The Left is a broad category – from centrist social welfarism to communism. The Left in government ranges from the Communist Party in China to the Tripartite Alliance in South Africa.
The Left, based on its contribution to date, has a place in African politics, just as it features in every continent in the world. Those who would wish the death of the Left in west, east, central and southern Africa have a long wait coming. It is a fact that in certain parts of the African world the Left has been marginalized, neutralized or co-opted. What will further weaken the Left in Africa south of the Sahara and its western (Americas, Caribbean, Europe etc) and eastern ( Arabia, North Africa, Gulf states and points east ) Diasporas, is if it is unable to engage in the major challenges facing us due to emasculation or out of fear of the unknown. This paper argues that the principal challenge facing the Left today is how to engage the decolonization process underway in the Afro-Arab Borderlands.
What will weaken the left is the absence of an organizational framework which unifies it’s struggle. This is beside the absence of a political agenda. The Pan-African movement can serve as the forum of the African Left, as seen in Cameroon, drawing its lifeblood from the people’s struggle for unity, democracy, social justice, equality and economic progress in different social settings in the Diasporas and on the continent south of the Sahara. The issue of organization must be tackled first.
Even as the Berlin Wall was in place voices on the African Left stated that race was a key component in social analysis. However most in government toed the line from Moscow parroting that only class was important in defining social issues. In the South African Communist Party (SACP) during the armed struggle many were expelled who insisted, with varying degrees of emphasis, that race was a key element in social analysis.
For some, when the Soviet variant of socialism suffered internal collapse, with the withdrawal of Russia from its frontline position in the Third World, serious challenges were thrown up. Take, for instance, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Southern Sudan. Adwok Nyaba says - ‘In all honesty the SPLM/A was not socialist or Left for that matter, although it raised socialist slogans. The Left is recognized by the manner it organizes its means of struggle and the relationship between its leadership and the masses. The SPLM/A was militarist and that is why it is paying dearly for its political organization and the unity of its rank and file’.The SPLM/A was, in the language of those times, a progressive, Left-leaning African liberation organization, similar to the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).
The SPLM/A had been at war with Khartoum from the eve of Sudan’s self-government in 1956, with the Soviets gone where was the SPLM to draw its support, both in terms of logistics and diplomatic promotion, to maintain its struggle with the Khartoum government? The Islamic fundamentalist government of Sudan based in Khartoum is lead not by white Arabs, but by a mixed race/coloured group, who are Arabised and Islamised, practicing genocide in Darfur, oppressing the African majority in the country, in alliance with the rest of Arabia, where they are accepted as inferior Arabs.
Sudan is strategically located, straddling the line where Arabia meets black Africa. In Sudan, north of that line, are not white Arabs, but an Arabised and Islamised people of mixed race, living in the centre of the country, around Khartoum on the Nile River which flows from its source in Uganda, through Juba, capital of Southern Sudan, onto Khartoum, thence through southern Egypt, Cairo and into the Mediterranean Sea. These people, in the Southern African context, would be described as a ‘coloured’ people. In Sudan the light brown complexioned people living in the centre of the country around Khartoum, detaining power, historically served as a buffer between white Egypt and black southern Sudan. This is how the last colonial Anglo-Egyptian administration distributed power within Sudan society, as they left the scene in 1956. The power centre in Khartoum was to stem the tide of African nationalism coming north along the Nile, the overwhelming majority of the population of Sudan being black Africans. This explains the causes of the protracted war in south Sudan and the frantic attempt now on to alter the demographics in Darfur, so that Africans will be thrown back southwards, in what has been a historical process of African retreat, since the time of the African civilization of Kush in north eastern Sudan, which preceded the black pharaonic civilization in Egypt, before the arrival of the Arabs in Africa. This type of ‘decolonization’ process was sanctioned in arrangements made by Europe and Arabia, to better exploit African labour and minerals. This is the challenge posed in Sudan today. The issues are similar in Mauritania, where the colonials gave power to a Moorish minority, to rule the African majority. The method of decolonization was the same in south and north Africa. Africans were to be hemmed in by Europeans in the south and by Arabs in the north, in a pincer arrangement in which they would be bound for ever to serve external interests in order to survive and escape genocide.
It could be said that the Left has come a long way from where it was in say, 1957, when Ghana achieved self-government under the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) lead by Nkrumah. Many now acknowledge that race is as significant as class, in any analysis of the African situation, especially when handling Pan-African issues.
African liberation action for decolonization was, in the case of Ghana, a mass not a class struggle, being lead by different strata of society, whereas in South Africa the struggle for majority rule was part of a process of decolonization, but it took the form of a mass struggle lead by the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the trade unions, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC).
