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Special Feature

When Radical Scholars And Activists Converge: Inward Conversations

Volume 17, Issue 1  | 
Published 07/07/2020
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When Radical Scholars And Activists Converge:  Inward Conversations Apocalypse by inSOLense.

By Njuki Githethwa, a Kenyan writer and Activist

The third of the series of the workshops held by the Review of African Political Economy, better known by the acronym of ROAPE took place on 26 and 27 November, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The workshop was held under the title: Resistance and Transformation in Africa: A Workshop for movements and activist – scholars.

A host of radical scholars and activists, most from Africa participated in this workshop. This paper is a reflection of the theme and content of this workshop.

Scholars as activists, activists as scholars

There are varied contestations whether the radicalism of movements, scholars and activists are similar. Can scholars be part of the movements for social justice while primarily located in the realms of academia? In other words, can scholars be radical without necessarily being active in social movements? Is there meaning for theory without active practice? Likewise is argued for radical activists. The futility of activism without a concrete theory underlying the activism and images of the alternative world they are struggling to create. The widely held consensus is that theory does not have meaning without practice, to paraphrase Marx, Lenin, Fanon, Cabral among others.  Likewise, activism is futile without being grounded in theory.

This is where vogue terms in movements theorizing and practices come into play. Of scholar activists for those whose field of play is academia but stretch out in activist struggles, the theory meeting practice. Of the activist scholars engaged in practical struggles but who dabble in scholarly study and discourses on social movements to understand and give meaning to their activism, practice meeting theory.

This is the convergence of the organic intellectual referred to by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher and political activist. Issa Shivji in his presentation titled, Metamorphosis of the revolutionary intellectual - https://www.pambazuka.org/pan-africanism/metamorphosis-revolutionary-intellectual elaborates on Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual:

‘Organic intellectuals of the oppressed and exploited social classes may be considered, proto-revolutionary intellectuals to the extent that they seek to make the ideology – by word and deed of the oppressed - hegemonic. By thus participating in ideological struggles, they contribute to the underlying class struggle, even though they may not participate directly in such struggles. Some of these organic intellectuals may become actual revolutionary intellectuals by directly participating in class struggles. We have examples of such revolutionary intellectuals in our midst. Amilcar Cabral was one such intellectual; so was Chris Hani, John Garang, Félix Moumié, Walter Rodney, to name a few. All of them were assassinated at strategic moments in the respective struggles they were involved in.’

Sites of convergence for movement scholars and activists

Scholars and activists for social movements live out their lives engaged in various sites of resistance and mobilisations across the continent. This workshop provided spaces for analysis and discussions on the various sites of struggles that scholars and activists are engaged in across the African continent: On mapping resistance across the continent; youth and student mobilisations and intergenerational learning; work, trade unions and the working class; land struggles and rural struggles; popular mobilisations, alliances and revolution; and the public event: Africa Rising: conversations across generations.

Mapping resistance across the continent

Mapping resistance across the continent interrogates perceptions of protests and mobilisations in Africa based on ACLED interaction codes analysed by the Centre for Social Change (CSC), University of Johannesburg.  ACLED is an acronym for Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), a disaggregated conflict collection, analysis and crisis mapping project. Case studies of the protests between 2012-2018 are drawn from 11 countries in Africa: Tunisia, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

The entry point of this analysis and presentation is not necessarily on the data shared, but to understand whether these protests and mobilisations fit into the long history of political transformation in Africa. Key to this focus is whether there is a pattern to these protests and mobilisations. Are the protests ideological, based on class for example? Are the protests focused on dismantling the neo-colonial states or reforming capitalism and the neo-liberal order? What are the current sparks and hotspots of resistance that social movements can create liberated zones? What are the grievances and identities of the actors driving these protests and mobilisations across the continent? Such analysis and understanding provides cannon fodder for scholars and activists to transform various sites of protests across the continent to sites of struggles for a just social order. 

Youth and student mobilisations and intergenerational learning

This creates an understanding of the implications of youth’s struggles for political transformation across the continent. It is about forging links of resistance and struggle between unemployed youth, young workers and students. It is about identifying new forms of organizing, communication and media that are championed by the youth. This comes against the background of accusations from the youth that the older generation of freedom fighters is not mentoring them adequately, that they do not understand them, that they are not giving them space.

Likewise, the older generation of freedom fighters accuse the youth of being impatient, assuming to be all-knowing, of thinking they are the centre pieces of the struggle, of wanting to displace and overthrow the old. The moon being seen by the young is the same moon being seen by the older generation. The youth are only seeing this moon with fresh, brighter and focused eyes of the times as the older generation did in their times. There is nothing like handing over the struggle. This is a neo-liberal marketization of the struggle. The youth usually take over the struggle with their vibrant and boundless energies, new songs, new means of communication, new ways of organizing, new languages of the struggle that the older generation cannot keep up with, neither fathom.

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