Four Years @BlackElectorate.com: Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays
[Editor's Note: Today we continue with the interview of BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad "conducted" by BlackElectorate.com viewers via e-mail. In this portion, Cedric answers questions regarding Africa and aboriginal issues.]
Question: Cedric Muhammad, Thank you for the website and university, My question is: In the process of getting reparations paid to the African Diaspora, what can we learn from other races or groups that have already been paid reparations that would expedite the payment?
Cedric Muhammad: Many things. We can learn from their cultural, economic, political, legal, extra-legal, and international arguments more than anything. Not for the benefit of actually getting reparations from a government but for building support for the issue and concept among our own people. I am one of those who is trying to be honest about the lack of united support for the issue among our people. We could take Black Americans as an example. Many people will nod their head in agreement with you if you explain how we are in a state of disrepair due to slavery and post-Emancipation Proclamation discrimination, and things like the FBI’s COINTELPRO effort. But it is hard to turn that cultural sentiment and agreement into activism and political lobbying. I believe those involved with the national Ndaba (Sit-Downs) movement are working to raise the issue and move it into the minds of the public, as they work to form greater unity among reparation advocates, and select and advance the most cogent and persuasive arguments in support of reparations. Educating Black Americans about how other groups got reparations is an important aspect to building a consensus that this is something that we should pursue on a variety of fronts – economically, in the judiciary, and through the political process. The challenge is in understanding that a different argument and mechanism may work in each country in the African Diaspora, due to the differences in the character of the slavery, colonial, and imperial experience and due to different institutions in the community. That is why I think the way that Minister Farrakhan framed the issue of reparations in a spiritual context was so brilliant and I think represents a key insight. Most reparations advocates are very legal and political-oriented in outlook, but not every country where reparations is demanded has a strong or fair judiciary or political mechanism. Even the international arena – including the U.N. – has its limitations, so when Minister Farrakhan spoke of the concept of repair and how justice is a principle that is bigger than a political term; in my judgment he is opening the door for greater unity on the subject in a way that unites the African Diaspora but in a way that allows each movement that is a member of the broader family to customize and make their reparations struggle compatible with their indigenous reality on the ground. So we can make an international appeal, and several national and local appeals. We can make an economic case, and a case that can win in a judiciary. We can do all of this guided by a shared history and need, created by the violation of the principle of justice, as well as freedom and equality.
In that sense, I do not think that the others who have received reparations are the best guides, as many of them have accepted narrow political, judicial or economic rulings and compensations.
So, in conclusion, we have to deal forthrightly with the question of “payment”. I honestly don’t think that people want payment as much as an apology, admission of guilt, repentance and atonement. The “payment” most Blacks want, I think is non-monetary, either in the form of land, new laws, access to exclusive resources, or sovereignty. I hope that the Black American leadership of the reparations movement will be sensitive to the cross-cultural concepts of wealth within the African Diaspora – which go well beyond money. We also must remember that there are many forms of psychic income that are real but not monetary in nature. Also, can any White person or government repair the spiritual loss that we experienced or replace the lives lost? Of course not.
I, in addition to cash, would like for the African Diaspora to receive gold, land, tax cuts and exemptions, more autonomy – in the form of self-governance and sovereignty movements, and a new system of educational institutions financed, under our collective guidance.
For some of my thinking on this published at BlackElectorate.com please read, my February 5, 2001 piece called, "Do We Really Want Class-Action Lawyers Leading The Reparations Movement?" as well as my August 16, 2001 E-Letter To Thomas Sowell.
Question: Cedric, I have been following you since the inception of the blackelecorate. You have been a beacon of light for me and my countrymen in Antigua West Indies. We have just unseated a corrupted Government on my Caribbean Island of Antigua West Indies last week. Our 5 year political strategy in part was to establish coalition between Antiguans in the diaspora with my fellow countrymen in the oposition. And via web-radio we were able to use this powerful medium of communication to get the vote out... Are you thinking of establishing a blackelectorate web radio station that could galvanize the webites like myself that hunger for an alternative to "liberal" and "conservative" talk radio?
Cedric Muhammad: Thank you very much for your comments, viewership, and question. I am aware of what just happened in Antigua and I can see that you all are not playing around. I interpret what happened as a mass firing of the Bird Dynasty. I hope that Baldwin Spencer, the newly elected prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, will be as strong on the economy as he was on ending corruption. I love his passion for regional unity and integration which I believe is the only way the small Caribbean nation-states can rise economically. Yes, I have thought of what you suggest, and have had preliminary discussions with a few people regarding it, I see pros and cons but perhaps you can help us with the business plan! I do agree that the Internet can be a means to connecting existing networks across national boundaries. Perhaps the global reparations movement could take note of what you propose.
