I have also been quite motivated by varying perspectives on the nature of freedom. Followers of African Skies may have read one or all of the following pieces I have written on freedom. It would be fair to say that I am very preoccupied with the idea of freedom, what it entails. When we know we have got it. What it means. How we define freedom. The thing is that we often think of freedom as an absolute – We are either free or we are not. I do not agree with this. Which is why I describe freedom as a becoming.
As Lewis Gordon says: ‘One cannot give an Other his freedom, only his liberty.’ [1995: 69]
I wrote in a post earlier this year that the true meaning of freedom is found in what happens the day after. The day after liberty is given does the Other begin to exercise freedom absolutely? The answer is context dependent. But more than often the answer is: it is unlikely. We often talk of freedom as the ending of a certain kind of un-freedom. But in many cases, even though the aesthetics of the un-freedom ends, the spirit of it and its driving forces remain. Therefore, in my opinion, freedom is a continuous act of striving, an internal act of defiance that may be helped or hindered by external forces. And freedoms are not matters to merely be declared, they must be exercisable. A freedom that cannot be exercised is no freedom at all.
But I realise more everyday that the essence of this becoming is knowing who we are, and also who we may become. That is not for anyone else to decide. And the question of who we are should be asked by both those who claim to be free and those who claim to be un-free. We should all be becoming. ‘If one person’s supposed freedom results in someone else’s subjugation, that is not actually a free society in action. It’s hierarchy in disguise.’ How we define freedom erases those who are denied it, our definition erases our complicity with unfreedom. How we are defined is how we are confined. And this thesis applies to Africa as we consider our place in global society. If one region’s supposed freedom results in another region’s subjugation that is not a free global society in action. Because:
Africa is often defined by its exploitability.
First, Africa’s riches were her children,
Then it was her land,
Then, what lies beneath the land,
And now it is all three.
Africa needs to redefine, to break free.
To be free.
We are not our exploitability.
But who are we?
Who are we?
Without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men. – Patrice Lumumba
Sometimes it seems, freedom takes forever. It does seem to me that Africa’s freedom has taken forever. Over 400 years of plunder. Still going on. So, we must know by now that there is a massive difference between being declared free and actually having agency to determine our destiny. Not knowing the difference is the tragedy. Not knowing who we were, who we are or who we may be. That is a tragedy. The foundation of a farcical freedom bestowed and bequeathed:
You are free now, Africa
Free to do the things we tell you to do, Africa
Free to not do anything you want to do, Africa
You are free now, Africa
So if we really want to be free. If we are really to change our world, we need to redefine. We need to understand where we have come from. Where we are. And where we want to go to. We must go back to go forward. One of the great mysteries of history is that you have to know it to forget it. To unbecome what we have become. A failure to learn from history means that we are forced to return to it. To never actually be free of it. Humanity seems to be held at a fixed morphing point. Practising unfreedom and inhumanity but with more sophisticated technologies and seemingly ever more liberal structures. Therefore what seems like my inordinate obsession with history is my attempt to be free of it and its ghosts. And as we learn about what has been and deconstruct what is and theorise what could possibly be, we also need to put our thoughts into action. Theory without praxis is nothing but empty words and self-aggrandisement. If our words profit no one we might as well be silent. In fact, it would be better to be silent. Then would not be able to make empty claims of progress that are in fact detrimental to freedom. We must act on what we say. As in the words of Ella Baker, ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest…’ If we believe, we must not rest. I remember sometime in June 2018, I was speaking with someone who had been working on decolonising for about 20 odd years. [in her words, before decolonisation became ‘fashionable’] She said to me that despite opposition, ‘You just keep going, don’t you?’ So, we just keep going. ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest.’
We are the becoming. And as long as we are becoming free, we are making progress. We are moving forward. We are the becoming. Becoming free. Once again. Becoming impossible. Fear us.
We are the becoming.
Gordon, Lewis R., and Lewis Ricardo Gordon. Fanon and the crisis of European man: An essay on philosophy and the human sciences. Psychology Press, 1995.