|Home | Current Issue | Previous Issues | Submission Guidelines | Books for Review|
FROM SLAVE SHIP TO SPACE SHIP: AFRICA BETWEEN MARGINALIZATION AND GLOBALIZATION.©
When we formulated the title "From Slave Ship to Space-Ship", we did not have Senator John Glenn's 1998 space odyssey in mind. By coincidence this odyssey was happening at the same time as this panel in November 1998. We did have in mind a link between the slave ship and the subsequent Western capacity to launch space ships or space shuttles.
Africa and the African people made a far bigger contribution to the technological revolution of the West than the West did to industrial change in Africa. Walter Rodney was concerned about how Europe retarded Africa's development. But is there not another big story--the story of how Africa accelerated Europe's development? Did not Rodney also contribute to this second debate? Especially in Chapters III and V of his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
How Africa Developed the West
Each step in Africa's contribution to the development of the West was itself a stage in the history of globalization. I referred to these stages in my M.K.O. Abiola Lecture for the African Studies Association of the United States in 1994. The era of the labor imperative was when the labor of Africa's sons and daughters was what the West needed for its industrial take-off. The slave ship helped to export millions to the Americas to help in the agrarian revolution in the Americas and the industrial revolution in Europe simultaneously. The enforced dispersal of Black people to serve Western capitalism was itself part of the emerging globalization.
In the era of the territorial imperative, the West docked the slave ships away forever and launched the gunboats in their place. This was the era of imperialism and gunboat diplomacy.
The West stopped exporting Africa's sons and daughters and colonized Africa itself. Imperialism and gunboat diplomacy were part of the ugly side of globalization. Raw materials for Western manufacturing industries became a major temptation.
Then came the era of the extractive imperative.
Africa's minerals became the next major contributor not only to Western
economies but also to Western technology. Uranium from the Belgian Congo
was part of the original Manhattan project which produced the first
atomic bombs. Other minerals, like cobalt, became indispensable for
jet engines. There were times when
Africa's impact on the West's technological history in this phase was heavily based on Africa's industrial minerals. The space ship was slowly in the making. As we have reminded ourselves at this conference, Walter Rodney's most popular book looked at how Europe underdeveloped Africa (the slave ship syndrome). The other side of the story is how Africa developed Europe (the space ship potential).
Rodney is better known for the negative consequences. We need also to investigate the positive consequences of Africa's impact upon Europe from economic production to space communication and how Walter Rodney contributed to this other debate. Also relevant was Eric Williams's examination of the interplay between capitalism and slavery.
We now come to areas of metaphor. Walter Rodney's stay in Tanzania coincided with the promulgation and aftermath of the "Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-Reliance". Arusha is the name of the town where the Declaration occurred in 1967. But what does the word "Arusha" literally mean? It means: "He makes fly (into the skies)." In standard Kiswahili the word is anarusha. In other dialects it is simply arusha: "He makes fly into the skies." Who makes fly? Ancestrally it was God. In 1967, the year of the Arusha Declaration, it was Julius K. Nyerere. He made socialism and self-reliance (ujamaa na kujitegemea) fly. In the space age it could be an astronaut or a cosmonaut who makes a space ship fly.
Why is Arusha town called "He makes fly into the skies"? Because the town is located close to Mt. Kilimanjaro, whose pinnacle is the highest point on the African continent. Kilimanjaro is the roof of Africa--from whence God makes things "fly into the skies."
It has been alleged that Walter Rodney's inadequate command of Kiswahili was no handicap for his communication with rural Tanzanians. I beg to disagree.
We must not trivialize the relevance of language in human communication; otherwise we might sound like the song:
Of course Walter Rodney could relate in friendly terms with rural Tanzanians. But being friendly is different from being Socialist, let alone being Marxist. He could not convey his socialism linguistically to the Tanzanian peasant.