Question: Greetings Cedric, There are so many questions that I could pose to you in response to your 4 years of being a source of light in our consciousness. However, I think one of the most macro-oriented issue that you have touched on deals with the trouble our community has in terms of our thinking and vision, in grasping global nature of our situation as a Pan African world people, in ways that are also locally relevent to where people are. I believe this struggle is one of the reasons why we have not been able to learn lessons from history and perpetuate mistakes. Case in point, our inability to reveal the weakness or even "myth" of big powers "installing" or "supporting" democracy in our communities and societies as panaceas to the various forms of structural poverty, violence and economic exploitation that millions of our people face each day.
So my question is this: In the current era of globalization where power to control and influence is key, how do we define what democracy is and what does "democracy" truly mean to people lives, conditions and realities? If for example democracy is about people being able to exercise their human right to possessing the power (by whatever form or process of governance) to control or influence the political, social, cultural, and economic conditions and realities in which they live, then what does the forms of democracy we see talked about every day truly mean for our people living in both the developed and developing worlds?
Cedric Muhammad: Powerful question and insight. Thanks for this question, It deals with a subject that I have touched on tangentially in many cases in two pieces I wrote. One written January 2, 2003 called, Kenya’s Meaningless Election” and another, E-Letter To BBC and Brony Hale Re: Can Nigeria’s Elections Benefit The Poor?".
In this ear of globalization, international finance, and the increasingly powerful multi-lateral institution, I do not believe that democracy , as it is advertised in the West can deliver what it promises to those living in the smaller nation-state. You can clearly see this with Haiti. Anyone who takes the time to read the IMF’s agreement with Haiti can see that virtually all of the key areas of the economy – fiscal and monetary policy, subsidies etc… are being decided by external forces – not Mr. Aristide or any of the rebel groups.
There is no way to truly redistribute wealth, democratize capital, or foster economic growth with the IMF taking the economic decision-making powers out of the grasp of a so-called democratic process. You can see this same reality in Nigeria, the Congo, and Liberia, where the internationalization and externalization of decision-making has resulted in the people of these nations not being able to elect political leaders that have any real power to change conditions through law-making.
The best that can happen is that one opposition group will be able to enjoy the crumbs of patronage of the group they displace in an election. But the spoils system has no mass power. Only the elites prosper from appointments, monopolies and patronage that can occur in nations where elections cause a peaceful change of government, but where the WTO, IMF, World Bank, UN and private creditors are really calling the shots.
In earlier history, democracy was the Greek concept of rule by the ordinary populace. Today, unfortunately, as evangelized by the West, it only means having "free and fair" elections. But you can have elections and yet, have no real power to rule. That is what is happening all over the world today in the Caribbean, Africa and many other places. The West has been successful in selling the non-West on a watered-down form of democracy that allows the people to express themselves through a vote but which strips them of the power to execute rulership or governance. So, in many respects elections have become protest votes against incumbents rather than exercises in decision-making. And regardless to the outcome, in almost every case, even though the election is styled as a domestic or sovereign undertaking, international organizations are authoring the power-sharing agreements, the multilateral institutions are determining fiscal, monetary and trade policy, and foreign companies have monopoly rights on industries and empower domestic cronies through "junior-partner" arrangements.
It is truly sad to see and realize that ruling governments and opposition groups in countries like Haiti and Zimbabwe, one way or another are either stripped of their autonomy or are willfully deferential to external powers on decision-making powers. This is a phenomenon that has spread throughout the world, while free-and-fair elections are held up as a panacea to the suffering masses, by the West.
As I have written and said, the proof is in the fact that once opposition groups get into power in Africa and the Caribbean the conditions of the people do not change.
We need a more critical and dynamic analysis of the "externalization of power" in Africa and the Diaspora. And we must stop reacting in a crisis-management "flavor-of-the-month" paradigm that has us talking about an emergency in Congo, for a few months, and then moving on to an emergency in Liberia, and then moving on to an emergency in Haiti - forgetting the previous situation. We need to learn from each instance and not make mistakes in the subsequent situation.
Unfortunately our emotions and heartstrings are being manipulated so that we accept a notion of democracy and power that suits the West but does not prevent "emergencies" from happening again, and again, and again.
Question: What are your current thoughts/ideas on the progress of the African Union and its effort in establishing the United States of Africa?
