Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and the tasks of Pan-Africanists
2009-07-16, Issue 442
'I am human. Nothing human is alien to me.'
Today we are gathered on 5 July 2009 to restate this simple proposition. Nothing human should be alien to the African or to any other peoples.
Yet today huge, powerful forces are working to reproduce the dehumanisation of the peoples of Africa at home and abroad.
The tasks of Pan-Africanism, yesterday, as they are today, and tomorrow, must be to elaborate the humanity of the African and to end all forms of dehumanisation. The simple task is to strengthen the dignity and wellbeing of the human being.
Africans as human beings want good health. They want to live in clean and safe environments. They want respect as they respect others. They want peace. They want love, they want life and above all, they want to leave a planet for future generations.
These goals of the Pan-African movement have been made more pressing with each passing day as the economic depression of the global system is most keenly felt in the villages, townships and cities across the pan-African world. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem was fighting for mental and physical health. One of the many challenges before is to seek to better understand Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, especially those who counted him as a friend but did not fully understand his earthly mission.
Taju did not need a depression and the fall of financial markets to reject the immorality of a system that placed profits before humans. Stand up. Stand up to end poverty and stand up for your rights. This was the campaign that Tajudeen had taken on. Tajudeen was able to penetrate the duplicity of leaders and dig into the lyrics of Bob Marley to transform the campaign of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
If from a little office at the All African Conference of Churches in Nairobi with minimum staff, Tajudeen could mobilise 7 million people to stand up against poverty in Africa, this was just a demonstration of what we can do if we stood up for Pan-African unity, peace and reconstruction. One clear task is to work for the unity of the peoples of Africa. It is the culture of standing up that we are here to celebrate. It is a culture that draws from the depths of our ancestors who have left traditions of resistance. Tajudeen has now joined these ancestors but he has left very clear messages of how we must transform ourselves as we seek to move from resistance to a more profound level of organisation. This is the quantum leap towards African unity as we work for the transformation and reconstruction of Africa. Everyday we hear the words 'Something new is afoot in the world.' Barack Obama’s people argue that we are at an inflection point. Can we use the ideas and hard work of Tajudeen to work for the moment of the quantum leap towards African redemption?
I was in China when I received the news that our brother had moved on and joined the stars. As I travelled in China and bore witness to the future unfolding before all of us, my thoughts about our brother were that we must carry forward his work. We were witnessing in China the transformation of the environment and the building of the capacity, skills, wellbeing and livelihood of the Chinese people. If the tasks of the Pan-Africanists of the 20th century were to resist dehumanisation, enslavement and colonialism, Tajudeen was using his life and his work as a practical message of the commitment to the transformation of Africa. He was not living in one way and expecting the alternative in the future. Tajudeen was saying we are the alternative. It was only the living for the alternative that could turn our dream of being humans away from the nightmares of cloning, cyborgs , trans-humans and the mechanical conceptions that emanate from the eugenics past and the genetic engineering future that deem Africans to be a breed of sub-humans.
Tajudeen understood clearly that old fashioned Hitlerite eugenics was being replaced by free-market and designer eugenics. In Britain, we have a new upsurge in eugenics and petty fascism, we must be aware that the racists took their cue from neoliberalism and xenophobia from the respectable academics that spread hatred through books, journals and the media.
It is our organising and political work that will expose and defeat both the neoliberals and the more vociferous racists. For that goal, Tajudeen dreamt of united peoples in a union of democratic states in Africa.
'We also do so not just as defensive impulse against the more fashionable industry of Afro pessimism. Our optimism is based on the concrete reality of our lived experiences and the brutal reality of the condition of many Africans today both on the continent and in the Diaspora. These have made Pan Africanism a precondition for our survival instead of it just being a dream. And some of us will even go further to assert that we need our dreams and we need to accelerate the process of their realisation because those who have no dreams to live for and work towards will suffer nightmares. And Africa has suffered enough nightmares.'
The transformation was urgent when he wrote these words and it is the fundamental statement of Tajudeen that Pan-Africanism requires the full unity of the peoples of Africa.
