There is a particularly horrifying dimension to the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Everything and much more is on full display on social media. Singed, dead babies. More scorched babies buried underneath piles of rubble. Previously, oppressors could demonise their victims before promptly exterminating them.
During the era of the transatlantic slave trade, Africans were vilified in all sorts of ways in order to justify their unimaginable abuse in the clutches of their enslavers and those who supported them. Africans were deemed subhuman, heathen, uncultured, etc. in order to assuage whatever modicum of conscience their oppressors might have had.
In apartheid-era South Africa, the same tropes of dehumanisation were employed to oppress blacks while other races, particularly whites, were thrust high up the racial totem pole. Of course, incredible absurdities and divisions were created with consequences that continue to plague present-day South Africa.
It seems that for a nation or a people to affirm their identity, it must be at the expense of some other real or imagined nationalities. This seems to be regarded as the index by which human progress or achievement is measured. This is the terminal point of modernist sociopolitical evolution à la Francis Fukuyama. Indeed, how far have we come or fallen?
It is often said that we inhabit a multipolar world dominated by a clutch of superpowers with the United States, China and Russia at the apex. Of course, other major players exert their influence on the global stage. Countries are ranked in terms of GDP, human rights record, life expectancy and various economic growth indices. And by most calculations, significant regions of Africa fall short. The military revolutions or coups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have demonstrated just how entrenched and problematic the vestiges of neocolonialism continue to be.
In academia, within the current age, decolonial discourses and approaches are widely fashionable. In this context, decolonial theorising seems to be largely that, theorising. But there are activists-scholars-politicians within the African continent who were radically decolonial before decoloniality found its present hue and register. We remember Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Touré, Amilcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, Robert Sobukwe, Patrice Lumumba, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dedan Kimathi, Steve Biko and so many figures who fought gallantly, sometimes at the cost of their lives, for African liberation.
Coming in the wake of these remarkable freedom fighters, decolonial critique must do more than hit the right chords. It must strive to remake our world, our system of values and our various multiple and complex sociopolitical and economic arrangements. Decoloniality holds out a tantalising promise but its enormous challenge is to realise its tremendous potential or else it is fated to join the gathering of other faddish discourses destined for the vaults of academia.
There are activists-scholars-politicians within the African continent who were radically decolonial before decoloniality found its present hue and register.
In Palestine, the homeland of the father of postcolonial theory, the late Edward W. Said, whose work paved the way for decolonial analysis, over 20,000 Gazans have been killed as at the end of December 2023. As the blade of ethnic cleansing thrusts through Gaza, 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced, a stark horror lodged in the heart of a 21st century experiencing breathtaking advances in AI while the minds and souls of humankind remain fundamentally unchanged. Over 6,000 infants have been slaughtered but it is still difficult for world leaders to agree to a ceasefire to end the carnage. Once a compromise cannot be reached in human conflict, apparently the next goal is to flatten and erase entire cities and countries as occurred in Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan. Human settlements with millennia of history and culture are simply reduced to rubble to assuage infernal fits of rage, intolerance and hubris.
If you are an African and see the world from an Afropolitan prism, in other words, as a veritable citizen of the world, then the future is replete with possibilities: nanotechnology, Elon Musk-fuelled financial spectrality, the logics of algorithms, social media infinity, in short, all that is associated with endless mobility and circulation. But if, on the other hand, you are a refugee stuck in the DRC, some devastated part of East Africa or at one of the besieged borders of North Africa, then life is nothing but a grim struggle against the elements and for water, food and shelter. A disenfranchised statistic trapped between barely visible shadows helplessly waiting for its expiration.
Humans are able to forge solidarity in all conditions – misery, grief, and good fortune. The ability to discover and build solidarity in whatever circumstances is indeed a distinctly human trait. Global solidarity was recently attained as the entire world battled the COVID-19 pandemic. Humanity was tested but was able to pull through because of ties forged through shared suffering, loss, hope and resilience.
And so, for those in Africa, the current world order can be understood in terms of one’s socioeconomic status: either as a well-oiled Afropolitan brimming with exciting global possibilities or as a disenfranchised victim caught between the horns of a Hobbesian dilemma.
On the global stage, ideologically it is possible to observe the world as a transhuman entity – further defined by the ethos of trans and queer ways of being buffeted by the innumerable comforts of capital and technology, or as the primary target of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” endgame as an unwanted denizen of the underdeveloped Global South. Or perhaps even as a radical Islamist forever at odds with Western values, opulence and corruption.
