THE African continent is still engulfed by the huge socio-economic challenges and unfulfilled aspirations that underpinned the struggles for independence. The contribution of progressive leaders, who are people-centred, and the dialectical link with pro-poor policies that utilise the huge resource wealth endowments of their countries to genuinely address the aspirations of the majority of the people, is much needed in the post-colonial African development agenda, which has sadly been sidestepped and/or subverted in favour of a distorted confirmist (neoliberal) project, which in turn has helped to maintain inherited unequal colonial relations.
It is in this context that the exemplary leadership of statesmen and women in Latin America, such as Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, Jacobo Arbenz, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Cristina Kirchner, Michelle Bachelet, Rafael Correa, Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, has important lessons for our continent. This is because Africa has recently sorely lacked in leadership what these leaders have provided to the poor majorities of their countries.
Despite the huge challenges of imperialist belligerence, these leaders have led the struggle on behalf of their populations against the overbearing hegemony of multinational corporations, economic stabilisation driven by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution are important examples that are instructive for leaders and progressive political forces in the developing world in general and the African continent in particular.
Over the years Chavez, together with Castro, became the voices of the oppressed and icons of ordinary people's struggles for freedom from hunger, misery, marginalisation and exclusion. For the poor, Chavez and Fidel pointed the way and demonstrated that it is indeed possible to undertake an alternative trajectory to neo-liberalism and its antecedent polices as prescribed by the World Bank and IMF, unequal trade in favour of powerful nations and militaristic hegemonism.
As Africans we ask ourselves why African leaders cannot copy at least some of the elements of the work of those leaders in Latin America, who are deploying the mineral wealth of their countries for the benefit of the majority? This is a fundamental question because for almost 50 odd years after decolonisation, the continent continues to lag behind in efforts to address the plight of the majority - the poor, rural peasantry, women, and the youth. The continent is said to be endowed with large resource-wealth with long life spans. Instead of this being a blessing for purposes of advancing the material, cultural and other aspects of the African people it has become an albatross, as almost every intervention is a scramble for these resources.
Chavez sought to improve the conditions of the underclass and confront ideologues of liberalism. He channeled resource revenues from oil into education and health - something so critically needed by the poor, who are the overwhelming majority of the population. Venezuela also has had a very significant process of empowering people, creating institutions that permit people to function democratically and to make decisions that affect their lives. The Bolivarian Revolution has imbued the people with a sense of dignity, patriotism, social consciousness and internationalist pride.
Chavez's foreign policy was based on a vision of what he called 'Our commitment to peace and justice in the world' and 'Socialism of the 21st Century'. He took up the cudgels for various causes such as the Palestinians' right to self-determination along the 1964 proposals, among others. The Latin American regional alliances that emerged sought to shape the democratic space and shift the balance of power in favour of their nations. Blocks such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which advances an avant-garde experiment of progressive and anti-imperialist government, is seeking ways to breaking the prevailing international unipolar world order and strengthening the capacity of the people to face, together, the reigning powers.
It may be a long time before we see another personality of comparable charisma on the political stage. Such people cannot be replaced. Chavez and Fidel demonstrated that it is indeed possible to undertake an alternative trajectory to neo-liberalism. "The people of Africa must therefore look beyond the proclamation of independence to discover whether or not real freedom has been achieved. Freedom can only be real when national independence is coupled with social and economic revolution carried out in the interests of the masses of the people." (George Maxwell, African Communist, 1959)