Interviewer: For those of us who haven’t read your book African Anarchism recently, can you just recap a couple of things about what anarchism means to you and how is it connected to some of the intrinsic aspects of African culture?
Sam: OK, I pointed out in the book right away that anarchism as an ideology, as a corpus of ideology, and as a social movement, is removed to Africa. That was a point I made very explicitly at the outset of the book. But anarchism as a form of social organization, as a basis of organizing societies – that is not remote to us. It is an integral part of our existence as a people. I referred to the communal system of social organization that existed and still exists in different parts of Africa, where people live their lives within communities and saw themselves as integral parts of communities, and which contributed immensely to the survival of their communities as a unit. I pointed to aspects of solidarity, aspects of social cohesion and harmony that existed in so many communal societies in Africa and tried to draw linkages with the precepts of anarchism, including mutual aid, including autonomous development of small units, and a system that is not based on a monetization of the means and forces of production in society.
So, I look back and I feel, these are things that if we carry on additional research it would throw more light on how these societies were able to survive. But again, with the advent of colonialism and the incorporation African economies and societies into the global capitalist orbit, some of these things of changed. We’ve started having a rich class, we’ve started having a class of political rulers who lord it over and above every other person. We’ve started having a society that is highly militarized where the the State and those who control the State share the monopoly of instruments of violence and are keen to deploy it against the ordinary people. That’s their business.
Interviewer: It’s been about 15 years since the publication of the book. What is there, if anything, that comes to mind that you would add to or change about the book, and the ideas that you presented in it?
Sam: Yeah, I want to look at the ideas that I would add, not really change. Ever since the publication of the book I have been collecting additional materials that I stumble upon in the course of my writings and research. I think there is room for additions to the book, not really much to change, or subtract from the work. I think there is room for additions to the book, and this is something I have already started in the sense that in the Spanish edition that came out in 2000, I wrote an extensive foreword, wherein I tried to articulate some of the points we missed in the original book. I tried to look at more African societies that shared the same characteristics and features as the Igbo, the Tiv, the Efik, the Tallensi and the multiplicity of tribes and social groups that we have in Nigeria that I have already mentioned in the book. I also tried to explore other groups in other parts of the world especially Latin America, and I was able to draw some parallels between their social existence and systems of social organization, and the characteristics and features of anarchism, as I understand it.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Sam: Yeah, I want to say a few words to our anarchist friends and groups that in the past associated with us, supported us, in one way or another, especially from Europe and North America. I say to them that anarchism is not dead in Africa. But it is important for them to appreciate that anarchism as a movement, as a political movement, as an ideological platform, is still going to take some time to crystallize here. But in the mean time, we must continue to engage with the rest of the society. We must continue to interrogate the government in debates where we can achieve. That is what informed some of us going into non-governmental organizations. When you talk to people about about anarchism in this part of the world they are like, ‘Well? What is it about? Ah, no no no anarchism is about disorder, chaos, confusion.’ Of course when you do the intellectual analysis of social organization and how this [incorrect understanding of anarchism] conforms to anarchist principles [of how ideology controls people], you can make sense of it.
It is difficult in this part of the world to begin to build a movement based on anarchist principles alone. But we can build a movement based on trying to hold the government accountable, trying to fight for the environment, trying to fight for gender equality, trying to fight for human rights. Because these are minimum principles on which a broad swathe of the population agree, and it makes sense for us to continue to interact and interrogate social existence and public policy on this basis. And seek to ensure that civil society is not extinguished completely. While also those of us who genuinely believe in anarchism will continue to organise and develop tools of organisation that will some day lead to the emergence of an anarchist movement.