The two major areas for settler decolonization in 1957 were Southern Africa under Afrikaner/British settler colonialism, and the Afro-Arab Borderlands, in the Sahel and the Sudan, running from Mauritania on the Atlantic eastwards to Sudan on the Red Sea. Whereas in 1957 the problems of Southern Africa were admitted by the international community, those in the Borderlands were not. Fifty years later, in the 21st century, the issues of Arab racism and hegemony in the Borderlands surface with a vengeance, why ?
Arab slavery and hegemony in the Sahelian Borderlands predated the arrival of the Heugenots in the Cape, in Southern Africa, by a millennium. In the mid-twentieth century proletarian internationalism, as co-operation between the Left across borders was called, in an era dominated by two superpowers – the Soviet Union and the United States – was the quintessential ingredient in the decolonization of Africa. After all colonialism was administered from the Western metropoles of London, Lisbon, Paris and Brussels. It’s end was hastened by the intervention of the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe.
In Africa, the context of China until it joined the United Nations in 1971, must be put into consideration. There was no way China would have entered into the world arena before finishing its cultural revolution. It is this cultural revolution in the sixties that consolidated the Communist in power after the defeat of the Nationalists, first in China and then displacing them in the world body. The current China stance is dictated by its economic power. This power has been acquired without eschewing its communist[ Chinese style ]ideology. It remains to be seen what will happen when China reaches the top of the world political and military order. China’s actions in Sudan, particularly in Darfur, require close inspection and monitoring, providing indications of its evolving relations with Africans.
Those who partook in the Fifth Pan-African Congress (PAC) in Manchester in 1945, such as Du Bois and Nkrumah, accepted the line of the Soviet Union, based on its internal need to keep in check its restive minorities, that race was not a factor in social analysis. One could say that Padmore was more circumspect in this regard. This was due to his period spent in Moscow as a member of the Comintern, where he had witnessed at close quarters how proletarian internationalism was tailored to Russian international interests, as the South African Communist Party had learnt much earlier.
Men such as Du Bois, Padmore and Makonnen, worked with Nkrumah in the implementation of his Pan-African agenda, which lead to the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1964. The OAU was a tool in the hands of African leaders. For the Arabs it served to enlist African support for the Arab causes of Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine
After the Camp David Accords and the establishment of relations between certain Arab states in Africa, such as Egypt and Isreal, the OAU and its successor the African Union (AU ) became increasingly subject to Arab, as distinct from African interests. It is from this period that the divide, north and south of the Sahara, became clearly discernable and their destinies no longer reconcilable. Arab members were not interested in the integration of the African Diasporas, on equal basis with continental governments, into the statist Pan-African structure. Certain Arab states took to underwriting/buying-into the expenses of the organization, by paying state dues in the face of the indifference of some African states regarding their financial obligations. A point was reached in late 2007 whereby Gadaffi of Libya was able to manipulate the AU by threatening to withdraw his support for the AU and rather turning to the West and Europe, knowing that this would cause severe financial problems, even the collapse of the organization.
Makonnen had doubts about Nasser’s intentions in Africa and favoured relations with Israel. Nasser’s Egypt and Nkrumah’s Ghana, in close socialist alliance, were the main proponents of African decolonization, assisted by the Soviets. The OAU enshrined the concept of sovereignty and the inviolability of borders, with respect for the territorial integrity of states. Many Left leaning leaders in Africa, as late as the close of the 20th century, remained steadfast in their support of Nasser’s Egypt,despite Egypt’s signing of the Camp David Accords with Isreal and its murky involvement with Britain in the neo-colonial dispensation for Sudan.
Whatever may have been Nasser’s intention in Africa, many have argued convincingly that he was first a Pan-Arabist and secondly a Pan-Africanist. During his period Egypt continued its interference in Southern Sudan, Darfur, Nubia etc by way of their institutionalized marginalization by Khartoum. Nasser facilitated the marriage of Nkrumah to an Egyptian, a tactic used by Arabia in the past to neutralize African nationalist leaders in south Sudan. The rule of Ghana by the Convention People’s Party (CPP) saw the establishment of Ghanaian embassies in Khartoum and Nouakchott in Mauritania. Nkrumah would have been aware of the oppression of black Africans in Sudan and Mauritania by people calling themselves Arabs or Moors. It is said that it was the 1966 Khartoum Roundtable on the future of South Sudan, at which Ghana was represented, which brought Nkrumah to the realization of the need to support Southern Sudan. His Government was overthrown shortly thereafter by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Adwok Nyaba takes the view that most African leaders did not understand the genisis of the Sudan conflict. Arab diplomacy focused on wider issues, such as Palestine, concealing Arab internal contradictions with the captive black African people in their midst. It was therefore not surprising that the continental body, often described as Pan-Africanist, left to us by Nkrumah, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU), reflects the view that Arabs could be and indeed are ‘brothers’ – even as the Khartoum based government was fighting a protracted war with African nationalism in south Sudan, in a war seen by the Africans of southern Sudan, as a just war of decolonization from Arab settler colonialism.
