On Unity and Resistance: a People’s Love Letter to the Birthplace of the Spirit of Resistance


In this manifesto for Pan-African futures, Namata Serumaga-Musisi shares with us the spirit of her activist engagement, in particular as Commander of Creative Arts & Advocacy for the Ghana-based organization Fighters and as Diaspora Coordinator for People Power, the Ugandan liberation movement.

So many blessings must flow from our unity; so many disasters must follow on our continued disunity, that our failure to unite today will not be attributed by posterity only to faulty reasoning and lack of courage, but to our capitulation before the forces of imperialism.” (Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Inaugural ceremony of the OAU Conference in Addis Ababa, 1963.)

We must start this text and we must end this text by saying:

Africa Must Unite. Now.

And when we say “Africa Must Unite,” we speak of the People, not the “leaders,” never these leaders. How could puppets ever speak for us on the rights of Black People? And when we are targeted in the Mediterranean, in Minneapolis, in Kuwait, who among them can cast the first stone?

The dictator Museveni has been torturing and murdering Ugandans since the 1970s. Not even his ascension to the presidency was enough to stop him from killing us.

The day before the murder of Lonmin employees at Marikana, non-executive Director (and now South African President) Cyril Ramaphosa wrote, “They are plainly dastardly criminals and must be characterised as such. […] In line with this […] there needs to be ‘concomitant action to address this situation’.”

In August 2019, Muhammadu Buhari’s Nigerian State Security Service arrested human rights activist, pro-democracy campaigner, former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore for alleged treason after he called for #RevolutionNow. He was held for months.

Alpha Conde’s military brutalized and murdered anti-referendum protestors in Guinea, as the People fought the adoption of a new Constitution which would allow him to extend his rule.

There is Gnassingbe in Togo.

Nguema in Equatorial-Guinea.

Biya in Cameroon.

The list goes on.

Who among them can possibly speak?

When we say “Africa Must Unite,” we speak of the People. The People of Africa Must Unite!

Comrade Kyagulanyi ‘Bobi Wine’ Ssentamu and the Comrades of the People Power Movement of Uganda, we will be free.

Comrade Farida Nabourema and the Togolese Civil League fighting oppression in Togo, Comrade Martial Pa’Nucci and Ras le Bol in Congo Brazzaville, the Comrades of Y’en a Marre in Senegal, Comrade Alice Ilunga and LUCHA in the DRC, and of course my Pan Africanist Comrades of the Economic Fighters League, fighting for economic democracy, challenging the minority elite, and working to dismantle systems of oppression in the land of Osagyefo’s birth, and beyond.
Africa Must Unite. We will be free.

We live in a time ripe for positive action, but too often exist in a state of apathy, a state of fear. We have been relegated and we often relegate ourselves to the sidelines of our so-called democracies, loudly criticizing those who actively undermine us, actively steal from us, actively oppress us, but too rarely taking definitive action ourselves.

But that is the nature of systems of oppression. Such systems are designed to first, deprive us of our sense of ownership, over our land, our resources, our state, and force us into a state of “At-leastism,” an abusive state where we accept the minimum offered to us as a deliverable, taking it as a sign of functionality, forgetting that we should be demanding improved delivery from the state and from the government sitting at its helm, forgetting that we are employers of the state and its governors, and not beggars waiting for grace from above.

Serumaga Musisi Funambulist (2)
Members of Fighters and comrades with Osagyefo at Kwame Nkrumah Park in Accra in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter uprising, June 2020. / Fighters Archives.

We sit in “At least,” and “At least,” “At least,” in the hope that all these tiny morsels of development or progress thrown in our direction will have the cumulative effect of sustainable development. But it never does. The roads that are hurriedly paved through dodgy contracts soon fall to ruin, while the floods carry away our brothers and sisters, and our hospitals remain without adequate support, and our produce rots in our farms, and our debt rises and rises and rises exponentially in a manner that is neither determined nor approved of by the People.

Do these scenarios sound familiar to you, my brother in Chad, my sister in Zimbabwe? Because I am speaking of the corner of Africa where my roots lie, Uganda.

Africa Must Unite, now.

In an effort to save ourselves from the “At-least” condition, we sink into individualism, erecting iron bubbles around ourselves, spending every ounce of energy we have to ensure that the small world around us remains in some form of equilibrium, a tiny boat in a stormy ocean, always on the verge of capsizing.

That tiny boat requires all of our time and all of our energy to keep upright and so, in a state of fear, exhaustion and, again, “At-leastism,” we close our eyes to the growing oppression around us, focusing all of our energy on the boat, forgetting that it is floating in an ocean, an ocean that knows no borders, an ocean heaving under the turbulence of neocolonialism. In focusing on this tiny boat we consolidate a system that is highly functional, functional in its mandate to accumulate all power for a minority elite.

60 people are wiped out in a bus accident on a bad road, and we think, “At least it was not me or my People.”

A Black man is killed by racist police in the United States, and we say, “Di wo fie asem” (Eat your house matter – Mind your own business).

A poor 90 year old woman is beaten to death by a community accusing her of witchcraft, and we have a brief collective flash of anger before we return to our bubbles, silent on the issue as we wait for the next murder or attack.

Africa Must Unite, now.

Serumaga Musisi Funambulist (1)
“Whose Utopia is It, Anyway?”, drawing part of a series by Namata Serumaga -Musisi (2017).