This is an elementary task and it is for us to use this celebration of the life of Tajudeen to rededicate ourselves to these tasks. Tajudeen’s ideas are clear. His style of work was clear. He is now calling on us to move from informal networks based on individual ties to him as a person to the love for peace and change. There is nowhere Tajudeen yearned for this as much as the land of his birth. His statements on Nigeria and his commitment to change in Nigeria are on record. Despite persecution, he travelled there, sought to build institutions there, worked in his community, and worked for development and democracy as well as social justice for Nigeria. Many of the organisations represented here today reflect the testimony of his energy and his hard work for peace and justice.
NIGERIA AS A COUNTRY OF HOPE
Tajudeen dreamt of the day to come when the social energy of all of Africa would be unleashed for change, but he was particularly anxious about the energies of youths in Nigeria. Tajudeen did not come from the princely classes of Nigeria and he suffered the same indignities as millions of Nigerians who are criminalised and dehumanised because of the illegalities and extremism of the rulers of that country. Tajudeen dreamt of freedom of movement for the poor African, just as he wanted for himself. His work against militarism and dictatorship, along with his networking with activists for peace and democratic participation in Nigeria, came from his own life witnessing a civil war where millions had died. Tajudeen’s vision of peace and unity in Africa came from his belief that the youth of Nigeria will move again, and when they move, they will sweep away all of the social forces that are holding back the country.
We do not have to restate the conditions in Nigeria and the billions of dollars that have been stolen from the country by its so-called elite. This is an elite that uses religion to enrich itself, speaking about God while in reality using God as a means for networking in order to make deals for more moneymaking.
Tajudeen was always reminding us that the crimes of the Nigerian leadership could not be carried out without the collusion of their enablers in Western, European states. Leaders of these European states continue to decry corruption and theft in Nigeria, but these same leaders of the ‘Western democracy’ will not popularise the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative of the United Nations. Our task to popularise this initiative is also part of the task to democratise the UN and to keep up pressure so that the crocodile tears about corruption will only make sense when the leaders from Africa repatriate the money stolen from Africa.
At a meeting of the Royal African Society, Tajudeen stated simply: 'The best way to help Africa is to leave it alone.' Africa does not need aid.
We must stand up to end exploitation. His work in the UN did not diminish his zeal to oppose exploiters. He wrote in one postcard:
'We all know that Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words, 'There is enough in the world to satisfy our needs but not enough to satisfy our greed’, uttered so many decades ago are as true today as ever. The vast wealth from improved technology, science and genetic engineering in the last five decades is more than enough for all of us. However, the structures of power within and between nations continue to reward those at the very top, while penalising the majority poor at the bottom of the pile.'
Tajudeen represented a generation of youths who were able to excel and it pained him to see the level of manipulation in Africa on the basis of ethnicity, region, religion and race. In Nigeria, he consciously identified himself with the followers of Muhammad, but he was scathing of how the rulers used sharia and Islamic fundamentalism to coerce and confuse the people. One of his sharpest criticisms of this religious–political leadership came in his postcard defending Safiya Hussaini, the woman sentenced to death by stoning by a sharia court.
Tajudeen challenged the bigotry of those who sentenced Safiya and was part of a global outcry to save the life of this citizen. How could a woman commit adultery by herself?
Tajudeen had written in another tongue-in-cheek postcard:
'Nigerians like seeing themselves as the "greatest nation", [the] "hope of Africa" and [the] "hope of the black race". It is more a declaration of intent or deification of potential, than a statement of fact. It is a triumph of hope that defies unpalatable reality.'
Yet despite this criticism, Tajudeen identified with the geography of hope that Nigeria represented for a future emancipated Africa. His spiritual and political energies were dedicated to moving this society to be a space of hope. In this he was sure that healing and the removal of fears were all tied up with the rights of women, religious freedom and democratic ideas. He was exercising his tremendous optimism of the intellect in order to open up ways for everyone, even those who scorned him as a mere commoner.
Tajudeen showed the way by investing his time and resources into building democratic relations and democratic spaces. He also wanted to build institutions of higher learning. In short, Tajudeen wanted youths and those committed to change and hope to use all means at their disposal to change Nigeria. When we read of the energy of the Sahara and the new breakthroughs in solar technology, we want to see electricity for all in Africa. Our schools, from kindergarten to universities must not be centres of divisions, but centres to teach about the great possibilities of transformation.