It is probably from this period, if not earlier, that we note the Left’s failure to address the issue of Arab hegemony and racism, which attitude is still with us today. Residence in south Sudan teaches that at the point of contact in the Afro-Arab intercourse, Arabia is aggressive and expansionist, not hiding its interests. This is understood throughout the Arab world. However in areas removed from direct contact, such as the west and southern African coasts, it is a different story. There Arab, particularly Egyptian, cordial diplomacy is legendary. Yet an Egyptian diplomat could be shifted from the Consulate in Juba, to the Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia. It is this duplicity which has confounded Africans, but such protocol is rule-of-thumb in the Foreign Ministries of the Arab world, when dealing with Africa. African leaders are amenable to bribery by their Arab counterparts, at the cost of their people’s interests.
The OAU played a major role in the decolonization of Southern Africa, whilst it refused to be involved in the south Sudan issue, which was stated to be an Arab issue, the proper consideration of the Arab League. The Liberation Committee of the OAU ensured that the decolonization process in southern Africa received the maximum support of the Organization, including its Arab members. The Arab government in Khartoum, although at war with Africans in south Sudan, was generous in funding the anti-apartheid struggle. In mid-February 2008 the post-apartheid
Government of South Africa dealt in a cavalier fashion with a Darfurian freedom fighter seeking to enter South Africa, to explain the war going on in his country. He was locked up, his luggage confiscated and he expelled on the next available flight, without being offered any explanation. This could best be explained as a deliberate act to deny South Africans first hand knowledge of what is going on in Darfur and Sudan.
The road to the defeat of settler colonialism in southern Africa was a long one. The African National Congress (ANC) had been formed in 1912. Later it was fused with the South African Communist Party. Shortly before South Africa attained majority government in 1994 the South African leader Chris Hani and likely future President, was assassinated, being described as both a leading figure in the ANC and the Communist Party.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement was a powerful international tool of finance capital and played a leading role in the garnering of international support for the decolonization process in South Africa. There was no such humanitarian interest in the freedom struggle underway in Sudan by the marginalized majority. Those who followed the transfer of power from the white settler colonial Afrikaner Nationalist Party to the ANC saw how the Left in that country, worked with capital to create a new South Africa, so-called, with a mixed economy and lots of opportunities for venture and transnational capital, so that there was never a chance that the commanding heights of that economy would shift from the pre-1994 situation. Indeed local capital quickly stepped off-shore to places like Switzerland. The Kempton Park talks leading to majority rule in South Africa, laid the ground rules for the peaceful co-existence and co-operation of the Left with organized labour and the centre-right, which rule remains in place today. In Namibia self-government saw the introduction of a mixed economy, with respect for the social contract, with assurances for public health and education, embedded in the Constitution.
It was therefore ironic that the government which emerged in South Africa, lead by the Left, experienced some discomfort in handling settler colonial issues in the Afro-Arab Borderlands, such as Darfur. This unease was felt to be a product of Soviet era relations, whereby the ANC had forged close international socialist working alliances, which ultimately lead to the battle of Cuito Cunavale in Angola, where the progressive forces of Cuba, Angola, Namibia and South Africa defeated on the battlefield the racist minority Afrikaner regime of South Africa, which was in alliance with the international rightwing, which included the USA, UK, the Angolan rebel group UNITA and others. From observation the ruling Tripartite Alliance in South Africa ( ANC, the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions [COSATU] ) has not shifted from its view that class is the main and only determinant in analyzing human relations. The Mbeki Administration did adopt aspects of Pan-Africanism in its African Renaissance agenda, taking on board the Diaspora and championing counties such as Haiti, whose role in contemporary African history had been ignored by the Left in the past. However the Alliance was unable to answer charges that Renaissance was more a moral fig leaf for the penetration of South African capital into Africa, through the agency of Shoprite, the Banks and the breweries etc, to be followed by the vacuuming of minerals resources.
Whereas the world today is no longer in a duo-polar situation as during the Cold War, with power controlled by the United States of America and the Soviet Union, we are now in a period of the decline of the mono-power, the United States of America. This current scenario is slowly shifting in our view to a multi-polar world, in which new conflict issues are emerging, such as decolonization in the Afro-Arab Borderlands. We have seen terrorism become a matter of global concern, as well as fundamentalism and the preoccupation with the environment.