We start to normalize oppressive behavior, analyzing corruption and injustice from a cynical and wilfully oppressed perspective. We shout and shout as we oscillate between issues, expressing our anger, making threats, but not often enough asserting our rights. Those oppressing us become emboldened, taking more and more liberties as we grasp, in desperation, at more and more “At least” moments. These moments become less and less fulfilling, less sustainable, less appeasing in their nature.

It is here that we must perhaps pause, and listen, because this is the birthplace of the spirit of resistance. It is here that we begin to face the fact that the structures that are intended to protect and serve us have been weaponized against us, against the African People. The African Union is silent as our brothers and sisters are deprived of their rights, their dignity, their land.
This is the birthplace of the spirit of resistance.

We start to realize that our liberation is not only won in massive actions, but also in the smallest of victories. Our liberation lies in the refusal to compromise on what is right, resisting and challenging anything that further entrenches the rot in the system, whether it be a policeman collecting a five cedi bribe, or police brutality during mass mobilisation against an unlawful change to a beleaguered constitution.
This is the birthplace of the spirit of resistance.

We start to emerge from our bubbles, exposing ourselves to the truth of our collective reality, slowly allowing the small privileges and shaky securities we have erected to fall, in the realization that we cannot truly be free until we are ALL free. A private hospital will remain expensive as long as state hospitals are poorly resourced. The dictator Museveni, in dealing with his E.U., British, and U.S. enablers, does not just compromise Uganda, but the entire Continent. George Floyd’s life cannot truly and sustainably matter in the U.S. until we can confidently say the lives of Akua Denteh in Ghana, the Chibok girls in Nigeria, the migrant Africans in Libya, the activists in Sudan, the agitators in Mozambique, the miners in South Africa and in the Congo… Until we can say that these precious Black lives matter in the root that is Africa.
This is the birthplace of the spirit of resistance.

In understanding this we start to take positive action, to seek our liberation, making the small steps that become our journey to freedom. We put aside the defeatist statements of “Ghana be dat” and “Uganda Zaabu” (“Uganda is gold,” a sarcastic acceptance that in Uganda the impossible is possible), reclaiming ownership of our land, and our continent, and demanding accountability from those we have employed to manage it.

We, the youth, begin to recognize that we are by far the majority in this land, and that it is for us to determine what kind of Africa we seek to inherit from those who come before us. We empower ourselves with knowledge, building a critical mass of youth who are aware of what is happening in their land, on their continent, in Black lives.

We, the youth, begin to vocally reject that which is not in the interest of the People, taking ownership of processes, monitoring, auditing and pressuring the elected custodians of our collective lands.

We, the youth, begin to dismantle our iron bubbles, looking outward and taking all of the concerns we have in our single rooms and applying them to our societies, our continent. How am I going to eat? becomes “How are WE going to eat?”, How can I stabilise my income? becomes “How do WE achieve economic democracy?”, What is the best school I can afford to go to? becomes “How do WE improve our education systems?” We recognize that shady deals and stolen funds are not taken from some abstract pocket, but from our own table from which we eat. We recognize that if imperialist forces are able to make gains in the African states around us, they are making gains on us.

Serumaga Musisi Funambulist (3)
Members of the Economic Fighters League march in support of the liberation struggle in Uganda, on January 26, 2020. / Photo by Khaleb Nii Odartey Aryee.

The move from individualist to collective thinking and organizing lightens the individual load. Our voices are amplified, and our actions begin to have impact. There is resonance in our unity.

We begin to live in the Africa we want, building cooperatives and collaborations for both collective and individual growth, forming a formidable force against oppression anywhere we see it. We use the tools and skills at our disposal to recognize the power that we hold and reclaim it from those who buy it cheaply. We stand, shout, sing, resist, act, write, paint, mobilize, march against oppression. We unite in revolutionary groups, we show up — we show UP! We embrace our brothers and sisters across the continent and in the diaspora in the knowledge that we are they and they are we and we are not free, until we are all free.

We reject the concept of “At least”.
We reject the usurping of our power.

Our spirit must be one of reclamation. We must reclaim what is ours. We must recognize that we are standing on the shoulders of those who fought to defend our future, that the framework for liberation already stands, that all we have to do is occupy it.
We must begin to live by the standards of the Africa we seek. We must push for better service delivery, now. We must reject any form of oppression, now. We must demand economic democracy, now. All we have to do is love our Continent as we love our small homes, rooting our revolution in love, taking ownership of the future we desire for this continent, building our knowledge base so as to empower us, and dismantling the isolationist bubbles that divide us.

And once we, the People, have made moves towards reclamation, which must of course include reparations — dialogue must and will turn to debt repudiation, the breaking of the last chain, born under the gaze of imperialist Structural Adjustment Programs, imbalanced Partnership Agreements, and exploitative Trade Agreements, formed on the backs of our bodies, our land, our tea, our cotton, our minerals, for centuries.
But this can only work to our benefit if we, the People, hold our power.

“[…] one of the cardinal principles of Pan-Africanism is that the People from one part of Africa are responsible for their brothers and sisters in other parts of Africa, indeed, black people in all parts of the world are to share in this responsibility.” (Walter Rodney)

Africa Must Unite!
Our liberation is within our reach. Can you see it?
Can you see that there is hope?

And so, whether your tongue resonates in the ear of the African standing next to you, or is merely a sequence of strange words with occasional gems, shared meanings, Moyo, Bantu, Africa, our joys and our pains remain much the same. There is power and resonance in our unity.

Africa will be free, yes. It is written, it is real.
But, in order for Africa to truly be free,
Africa Must Unite. Now. ■