Africa Policy and Futures Forum

The Revolution Starts and Ends with Theories: Discourse of Academic Inquisitive(s)

By Tealee A. Brown & Anne-Sharlene Murapa on May 18, 2022

The African Dream 

It is a fact (arguably) that the African revolution is a product of colonialism and global imperialism. For over a century, western nations maximized trickery and force to conquer African nations and impose their leadership and control. By denouncing their ancestral heritage and self-governance, western malice took ownership of Africa and its people, disrupted the political development of African states, and slowed the continent’s socio-economic and cultural development by centuries. 

The 1960s marked a critical moment for Africa. It was a time for revolutionary change; which gave birth to anticolonial movements across the continent for political independence. At its core was the goal to “return Africa to the rule of the African people themselves”. However, the periods after 1962 revealed that more than political independence was needed if Africa was to become truly independent. Except for a few countries, by 1962, almost every African country had broken free from colonial leadership. Yet, most, if not all, African states remained significantly reliant on their former colonial rulers for national development. This reliance undermined the significance of the African liberation struggle. In light of this, the African Revolution expanded its focus in the following years. Thirty-five African countries at some point between 1950 and the mid-1980s took up African Socialism, which supported radical social and economic reforms that centered on African societies. 

During the First World War, Africans in Africa began resisting colonial rule and supporting the requirement of a Revolution. Yet, today over one hundred years later, our achievements fall short of our goals. This is what we’re terming as ‘conflicting word action dynamic’. This phenomenon manifests in two dimensions. On one hand, is the formulation, declaration, and study of intellectual theories of change paired with zero action. On the other hand, we have a more, ‘words contradict action’ manifestation wherein theories are formulated, convicted, and acted upon, however, the actions that are taken often negate the theories.

Until today, the goals of the African Revolution have not been achieved. Generations of African leaders continue to study the history of Africa and romanticize it. Instead of making the goal of the independence struggle tangible and improving the lives of the mass of Africans through social welfare programs, the west is continuously used as a scapegoat for our own deficiency. This is a notion that justifies the current African predicament. . Frantz Fanon suspects “all the efforts to elucidate African history and compare it with European history are only the outcome of a deep inferiority complex”. Fanon in response to this protest being interested only in actions. Though we do not totally rule out the study of the past for obvious reasons, we fully agree that we are on the road to nowhere if we do not pair our studies and theories with strategic actions. 

Still, exploring the ‘theory-zero action’ phenomenon, we must point out that our problem has never been the lack of knowledge, awareness, theories of change, or visions. Instead, our problem is and has always been the lack of (or the very minimal) actions to back up formulated theories. Passionate and geared up about the theories we study and formulate, we instinctively are riled up to share with people around us. bell hooks teaches that individuals who are concerned with aligning themselves with certain beliefs, in this case, Pan-Africanism, are not necessarily practitioners of those habits. To quote her more effectively, “ Indeed, the privileged act of naming often affords those in power access to modes of communication and enables them to project an interpretation, a definition, a description of their work and actions, that may not be accurate, that may obscure what is really taking place.” Whilst theory can be a critical step in reimagining society, it is never enough to drive social change. It is only ever a ‘useful’ and effective tactic when it is part of a larger effort. 

Because it is almost impossible to not contemplate why we are somehow resistant to taking action, we confess that we contemplate these: Maybe we take too much pride and satisfaction in mere words and dreams and that’s why we are blinded from pursuing our real goals? Maybe we fear that our dreams are far-fetched and out of reach so we let ourselves forever gravitate between dreaming dreams and declaring declarations? 

Now, fully acknowledging the dominant case of staying in theory, it reflects as unfair to not give credence to instances when leaders of the revolution actually followed their theories with actions.

In 1963, the legendary Kwame Nkrumah proposed that in order to achieve the envisioned and articulated “free-independent Africa,” a revolutionary union of African states had to be formed. This is an ideology to which most (if not all) African states subscribed. Motivated by this call for unity, Africa witnessed the formation of regional and continental bodies. 

In this particular case, although African states claim to be in on the ideology of African unity, many of them still cling to the ideology of “upward mobility” through which they can continue to promote their individual goals over the collective state of Africa. What this means is that yet again, words directly oppose actions. At this point, we ponder in distress as to whether African leaders are oblivious to the implication that it is impossible to achieve our goal of African unity if we engage in practices that directly go against said unity. So we question, “Do African leaders care at all about instituting the revolution?” If you say the answer to this is ‘yes’, we have to then ask you why they take either no actions or take actions that undermine their expressed visions and goals. Is it because they do not believe in the feasibility of the revolution? Is it because the status quo yields more benefits for them than the revolution would? Do they prefer to stick to the status quo because they have doubts about the very theories they claim to subscribe to? Our key concern is what exactly is at the root of the conflicting word-action dynamic. 

Diving deeper into the conflicting word-action dynamic of Africans and African leaders at the head of driving the Revolution, there are things we can consider. Collectively we blame the West for being at the root of our problems. We agree that in order to move forward, we must break free from every form of dependency and reliance on them. We are convinced that we must limit our collaborations with them, always putting the interest of Africa and our people above them. Yet, when we demand reparations from the West, particular African governments display disagreement, ensuring that in the West, no reparations are due. When we call for the ordinary people to be lifted out of poverty, they still proceed to work with the very multinational companies that keep Africa and Africans in poverty. When the West wants to engineer a political or military invasion so as to weaken or appropriate a sister nation’s valuable resources, they lend a helping hand. Not only is this a phenomenon that unsettles and demotivates, but it is also one that is bound to give anybody who truly cares, a long series of sleepless nights. Despite claiming to be committed to the Revolution and the good of Africa, these people still prioritize the West over Africa. Looking to the west as ideal, they act in ways that they hope would please the West and guarantee them rewards. 

Will we ever witness the full manifestation of the revolution? 

When Kwame Nkrumah said, “Thought without practice is empty, and action without thought is blind”, he may have been alluding to the wake of the revolution, realizing that thought alone was not enough to warrant the complete emancipation of the people of Africa. It seems that Africans may have fallen into the trap of envisioning a future that they are not equally prepared to carry out themselves. It is apparent that discourse is preferred over the combined efforts of thought and action that summon the results we collectively want to see. Acknowledging our role in the sustenance of our trauma and stagnancy does not nullify the violence and exploitation at the hands of the settlers. It merely creates an opportunity for us to start rebuilding from a place of truth. Have we done enough by just exploring the problems we face and drafting possible solutions that we do not enact? Is anyone any different from the leaders who promised us a better tomorrow if their contribution to the revolution is only criticism elusive of constructiveness?

Tealee A. Brown is ambitious about Africa’s growth and development and thus dedicates her time to exploring phenomena that affect it.Currently, she is a third-year student of Global Challenges at the African Leadership University. Tealee is enthusiastic about life, impact, and sustainable social change. 

Anne-Sharlene Murapa is a 3rd-year Global Challenges student at the African Leadership University. She is passionate about the role of Data and Art in addressing socio-economic issues. Being of the belief that true change is made possible by seeking out the purest form of truth, she encourages interrogating problems at their root cause in order to devise long-lasting solutions. 


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