Before considering how pre-colonial African societies were anarchist in nature, we need a definition of this scary-sounding term “anarchism”. Colin Ward defines anarchism as “the name given to the idea that it is possible and desirable for society to organise itself without government.” [Anarchy in Action, p:19 – http://libcom.org/files/Ward_-_Anarchy_in_Action_3.pdf].
In chapter 2 of his phenomenal How Europe Undeveloped Africa (1973), Walter Rodney uses a Marxist-influenced approach to give an overview of the social-economic development of African societies prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. In doing so, he discuses the strong communal nature of African societies:
“[U]nder communalism there were no classes and there was equal access to land, and equality in distribution — at a low level of technology and production. Feudalism involved great inequality in distribution of land and social products. The landlord class and its bureaucracy controlled the state and used it as an instrument for oppressing peasants, serfs, slaves and even craftsmen and merchants. The movement from communalism to feudalism in every continent took several centuries, and in some instances the interruption of internal evolution never allowed the process to mature. In Africa, there is no doubt that the societies which eventually reached feudalism were extremely few.” [page 61 of the online version: http://abahlali.org/files/3295358-walter-rodney.pdf]
This absence of strong class antagonism prevented (or at least severely restricted) the growth of states in Africa:
“Scholars often distinguish between groups in Africa which had states and those which were ‘stateless’. Sometimes, the word stateless is carelessly or even abusively used; but it does describe those peoples who had no machinery of government coercion and no concept of a political unit wider than the family or the village. After all, if there is no class stratification in a society, it follows that there is no state, because the state arose as an instrument to be used by a particular class to control the rest of society in its own interests. Generally speaking, one can consider the stateless societies as among the older forms of socio-political organisation in Africa, while the large states represented an evolution away from communalism — sometimes to the point of feudalism.” [page 76-77 of the online version: http://abahlali.org/files/3295358-walter-rodney.pdf]
Mbah and Igariwey’s book “African Anarchism” (1997) builds on Rodney’s observations by pointing out that African societies were thus anarchistic:
“Feudalism did exist in some places, but as Rodney has demonstrated, “in Africa, there is no doubt that the societies which eventually reached feudalism were extremely few.” Consequently, some features of communalism continued to hold considerable sway in most African societies, as they do to this day under modern capitalist states. This demonstrates the ancient and tenacious roots of the communal way of life in Africa…
So the African states that we are so familiar with (and so identified with) have their roots almost entirely in European colonialism. Whether we are talking about the borders, the official languages, the political systems, the state machinery, the tax systems, the armies, the constitutions – pretty much every thing to do with African states are by-products of colonialism.
As an anarchist (i.e. someone who feels it is “possible and desirable for society to organise itself without government”), I am encouraged to know that I am merely returning to a key aspect of my recent historical legacy. This is especially so as my people, the Bagisu or Bamasaaba in Uganda, are a defiantly decentralised people with no kings, queens, or even paramount chiefs!
Sam Mbah discusses his book “African Anarchism”:
https://www.facebook.com/AfricansArise – Was blessed to catch the mighty Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live at the Open East Festival. This is a performance of one of one of the many classics done by his father, the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Make sure you listen to his words right at the end.
Learning about the Adangbe people of La in Accra, Ghana, particularly about the Ga people. The brother speaking is full of great information, I learned so much from him! As he was telling me about the La people being warriors, I kept thinking of this Tarrus Riley tune, La La Warriors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY3kpGCvyrs
My visit to a school in Accra, Ghana.
Chronixx is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in reggae music for years. 19 year old Chronixx (born Jamar McNaughton) is building quite a reputation with his silky smooth effortless vocals and conscious lyrics covering a wide range of subjects. One song among many form him on heavy rotation in my Ipod is Odd Ras (Buss What?), where Chronixx takes aim at much of the craziness going on in dancehall today, including the skin bleeching and tatooting epidemic. As you can see from this selection, Chronixx is equally comfortable with dancehall and one drop riddims. And the interview at the bottom demonstrates that he is humble and serious young man who respects the deep history and lineage of reggae music and is looking to follow in the footsteps of the great pioneers.
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Chronixx – Behind Curtain
Chronixx – Most I
Chronixx – Odd Ras (Buss What?)
Chronixx – Ain’t No Giving In
Chronixx – Interview On Stage
Now I no longer eat animals in any shape or form, I can enjoy this song withouth feeling offended!
Just wanted to share a couple of tracks from an UK artist called Melanin 9. I have to admit he is a new name to me, but from the evidence of just these two tracks, I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.
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This week, Uganda marks 50 years since gaining ‘flag independence’ from Britain. The leading opposition figure Dr Kizza Besigye of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has taken part in yet another public confrontation with the Museveni regime. The campaign is entitled “Walk to Freedom”, a slight amendment on the previous “Walk to Work”:
Personally, I’m sceptical of Besigye’s motives. I mean, he knows that the Police have placed a ban on public demonstrations this week. And he knows full well how they will respond when provoked. These scenes are a virtual re-run of several previous stand-offs, especially in post-election period last year. Thankfully, at least this time round, Kizza Besigye did not get such a ferocious battering.
I wonder what these kinds of tactics are aimed to do besides getting some publicity. I admit that perhaps I’m not in a position to comment being thousands of miles away from Kampala. But it seems to me that these confrontations always blow over with no substantive achievements.
The regime of Yoweri Museveni would have no choice but to introduce radical reforms and/or step down if it was faced with an genuinely mass popular movement. Despite being the main opposition party, the FDC doesn’t appear to have the ability to organise the masses Uganda. This may be due to a general political apathy among Ugandan people. Or it may be due to the fact that the FDC do not appear to offer much of an alternative to Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Anyway, I hope I’m proved wrong, but I anticipate that this will just be another flash in the pan and things will return to normal until the next organised publicity stunt.
I’ve just finished reading Ghana: The Autobiography of Dr Kwame Nkrumah. It tells the story of Ghana’s independence from the perspective of Osagyefo himself. So I was pleased to come across a new video from a couple of Ghanaian rappers which features some quotes from the great man. Here it is for your fulljoyment: