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Firoze Manji

FIroze Manji

Manji is founder and executive director of Fahamu and editor of Pambazuka News. He has formerly worked as programme director for the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, CEO for Aga Khan Foundation UK, and regional representative for health for IDRC's office for Eastern and Southern Africa. He is a visiting fellow at Kellogg College and associate tutor in International Human Rights for the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford. He has written and published widely on African developmental issues. He is the author of From the Slave Trade to ‘Free’ Trade: How Trade Undermines Democracy and Justice in Africa. (with Patrick Burnett) His books include textbooks and interactive training manuals for NGOs.

He speaks with in the first of  a two part interview.


 Neo-Pan-Africanism (I)    

 : What is your driving passion? Your vision?

FM: I have long been an activist and, as a Kenyan, long committed to the struggle for emancipation in Africa. But in my lifetime, I have witnessed not only the victory of political independence sweeping the continent, but I have also witnessed in the post independence period, the crushing of the progressive forces within the liberation movements and the appropriation of the struggle for emancipation by an elite bent on using the gains of independence to fill their own pockets; I have witnessed the way in which that class has profited from collusion with the international finance institutions and multinationals so that most of the gains of independence were lost during the last twenty years; I have witnessed the demise of the credibility of socialist ideas as a results of the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union; and I have witnessed the sectarianism amongst Pan Africanists and progressives; and I have witnessed the romanticism attached to the nationalist project (as distinct to the national project) divert people into becoming ready victims of the neocolonial ruling elites.

So, the establishment of Fahamu and the publication of Pambazuka News was a natural consequence of these experiences - to respond to the need for nurturing the re-emergence of a progressive and radical pan Africanist movement. And such a movement has to grapple with its identity as 'African' - African not defined by the narrow parochialism of geography, nor by the reactionary constructs based on physical appearance (so called 'racial') - which falls prey to the same constructs created by western racism. But rather, by defining Africa in terms of its history, the aspiration for freedom and emancipation, and therefore implicitly as being anti-imperialist.

: A few sea changes have taken place in our lifetimes: the end of Apartheid, the election of an African-American US president... are we likely to see anything that seismic in pan-africanism?

FM: Whenever people mention the end of Apartheid, they usually forget that 1994 witnessed not only the first democratic elections held in South Africa, but also the rivers of blood spilt in Rwanda where a genocide was carried out resulting in the massacre of nearly a million people in the space of a few months. As Mahmood Mamdani once said, 1994 was the year the left lost its innocence: if anyone had asked at the beginning of that decade where we were likely to witness mass bloodshed, most of us would have pointed to Apartheid South Africa. The fall of apartheid and the genocide in Rwanda were connected events. The one represented the bursting of the floodgates of hope, while the other represented despair. Each of us recognized these as events as elements that characterise every one of our countries. They represent our potential destinies. Both are intertwined. And that is why we cannot speak of one without the other. Look around, the same combination of events exist in the DRC, in Somalia, in Zimbabwe. No matter how terrible the brutality imposed on the people, there is also inspiration to be drawn by those who struggle against it and who concurrently create the possibilities of another world, another future based on justice.

Obama's victory opened the floodgates of hope not only in the US, but across Africa. What is now important is not to depend on Obama or any one individual, but to understand that if our collective weight can bring about seismic changes even in the US, then it is that collective organization that we must rely upon to ensure that we are not betrayed.

I am certain that 'seismic' events are going to occur in Africa in the coming period: never before have we seen so many organise, so many who write and critique the injustices of our current situation, so many poets, musicians, writers and singers speak to both the personal and the political.

: The OAU has morphed into the AU, but do you think we will ever see any real softening of borders. Will the East African Federation or African Federation come to pass? Is it even desirable or useful?

FM: Well, as some wit put it recently, the AU – like its predecessor – is rather like a trade union of despots. If we rely only on our elites to build pan Africanism, it will remain a unity of those who make themselves rich at the expense of the rest of us. But the rhetoric of pan Africanism that we necessarily spout provides unique opportunities for us to build real pan African unity from the ground up. What African Writing is doing, what Pambazuka News, the Solidarity for African Women's Rights, and so on – all these are the means for developing the building blocks of pan Africanism. It is that unity, built on solidarity and support – that is what will lead to not just the softening of our borders (which are, in any case, rather porous anyway), but to us being able to put our identity as Africans above the parochial nationalism of our elite. Just look at the way in which they thieve even from each other: Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and others are each vying to carve up the wealth of the DRC. Ethiopia, as client to the USA, has been invading Somalia. That's the kind of 'softening' of the borders that our nationalist elites want. Building regional solidarity is but a step towards building pan Africanism.

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