His immediate reply was “Do you believe in socialism?”
Now unfortunately for him, I’ve read enough history to know that that question, especially when posed to someone from the so-called third world, is actually a trick question to put us on the defense. From Lumumba, to Castro to Sankara, each revolutionary was often at pains to explain to a reductionist Western media that their concern was not capitalism or communism but the dignity, freedom and welfare of their people. Even Fanon said in his first chapter of the Wretched of the Earth that the West had basically called our ideas of freedom “communist” because they didn't believe that great ideas – or even the human instinct to be free – could originate from Africans. And of course, the West was so dogmatic about calling our heroes communist and wouldn't even allow a conversation about justice.
But I digress.
The point I want to make is that there are still some psychos, especially in the United States, but with a number of savdee-types in African countries, who completely freak out at the idea of people of black skin espousing any ideology that seems remotely close to what they call socialism. They were so damn scared of it that they had to completely finish Lumumba’s remains lest Africans immortalize him. But we still did. These anti-socialists oppose Obama, Obamacare and any expression of humanity from him as “socialism.”
And why should that matter?
Because at the other end of the ideological spectrum, we Africans are now grappling with a highly distilled religious fundamentalism that equates rising numbers of the dead with their cause. Yet when this ideology comes from black Africans, it sounds very strange to me. I mean, we’ve been through slavery and colonialism, but most of us did not call for the death to all people with white skin. Even when we killed (unfortunately), there was no widespread ideology that equated body bags to our cause. We wanted land. And we wanted freedom. We wanted the end of slavery and the end of colonialism. When we talked faith, either as James Cone or Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or Elijah Masinde or Desmond Tutu, it was about our belief that God wanted Africans to be free, not that God wanted our enemies to be dead.
It therefore seems curious to me that Western psychos and their African sympathizers are more scared of us learning about Sankara, Lumumba, Nyerere, Biko, Fanon, Dubois, L’Ouverture and many pan-African greats, than they are of the ideology of terrorism that is capturing the minds of our unemployed and ignorant youth. So they’ll scour twitter to see which of us black folk are mentioning the word “socialist” and land on us like a ton of bricks. In fact, sometimes I tempted to write on twitter “I am a socialist,” just to see how many crazies would tag me, how much spam and how many retweets I would get. And several Africans will testify that mentioning some of these names and histories at a public forum, even when all the audience is from your own country, can sometimes attract hostility. But we don’t get the same reaction to terrorist fundamentalism.
Yet the ideology of terrorism and even tribal hatred, are spreading fast in Africa because our youth need something to live for that’s worth dying for, yet we are not teaching them a life-affirming ideology in our schools, media and places of worship. The watered-down stuff we call history has banished phrases like “Afrika moja” or “Africa Unite” or “Amandla!” or "Black consciousness" and replaced them with some mushy stuff whose buzz words are “free market,” which in Africa are synonymous with tribalism, exploitation and corruption. And those buzz words may feel good, but they can never compare with someone being told that their cause will make his life matter to God, the universe, to the ancestors, and in this life and in the next.
Two of the greatest soldiers in recent African memory, Paul Kagame and Thomas Sankara, showed that ideology is key to the strength of an army. If, as Sankara said, a soldier without political education is a virtual criminal, our African states must be in denial to think virtual criminals can win over convicted religious fighters. How can we win against terrorism, when our state soldiers and police are in the army for a job, bribe their way in, think education is a burden or can’t secure a Twitter account?
We have to revive the ideology of revolution that made us Africans human, that made us care about the oppressed in other lands, and that made us look for solidarity across borders, rather than try to inflict punishment. We must not fear being called socialists or communists, which we may or may not be. We must not listen to all those who trivialize our nationalism as “imagined communities,” or “anti-women” or whatever else. We must, instead, teach a pan-African ideology and embrace our history.
PS. I wasn't going to post this article, until I saw this article in The Economist about a research that shows that "the more people are exposed to communism, the worse they behave."