Congolese militant and activist Ernest Wamba dia Wamba.
We bid farewell to one of Africa’s greatest militant intellectuals Wamba dia Wamba on 15 July this week. Baba Wamba’s legacy as a militant Pan Africanist intellectual and organiser will continue to live on through action of the thousands of people, particularly young people his teachings and practice influenced in the last years of his life. Up until the end, his depth of human resilience and rigor of organizing remained rooted in revolutionary praxis.
Baba Wamba was born in 1942 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the brutal Belgian colonial rule. At the end of his secondary schooling in Swedish mission schools, he was awarded a scholarship to study in the United States, at Western Michigan University where he attained a bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy. He went on to attain an MBA in Claremont. During his time as a student in the United States, Wamba dia Wamba was actively involved in the civil rights movement. Later, Baba Wamba made the decision to root himself both geographically and practically in the struggles of the African masses, and in 1980 began teaching at the University of Dar Es Salaam. He was decisive in using the education he received in the service of his people, both culturally and materially.
Wamba’s contribution to Pan Africanism can be traced back to his time in the US where he was involved in Pan African movements. Throughout his life, he remained committed to building Pan Africanism rooted in the masses and not an African elite. Wamba’s lifelong dedication to building Pan Africanism is well documented, and includes contributing to developing Pan African theory. In line with this stood his championing of African egalitarian practices most notably known through his elaboration on the “communal palaver” where the “practice of carving out spaces where any person may speak critically about communal affairs and leaders [which can allow] communities to remain classless, evenly governed and accountable.”
Baba Wamba’s contributions to the African continent are known through his active support of grassroots movements such as the shack dwellers movement, Abahlali base Mjondolo who in a statement after his death described him as “a good friend to the movement” and someone who “understood that the oppressed have to organize themselves for their own liberation.” On 23 September 2018, he led the final session on The Battle of Ideas at the 3rd Pan Africanism Today Conference in Winneba, Ghana. Here he maintained his uncompromised solidarity with the people’s organizations and movements of the African continent to continuously work to unite the struggles of the masses against capitalism and imperialism.
Wamba dia Wamba has been pivotal in struggling towards building a liberated, post-colonial Africa. Where revolutionary leaders such as Cabral struggled towards Africa’s independence from colonial rule and imperialism, leaders such as Baba Wamba have continued to struggle post-independence against the clutches of capitalism and imperialism. Wamba dia Wamba dedicated his life to fighting tirelessly to expose capitalism’s contradictions in post-independent Africa. His resolute position that criticized the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) / African Union’s (AU) inability to drive the continent towards a Pan Africanism divorced from the elite was clear:
“Pan-Africanism was an emancipatory politics of African unity in the epoch of independence struggles-including the last struggle against Apartheid colonialism–; we need a new emancipatory politics of African unity along the lines of the Abahlali base Mjondolo’s “a person is a person everywhere.” The singular events and their political prescriptions as well as their militants should be identified. The OAU / AU is no longer the site of such a politics in the epoch of neo-colonialism.”
Throughout his life Baba Wamba held resolutely that Pan Africanism is to be built by the masses for the masses. He was critical of both institutions which sought to loot Africa; and the continent’s ruling elite – neocolonial agents – whom he characterized as being far removed from the people.
In the past year while living in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo, Baba Wamba spent time teaching Marxist theory to young Congolese in different parts of the city emphasizing the need to use Fanon’s method of analyzing and questioning ills of the society.
While we have lost the life of Wamba dia Wamba, he will continue to live through the lessons and ideas he so humbly imparted to us.
Hamba kahle Mkhonto we Africa!
Farewell spear of the African nation!