If current conditions continue, the Caribbean as we currently experience it will disappear by the middle of this century.
“The Caribbean needs to find its way to a socialism tempered by all the lessons we have learnt over the last generation.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Aaron Kamugisha. Kamugisha is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. His book is Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your book help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Aaron Kamugisha: My book Beyond Coloniality is a work on neocolonial citizenship, coloniality and freedom and the conundrums and despair of contemporary Caribbean existence. The first sentence of it actually reads as follows “The contemporary Caribbean – an area of experience that so many of its dispossessed citizens have given their lives and hearts to in the hope of social transformation – is in a state of tragedy and crisis, destroyed and corrupted by a postcolonial malaise wedded to neocolonialism.” Beyond Coloniality attempts to effect a challenging alliance between a critique of a social and political moment complex in its territorial specificity and not easily generalized across the region, while simultaneously engaging radical Caribbean thought as the means to comprehend the coloniality of our present, and imagine a turn to an embattled future beyond coloniality. Its main contribution to understanding the current political climate comes in its explanation of how Caribbean neocolonial citizenship became consolidated in the post-independence Anglophone Caribbean. This proceeds through an excavation of the socio-historical roots of the class that has risen to ascendancy in the Caribbean over the last fifty years, a class that Walter Rodney once called the comprador bourgeoisie of the region, content to proffer Caribbean resources and lives for the consumption of metropolitan populations. The story here is linked to the global neoliberal one, which we are all enmeshed within, but what I show is how a specifically Caribbean amalgam of neocolonialism, postcolonial elite domination and neoliberalism has produced a series of antiworker states seduced and secured by client politics and a lurking ruthless authoritarianism.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your book?
I hope that activists, organizers and artists will first acknowledge that the task of decolonization is far from complete and that it requires new energy in this moment of relentlessly encroaching neocolonialism and neoliberalism. It is not hyberbolic in the least to say that the very future survival of the Caribbean is at stake. There should be little doubt now, as the Caribbean political economist Norman Girvan has stated, that if current conditions of economic marginality and exploitation, food import dependency, and climate change continue, the Caribbean as we currently experience it will disappear by the middle of this century.I also hope that this book will lead Caribbean citizens to take a more critical stance on their social and political institutions, the dour neocolonial logic that guides them, and the colonial mode of citizenship that Caribbean state managers and institutions perpetuate, rather than explode. One of the conundrums that contemporary activists in the small states of the Anglophone Caribbean face is their close relationship with state power, and I hope that the lengthy, critical dissection I do of the current conditions of postcolonial elite domination will renew a sharpened criticism of the class politics of the region in the fifty years since flag independence.
We know readers will learn a lot from your book, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
I would principally like readers to un-learn the idea that the anti-colonial tradition is irrelevant today, and that class analysis is not key to comprehending the neocolonial condition of the region today. I wish to encourage a deep appreciation of the incredible legacy of the radical Caribbean intellectual tradition, which for over a century has proffered acute and discerning interpretations of Caribbean society, and sketched the contours of a future society beyond coloniality. I also would like the Caribbean left to reconsider its deep disenchantment with socialism in the aftermath of the Grenada revolution, and understand that the old slogan of socialism or barbarism is a living one in our time. The Caribbean needs to find its way to a socialism tempered by all the lessons we have learnt over the last generation, and recognize that there is no discord between the multiple genres of third world radicalism and socialism – rather, they are twinned. The alternative is a perpetuation and intensification of neocolonialism, elite postcolonial rule, a crushing of popular democracy, an ongoing march towards planetary environmental destruction – all until imperial globalization formally dismisses even the current fiction of “national sovereignty” from the region.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
C.L.R. James and Frantz Fanon, the greatest political thinkers of the Caribbean’s 20thcentury are the first persons to come to mind. James and Sylvia Wynter are the primary theorists that I discuss in Beyond Coloniality, and the book is in many ways a work on their thought, which is threaded through all the chapters. They are chief sources of inspiration for me – in the case of James, I have been reading him since my late teens, and the candor and brilliance of his insights into the human condition make him forever one of my favorite writers. The brilliance of both James and Wynter is the insight they give us of a future beyond coloniality – guided by their work, this book becomes a deliberate attempt to use the Caribbean radical tradition to rehearse what a radical break with colonial citizenship might look like in the contemporary Caribbean. Both Wynter and James want to inaugurate new forms of life in the Caribbean – they both believe that Caribbean existence is a new form of life, and they wish to invent new forms of life beyond the coloniality of the modern, and its overrepresentation of Western man as the human. Among other social and political thinkers whose work has had a major impact on me I would have to mention Walter Rodney; for living contemporary theorists: Jacqui Alexander, Paget Henry, Percy Hintzen. Then there are the many fiction authors, just to name six, in no specific order, Paule Marshall, George Lamming, Earl Lovelace, Austin Clarke, Toni Morrison, Aimé Césaire.
In what way does your book help us imagine new worlds?
I would like to think that by working through the disappointments of the Anglophone Caribbean’s post-independence experience, and reminding readers of the dazzling legacy of the living tradition of Caribbean radical thought heightens the stakes of our struggle, but also a vision of what the future might be. Throughout my work some clear understandings are presented which I think summarize this vision. These include the destruction of capitalism without which there will never be any human freedom, a demand for reparatory justice for the crimes of colonialism, a voice to the world for peace, a resolute commitment to gender justice, and an end of the march toward the planet’s environmental destruction. Caribbean people should not be mired in sorrow over their past, or feel despair faced by their relative powerlessness in the shadow of the world’s powers. Rather, Caribbean thought illuminates our chance: to proffer a mode of existence and human sociality that the world desperately needs, from one small part of it.
Roberto Sirvent is Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He also serves as the Outreach and Mentoring Coordinator for thePolitical Theology Network. He is co-author, with fellow BAR contributor Danny Haiphong, of the new book, American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.
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