LIBERATION AFRICA CONFERENCE – NOVEMBER 2014
OPENING SPEECH BY JEREMY CORBYN MP (FORMER CHAIR OF LIBERATION)
The background to this is that our organisation was founded in the 1950s by Fenner Brockway, Tony Benn and a number of others as the Movement for Colonial Freedom as an act of solidarity with people all over the world, who were trying to throw off European colonialism and it was a very effective and large organisation at that time. It had enormous influence. You have only got to read the records of Parliament in the 1950s where a very small number of very brave members of Parliament raising issues for example of the abominable behaviour of the British army in Kenya and the atrocious treatment of Mau Mau people. Liberation was there doing that and providing space and voice for a lot of people in Britain. In a sense, that came on the back of ten years before, the Fifth Pan – African Congress held at Chorlton Town Hall in Manchester at the end of the WW2 when there was the discussion then about the independence for Africa which was not on anyone’s agenda really in the European political scene in the 1940s but it was certainly on the agenda of others. Only 12 years later, Ghana achieved its independence and all other countries became independent after that.
If we then fast forward, the independence was political and was achieved but economic independence was not achieved. Indeed, much of the economic development of the newly independent states started up being national industrial planning and the idea of developing sustainable economies. Badly hit by the oil price crisis some years later, badly hit by World Bank and the IMF plans and as a result, much of Africa has developed on the line of exploiting natural resources for export, selling land for somebody else to grow food on and becoming actually in some ways even more dependent on the export industries rather than internal growth industry.
There are many issues facing Africa at the present time and I think it is brilliant that we have got George Johannes coming to speak to us today. I have known George since he was the ANC rep in London during the struggle against apartheid. That was the most titanic struggle possible and the achievement of overthrowing apartheid in 1990 was frankly the most stupendous thing that happened for many decades before and since that time. South Africa’s position in continent was of course highly significant as the most successful biggest economy and political leadership across the whole continent.
So, the purpose of our conference today is to give a chance to discuss these things in the workshops that we are having but also to insure that progressive people in Britain and Europe take very seriously what is happening in Africa and build up a real solidarity with those forces in Africa. Also, that our children and our universities and colleges begin to understand a bit more about the history of Africa, the contribution Africa has made to the world’s history; science, learning, literature and civilisation as a whole. So, there is a stronger sense of unity in that. I got very angry this week, not for the very first time, by Bob Geldof – the sort of patronising nonsense about Ebola that he was talking about. Surely, the issue is that if you deliberately impoverish an economy and a people, then the price they pay is poor health, short lives and other things that go with that. That is not going to be solved by charity donations that is at the same time is sucking out the resources and the wealth of the continent. Instead, it is going to be ensuring that the wealth of the continent is available for the people of the continent rather than the multinational companies that are after it at the present time.
Liberation is here to promote issues like these, provide that space for that debate and that learning. We are going to be hear from Stan Newens next who is the President of Liberation and a great activist for many years both in the British Parliament and the European Parliament and I am very much looking forward to hearing George talk to us after that. Welcome and thank you for coming today.
CLOSING SPEECH BY JEREMY CORBYN MP (FORMER CHAIR OF LIBERATION)
Liberation is our organisation and was founded by people with vision. We put on this conference because we want to make sure Liberation remains strong and grows strong and provides what it always does and provide a forum for people to come together…..
We have had a good day today and we have had interesting discussions. In the opening speeches, Stan Newens, I think gave a very interesting and comprehensive history of the way Africa had been colonised and exploited. George [Johannes] gave a fantastic contribution. Thank you so much, not just for that but also for all the other things that you’ve done over so many years. I remember the meetings and rallies on this road in the mid-1980s when we were going to the South Africa House for a vigil to the latest victim who has been hung. We got down the road, Steve Biko road, in memory of him. We’ve got so many other memories around in North London of many people who were in exile. Always with the determination they will get home, they will end apartheid, and apartheid was ended of course. The incredible scenes which you will remember from the time that Mandela came out of prison…But, the struggle is still there and I think George was quite fascinating describing the dangers to the new government in SA after the election of Mandela and the way in which dark and nasty forces tried to destroy that government. Those nasty, dark forces are still around and are still at work.
