reviewed by Peter Limb, Pambazuka
Themes of solidarity, especially in the South, and African diaspora
connections with Africa are very much to the fore, as in the chapter on
Haiti, which over the centuries has suffered and continues to suffer,
slavery, coups and invasions. Wider themes such as genocide and the food
crisis (co-authored with Diamantino Nhamposa) are also treated. One
chapter is in poetic form. Capitalism over the centuries, he argues, has
always been based on greed and split human conscience. Gigantic
environmental and human security crises now threaten danger to humanity
unless we can change; and taking seriously the negative impact on black
people of their history is an important way to start.
The essays, previously published online from 2005 to 2008 in Pambazuka
News, reconnect the histories of the dispersed, poor and dispossessed.
Depelchin uses the metaphor of a deliberately shattered mirror to show
(like Fanon and Biko) how Africans (and Haitians, Gazans and Brazilians)
have been driven by Western power into a cul de sac in which they are
forced to see their own histories in distorted form through the lens of
the triumphant, dominant view of history in which the North, might, and
the market are always right.
To combat this enfeebling mindset, he presents a new history to smash
the intellectual bonds chaining Africans to dominant intellectual
frameworks. By making connections between shack-dwellers in South
Africa, Palestinian refugees in Gaza and raped women in Congo, he seeks
to draw together the historical and politico-economic causes that have
led to their plight.
The dominant history with which he jousts is not so much prevailing
academic histories, often sensitive to the issues he raises, but rather
the ruling ideas in society, or public history. Yet he also urges
historians to better link across their narrow fields to see connections
between different atrocities. If at times polemical, the tone is also
conducive to stimulating thought and indeed the book seeks not just to
critique but also to propose solutions - such as greater reliance on
solidarity, the commons and resistance to inequality and complacence. A
‘breathing space’ is needed to enable people to think, for capitalism is
stripping that capacity (p. 87). To help, this, ‘emancipatory politics
must go hand in hand with emancipatory narratives of history (p. 72)’.
The value of this small and affordable book is to stimulate a re-think
of Africans’ predicament and an understanding of its historical causes,
and to encourage positive action to rectify current abuses. On another
level, the arguments are deep and nuanced and if read carefully are a
serious challenge for scholars to re-think their paradigms of
compartmentalization of black people’s pasts. It is important for all
interested in African and diasporan studies, history, and politics, with
an additional salience for those such as social activists, NGOs, and
journalists concerned to comment and act on African crises.