Notes on Wakanda
by Vijay Prashad
“Africa is on the move”
Walter Rodney, 1975.
Which freedom fighter would not like to uncover an uncolonized land within the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America? Which freedom fighter has not marveled at the Haitians, those Black Jacobins who fought off their slavers and created a republic in the Caribbean? Which freedom fighters has not wondered at the bravery and resilience of the enslaved people of Africa who ran off from their capitalist plantations and created maroons and quilombos?
These are stories of our historical record. They are facts of the human spirit.
Human beings cannot be fully colonized. To fully colonize us is to kill us. Even the most brutal events of human history—such as slavery—produce resistance of the highest order, namely rebellion. No account of the history of slavery is complete without a full documentation of struggle against the barbarity. This is not the opposition by liberals amongst the powerful, those who from their zones of comfort found the brutality too excessive. This is the opposition of those who had been enslaved, who watched the system try to destroy their dignity.
It is not fantasy to hope for an alternative. It is the reality of our dreams.
Dreams of Africa.
Africa is a real continent. There are countries in Africa, with stories that are rich with their own contradictions. Pan-Africanism was always a dream, a hope against hope that the unity of the people of the continent would allow them to stand up against the system of colonialism and imperialism. But pan-Africanism faced challenges of social division and of the consistent intervention of Western investments and force. The 1885 conference in Berlin that divided the continent into Western zones of influence set in motion a sensibility that has never really ended. Africa is not for itself. It is for others. These others consume Africa—mining its wealth for external advantage or reducing its culture and terrain for tourism, or finding it to be a place incapable of its own history and so needing to be saved. For two hundred years, large parts of this rich continent have been looted and prayed for, seen their wealth disappear and been told that their culture is inadequate. This is the reality of Africa.
Each time African political movements tried to set their own agenda, their leaders were cut down and their movements were destroyed. Yes, colonizer, you know their names, from Patrice Lumumba to Thomas Sankara, from Ruth First to Herbert Chitepo. Yes, each time a country tried to stand up against imperialism, you found a way to kill its confidence. Yes, colonizer, you know what I’m talking about—from the coup in Ghana in 1966 that removed Kwame Nkrumah to support for the apartheid South African state in its wars against the liberation movements in southern Africa.
You can dream of Africa—picture it as a land of poverty or a land of safaris, but you have a hard time seeing it for what it is, a place of human beings with all their complexities trying to make their own history.
In 1975, on the day that the United States was defeated in Vietnam, one of the greatest historians of Africa, the Guyanese historian Walter Rodney told his friends, “Africa is on the move.” The Portuguese had been defeated in Guinea-Bissau (1973), in Angola (1975), in Cape Verde (1975) and in Mozambique (1975). Not long after Zimbabwe (1980) joined most of the continent in independence. South Africa would win its freedom from apartheid in 1994. But by 1975, it appeared to Rodney that the game was over. Colonialism had effectively ended.
Already trouble seemed to be on the horizon. In 1972, Rodney published his landmark book–How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. It is a book of great scholarship, but mainly of sublime intent. It took the complex history of Africa and showed how the period of colonialism had disrupted its development and left it in a situation of adversity. It showed, as well, how the masses of people had fought off as best as they could powerful forces and how they found ways to survive the storm of colonialism. Then Rodney stopped. He could say no more.
Rodney turns his book over to A. M. Babu, the Tanzanian Marxist, to offer the postscript. Babu is harsh. “With very few exceptions,” Babu wrote, “it is sad to have to admit that Africa is ill served by the current conglomeration of what passes for leaders throughout the continent.” Movements produce leaders. It is not a judgment about individuals. It is an indictment of the depth of the movements. They had not seen deeply enough the problems facing the continent. Babu’s grip of the realities is strong, but also hard to digest. Rodney said similar things about his native Caribbean. He was not comfortable, perhaps, saying these things about Africa, about which he wrote and where he then lived.
The reality is that imperialism’s tentacles had wound themselves deeply across the continent, reaping the benefits of colonial power over the economy without being troubled by the inconveniences of colonial political rule. It was this context that led to the suffocation of so many national liberation movements and so many post-colonial states. The malignancy is in the global system, not in the continent.
When Rodney made his comment about Africa being on the move, a group of powerful films emerged from Senegal. Sembene Ousmane turned his 1973 novel Xala into a film in 1975, which burnt through the inadequacies of the post-colonial leadership. His countryman Djibril Diop Mambéty released Touki Bouki (1973), which catalogued the difficulties of making a life and of love in the new country. A decade later, Souleymane Cissé, from Mali, would release Finyé (1982), a film about tensions in the new states as young people revolt. Cissé mirrored reality: anti-IMF riots in Morocco (June 1981), Tanzania (July 1981) and Sudan (January 1982) had sent a strong message to Washington. This was Africa on the move.
In 1975, African filmmakers met in Algeria for the Second Congress of the Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes (FEPACI). The Algiers Charter produced by the filmmakers had a vision for African culture, which “must be popular, democratic, and progressive in character, inspired by its own realities and responding to its own needs.” African culture should not be derivative of the outside world, but it should not be insular either. “It must be in solidarity with cultural struggles all over the world.” Cinema must not develop into an elite institution, but it should give people “back the cultural initiative by drawing on the resources of a fully liberated popular creativity.” It must not only be the producer of creativity but also “a stimulus to creativity.” It must make every African feel like producing art in their lives.
Every Wakandan should be a Black Panther.
Wakanda should not rely upon Vibranium, but diversify its economy.
Vibranium should not be treated with religious reverence.
Wakanda should have a choice beyond isolation, integration and world war.
Wakanda must represent the possibility of something beyond the choices foisted upon it by the West. New choices. Better choices.
Every human should be a Black Panther.