In Africa in the 1960s and the 1970s one could not be a Marxist without being substantially Westernized through a European language. Walter Rodney could not reach rural Tanzanians as a socialist or as a Marxist. He could only reach them as a friendly man. In reality a friendly man could belong to any ideology.
A dialectic faced Walter Rodney in relation to the twin policies of Julius Nyerere's Tanzania. Under the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere's policy of socialism brought the national ideology of Tanzania closer to Walter Rodney's own leftist paradigm.
On the other hand, Nyerere's simultaneous language policy of greater Swahilization made Tanzania less and less accessible to Walter Rodney's ideo-cultural skills. Nyerere's socialist policies were opening up ideological doors to Walter Rodney, while Nyerere's Swahilization policies were closing down cultural doors to Walter Rodney.
Every stage of Africa's contribution to globalization was also a stage in its own marginalization. Rodney was all too aware that African captives who were turned into slaves entered the emerging world of international capitalism. But those captives were simultaneously a symbol of the marginalization of the African peoples.
Imperialism and gunboat diplomacy made colonized Africa part of world-wide empires. But colonized people are inevitably marginalized people. The extractive imperative made African minerals fuel the world economy. African minerals enriched other economies rather than Africa's own.
The space ship was also born out of the rivalries of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. Sputnik in the firmament in 1958 put the Soviet Union first into orbit. The Soviets borrowed a lot from Western technology, but carried it further. The process of "Arusha" had been sparked out. Soviet Yuri Gagarin was also the first man in space. The West was temporarily beaten at its own game. The "Arusha" space enterprise had been accomplished.
A resurgence of American resolve under John F. Kennedy inspired the U.S. space program and enabled the United States first to circle the earth (John Glenn) and later to land the first man on the moon.
The Cold War: Globalizing or Marginalizing?
Africa's involvement in the Cold War was another globalizing experience, but in this case marginalization was temporarily suspended. The rivalries between the two super powers temporarily increased Africa's global strategic value and enhanced Africa's influence in the United Nations, UNESCO, the Commonwealth, and a number of other international forums. It was the end of the Cold War which reactivated Africa's marginalization. The end of the Cold War was a kind of "dis-globalizing" experience.
Part of the dis-globalization was good news. The end of the Cold War has initiated the second phase of the French decolonization of Africa. This is the gradual reduction of the French informal empire in Africa. Rolling back French neo-colonialism from Africa is partly the result of the decline of the strategic value of Africa and partly due to the rise of French economic aspirations for the newly liberated former members of the Warsaw Pact.
The good news is that the end of the Cold War has
helped to initiate the second phase of decolonization in Francophone
Africa, although there is still a long way to go before real independence
for any part of Africa is achieved. The sad news is that while Phase
II of French
The debate between Europeanists and Africanists continues in France; that a US president could visit in 1998 a former French colony (Senegal) is a sign of French withdrawal.
Is there anything that the international community can do to help Africa? At the moment the flesh is weak and the spirit is not even willing. But we need to set goals.
Apart from bilateral aid to individual African countries for economic development, the three long term African oriented goals to be supported should be:
The international community can also help in the long term solution of the problem of Rwanda and Burundi which will require immense resources.
It should also be remembered that all three countries once constituted German East Africa, and all three countries have been substantially Swahilized. In any case, as matters now stand, Tanzania is constantly forced to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees from Burundi and Rwanda every time there is a blow up in those two countries. Disarming the Hutu and Tutsi and making them part of a much larger country under Tanzania's own control might be worth the risk.
A final word as to the choice of title "From Slave Ship to Space Ship". While the slave ship can be regarded as the beginning of globalization, the spaceship is, by definition, a symbol of post- globalization.
The space ship takes us beyond the
globe. Do we really want to go beyond the globe? Senator John Glenn
has a wander-lust into space. Indeed, do we really want to be globalized
? "To globalize or not to globalize." That is the question
for us and for Arusha, a town in Tanzania steeped in symbolism.
|Home | Current Issue | Previous Issues | Submission Guidelines | Books for Review|