So, we have to be proud of some of the achievements that have happened but I do think that we have to try, possibly through this institute that has been suggested, [George Johannes’ suggestion of the creation of an Institute of Liberation Studies] to do a lot more in understanding the real history of Africa because there is still a lot of media denigration of anything that has do with Africa. How often does an archaeology programme go and look at Great Zimbabwe? How often do they talk about the Ashanti and the civilisation there? How often do they talk about all of the achievements and all the learning that were there? I would like to make Walter Rodney’s book; “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” a compulsory reading so that we have that understanding of how that history came about. When we commemorate the end of the slave trade, as we’ve just done in parliament; it was quite extraordinary. It was as if it was only William Wilberforce that did it, he ended the slave trade. Hang on a minute, the slave trade went on for a very long time. A great deal of money was made in the City of London from the Slave Trade – same with Liverpool. So, when we commemorate the history, it is too often seen through the narrative of European acts of solidarity. Of course, these acts were important but the abolition would not have happened without those who suffered – the slave uprisings that took place in the Caribbean and America and of course the great triumph that took place in Haiti. So, I think we need to encourage the proper understanding of African History at that time.
In my opening remark which was very brief. I mentioned that the issue is also one of development post-independence. I’ve been reading a very interesting book on the history of post-independence Africa and the way in which the principles of African Unity were laid down at the conference in Manchester in 1945. The idea of Nkrumah of a Pan African Unity, a Pan African development, a cultural renaissance of Africa and an intra-African development that would encourage more intra-African trade. A lot of that has not happened. The trade routes, the air routes the shipping routes, broadly speaking, are taking the raw materials of Africa to China, Japan, Europe and North America and the air flights are accordingly that way. So, that principle of African unity is something that I think is very important. Also, understanding the cultural legacy of Africa, not just a history I was talking about but a more modern writing. Fantastic writing by Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri for example and those that described the changing societies in Africa post-independence. I want our children to read those books and understand because that will contribute an awful lot, not just to educate, but to improve the attitudes in this country as a whole. I don’t think Nigel Farage and UKIP will go along with this somehow, but that all I am going to say about Nigel Farage and the UKIP today.
There are big issues. If you look at the war in the Congo, 3 million people have died. It is a WW1 level of loss of life. The war is brutal, it is crude, it is nasty and it is incredibly destructive. I have had the good fortune of visiting the Congo on two occasions. The last one was to go to Goma and to the East where I met hundreds, if not thousands of women who were all victims of the brutality of rape. The rape is a weapon of war and they obviously have suffered. They have developed a huge sense of solidarity and many were living in refugee camps. As we were in the refugee camps, they put on a play which was nice and interesting and whilst the play was on, a huge truck arrived and the play was disturbed by the noise of this truck. I turned around to look at this truck; it was a massive truck carrying sacks of rice. This is Goma, the most fertile place on the planet; volcanic soil, it has got sunshine, it has got warmth and it has got water. You could grow anything there. Yet this rice was USAID all the way from the USA. So, it has been shipped from the USA and then trucked all the way to Congo. What a waste of money and resources! Not one of the residents of the refugee camp was allowed to grow any food because they might take residence there. So, you have virtually a prison of a refugee camp not allowed to grow food with USAID rice imported to feed them and a war going on all around you. Who is funding that war? The mining companies are funding that war. The minerals are funding that war. The wealth that has been sucked out of the Congo then reappears in very nice windows and offices in Geneva, Zurich, London, New York, and Frankfurt where utterly clean mining companies would not think of doing anything bad. This shows the brutality of the exploitation of those resources in the Congo. The majority of Congolese children do not go to school; the majority of the victims of war are living a virtually feral existence. None of that is right, none of that is necessary. All of that is wrong, all of that is a product of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba all those years back and all the corruption that went with it but above all it’s a product of the hypocrisy of the West which on the one hand will give amounts of aid and will collect for charity but will do nothing to control the mining companies and their theft of the natural resources of the Congo and other countries.