The present Palestine/Israeli crisis has fanned fears concerning Islamophobia, racialised others, and ultimately, in this case, the Hamas bogeyman. In the Global South, on the other hand, it has fuelled tensions regarding a white colonial settler project based on Zionist imperialism. Also, negative connotations of nationalism, ethnicity, humanitarianism and democracy in various guises are being granted new ominous meanings.
The ideological war gets even fiercer. Opponents of Palestinian liberation locate the beginning of the present hostilities in 7 October 2023 when Hamas militants breached the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel and launched an unprecedented attack resulting in 1,200 Israeli deaths. But an anti-colonialist and pro-democratic stance would identify the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 as the defining moment that led to the creation of Israel in historic Palestine. It is perceived as a white supremacist project involving massive land theft, violence and displacement directed at the indigenous Palestinians. Palestinian political activists and intellectuals such as Mustafa Barghouti, Ghada Karmi and Nour Odeh have argued eloquently about the true origins of the Palestine/Israeli crisis. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Gaza, Francesca Albanese, argues that the Western media relates “an alternate reality” with regards to the conflict. Other analysts have claimed that the same media suffers from historical amnesia when dealing with the crisis.
Negative connotations of nationalism, ethnicity, humanitarianism and democracy in various guises are being granted new ominous meanings.
At the same time, Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, considers the ongoing bombardment of Gaza to be a form of genocide that under international law it is incumbent upon all nations to act to prevent. Increasingly, what is being discussed internationally, is a return to the two-state solution that had been kept on the back burner for many years before the 7 October Hamas attack.
Meanwhile in Africa, almost 8 million people have been displaced and 6 million killed in the DRC, yet there is scant global concern about this ongoing crisis. Currently, the nations of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are fighting to throw off the yoke of French economic oppression. Indeed the initial phase of formal political liberation did not exempt them from the burden of neocolonialism. Ironically, apart from Turkey, France is the only European country that has been vocal in its opposition to the second Nakba being carried out in Palestine and yet its African (neo)colonies writhe under the boot of its imperial power. At this stage, perhaps an outcome far worse than a Nakba looms in the form of what could turn out to be a latter-day version of the biblical Amalek.
Albanese speaks about the alternate realities being created by the Western media in connection to sites of oppression around the world. The millions who have been displaced in the DRC, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria and other parts of Africa are simply often ignored. Their plight and suffering effectively erased. Yet, there are no better examples of colonial oppression, exploitation and ethnic cleansing to be found. Since the US-supported dismemberment of Libya, the entire Sahel region has been awash with arms, bandits and mercenaries who have wreaked unprecedented havoc. Turmoil, restless movement, displacement, exile and death are now the main features of African existence in the countries and regions we are discussing. But mainstream foreign media outlets totally neglect these awful realities.
In ignoring those large swathes of humanity, it is safe to say no other human sector is immune to the ravages of oppression and savagery. No other region of the world is exempt from miscarriages and denials of justice, equity and social redemption. A social cancer that is left unchecked in one part of the world eventually spreads to other parts and invariably infects them. The logic of independency that inexorably unites the globe also amalgamates its supposedly healthy and diseased parts in one seamless whole.
Turmoil, restless movement, displacement, exile and death are now the main features of African existence in the countries and regions we are discussing.
Consequently, the neglect of the African predicament is in turn a lack of acceptance of the basic plight of our common humanity and what needs to be done to alleviate it.
The inability to appreciate the essential independency of the world displays the most startling paradoxes. While the US seeks to fund Israel’s total annihilation of the Gaza Strip to the tune of 14 billion dollars, it must also support the drive for “humanitarian pauses” and aid to the primary victims of the genocide. While it unequivocally supports Israel’s genocidal onslaught, on the one hand, it also attempts to set itself up as a credible mediator in the crisis. Or even better still, as an impartial, rational global policeman of the democratic world. This approach has not worked since the 1967 Arab/Israeli War or the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and nor have the 1993 Oslo Accords. Indeed the law of contradiction dredges up more confusion than the world’s mind can handle and this reflects in the myriad forms of chaos, havoc and destruction that dominate the contemporary world.
In Africa, a steady stream of hapless refugees straggle seemingly without fanfare into countries surrounding war-torn Sudan while the entire world is wholly convulsed by images of blood and death cascading out of Ukraine and Gaza. These are the paradoxes and contradictions only humans are capable of producing.