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News and updates from around the Ujima Ecosystem.

African Liberation Day Edition: Coalitions As A Practical Remedy against Repression

For African Liberation Day, approaching us this Saturday on May 25th, we're publishing an essay by Nehemi'EL Ibrihim-Simms on coalition-building on the African continent (in light of impending imperial forces)

“The independence of Ghana means nothing unless it is linked to the independence of the entire African continent.”

These words from Dr. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, spoken less than an hour after the hard-fought struggle for Ghanaian independence in 1957, are some of the most prescient words spoken by any African post-colonial leader. Nkrumah understood, all too well, the nuances of imperialism;as he wrote in 1947, “imperialism knows no law beyond its own interest.”

Imperialism, a vicious system of domination and exploitation, is dynamic and powerful. Its abilities to impose itself onto world relations, to adjust to setbacks by resistance movements, and to stifle the development of its host nations, call for any aspiring opposition to its power to form strategic partnerships. This is what Nkrumah understood. He understood that an isolated, balkanized Ghana could be just as reactionary as the colonized “Gold Coast.” He understood that imperialism was too developed for a polity as small as Ghana to put up any fruitful resistance to the influence it exerts on the global economic terrain.

And in 2024, this same understanding is what the Sahel region of West Africa has arrived upon.

Developments in the Sahel

Nearly 70 years later, the fight against imperialism in Africa continues. Countries in what is pejoratively known as “francafrique” (which includes the Sahelian states of Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali) are currently fighting to remove the neocolonial influence of France and the economic chokehold of the Financial Community of Africa. Last July, the military of Niger followed Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso in toppling its leaders; some claim that these leaders helped France pillage Niger's uranium and gold supply while failing to protect its citizenry. 

While at the Russia-Africa Summit in August, Ibrahim Traore, Burkina Faso's military leader and the continent's youngest head of state, spoke in disgust about Africa not having anything to show for its abundance of natural resources. Traore, a leader who has fashioned himself after the late Thomas Sankara, cited colonialism and imperialism as the primary cause of Africa's troubles. His counterparts in Mali and Guinea have done the same, much to the chagrin of France and the U.S. 

In a joint statement, these three countries dropped out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and accused it of being a threat to its members, being “under the influence of foreign powers,” and betraying its founding principles. They also accused the regional body of failing to support their fight against “terrorism and insecurity,” while imposing “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions” following military coups.  

On 16 September 2023, these states–led by military juntas–formed their own mutual defense pact called the Alliance of Sahelian States (ASS) after threats from ECOWAS to use military force to subdue uranium-rich Niger. On 28 January 2024, they took their pact one step higher when the three national leaders declared simultaneously on their national television stations that they would be withdrawing their countries from the 15-member West African regional organization. And on 6 March 2024, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso formed an official federation primarily to fight worsening violence. 

On Coalitions

The fruit planted by Ancestors are tasted by their grandchildren. Contemporarily, West Africa is dealing with a widespread economic and political crisis. 

Kempe Ronald Hope Sr, Director of Policy Division at Canada's Development Practice International and former senior official with the United Nations, lists the factors contributing to the despair (in his 1997 article “African Political Economy: Contemporary Issues in Development”) as: 

a crippling total external debt; a weakening balance of payments; intensification of the brain drain; deepening capital flight; declining agricultural productivity and foreign direct investment; deteriorating physical infrastructure; escalating unemployment and crime; pronounced famine and malnutrition; soaring budget deficits; rapid urbanization; expanding environmental degradation; worsening political and civil strife; rampant corruption; and increasing poverty, socioeconomic inequalities, population growth rates, and incidence of AIDS.

What lessons can we— modern-day grassroots organizers— interpret from Nkrumah’s analysis of cooperation as a strategy to foil colonialism-imperialism’s stranglehold? What is the status of the contemporary struggle for Black Power concerning the learned lessons of the last iteration of the African World Offensive? 

Questions of regional integration, or a process where neighboring countries enter into an agreement to safeguard or upgrade cooperation through the implementation of common institutions, have been at the center of African politics since the beginning of the post-colonial era. 

Coalition-building is the basis of power formation. Typically characterized by deep economic integration and political federation, coalitions are formed by smaller organizations, with common problems, that aggregate when faced with a formidable common issue. At the core of coalition-building lies the philosophical idea of mutual aid: an organizational model where voluntary, collaborative exchanges of resources and services for common benefit take place amongst community members to overcome social, economic, and political barriers to meeting common needs. Coalition-building is an art that calls the leadership of organizations to be willing to rise above their feelings of separateness and to actively collaborate in a spirit of mutual understanding, patience, and flexibility. Coalition-building requires grassroots leadership not just to develop a comprehensive analysis and plan of action against worldwide imperialism-colonialism but also to give this analysis legs by developing, within themselves, the necessary character-traits that are conducive to substantive collaboration. 

Case Study: The Mossi States of Burkina Faso

Dr. Chancellor Williams, a scholar of African history and culture, gives an appropriate illustration of an adequate coalition-organizational mode which gave the Mossi States – a pre-colonial federation of kingdoms in what is now Burkina Faso – the necessary fortification against foreign influence for hundreds of years in The Destruction of Black Civilizations. Williams describes the Mossi States as a “union of kingdoms” with a “pattern of centralized authority” that maintained the “traditional African political system of local autonomy” in that the constituent kingdoms of Wagadugu, Yatenga, Fada-Gurma, Mamprussi, and Dagoma were relatively independent. As a result, the Mossi States held on steadfastly to their own African religions and African institutions and survived over five hundred years, into the 20th century until they were finally overrun by France. The Mossi States are just one example of the political cooperation of African polities that banded together for survival. This phenomenon is not uncommon throughout pre-colonial African history, nor is it uncommon in the history of the Third World, of which the African in America is an integral part. 

What Remains For Us

In the present-day, the Second Scramble for Africa and the 4th Industrial Revolution are existential threats, prophesied by Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, and Cheik Anta Diop. We are the generation to face them. 

There is not one organization that has the capacity to defeat imperialism, and its agents, or to survive the impending state repression on its own.  Let us who represent the leadership of the grassroots organizations, dedicated to the total liberation of our people, ask ourselves the pressing questions of our time: How can we integrate our nation-building efforts to form a grassroots political federation capable of advancing the necessary short-term reformist work that will meet the daily needs or our people; as well as the long term revolutionary work of building coalitions on the continent of Africa capable of advancing the needs of working-class African people? How can this mode of organization make the most of the diversity of African people?

Views on whether to build a United African States are as polarizing as the various perspectives on what is transpiring in the Sahel. Regardless of what one thinks about the string of military coups, it's clear that the spirit of self-determination and unity is upon West Africa, and the Diaspora at large. 

There is now the question of how we on the ground in the U.S. can channel that spirit as a unified entity, in alignment with our brothers and sisters abroad.


Nehemi’EL Ibrihim-Simms (he/him) is a writer, organizer, and Deputy Youth Coordinator with the Pan-African Federalist Movement of North America; read more of his work here.


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