I would just like to mention other issues relating to conflict on the continent. There is an urgent need to stand in solidarity with those people who are standing up for human rights in Africa, particularly in Eritrea. What they are going through and the suffering that is happening there. Just think for a moment; those people that are escaping from those terrible conflicts end up in Libya, end up in the Mediterranean. Some of them end up drowning in the Mediterranean and what is the response of the EU? Their response is to stop rescuing people in the Mediterranean but instead put a naval flotilla on to keep them out! That is where Xenophobia leads to ultimately. I have raised this in parliament indeed. Others have and will continue to do so and stand in solidarity to defend human beings rights to survive and right to leave from situations they are living in.
The last thing I want to mention is the decolonisation process. There is one colony still left in Africa. That is the Western Sahara. The Western Sahara was the Spanish colony of the Western Sahara and I have been to the small liberated areas of the Western Sahara. On my way there by truck from the refugee camps in Algeria, we drove through the desert and we sort of made a sharp right for no obvious reason. So, I asked the driver, “why have we turned here?” He said we have just got to make sure that we don’t go into Mauritania. We are going to go this way into the liberated parts of Western Sahara. I asked “How did you know?” and he replied, “There’s a big stone over there which was put there after the congress of Berlin in 1884”. This explains these lines on the map. So, this desert has a stone put there by Europeans in 1884 to decide what the boundaries should be. On the decolonisation process, there was an agreement by the AU that everyone should have a right to their own self-determination. The people of Western Sahara have never had that right to their own self-determination. Liberation supports the rights of the people of Western Sahara to decide their own future. I was on a delegation there early this year to visit the occupied parts of the Western Sahara and was pursued around the place by Moroccan police who assured me that all the Sahrawian people were very happy to live under Moroccan rule. I saw how “happy” they were; as soon as more than six appeared out of their houses to join the demonstrations against the Moroccan authorities, they were clubbed down by the Moroccan police. So, we stand in solidarity with the people of Western Sahara who are under occupation.
In conclusion, I just want to say this. Liberation was founded to promote a better world. Africa has taught us an enormous amount and has made an enormous contribution to the world. The first nuclear free zone in the world is Africa. Thank you so much to the ANC and South Africa for giving up nuclear weapons and any aspirations to have them.
The suggestion that has been made by George, and I think it is a very good one, is that we promote the establishment of an Institute for Liberation Studies at one of the Universities in the UK. There is an institution for Peace Studies at Bradford University which does a very good job and I believe it is on that model that you [George Johannes] were thinking about.
What I hope we get out of this event today is a great sense of understanding and greater sense of solidarity and hopefully we make this into a regular event. Also, we should make it a focus of campaigning on solidarity with the African community in Britain and also in solidarity with people that are in struggle at the present time. We should aim to do this always on the basis that it is not just the end of the colonialism and exploitation that is important but recognising that national governments are very powerful but they are actually much less powerful than global corporations and global capital with its ability to move around the world. If we can get that sense of understanding and that sense of solidarity, we would have done good work. By mobilising together, we can then mobilise a lot of people very quickly at quite short notice in solidarity for a particular event or a particular action. For example, Eritrea, the migrant peoples and the Western Sahara but there are more examples that could be used.
Liberation exists in order to promote understanding, promote internationalism and promote solidarity – that is what we were founded for. We were instrumental in founding the Anti-apartheid movement and a whole lot of other organisations which came out of the great visionaries in the 1950s who wanted to develop that. This conference today is in that great tradition but it is in a different generation, it is a different time and for different needs and different purposes. So, please join Liberation, support Liberation and above all, please be active in it. That is what it is for. We want people to be active, active promoting these causes and promoting that sense of solidarity. Dan has been with us for a long time and it brought tears to my eyes when he described what it was like going back to Kenya after 50 years. His family suffered because of the behaviours of British colonialists at that time and Dan, if you don’t mind me saying this, you are an embodiment of the history of that whole period and your description of what it was like going back – I hope you do a write up for the magazine. As indeed all the proceedings of today will be in the magazine. Can I say thank you everyone for coming today, I have learnt a great deal today. I particularly enjoyed the Gender Equality workshop, I thought it was incredible. We were talking about bringing Women’s history into the forefront. I believe we have had a good day today, we have all educated ourselves a lot and we can educate ourselves and the rest of the world still further.
Thank you very much.