Africa, home to more than one billion people, has had a very tumultuous past, with some problems rooted in history remaining unsolved to this day. Currently, it is facing a time of great political upheaval, with coup governments in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali being praised by large parts of the anti-imperialist left for their decolonization efforts. But how far can decolonization truly progress if it is confined to the frameworks, social hierarchies, institutions, and power structures that were established centuries ago?
Many of us Africans, including those in the diaspora, point to decolonization as a solution, and that makes perfect sense: Africans managing African issues. It’s not just an obvious solution, but also an urgent one. Even after nearly two centuries of modern colonization in Africa, textbook European colonialism lives on, with examples including the Canary Islands/Kanaria, Ceuta/Sabta, Melilla/Mritc, and the Chagos archipelago. Additionally, many African nations, or more accurately, nation-states, have become colonial powers themselves. Colonial occupations have occurred and continue in Ogaden, Oromia, Tigray, Western Sahara, and other places across the continent. This is where the main problem begins to manifest itself: the nation-state as well as the dominant power structures in the African continent.
Before the age of Western colonialism began, there were numerous societies, not just in Africa, but around the world, that existed and even thrived without a state as we understand it today. One such society is the Kabyle society, which was based on village communities. Even one of the most influential anarchist writers, Peter Kropotkin, wrote about the Kabyle village community, attributing the concept of mutual aid to it and noting the rejection of undemocratic authority: “The Kabyles know no authority whatever besides that of the djemmâa, or folkmote of the village community. All men of age take part in it, in the open air or in a special building provided with stone seats, and the decisions of the djemmâa are evidently taken unanimously: that is, the discussions continue until all present agree to accept or submit to some decision. With no authority in a village community to impose a decision, this system has been practiced by mankind wherever village communities have existed, and it is still practiced wherever they continue to exist, i.e., by several hundred million men (sic) all over the world.”
He then goes on to describe the character of the practice of Mutual Aid among the Kabyles, citing aid given to suffering people, including outsiders, during a famine.
The Kabyle people maintained this model of decentralized communities for centuries. They successfully resisted Roman, Arab, Ottoman Turkish, and, until 1857, French colonial power. During the colonial period in Algeria, the village community served as a defense mechanism against French colonialist bureaucracy.
In the present day, the Free Commune of Barbacha, which emerged after a large-scale uprising in Kabylia, continues this tradition of direct democracy and mutual aid while remaining resistant to the authoritarian nation-state.
Beyond Kabylia, there are other places in Africa where people have attempted to establish autonomies. This is a particularly viable solution to the all-African quest for decolonization because the target must be the power structures.
Years after "decolonization," many African countries have retained the institutions imposed on them by their oppressors, particularly police institutions like the Gendarmerie. Why maintain these power structures that were used to oppress our people? This once again demonstrates that nation-states are contrary to the ideals of decolonization and national liberation. What has actually been achieved is not decolonization, but rather a monopoly on power. This is why so many autocratic and chauvinistic regimes exist. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Africa; it can be observed in many parts of the world that have suffered greatly under colonialism, such as India, which has transformed into a genocidal Hindu ethnostate, or Sri Lanka, which has committed genocide against its Tamil population.
While most African states are not traditional ethnostates, but rather constructed nation-states resulting from colonial administration, there is often an ethnic hegemony present, even if respective governments attempt to conceal it. One example is nominally socialist Gaddafist Libya. During Gaddafi's rule, the government aimed to portray Libya as socialist and united, which was far from the truth. Although Gaddafi opposed most European intervention, he severely oppressed non-Arab Libyans, including the indigenous black Toubou people and especially the Imazighen, going as far as to deny their existence.
On the other hand, former colonial powers placed leaders in positions of power who supported the colonial powers and even entered contracts with them that clearly disadvantaged the population. For instance, the post-independence Nigerien president signed away all uranium rights to France.
All of these are just examples of how nation-states in Africa are doomed to fail in terms of achieving real decolonization and liberation in Africa, because they are inherently tied to the colonial system that came before them and the international capitalist hegemony that is keeping the world in a chokehold.
The states that are imposed on us embody all that is wrong with our societies.
Whether that is the patriarchy, authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism and persecution, racism, ethnonationalism and genocide, ecocide, warmongering, queerphobia, or anti-indigenism, there will be no freedom in a system that is designed to curtail it. If we really want to open the path for African liberation, we have to move beyond nation-states and we have to stop limiting our thought to this concept. If we want to achieve actual decolonization, the solution is African autonomy. Multiethnic and democratic societies that respect the indigeneity of all of its peoples as well as the land. There often is great wisdom in the practices of our ancestors, and it is time to reclaim it.
Imenɣi is an Amazigh Muslim socialist writer and artist focused on the idea of total liberation and spreading awareness about decolonial, anti-authoritarian, and other emancipatory ideas.
Ad nerrez wala ad neknu. Better to break than to bend.