Cedric Muhammad: I have been tremendously disappointed. But I remain faithful that it is an idea whose time has come, and thus will be fulfilled or realized, this generation. I think that the problem with the AU has been that it was very top-down and state-to-state in orientation, and built from the ground up only after the fact. The interesting thing about it is that Africans have a general cultural sentiment in favor of the idea, so there already is a de facto “United States Of Africa” in their minds and hearts. And God Bless Moammar Khaddafi of Libya for embodying this idea. I recall reading a National Geographic article about him which stated that he studied corporate mergers to gain insight on how unity could be produced in Africa. I believe he has done his job in the face of immense internal and external opposition. Unfortunately he had to make tremendous concessions to the leaders of South Africa, Nigeria and other nations who were cold to the idea of an AU because it would reduce their relative standing as premier junior partners of the United States, as if that is a position worth aspiring to. That is why you saw this merger of the AU plan with that of NEPAD (New Partnership For Africa’s Development.) and a gradual watering down of the original concept.
I also think that a critical mistake was made when regional integration was not embraced as a pathway to a Confederation of African states. The regions – north, west, east, south, and central have a shared history, culture and even monetary history that makes it a natural and easier step to bringing over 50 nations together and their various people, tribes and economies.
I also know that the Black political establishment in America did next to nothing to support the idea. I gather some of this has to do with the fact that the most vocal proponent of the United States of Africa was Minister Farrakhan, and the initiative was led by a nation – Libya - who the West deemed a pariah up until recently.
It will be interesting if the West’s sudden acceptance of Khaddafi will be interpreted by Black American leaders as a green light to embrace him. Pitiful, but a real possibility.
To get a better appreciation of the scope of what is involved please read Establishing The United States Of Africa, which we authored as part of a special report in July of 2001. We intend to re-publish that report with significant additions in the future.
Question: The black man is the world's oldest human, he is endowed with a bountiful continent which is not overly populated so why does the black man believe he is so poor? Why is the black man so deferential to the European and others who are so much younger than he is?
These days the life blood of economic activity is bank credit with the world's central banks as the "hearts" of the system in that they pump credit into society's bloodstream. But bank credit is just only monetary credit created out thin air and made real with FIAT money--i.e. paper money we all accept as legal tender. SO WHY CAN'T THE BLACKMAN CREATE A CURRENCY AND A SYSTEM OF BANK CREDIT THAT WILL MAKE WEALTHY. WHY DOES THE BLACK MAN CONTINUE TO DEPEND ON WHITE BANKS IN HIS COUNTRIES AND THE IMF AND WORLD BANK INTERNATIONALLY? IS IT FEAR OF THE WHITE MAN? IS IT INTELLECTUAL IMMATURITY?
THE EUROPEANS DECIDED TO CREATE THE EURO AND THEY DID IT. WHY CAN'T THE BLACKMAN CREATE HIS OWN CURRENCY FOR AFRICA? IS IT FEAR?
HOW CAN A WHOLE RACE OF PEOPLE ACCEPT OPPRESSION FOR 500 YEARS?
Cedric Muhammad: To get a deep and thorough answer to your question I direct your attention to the following books, which we will be discussing and offering soon at BlackElectorate.com: The Destruction Of Black Civilization by Dr. Chancellor Williams; Africans at the Crossroads: Notes on an African World Revolution by Dr. John Henrik Clarke; Africa: Mother of Western Civilization by Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan; The African Origin Of Western Civilization: Myth Or Reality by Cheikh Anta Diop; Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams; How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney; and Message To The Blackman by Elijah Muhammad.
I think there are aspects to what happened in colonialism and slavery that people don’t understand the depth of. One is the degree to which the divide-and-conquer strategy was executed in a way that lingers today, and which affects the wealth distribution among tribal groups in Africa today, for instance. There is a book out called “World On Fire” by Amy Chua which speaks of how, throughout the world the spread of “free markets” throughout the world have concentrated wealth in the hands of a small and resented minority ethnic group, whether it is the Chinese in South East Asia, Croatians in the former Yugoslavia, whites in Latin America and South Africa, Indians in East Africa, Lebanese in West Africa, Jews in post-Communist Russia, etc… It is an important argument but it does not deal with how colonialism did the same throughout Africa, before there were “free markets” as we know them today. However it does show you what happens when one group is elevated over another in terms of the overall wealth distribution. The envy, resentment, and political maneuvering that develops is enormous. I wrote a very unique piece, dated January 14, 2003 - E-Letter To Orla Ryan and BBC Re: "The Burden Of Uganda’s Business Tax" - about how the British selection of the Buganda over other groups caused power and wealth distribution problems in Uganda that not only affect ethnic and tribal tensions but also the country’s ability to tax its citizenry and economic activity today. This happened all over Africa, and in the Diaspora, in significant ways.