Pan-Africanists must now move beyond the roadblocks of the present leadership and consider the tasks of ending poverty for all and providing electricity and water for all by 2015. Tajudeen always spoke to leaders to their face to ask how it is that they can find the resources to buy arms to fight wars but will always go cap-in-hand to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) or so-called ‘donor’ agencies when it comes to providing healthcare and clinics.
WHAT IS OUR OPINION OF ARMED STRUGGLES?
At present the use of violence – both physical and social – against the people ensure that grassroots Pan-Africanists eschew all forms of armed struggle. Our experiences in the DR Congo after the overthrow of Mobutu cured our branch of the movement from all romanticism associated with armed struggles. Foday Sankoh, Jonas Savimbi, Charles Taylor, the butchers of Sudan, Congo and Somalia have cured the movement. For a brief moment after the overthrow of Mobutu and the rot in society prevailed, our section supported the armed uprising in the East.
This proved to be a colossal error and Tajudeen saw this very early and retreated from any support for that form of struggle. We have spoken openly on this question as one of the roads to healing. It was clear then, as it is now, that there is no work that can be better the work of political education, organisation and mobilisation. So when we see in Nigeria the growth of a branch of a movement for emancipation and some sections of this movement for emancipation call for the bearing of arms for liberation, our branch of the Pan-African movement says, 'This is not the way for peace, nor for a clean-up of the environment and reconstruction.'
At this moment when the enemies of the people have arms and weapons and we are open to massive deaths, we say that armed struggle as a means of achieving the goals of emancipation is at this time not the right tool. As one Grenadian revolutionary wrote recently:
'Armed struggle viewed as a preference for solving political problems is politically immature and in my view, morally wrong. It is possible for a people to pursue their aspirations for a better life and to change society, so that there are more opportunities for more and more equitable distribution of society’s fruits, through legal and constitutional means.'
Tajudeen also warned us about what happened to would-be revolutionaries when they stayed in power too long.
There were many who did not grasp the deep commitment to the process of unity and change. Tajudeen has left a clear testament of the revolutionaries-who-have become-reactionaries.
When we read of the mess associated with global Pan African Secretariat (in Uganda) today, we ask ourselves, how did Tajudeen escape from this? It is here we understand his diplomatic skills. How could he work with Okwiri whose brother, Noble Mayombo, was the head of security persecuting the opposition?
He made it clear that he was not part of the Ugandan establishment.
As in Uganda, so in Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Tajudeen made it clear to the grassroots that even if they saw him in pictures with these leaders, he was not an accomplice to their oppression. Tajudeen was not silent in the face of injustice. This is what he had to say about the same people who assisted him to escape from the Nigerian militarists:
'What happens to revolutionaries when they get into power? This familiar question was haunting me all of last week when I was back "home" (I lived in the country from 1992 to 2005) and not afraid to speak out against governments. As an ideologue of the NRM [National Resistance Movement] he displayed the kind of gross insensitivity to the ordinary citizen and ideological retreat that has characterised President [Yoweri] Museveni’s long-term hegemony over the Ugandan state and society. They have stayed so long in power that they have all forgotten their previous jobs, values and visions. From heralding "fundamental change" they have become apostles of "no change". They have become reactionaries, tired revolutionaries exhausting the country they claim they have liberated. The challenge now facing Ugandans is similar to what is facing Zimbabweans, Ethiopians, Eritreans and other post-liberation societies: how to liberate themselves from their liberators.
'The liberators have become establishment reactionaries blocking future changes.'
He continued by observing:
'… they are no longer changing the system because they are the system. The burden of change is now squarely on the shoulders of another generation. They are no longer part of the solution but very central to the problem.
'Many of them have hope of remaining in power for as long as President Museveni is there. This is why Museveni/NRM does not have any exit strategy. They cannot remember not being in power and cannot contemplate not being in power, whatever the citizens may think.'
Who are the revolutionaries today?
'I have argued elsewhere that we are in a revolutionary moment. The convergence of the economic and political crisis along with the search for new ideas about revolution and revolutionary change are to be seen on every continent. We already had one glimpse a month ago by the women of Iran. They have sent a message; women will no longer be oppressed, especially in societies that call themselves revolutionary.'
AFRICAN WOMEN AND LIBERATION TODAY
This is one of the unfinished organisational tasks related to building the Pan African Women’s Liberation Organization (PAWLO). This was a matter close to Tajudeen's heart, but he was clear that on this question men had to take a back seat and let the situation mature for the revolutionary women of Africa to come to the forefront.