Closer to home the Darfur conflict is bringing to the surface an old problem, which has long been buried from global view, which was apparent during the long war in South Sudan, for those who were discerning. This is the issue of Arab hegemony, slavery, racism and abuse of human rights, lead by Islamic fundamentalist governments such as that in Khartoum, which systematically seeks to change the demography of places such as Darfur, implementing genocide against the people of the area, such as the Fur, who are being forced off their land and are being replaced by Arabised West Africans, such as the Taureg. A similar Arab project is underway in Nubia, Northern Sudan, near the Egyptian border, where African Nubians, who have been living in the area for a millennium, are being removed in plain view of the world and Egyptian Arabs being resettled on their lands. Bear in mind that the conflict in the Afro-Arab Borderlands is as old as time, and that these issues were not publicized in the past. There will be new Darfurs spreading westwards. So long as Arab hegemony continues to push Africans southward it will be meet by a stout and organized resistance.
From observation it appears that the difficulties that the Left experiences in South Africa, of openly supporting harassed Africans in the Borderlands, is the admission that in countries such as Sudan and Mauritania there is indeed a race issue, of such dimensions that just as South Africa needed the support of the Liberation Committee of the OAU to end apartheid, so in the Borderlands African solidarity and support is necessary. Indeed from Mauritania to the Red Sea there is an issue of Arab hegemony and racism. After all Africans lived on the Mediterranean coast, as Cheikh Anta Diop explained to us. If Africans have been pushed Southwards as far as Darfur today – the issue is – what are Africans going to do about it. There is unease when an apartheid-type figure such as El Bashir of Sudan is able, in late 2007, to undertake a state visit to South Africa, where he is accorded full honours. Would the ANC, in say the mid-1980s, have remained silent if P.W.Botha had conducted a State visit to a Frontline state?
All progressive/Left leaning forces in African society have to take on board the truths of the Sudan and struggle to put in place changes for the better. The Left, both African and international has no choice, but to get engaged, as it did in South Africa. If the Left stays on the sidelines as a spectator, it ceases to be part of the solution and becomes part of the problem. The Left needs to fight Arab hegemony and violent Islamic fundamentalism. African contradictions with the Arab Left stems from its acquiescence to Arab hegemony. A distinction must be made between Arab Leftist ideas which are progressive and in line with progressive humanity and the support of the Arab left for Arab hegemony. Arab hegemony is imperial, it steals land and natural resources and it enslaves people. It is in continuous expansionist mode and has the support of the Arab League. But for the gallant fighters of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), Sudan under Tourabi, would have overrun the South and marched on Kampala, in the name of Jihad.
Arab racism and domination is not an issue for the United States of America lead liberal alliance alone. It concerns African progressive forces too. Arab hegemony is active from Mauritania to the Red Sea. This is not new. As Chinweizu said, the Borderlands have been a war zone since the arrival of the Arab in Africa. Africans were unable to admit and face-up to this reality. The conflict is low intensity, in the main, and generalized, with key combat zones such as south Sudan, which lost 2.5 million during its liberation struggle, and now Darfur. These conflicts did not start yesterday, as the international press would want us to believe, but have been intermittent moving southward, again since the arrival of the Arab in Africa. Such conflicts are now in the public domain as the genocide in Darfur has received front page coverage internationally.
The Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS ) meeting in Burkina Faso in mid-January 2008 had top of their agenda, as a security matter, the issue of the Taureg. In the face of a collective Arab challenge there should be a collective African response.
Groups such as the Darfurian freedom fighters deserve the support of the Left. A factor in that support will be the orientation of the group in question. Wagging liberation struggle requires support, both material and diplomatic. Military equipment is taken from the enemy. The people of Darfur, support their liberation movements. Amnesty International reports that the IDP camps in Darfur are flooded with weapons, with no shortage of youthful volunteers, ready to fight. In the camps a revolver can be purchased for US$25. In Sudan there will be no peace unless the claims of all the marginalized are meet. There are projections that this may take 10-50 years. The current peace process in the South is part of a longer unfolding process, which the late John Garang set in motion, towards a new Sudan. There is an ark of crisis of endangered African states, targets for Arab expansion as follows – Eritrea, Tchad, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Central African Republic, Niger, Mali, Senegal and Uganda.
And what about the lands which were ‘lost’ in the north of the African continent, such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco? The indications are that once majority rule has come to Sudan, then the preoccupation of the new Sudan will by way of education on human rights and history, re-educating the people that Africa has its own culture, history and civilization. And that the African origins of civilization, currently excluded from the school curricula in North Africa, is a fact of history. The ‘lost’ lands will not be recovered by war, but those now living in those lost lands will have to address the challenges of African culture, ideas and the Afro-Arab civilizational dialogue based on equality.
Afro-Arab relations have always been conflictual, with Africans on the receiving end, since the advent of the Arab on the Africa continent. The Left needs to engage this fact directly, not remain neutral and passive. The issues in play in this area are clear. The Left should not be afraid of confronting new situations, new challenges or unfamiliar terrain. In this period the Left should be vigilant and unbending in its core principles, as well as flexible in its approach
The author expresses appreciation for the comments and reactions to the preparatory text of this paper, received from Dr Adwok Nyaba.
Sudan Sensitisation Project (SSP)