Another problem that I see as part of an answer to your question is that there indeed is a crisis of the Black-African intellectual. There is a great bifurcation or dichotomy between the activist and the scholar. The best I have heard it put is by activist Rosa Clemente who recently appeared on the BlackElectorate.com weekly segment on XM Radio and 1450-WOL-AM in Washington D.C. and 1010-WOLB –AM in Baltimore. She said last week that activists can’t just protest and organize events and movements but that they must also be involved in active learning. And she said that there is the problem of the scholar who can’t operationalize their learning. So, these two problems affect Africa because you have tension and even forms of resentment that activists have for scholars and vice-versa. But this can easily be solved if people accept that we can work together like a body, and that we don’t have the luxury of activism that is not informed and scholarship that is divorced from impacting the real condition of the masses of the people. We need scholar-activists who have the knowledge of self and love their people, and who can work together according to the sciences, systems, and disciplines of life.
Question: Why do I have to see all of these stories about Indian tribes on a site that is supposed to be about black Americans and Africans?
Cedric Muhammad: Because understanding the reality, concept and history of “original” and “aboriginal” people is essential to the rise of Blacks and all oppressed people around the world. One of the important facts that the history of the dominant culture ignores is that there were civilizations and sophisticated human activity that took place before there was a world dominated by Whites. I don’t know about you, but I do not believe for one second, for example, that flight was invented last century by the Wright Brothers. And of course, to this day, scholars, historians, and scientists don’t know how the pyramids were built. The world, due to racism and other very important factors has experienced amnesia. There are whole civilizations that have been buried in the desert and under water that show that non-Whites were enjoying a high civilization, thousands upon thousands of years ago. The books I listed earlier along with the work of others are critical to understanding the way of life and progress enjoyed by people before Whites are known to have formed governments and established their civilization. These people, who are seen as sub-human or inferior today – the Black, Brown and Red – were the ruling people of the planet earth. Their existence preceded that of Whites and that is just a fact. The Black, Brown and Red people of the planet earth have a common origin and a shared experience under White supremacy that we should all know about. Clearly, this is easy to see when one compares the ancient cultures of say the Mayan and Inca people of the Western Hemisphere, with the history of those civilizations in Africa and India, for example. There is unity between the Black, Brown and Red, not only in oppression but in high civilization and the origin of life itself.
In addition, there is the specific question of the Western Hemisphere and what justice will entail in the context of how the Native American has been treated. That question cannot be solved apart from the issue of justice for Blacks, or even, the Palestinian for instance. Justice never sleeps. I forsee that the issue of sovereignty for the Native American and that of the slavery of the Black American will have to be addressed at the same time. You can already see how they dovetail and how frightening this is for some in the establishment. I touched on this in a piece called, A Sleeping Giant – Black and Native American Unity. So, Blacks and Native Americans gaining and preserving the knowledge of themselves, and their shared origin and history, as well as reconciling their differences is an important subject matter that we will continue to cover and highlight at BlackElectorate.com.
Question: What should be done to rid Africa of autocrats and dictators who use their office for corrupt purposes and to enrich their cronies?
Cedric Muhammad: I think the key is understanding how many of today’s leaders in Africa assumed power. In overcoming colonialist governments, Africans naturally turned to military institutions to overthrow their oppressors, politically. The late Colonel Fletcher Prouty told me once that a society has no greater organizing power than its war powers. We can even see this in America today, as the entire society is being asked to mobilize to fight the war on terror. The implications of this are that critical thinking, free speech, and dissent can sometimes be seen as treasonous and disloyal when a military movement is in full swing. For Africa, when military movements against colonial powers emerged and succeeded, the result was that power became concentrated in the hands of a few or in the hands of the institutions of militancy. But revolution is not governance. Governance entails the emergence and development of systems and science of life – health, education, economy, technology, arts, etc… They require the decentralization of power from the military institution that secured the victory of the revolution; and the distribution and democratization of capital – human, physical and financial, into a new nation or society. Most African leaders who came out of the military paradigm have been ill-equipped to the task of nation building and governance. Certainly these leaders are heroes and do well to ask their countrymen and women to be vigilant in fighting the vestiges of colonialism; but there has to be a pro-active movement for empowerment of the masses and governance that runs on a parallel track to fighting the colonial master and cleaning up the mess that Europe made. I believe with greater humility and appeal to nationals, ex-patriots and intellectuals; and with a greater grasp of how ethnic, tribal, religious and racial realities impact nationalism and economic development, these leaders cannot only help to raise their individual nations up but they can become a vanguard of the Pan-Africanist movement, even leading to an enormously powerful “United States Of Africa”.
Tuesday, April 6, 2004
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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of BlackElectorate.com or Black Electorate Communications.