He was not shy to remind us in his writings that he was the son of a 'hardworking woman who was a petty trader'. In his last communication he reaffirmed that he was driven to support the rights and dignity of hardworking men and women from the grassroots.
When he wrote on the death of John Garang, he quoted at length from the testimony of his wife and partner, Mrs Rebecca Garang.
Tajudeen used her voice to bring to the fore the oppression of women, even in the ranks of liberation movements. She had spoken at the Oginga Odinga Foundation in Nairobi and said:
'When my husband died, I did not come out openly and say he was killed, because I knew the consequences. At the back of my mind, I knew my husband had been assassinated.'
CAN WE BUILD OF THE WORK OF TAJUDEEN AND JOHN GARANG FOR PEACE IN SUDAN?
What Tajudeen wanted for Sudan was said in his tribute to John Garang:
'For Sudanese democrats, he was a bridge of hope with the potential of turning the country into a genuinely democratic environment where all Sudanese might, in the Martin Luther King hope, "be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character".'
AFRICAN UNITY AND THE FUTURE OF SUDAN
It is in societies such as Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Algeria where there are other worthy issues of struggles and challenges for pan-African unity and transformation.
Rising above the European classification of races is a crucial element of Pan-Africanism today and the challenge is nowhere more evident than in Sudan where ideas of race and racial classifications compound real struggles for peace, transformation and healing. In his own life Tajudeen transcended the limits of racial classifications and in the 7th Pan African Congress, his historical testament was to lay this issue of racial classifications within Pan-Africanism to rest. He had written in the book 'Pan Africanism':
'We in Kampala rejected as reactionary blackism this attempt to balkanise Africa behind the so-called Saharan and sub-Saharan divide. We accepted as Africans any citizen (by whatever means acquired) of any of the countries of Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo and all our islands, (Madagascar, Mauritius, Cape Verde etc.) and also recognised anybody of African descent in the diaspora. While a majority of Africans are of Negroid origins, it is not true historically, factually or even politically that blackness is the only criteria for Africanness.'
Tajudeen said then and said up to his last day on the planet earth, that it was not our responsibility to decide who was more African than whom.
Those who continue to promote the exclusivism of race do a disservice to Tajudeen, his family and his children and discredit the Pan-Africanism of the 21st century.
Tajudeen was very aware of the major test for pan-African emancipation in Sudan. He worked tirelessly for peace and he supported demilitarisation and reconstruction in the country. What of the prospect for separation of the South from the North? It is our aspiration that the best vehicle that will bring peace is that which should be chosen by the Sudanese people. As Pan-Africanists we should never stand in the way of regional self-determination projects. This position meant that it was the right of the southern Sudanese to seek their own path to peace. However, Tajudeen reminded Africans that the secession route did not always bring peace. Progressive Africans supported self-determination and independence for Eritrea. The secession of Eritrea did not bring peace. If anything the long war reinforced militarisation and that form of politics held back the entire region of East Africa.
The vision of a peaceful federated Nile Valley union with the flourishing of the peoples of all societies was his vision. To this end, he supported calls for the devolution of power from central governments. On 7 November 2007, during the debates from the Kenyan elections, Tajudeen came out for federal forms of governance in eastern Africa:
'Whether you call it majimbo or devolution, the consensus means that everyone is not happy with the status quo. This is where my defence of federalism begins.
One, the response to an overbearing centralised state is the devolution of power and clamouring for the same by the constituent units in that system. They could be districts, provinces, regions or other administrative areas.
Tajudeen was also opposed to leaders who sought to mobilise the people over petty boundary disputes. So while our task is to build African unity it must not be at the cost of stifling cultural, regional and linguistic diversity. It was Albert Einstein who reminded us that we should not see unity as an imagined uniformity. Unity instead must be expressed through the multiplicities of diversities. Universality then becomes the 'unitary significance of our diverse diversities.' Cultural unity is not then a simplistic concept of unity akin to the uniformity and unity that emanated from the concept of the nation. It is the multiplicity of diversity that assists us in understanding African peoples and cultures in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, the Caribbean, the North American mainland, in Europe and in Africa (in essence, the contemporary pan-African World). There are many examples of this diversity and unity. These examples are to be found in diversities of spiritual reflections, gods, goddesses, rituals and accompanying musical forms. These diversities include the diverse languages of Africa and the African world. These include the diverse peoples, ethnic groups, races and peoples of Africa at home and abroad. It is this diversity that elevates Pan-Africanism beyond the simple universalism and universal claims of Eurocentric modes of thoughts and classifications of races.
