There are African histories of egalitarianism and democracy independent of, and predating, modern Western progressive movements. It is time we revived them from systematic displacement and erasure, because they may hold the key to our collective future.
contemporary Northern Ghanaians holding council. Photo courtesy of Marc Becker
An epiphany of cosmic proportions dawned upon me during a taxi ride from Kampala International airport to the city last year. My incidental travel companion was the Ugandan film maker Dolman Dila; and in his unhurried, quiet, and measured tone, this is what he said:
“Of the 53 major “nations“ in the region today known as Uganda (name arbitrarily taken from one of them, Luganda, by the British), only 10 featured any kind of hierarchical political structure. The majority of them, with population size from 1 to 3 million, lived in entirely egalitarian organizations, voluntary cooperatives, and share/gift economies, without centralized political power, high levels of inequality, or warfare. For instance, Acholi, the 2nd largest society in Uganda, lived in communal, collaborative, and mutualistic arrangements. In these societies elders and experts were respected, and held influence, but did not have exclusive decision making power over others. In fact, the people of these societies having almost entirely no concept of power, control, domination, and subjugation was a significant factor for the ease with which Europeans conquered these lands. When an Englishmen said to them „I will rule this territory from now on“, they probably looked at each other, shrugged, and with such trust toward their fellow men, as strangely dressed as these were, said something like: “We don’t know exactly what that means, but why not, it should be fine.‘“