences most of us experience day and night. Yesterday anti-values have become today’s norms.

When one denounces excesses of almighty ultra-liberalism, some Africans retract behind the argument that “States have no friends, only interests.” Yes, this is true in a sense, but this assertion in itself is questionable insofar as it justifies the barbaric acts of the same people who deported and enslaved Africans to work in American plantations and later colonized Africa through cunning and violence.

In reality, the argument justifies the unjustifiable. We must ask ourselves some value judgments. Should interests push us to condone genocide and plunder of other nations by the power of money? If yes, then let us keep quiet and stop complaining when these same powers of money steal our wealth and kill our women and children. Father Jean-Pierre Mbelu rightly stressed that “the weight of ignorance and Western cultural hegemony have absolutely conquered several hearts and many minds” among Africans “to the point of enslaving them with all the consequences, including inability to question facts of everyday life.’

Should interests push us to condone genocide and plunder of other nations by the power of money?

Patrick Mbeko

The damage is much deeper than people think. It is in us and lives in [and of] us. The African is desperate to relieve his corrupted conscience, unconsciously, by resorting to the “masters” discourse.” “If I die tomorrow, once said Lumumba, it is because a White man will have armed a Black man [to kill me].” Yes, he armed him, not only by providing the murder weapon, but also slyly attacking his mind.


2 responses to “Patrick Mbeko and the meaning of a certain vocabulary: “terrorist,” “populist,” “extremist,” “radical,” etc

  1. I like the author’s style of writing and way of reasoning. It is forceful. However, I am convinced he does not strike a balance in his analysis of responsibility – for the woes he identifies and discusses – between Africans and the “Westerners” . Needless to say, the author overlooks the role of Africans, among themselves, for the continent’s absurd predicament.

    I wish “Africans” were as innocent as the author portrays them? And, I think, had “Westerners” been as bad a devil the author projects of ‘them’, the world would be next to hell. The author has a serious problem of ‘generalization’. The author is face first in his own trap. He set out for himself to show how people use confusing terms while dealing with serious social political issue. The result is meaningless discourse. However, the author’s use of the term ‘Westerners’ is equally confusing and hits the same dead- end!

    Suppose the author was committed to analyzing the various external forces that have affected Africa, he should not have missed mentioning the Arab world, China, Russia and Israel among others. First, the Arab world (some Countries and merchants) were the master-planners and cardinal coordinators of slave trade. Countries like Israel, China, Russia have often been the catalyst for “regime change” in Africa. Most of these “regime changes” had/have terrible consequences to the continent. These same countries are still involved in Africa’s ‘bloody Diamonds’. Are countries like China, Russia, and Israel also “Westerners” in the author’s mind? What about turning Africa into a dumping ground for extremely dangerous products? Who does this the most? “Westerners”? Give me a break!

    Ethnic/tribal wars of African are all blamed on the “Westerners”! The “I will be killed because the White man has armed my people” is a problematic one from Patrice Lumumba. With due respect, he did not distribute his terms! Did he mean that he would be killed ONLY because the Whiteman has armed his enemies? If “yes”, he was mistaken. First, even Yellow-men, Black-men, pick men, whichever color one might prefer, would arm the enemy for the same result. Secondly, we have seen Africans perish in thousands from rudimentary/African traditional tools like knives… of course even stones in ethnic/tribal conflicts. I wish Lumumba was there to see what happened in the genocides in Burundi, Rwanda… what about during the Kenyan brutal tribal fights. What about the Nigerian ethnic and religious wars… they rarely use machineguns anyway! Oh, that was a White man arming a black man!!!

    Oh! For purposes of debate, I like the great lie that slavery was necessarily a cross continent transaction. Some scholars do not talk about the horrible institutionalized slave trade and/or slavery that were carried out by Africans in Africa for Africans long before, during and after the “official” slave trade/slavery.

    And there is this one; imperialism/imperialists as the author suggests. Who are they? Where are they? The other day I was reading a book. Some author labored in vain to explain how imperialism works. He argues they work through multinational companies to drain Africa. Well, I am not convinced thus far. Interestingly, most of the so-called multinational companies are franchised in Africa. The so-called multinational corporations are owned by, and they operate for, the African elite.

    Didn’t I hear an African President who has been in power for the past over 25 years blaming colonialists, imperialists and former presidents of his country for the economic and social political problems of his country? Ridiculous, isn’t it? It appears the author of the article would agree with that president. I would be a fool to buy in the president’s idea.

    Colonialism is another excuse for some African leaders and elite to deliver on their promises. Interestingly, USA was, once upon a time, a British Colony. Wasn’t it? USA fought a bloody war for independence. Not so? What then has made US A SUPERPOWER? I think for most part USA is where she is because of a strong commitment to democratic values and respect for diversity among its citizenry. Strong and independent institution, not drones have made the US the Greatest nation. The social political culture of respect for human rights and freedoms in the US, not WARS FOR to conquer territories has kept US a world leader. On the other hand, some African leaders count on corruption, irresponsible spending and borrowing, bad governance, manipulating public institutions for leaders’ self-aggrandizement, among other vices to keep themselves on a wrong track of self-destruction. Blaming “colonialists, Westerners and imperialists” is a political tool to sustain some African leaders’ show of shame.


  2. Good article. So informative.


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