Our Own Traditions: anti-authoritarianism in our histories of struggle (by Roger White)

Long before the Paris commune or the Spanish Civil War, African tribes and clans were practicing self-sustaining modes of living that did not require political authority or static structures of social hierarchy.

Taken from http://www.coloursofresistance.org/568/our-own-traditions-anti-authoritarianism-in-our-histories-of-struggle/

This essay appears in Post Colonial Anarchism: Essays on race, repression and culture in communities of color 1999-2004. Access the complete book here

Although many non-white anti-authoritarian traditions never self-identified as anarchist (many were in existence before the word was invented), their social practices and formations demonstrate to us the rich history out of which our own movement comes. There’s no need to impose the term anarchist on descriptions of the history of non-white societies and their struggles against authority and capital to validate our own identification with the term. The history of resistance against illegitimate authority by people of color speaks for itself.

But the problem of tracing and remembering the whole anti-authoritarian tradition does turn on the axis of language and the power to name and exclude through naming. If the substance of anarchism is communal economics, mutual aid, local autonomy and the free federation of communities, then the obvious first place to look at is the continent of Africa. Long before the Paris commune or the Spanish Civil War, African tribes and clans were practicing self-sustaining modes of living that did not require political authority or static structures of social hierarchy.

The Igbo tribe, which settled in the Awka and Orlu areas of West/ Central Africa in what is now Nigeria arranged “‘village’ political units without kings or chiefs ruling over them or administering their affairs.” (Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, African Anarchism: The History of a Movement See Sharp Press Az. 1997 P.35) The fact that Igboland was a large scale society (at one point over 4 million organized into 2000 separate villages) demonstrates the capacity of whole societies to organize themselves along autonomous and communal principals successfully. (John Gunther, Inside Africa Harper and Brothers NY. 1953 P. 760.) “Igbo enwegh eze” “we have no kings” is a central creed of the Igbo. Other African tribes with anti-authoritarian traditions include the Shona of modern day Zimbabwe, the Mano of modern day Ivory Coast and the Kusaasi of Ghana. These tribes and clans along with numerous indigenous tribes in the Americas including the Hopi, Adena, and the Zuni, constitute real examples of stateless social formations that existed long before European political theorists discovered the horrors of the nation-state and labeled the resistance to them anarchist.

In the history of anarchism the above tribes and clans are not mentioned much. Instead we’re invited to study the intellectual progression of the social ideal from William Godwin’s Political Justice to Murry Bookchin’s Post Scarcity Anarchism and a handful of losing confrontations between the forces of state hegemony and anti- authoritarians. People of color who self-identify as anarchist are caught in strange place. How do we reconcile with the term anarchist when its history excludes the explicitly anti-authoritarian struggles of Kikuyus in Kenya against the English Empire’s unsuccessful attempts to impose centralized government structures on a stateless people, or the anti-emperor traditions in various Asian societies that challenged modern 20th century political structures that sought to impose central rule on villages that had been self governing for thousands of years.

An obvious place to begin the reconciliation is with writing the history and doing the public education. Frank Fernandez’s Cuban Anarchism: the History of a Movement published in 2001 traces the resistance to both the U.S. puppet regimes of the first part of the 20th century and the Castro dictatorship up to the present. Black Rose Books has published Land and Liberty: Anarchist Influences in the Mexican Revolution by the late Ricardo Flores Magon. In it the author details the struggles of Emiliano Zapata and the development of the “village anarchist” movement within the context of the Mexican civil war of the 1910’s. Y. Mihara’s 1993 piece “On the Present Situation of Anarchism in Japan” in Anarchist Studies is a great review of modern anarchism in a country that has been a hub of anti-authoritarian activity and thinking in East Asia. Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey’s African Anarchism: The History of a Movement concisely lays out the real roots of stateless society without all the romantic nonsense that comes out of primitivist anthropology these days.

A large part of building the movement against authority and capital in communities of color will be reconstructing and popularizing our history so young people can see the tradition and relate it to their everyday lives. If this is the only thing that the current generation of colored anarchists accomplished it would be an important achievement in the struggle for liberation.

Where is Uganda’s Lumumba?


In Uganda rampant inflation – coming shortly after a disputed election win for President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – has given birth to the Walk to Work campaign. The Government response has been to shrug its shoulders and mete out obscene violence. This in turn has led to what looks like a surge in support for the main opposition figure, Kizza Besigye.

The government’s treatment of Besigye has placed him firmly in the media spotlight. And he is wasting no time in cultivating the idea that he is a popular leader who is fighting a despotic an increasingly unpopular and despotic Africa regime. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

It remains to be seen whether Besigye is someone who can effectively unite Ugandans against Museveni. The fact is, his Forum for Democratic Change performed quite poorly in the Presidential election, though they reject these elections as fraudulent.

All of this has revived a question that has been bugging me for a while now… Where are the heroes of Ugandan independence?

My brothers and sisters from places like Ghana, Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Azania (South Africa) can all point to leaders who organised the people in successful anti-colonial resistance. These are the likes of ‘Osagyefo’ Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, and Amilcar Cabral. These individuals are held in great regard because of the visionary leadership they provided to the independence movements. Of course, these individuals did not create themselves. Instead, they emerged from within political movements that prepared them to take positions of leadership. Without such movements, none of these men would have emerged.

But when I think of my home country Uganda, I can’t think of any such great leaders or any such movements. We seem to lack that history of popular anti-colonial resistance that so many other countries have. I might be wrong about this – in which case, I will greatly receive correction and enlightenment.

Maybe with the current crisis in our country, the time is ripe for such a movement to develop – and for “Uganda’s Lumumba” to emerge?