Africa’s Place in the Radical Imagination

How does a geographic area occupy both a physical existence and a figment of our imagination, now even further tangled in Wakanda fantasies? What is the cultural, political, affective, discursive space in which impression or illusion (or desire) takes primacy over materiality?

Our leftist politics are as much an act of generating new futurities as they are destroying and remaking new structures and/or repurposing existing ones. But often, in the process of dreaming that constitutes our radicalisms, we retreat into ahistorical and erasing revisionisms as opposed to situating our political visions within some concrete foundation. Within radical politics, Africa often exists far more comfortably as an abstracted symbol, a site of the ultimate myth-making within political imaginaries — a phenomenon to which those in the African diaspora are not immune — than it does as a geographically bounded plexus of messy and sometimes contradictory material realities.

Though bloody colonial violations have been perpetrated across the globe, the African continent was, in many ways, a ground zero for the European state- and fortress-making project. It was a place of plunder from first contact in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to the 1884 Berlin Conference’s “diplomatic” distribution of land that precipitated Europe’s ongoing scramble for the continent, to coercive liberalization policies that adjusted relatively newly independent states’ infant economies in response to what for many were inescapable debts.

King Leopold II infamously ran a slave colony in his ironically named Congo Free State, which he was able to administer under the guise of philanthropic work and the promise of abolishing the Arab slave trade in eastern Africa. Congo has not been free since. He forced the native Congolese to extract rubber to meet growing Western industrial demand. He deployed his private army, the Force Publique, to enforce resource collection quotas with chicotte whippings,…

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