Learning Lessons on Global Solidarity
Background on the Essay Series
By William Minter
The idea for the US/Africa Bridge Building Project emerged in mid-2020. The project was partially funded by an initial grant from the Ford Foundation beginning in November 2020.
The concept of the project was based on remote conversations among me, as editor of AfricaFocus Bulletin; Imani Countess, then an Open Society Economic Inequality Fellow; and Vera Mshana, then a Ford Foundation Program Officer. All three of us were supporters of the Stop the Bleeding Africa campaign. All three of us agreed that it was necessary to explore new frameworks that moved beyond the conventional paradigms of bilateral relationships between activists and organizations in the United States and Africa. And we were also convinced that the issue of tax justice and illicit financial flows was an essential component of any progressive analysis of other fundamental issues faced by Africa and the world.
In understanding global inequality, we rejected the framework which relies on ranking countries by levels of development and advising poor countries to advance by adopting the policies and receiving assistance from the rich. Instead, we drew on the concept of a system of “global apartheid.” More than a metaphor, the term evokes the system of South African apartheid, which was itself embedded in a global history of white supremacy.
“Global apartheid” is multidimensional and fractal, as inequalities are replicated from local to global levels. Similar patterns can be illustrated everywhere in the world. But the United States and the African continent anchor the poles of today’s global inequality. Whether the issue is climate change, a global pandemic, or food security, Africa is the most vulnerable region and the United States is still a central force in blocking the needed fundamental changes.
Despite this reality, even most progressive activists in the United States tend to regard issues outside our national borders as “foreign policy” of interest only to a few rather than as integrally connected to our own futures as well as that of those who live in Africa and other regions of the global South. To the extent that U.S. media pay attention to the world, it is overwhelmingly focused on U.S. involvement and on high-profile crises in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia.
Activists may denounce U.S. military interventions and applaud critiques of the “white savior industrial complex.” And there are many creative initiatives and projects that focus on specific countries or specific issues on the African continent. But on global issues affecting both Africa and the United States, U.S. activists still lag far behind their African counterparts in recognizing the urgency of global collaboration. African global leadership on tax justice and illicit financial flows provides an opportunity for making new linkages. The essay series was intended to assist in providing a broader framework for understanding such solidarity.
Earlier that year, in January, AfricaFocus Bulletin had begun to run a series of short essays by Imani and me under the rubric “Beyond Eurocentrism and U.S. Exceptionalism: Starting Points for a Paradigm Shift from Foreign Policy to Global Policy.” In the third essay in that series, in February 2020, we argued that “National and Global Inequalities Are Intertwined,” introducing the theme of illicit financial flows. We noted that “The U.S. debate on national inequality between rich and poor households has not yet broadened into a conversation about global inequality between rich and poor countries. This theme remains muted at best, even among progressive activists.¨
In that essay, we focused on the “often invisible nexus of how money flows to the ultra-rich both within and across borders, how it is linked to deep structural realities of national and global history, and how finding the resources to address acute public needs requires not only higher tax rates but enforcing transparency about hidden wealth worldwide.”
This was exactly the time period when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30 and designated it a pandemic on March 11.
As a result, Imani was forced to cancel planned trips to Africa and to the four cities which had been highlighted as pilot projects for outreach in her Open Society Fellowship. The grant proposal which resulted in the initial Ford Foundation grant beginning in November 2020 was envisaged as supplementing her 1-year fellowship by providing additional support for consultations between African tax justice activists and activists in the pilot communities, as well as for wider dissemination of the themes raised in the AfricaFocus series which continued in 2020.
Beginning In late June 2021, Imani was able to complete exploratory visits and meetings with local activists in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Oakland, and Los Angeles. She also attended the 9th Pan-African Conference on Illicit Financial Flows and Taxation in Nairobi in late October. However, for financial and other reasons linked to the continued impact of the pandemic and other crises, it has not yet been possible to proceed with projected follow-up on the in-person consultations originally envisaged.
Although the project’s series of internet posts, initially called a “Transnational Solidarity Playbook,” did not require travel but was managed remotely, the pace of work on it was also seriously affected by the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We underestimated the difficulty of securing commitments and getting timely submissions from authors. Nevertheless, we published five original essays and one extensive interview we had commissioned as well as ten other resource guides and other educational materials addressing critical issues of global solidarity, beginning in April 2021 and concluding in March 2022.
