Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Post-blackness and what it means for African unity

By Melo Magolego

Every so often, a chorus of scribes invokes the memory of Nkrumah to remind us of the urgent task of uniting Africa, both politically and economically. The 50th anniversary (in 2013) of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — predecessor to the African Union — proved yet a stage for another hymn. To me such calls for unification often come across as restless clamouring for self-determination. This restlessness is a nightmare occasioned by the success the European Project had in carving up the continent during the Berlin conference of 1885. In other words the restlessness seldom gives substantive cause in the form of the how and why of unification.

Political unification under democratic governance presupposes buy-in from the continent’s peoples. The winning of hearts, thus far, has often played on the sense of shared ethnic origin, our common history of strife during years of slavery and a shared history of dispossession during colonialism. In short, it plays on the history of blackness in sub-Saharan Africa. Up until the wave of liberation swept through Africa and briefly thereafter, this blackness was well-defined in that (in the deconstructive sense) it was a distinction to the white hegemony.

The deliberate and unabashed nature of white hegemony, at the time, created the conditions for the various blacknesses on the continent to coalesce into a sort of monolith, which was at its most visible the movement for black power and liberation struggle movements. It was in the presence of this monolith that calls for the political unification of the continent found most resonance. In today’s world the hegemony has become very nuanced and as a result its diminished centripetal force has given way once again to multiple blacknesses. This dissolution into multiple blacknesses leads me to ask: is post-blackness militant to the unification of Africa?

The author Toure in his book Who’s afraid of Post-Blackness explores the role of black Americans in a post civil rights and post black-power age. He argues that the imperatives of the American black civil-rights movement superseded all other concerns in then black life and thereby created a sort of monolithic representation of what blackness was. In South African vernacular we would say it made everyone a comrade in the struggle (more likely Marxist vernacular). The now absence of such race-wide categorical imperatives gives rise to an age where multiple blacknesses flourish; this epoch he refers to as post-blackness.

Toure also explores the shackles of race conformity, which seek to define the “ought-to” activities and behaviours of blacks. He then states that blacks should not be afraid to be irreverent and to break with conformity. This break, this post-blackness can manifest in many ways. In SA, this break with conformity is very visible with the rise of black conservative politicians in the DA. That said, black conservatism does not have a monopoly on post-blackness. Notwithstanding, the question now becomes: is black conservatism militant to the unification of Africa?

The disdain conservative politicians have for expansive government is nowhere more visible than with the conservative party back-benchers in Britain who are dismayed by David Cameron’s efforts to stick them head first into the European Union. This disdain underlies the calls made by black conservatives in SA, that we should have a “limited government”.

Secondly, even if conservatives were to concede to a centralised African government the question then becomes: what role would such a government play on the continent? The ANC would see such a government as interventionist, and a key driver of development and economic activity — through state spending. The conservative black in the DA would prefer decision-making at the local (municipal) level and to have business free to operate without state monopolies stymieing markets. These economic planning tensions had surfaced as early as the 1960s in the run up to the establishment of the OAU. The two major blocs, then, were the interventionist Casablanca group led by Nkrumah and the decentralist Monrovia group led by Senghor.

Thirdly, a common African currency would decrease the cost of doing business however this is a trade off against loss of economic choice. A common currency would limit the extent to which localised regions could trade at an exchange rate best suited to the sub-economy of those regions. This opposes the view of conservatism of maximising individual economic choice.

Fourthly, the role of a monetary authority would prove contentious. Conservatives abhor an interventionist state in business affairs; a monetary authority that manipulates the markets in order to achieve the now standard dual mandate monetary policy, would be such an authority. Further, the economic confidence generated in and about poorer countries by having their debt implicitly guaranteed by SA, could lead to a situation the likes of Greece. Pre-empting and resolving this would require interventionist action the like only occasioned by a full political and fiscal union. This centralisation of power would go against the grain of “limited government” extolled by black conservatives.

Lastly, there is the key issue of immigration. The one aspect that we as South Africans fail to grasp is that unlike other relatively well-off countries we do not have an ocean between us and our economically poorer neighbours. Any effort at continental integration that seeks to improve our collective economic lot should always be welcomed and viewed with cognisance of the current unsustainable migration south and its impact on national stability, security and economic prosperity.

That said conservative politics with its insistence on individual rights and freedoms above group outcomes would have an advantage on a continent riven by tribal tensions.

Melo is also a Fulbright scholar. He read his MSc in electrical engineering at Caltech.

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