Every Pan-Africanist lives in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious or multi-racial society. We are against all forms of racial determinism.
Rising above the European classification of races is a crucial element of Pan-Africanism today and the challenge is nowhere more evident than in Sudan where ideas of race and racial classifications compound the real struggles for peace, transformation and healing.
WHAT DO WE BELIEVE IN?
We believe in reparations and healing. At the core of this concept of reparations is the African concept of ubuntu. Though the current leaders of neoliberal pan-Africanism in South Africa have retreated from this concept of ubuntu, this is an old idea which survived the storms of apartheid and colonialism in Africa. Ubuntu means forgiveness, willingness to share, reconciliation and love.
Tajudeen loved songs of love and hope. He loved Fela, Bob Marley and those cultural artists who inspired love and unity.
It is this love of kin, of fellow humans, that inspires us as we seek to carry forward the work of Tajudeen. It stems from an emancipatory approach to politics which is encapsulated in the call for emancipation from mental slavery. Che Guevara captured the essence of this spirit of ubuntu when he articulated the view that all revolutionaries are guided by strong feelings of love.
We return to the starting point of this tribute. Maya Angelou has said, 'The honorary duty of a human being is to love.' 'I am human,' Angelou said, quoting from her own work, 'and nothing human can be alien to me.'
Tajudeen brought us the love of life, the love of children, the love of peoples and love for family. Most of the people in this celebration were touched in one way or another by the love of life and the joy that came form Tajudeen’s presence. His spirits of joy, care, charity and compassion will be forever be cherished. This is the spirit he has left with us. We can hear his laughter, we can hear him speaking and holding forth. His vision of African unity by 2015 was not abstract. He envisaged the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Pan-African Parliament as driving forces, but these institutions will have to be transformed. He wrote in one postcard:
'By far the most potentially democratic and democratising institutions of the [African] union are the Pan-African Parliament and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The parliament offers an historic opportunity for Pan-Africanism to stop being the exclusive preserve of presidents but a matter for all of us with prospects for popular accountability through elected representatives.'
There was no space that was not worthy of bringing joy to others.
Unfortunately while he was bringing joy, we did not see his pain. We expected him to be superhuman. But Tajudeen was human and nothing human was alien to him. So he loved and he loved passionately, just as he was passionate about African unity.
He was very sensitive to the story of Mr McKenzie, the Pan-Africanist of the fifth Pan-African Congress and he encouraged all of the men and women of the movement to read the book, 'In search of Mr McKenzie'.
Issues of caring and nurturing must not be left to women. We need to dedicate ourselves here to do all we can for the immediate family of Tajudeen and to see that his family enjoys our support, just as he was there for all of us.
It is not possible to enumerate all of the tasks before us. The one clear task that he left is that we should be involved. As one of the sayings of Tajudeen that is hanging in this hall admonishes us:
'There is always something to be done.'
So he travelled, he wrote, he spoke and used every opportunity to telegraph the message. Africa must unite. Where Bob Marley and Fela Ransome Kuti used music, Tajudeen used his pen and his postcard to transform our consciousness of the urgency of the task. By departing on African Liberation Day he is now inextricably linked to the challenges and triumphs of African emancipation and redemption.
WHAT ARE THE TASKS OF THE UNIFICATION OF THE PEOPLES OF AFRICA?
Our task is to popularise the name and ideas of Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem.
We are rededicating ourselves today to using and reinforcing the ideas and values of Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem to create the pivot for the re-politicisation of the youth. Use his example to make the leap to the next stage of Pan-African liberation. We are humans and nothing human is alien to us.
* Horace Campbell is professor of Political Science and African-American Studies at Syracuse University, New York. He is writing a book on Barack Obama and 21st century politics.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.
 Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from various postcards from Tajudeen Abdul Raheem.
 Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, ed., Pan Africanism: Politics, Economy and Social Change in the Twenty First Century, Pluto Press, London, 1996.
 Quoted in Zillah Eisenstein, Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism and the West, Zed Books, page 55.
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