We are deeply grateful to all who helped make this happen. Donna Katzin, Rosebell Kagumire, Sahra Ryklief, Meredith Terretta, and Joseph Tolton contributed original insights on five critical topics. In addition to resource guides to material available online, the series was enriched by recent reflections from Angela Davis, Varshini Prakash, and Adom Getachew, reproduced with their permission, and open-access reproduction of key documents and videos from the African Feminist Forum, the Solidarity Center, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Red Nation, Kumi Naidoo, and Winona LaDuke. We are also thankful for the encouragement we received from others we invited to write essays, but who were unable to do so because of their many other commitments, complicated by the additional demands and stresses imposed by the pandemic. These included Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Robin Kelley, Charlotte Bunch, Ken Zinn, Brian Kagoro, and Bobby Peek.
In addition to project founder Imani Countess, other members of the project team who contributed to the series in many different ways included web designers Gail Oring and Miriam Paska; development consultant Mary Semela; editors and writers Jacqueline Asheeke, Zeb Larson, Kassaundra Lockhart, and Margaret Summers; and interns Kadidiatou Diallo and Seamus Love. In addition to the original Ford Foundation Grant, donations also came from the US-Africa Network, USA for Africa, and more than 50 individual donors.
As this report is written in May 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, while the unequal distribution of vaccines, treatments, and other health services deepens global apartheid. With economic recovery in Africa still weighed down by the impact of the virus, Africa is being devastated by food shortages and other direct effects of the war over Ukraine. Climate disasters in both rich and poor countries vividly signal a future of apocalyptic catastrophe. The fossil fuel industry and governments have turned from outright denial to deception and delay in the urgent transition to renewable energy. State and non-state violence persists despite much wider awareness and calls for reform.
These cumulative crises are still revealing and deepening structural inequalities around the world. Within and across countries, the people who have suffered most are those already disadvantaged by race, class, gender, or place of birth, reflecting the harsh inequality that has characterized our world for centuries.
At the same time, billionaires and multinational corporations are getting richer, while governments are denied necessary resources to provide basic human rights and invest in a sustainable future for the planet. Fiscal conservatives declare we can’t afford it. But money laundering siphons off wealth into the “offshore” realm of secret tax havens, which are everywhere and nowhere, to escape obligations to repair damage to the planet and promote a just society.
In 2022, media attention to fundamental global issues was virtually eclipsed by the latest war in Europe centered on the Ukraine, featuring both an open invasion by Russia and escalation driven by massive U.S. military intervention over many years before as well as after that invasion.
What lessons, if any, can we draw from these essays published in the turbulent years of 2021 and 2022?
In my opinion, it is clear that the terminology we used in the series title fell short of the complexity of today’s realities. “Transnational” solidarity between those working for justice in specific countries is not sufficient to address global problems. The solidarity we strive to build must be global in scope and be nurtured among many diverse partners to build powerful coalitions capable of confronting vested interests. And, unlike authoritarians, who may follow a more or less standard playbook often cited in the media, progressive movements must constantly be aware of the specificity of particular social and political terrains of struggle. We must also adjust to rapidly changing realities for which respectful and open debate among allies is needed to reach mutual understanding on how our efforts can complement each other rather than weaken our collective impact.
Instead of a checklist in a playbook, therefore, we might consider guiding principles that might serve as watchwords for the years ahead. The five listed below as examples are not intended as definitive in either wording or number, but simply as elements I think it important to stress.
Solidarity Must Encompass Many Levels from Local to Global
In today’s world, with the proliferation of virtual, in-person, and hybrid communications, the scope of communities, organizations, movements, and decision-making “places” is less and less defined only by national or other geographic boundaries. Although the technology has changed, the principle of global solidarity has strong roots in the Pan-African movement.
We Must Respect Each Other and Respect the Planet
Respect for each other’s humanity (Ubuntu) must be paired, as indigenous peoples have long been aware, with respect for all creatures on the planet as well as the natural features of the earth itself.
Indigenous Action to Save the Planet
We Must Recognize Intersecting Inequalities and Fight Against Them
In addition to the classic distinctions of class, race, and gender, human beings have constructed unjust inequalities defined by appearance, physical abilities, or social, political, cultural, or organizational positions.
Resisting Beyond Borders
Today’s Global Apartheid is Still Shaped by More Than 500 Years of European Expansion
Struggles against violence and injustice go back for millennia in every region of the world, including centuries of resistance and of influence by those conquered and colonized by European powers. But the period of the the European-driven slave trade in West Africa and across the Atlantic, beginning in the late 15th century, still defines the general contours of global inequality today.
Diverse New Realities Require Multiple Strategies and Tactics, Both Old and New
Progressive social movements build on each other in creating repertoires for action, such as sit-ins, disinvestment campaigns and many more. But combining specific actions effectively depends on paying attention to specific situations, and openness to constant learning and adaptation.
From Disinvestment to Reinvestment/